The Sportster celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2007, making it the longest continuously produced model in the vast Harley-Davidson contingency.
I’ll never forget my first time on a Sportster. It was in Gulfport, Mississippi, the summer of ’89. A 6-foot 1-inch tall redhead named “Mama Cass” who I worked with at a beachfront restaurant facing the Gulf of Mexico asked me if I wanted to go to the All Harley Memorial Day Blowout with her. On her bike no less. Which is good because I didn’t have one at the time. My riding experience included learning to ride on my friend Paul’s 1984 Honda Ascot 500 and a few spins on a Rebel. I was stoked at the chance to mount her Sportster. To me, I was moving up into the big leagues.
I met Mama Cass at her house that afternoon so we could ride over to the Gulfport Dragway. She had an 883 that had been bored-out to a little over 900cc with a chopped-out front end and custom bars. She gave the root-beer-brown bike a few kicks in her garage but it only flooded out and filled the space with gas fumes. I opened the garage door to let the fumes out while she went in the house to freshen up.
After letting the bike sit a few minutes, I climbed on board, not really expecting it to fire up and gave it a kick. The knee-jerking kick starter sparked the V-Twin to life. The ensuing thunder vibrated through the thin slats of the garage, across the yard, through the walls of the house, and rattled the porcelain john Mama Cass was sitting on. She came running out of her house, still pulling her pants up, scared that I was stealing her bike. She was relieved to see I just wanted to see if I could start it up.
We rolled it out of the garage. She jumped on back while I steadied the bike. From the combination of a tight clutch, too much throttle and a rookie rider behind the handlebars, the torquey Sportster’s front wheel popped up when I shifted into first, our heads snapped back and Mama Cass almost dumped off the back. She squeezed the breath out of me and let out a whoop. I held it straight and we came back down, so I shifted into second and headed off to my first biker blowout. Thus was born my first experiences on a Sportster.
I’m sure that in its 50 years of rolling off the Harley-Davidson assembly line, the Sportster has been responsible for numerous fond memories like mine. When you’re the longest continuously produced motorcycle in the Harley-Davidson contingent, it comes with the territory. But the model maintains its top-selling status by keeping its unmistakable styling cues while continuing to evolve from its humble right-side drive, four-speed 55 cubic-inch beginnings to the electronically fuel-injected motorcycle that it is today.
Our dyno chart for the 2007 Harley-Davidson XL 883 Sportster confirms the increase in low-end torque and shows a linear progression in horsepower.
Now there’s sure to be Harley purists out there that are going to lament the loss of the Sporster’s carburetor as the 2007 883s join the rest of the Harley line with H-D’s Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection as standard equipment. Oxygen feedback acts independently on each cylinder, so the system “learns” and adjusts to changing conditions to deliver optimal performance. The new induction gives the Sporster more thrust in the lower revs of second and third gear. Though the switch to ESPFI is sure to be in response to the ever-changing demands of tougher emissions standards, riders benefit from a bike that has gained more torque on the low end while burning cleaner, too.
Harley claims that the four Sportster XL models for 2007 have seen about a 15 percent increase in torque at 2500 rpm as a result of the new induction and a retuned powertrain. Our dyno readings substantiate this claim. The chart spiked as rpm climbed on the low end to 2500 while the horsepower output maintained a linear ascent through the power band. One area where our findings differed from Harley’s is its claim of 55 lb-ft at 3500 rpm. Our dyno readings also peaked at 3500 rpm, but we got a performance output of only about 45 lb-ft. Granted we are still dialing in a new dyno, but the difference was notable enough to deserve mentioning. Our findings were closer to last year’s claim of 51 ft-lbs at 4300 rpm.
The Sportster mill maintains the same 53.86-inch displacement as last year’s engine. The 3.0-inch bore and 3.81-inch stroke and 8.9:1 compression ratio haven’t changed either. The major changes to the mill have been the installation of new cams and in its retuning to accommodate the new ESPFI. The end product results in the increased torque. For us, it provided many miles of smooth power delivery as we rumbled up and down I-5, climbed mountain roads surrounding Oregon’s Crater Lake, and sped through the accompanying twisties.
As we ran the Sportster over the gamut of road surfaces, the place it felt most comfortable was in straight-line performance down the Interstate. The note the shorty, staggered dual exhaust emits in fifth gear at 70 mph was music to our ears. The V-Twin’s resonating rumble has a calming effect, and seemed to be the range where the engine ran at peak efficiency. Teamed with greatly reduced vibrations over the older models, the bike was a solid performer as we commuted 60 miles round trip daily up and down I-5.
Good bye carburetor, hello fuel injection. The 2007 Sportster joins the other models in Harley’s line with Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection that emits cleaner emissions and should keep the EPA happy.
The engine didn’t like the quick start-stop routine during our photo shoot as much. It took a few miles in the saddle before we acclimated to the rev range, and if you push a gear too hard near the top of the tach, the Sportster’s power will fade quickly. It would have been helpful to have had a tachometer during this initiation phase instead of having to rely on the sound of the engine’s rev and a glance at the speedo until we learned the bike’s sweet spot for up-shifting.
We are grateful Harley-Davidson started rubber-mounting the 883’s Evolution mill in 2004. Even though my first ride on a Sportster was eons ago, I remember the shake, rattle and roll of the old bikes. Though it has always been a part of the Sportster’s reputation, the 2007 bike is working to rewrite the bike’s history with improved ridability.
Another area where Harley has spent time making the bike more rider-friendly is in its hand controls. The throttle response displayed no noticeable lapses, and the bike definitely pulled strong running through second and third gears.
The clutch effort has been reduced a claimed 8%. Though we couldn’t break the measurement down into percentages, we can say that it no longer requires a four-fingered iron grip to put the squeeze on the clutch. It definitely isn’t near as tight as Mama Cass’ old school chopped-out Sporty which almost bucked me off the first time I let its clutch out.
The front brakes have likewise seen a reduction in lever effort. Harley claims that depending on which of the four XL models you ride, the difference ranges from between 11 to 14%. For us, it responded well with only a firm two-finger squeeze. Better yet, you get more stopping power out of your squeeze, as H-D is finally addressing the Sportster’s braking shortcomings. Up front, the brakes have been upgraded from last year’s single-caliper to dual-caliper brakes. We had no problems scrubbing off speed thanks to the Sportster’s new setup.
The single circular gauge in the 2007 Sportster’s cockpit is about as minimalist as you get. Luckily, it’s multifunctional, with an electronic speedo and an odometer that has a time-of-day clock on it, dual tripmeters, a low-fuel warning light, low oil pressure indicator light and diagnostics readout. We could have benefited from the inclusion of a tachometer as well and a fuel gauge is always helpful, but these could updated with a quick order from the immense selection of aftermarket goodies in the Genuine Harley-Davidson Motor Accessories catalog.
The four Sportster XL 883 models have about 15% more torque at 2500 rpm as a result of the changes made with the new induction.
Thanks to the 2007 Sportster’s low-rise handlebars, our hands were positioned in a comfortable riding position. The handlebar wiring has been increased a couple of inches from last year, so whether you like the feel of short, straight bars or like to ride with mini-apes, Harley-Davidson has made it easier to swap out this year. There’s no windscreen up front, and on one exceptionally blustery ride home I paid for it as the wind battered me like a tattered sail. But to throw one on up front or to bare the elements is strictly rider’s choice.
The low-rise handlebars couple with the mid-mounted foot controls to leave riders in a comfortable upright riding position. But at a little over six feet tall, I don’t think the riding geometry would accommodate a rider that was much taller. We didn’t have the classic solo seat on our model, but had one with a small passenger pad. Initially where the seat went up wedged into the small of my spine and was uncomfortable. But after the pad softened up after a few good rides, what had been bothersome became less so.
And though the added torque of the 2007 Sportster would support a second rider, two-up riding is best left up to the Big Twins. The bike doesn’t come off the line with the usual Sportster zip with the added weight and the brakes aren’t powerful enough to bring forward progress to a halt as quickly. The suspension softens up as well, but we didn’t adjust the preload on the dual rear shocks, which could have improved the bike’s response to uneven road surfaces. Without an extra 145 lbs from a second rider though, the 39mm telescopic front handled the bumps and teamed with the adjustable dual rears for a smooth, stable ride.
The 2007 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 continues to use the traditional peanut fuel tank. Our model had a 3.3 gallon capacity, making fuel management high on the priority list. We ran the bike through a 1000-mile-test to determine its gas mileage. It included city and highway miles, from stop-and-go miles to maximum efficiency miles on the highway at commuter speeds. For us, the bike averaged 45.93 mpg. With a 3.3 gallon tank, that gives the bike about a 151.58 mile range. The green low fuel light will warn you that you have about 25 miles left until you’re burning fumes. This compares favorably to H-D’s 45 mpg estimate for city riding. Their claim of 59.7 mpg on the highway could not be validated, but our highest reading on any one stretch was 48.1 mpg.
The weight on the Sportster is up slightly this year, with a claimed empty weight of 563 lbs. This is up 8 lbs from last year’s model. We weighed the bike in at 585 lbs with a full tank of gas, oil and brake fluids. Subtracting roughly 22 lbs from the combined weight of all fluids, the tank empty weight would be right on Harley’s claimed dry weight. The Sporty’s front end weighed in at 270 lbs with 315 lbs at the rear.
Noticable changes to the 2007 XL 883 Sportster’s hand controls include an 8% reduction in clutch effort and an 11 to 14% reduction in lever effort on the front brakes.
The 883’s frame is a little narrower this year and allowed us to hug up tight against the bike while barreling down the highway. The narrow frame also makes the Evolution engine stand out more. With its silver powder-coating and plenty of polished chrome covers, the 45-degree V-Twin complements the bikes overall finish. Throw in the traditional peanut fuel tank, add a staggered pair of short chrome exhaust, and roll it out on 19-inch chrome laced spoke wheels and you’ve got a combination of cues that have been refined by being in the biz fifty years running.
We got to tool around on a bike with a new color for 2007, Pacific Blue Pearl. H-D offers the 883 in another new color as well, Pewter Pearl, as well as Vivid Black and Fire Red Pearl. Buyers are given a choice in wheels, too, as the Custom model had silver 13-spoke cast aluminum wheels that looked pretty sharp. Owners can buy a little more peace of mind with a Harley-Davidson Smart Security System for $325. The Sportster remains as the most affordable gateway to Harleydom with a starting MSRP of $6,595 to $7,795 for the XL 883C Sportster Custom. In comparison, the Sporster’s Japanese counterparts, the four-stroke 2007 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom is priced at $7349 and the four-stoke 2007 Suzuki Boulevard C50/900 Custom runs for $7099.
The Sportster didn’t reach 50 by mistake. It starts by being the most affordable gateway into the Harley family. Add in styling cues you could recognize in the dark, mix in the ever-popular 45-degree V-Twin, and you have a bike that has earned its place in motorcycle history.
It’s hard to believe the Sportster is turning 50. In those 50 years, the bike has made it a part of many biker’s memories. I’ll never forget the look on Mama Cass’ face when she came running out. Who knows how many others have Sportster-related stories even better than mine.
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