With a name like “Sportster,” this line surprises nobody with its speed and maneuverability, but there’s a lot more to it than that. With decades of design improvements under its fenders, the Sportster is more of a cruiser than a superbike, more of a stylish ride than a scooter, and more of a motorcycle than its flat-track racing cousin, the XR750.
Built for the Checkered Flag
Harley-Davidson, a manufacturer long known today for its superiority on the track, secured its legacy in the world of flat-track racing with the introduction of the XR750; however, first came the 1957 Sportster.
Nowadays, the flat-track racing circuit is reserved for the XR750 and similar speed bikes, while the Sportster has evolved and become available in countless dozens of possible designs since 1957.
The Design of a Cruiser
Since it first entered production in 1957, the Sportster has proven itself to be one of the most versatile and customizable motorcycles on the market. Until 2004, the engine took the form of a four-stroke, 45-degree V-Twin engine.
The original model was known as the Ironhead engine, used until its replacement with the more powerful and efficient Evolution engine in 1986.
Timeline of Versions with Changes and Pictures
Such a versatile machine as the Sportster sprouts so many different versions that it would be impossible to mention them all. This limited list showcases the most influential model years in motorcycling history.
- Sportster XL, Ironhead (1957-1985)
The original Sportster model, based on the Model K series, came equipped with overhead-valve engines on the K-series frame and was designed for flat-track racing, where it found moderate success.
- XLCH, Ironhead (1958-1971)
This model came with options for significantly increased displacement counts of 883cc and 1,000cc.
- XR750 (1970-1985)
Perhaps one of the most influential of all flat-track racing motorcycles and superbikes is the XR750 model produced by Harley-Davidson as part of the Sportster line-up.
- XLCR (1978-1979)
This cafe racer came with a similar engine to the previous models but with a 1,000cc displacement.
- XLS Roadster (1979-1985)
Multiple variations of the Roadster were released in this timeframe, but most of them were equipped with 1,000cc ironhead engines and frames designed for comfort rather than speed. These models, as well as the reliance of racers on the XR750, heavily influenced future generations of the Sportster.
- Sportster (1985-present)
Today’s Sportster is marketed as a general-purpose motorcycle with significantly improved handling and maximum comfort on long rides.
The Sportster in the News
Harley-Davidson recently announced the 2019 Sportster model with improved handling, increased fuel capacity compared to earlier years, and land-speed-record-breaking hardware. Odds are, this legendary series will keep on purring for years to come.
Celebrity Endorsements of the Sportster
Both the Harley brand and the Sportster line have received their fair share of celebrity endorsements. Evel Knievel famously used the XR750 for many of his jumps and Alecia Moore, lead singer of the rock band Pink, openly endorses her XL Iron 883.
Sportster Cruising Companions
Harley groups are perhaps the easiest and the most difficult to find. While there are countless Harley-Davidson enthusiasts out there, it can be difficult to find a group specifically tailored to your model and your interests, but this page, with its more than 12,000 members as of 2019, is a great place to start.
The Sportster – From Competitions to Cruises
Born for speed, designed for comfort, handling like a master rider’s machine should, Harley’s hogs have always been high-quality. Thanks to the high-performance ratings of the Sportster line, that reputation will likely keep on cruising.