2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow Comparison

Jan Plessner | May 21, 2012

Harley-Davidson dominates the American cruiser scene, and The Motor Company has churned out its iconic Sportster model for more than 50 years now. The 883cc version of the Sportster has long been billed as a female-friendly mount, with smaller, easy-to-handle dimensions and pleasing, user-friendly performance from its air-cooled Twin. The Sportster SuperLow is further targeted toward women riders with its “super low” ergonomics – namely its 26.8 inch seat height.

If one bike is a little less like the rest in this comparison, it is the Sportster Super Low. At the heart of that difference is the Big-Twin engine and the way it performs compared to the other bikes in this test. With a runner-up score in engine performance, torque and zero to 60, this motorcycle is definitely no slug. Most of us feel the Sportster has plenty of power from top to bottom, but there is a definite premature limit to the amount of power output in each gear.

The Harley feels like it has to be short-shifted to stay in the power and that was a bit of a bummer for our fastest rider in particular. “If I’m riding a Harley, I want to ride it hard and loud like a Harley should be ridden,” explains Tania in her H-D notes. Most of the riders agree that while the H-D doesn’t necessarily haul ass, it is more than competent in this cruiser line-up. You just have to shift it a little more than we expected.

Our testers felt the Superlow was easy to handle and responded well to rider input.
Our testers felt the 2012 Harley-Davidson SuperLow was easy to handle and responded well to rider input.
Some testers felt the 2012 Harley-Davidson Superlow didnt sound like a traditional Harley  emitting a soft growl. At high RPM though the vibration makes the mirrors blurry.
Some testers felt the 2012 Harley-Davidson Superlow didn’t sound like a traditional Harley, emitting a “soft growl.”

Yet all five riders are surprised the Harley doesn’t sound like they think a Harley should sound, which was clearly a side-effect of the EPA-friendly exhaust. With very limited personal HD experience, I like how it feels and sounds. It sports a soft growl, but it is totally different from where I was coming from.

The clutch on the HD is easy to operate, with the lever easy to use, even by riders with smaller hands.

Some test riders had a preconceived notion that the H-D would be uncomfortable from excessive vibration, but that turned out not to really be an issue. While it’s not uncomfortable, at higher RPM the H-D vibes do cause the mirrors to become blurry.

I think easy handling, and feeling confident and in control are all very important characteristics considered by women when purchasing a motorcycle and the Sportster handles extremely well. Its chassis listens to rider input and the lower center of gravity and 26.8-inch seat height make this bike super easy to control.

“I found the Sportster easy to handle and maneuver,” explains Sarah. “The stereotype of H-D’s is that they are big, heavy and cumbersome, but the Super Low was compact, easy to balance and extremely user friendly.”

The testers aren’t without criticism, as the Sportster’s pegs scrape early and often. And while the bike is quite stable, some riders found the ride a little too soft and bouncy on the rougher roads compared to the other bikes in the test.

One particular rider noted that: “…it would be difficult to imagine being able to tolerate the suspension on a long ride, especially if the conditions were anything other than smooth.”

On the other hand, the Harley feels relatively smooth to me. The seat is less cushy than the others, but that doesn’t begin to bother me until the very end of the day when my backside was just worn out.

It is no surprise the shorter women appreciate the H-D Super Low compared to the taller gals. This bike is purpose-built to accommodate shorter stature riders. It is obviously going to work better and inspire more confidence in the minds of beginner riders and those with shorter inseams. For the record, H-D has a wide variety of other similar models that are low-slung as well.

One of our testers felt that the Harley-Davidson Superlows front brakes were a bit less responsive than the other bikes and that she had to get on it to make it work well. Safety was never felt to be an issue though.
Some testers found the Harley-Davidson SuperLow’s brakes were a bit less responsive than the other bikes.

When it came to the binders, a couple of the riders feel the braking power and response on the HD noticeably diminished compared to the other bikes. This seems to be more so on the rear brake than the front. One rider feels the front brake lever the most difficult to reach and when used aggressively, she really has to “get on it to make it work well.”

I found that the footpegs are positioned too far back, which means I hit them when I put my feet down in the position where I always place my feet at a stop…under me. So it takes a while to get used to having to re-position your feet. Jody agrees in her comments and thinks the pegs are placed more in a sportbike position, saying: “I don’t know whether to lean forward or back.”

The HD seating position is the most upright, almost like “…sitting in a chair with your legs at a 90-degree angle,” Sarah explains.

Two riders note that they liked being flat footed when stopped. While it didn’t happen to me, a couple riders said they found their feet naturally fell intio position closer to the footpeg mounts as opposed to the actual rubber foot pegs.

Sarah likes the turn signals, one on each side, and finds the buttons to be “…big and easy to locate with just a touch.”

Some testers felt the Superlows foot pegs were too far back.
The Harley-Davidson’s upright 90-degree posture was the most distinct riding position of the assembled test bikes.

I personally had trouble with the dual turn signals, and kept forgetting the one on the left is only for left turns. I am sure I made a bunch of right turns using my left turn signal. I’m also sure it wouldn’t take me long to get used to this turn signal configuration. One more note on the turn signals: our smallest cowgirl didn’t like that signaling for a right turn interfered with her throttle hand.

Captain Vickie loves the Harley’s instrumentation, noting the “brilliance of placing the instrumentation just above the intuitive, easy–to-read-and-see single LED bar, angled perfectly toward the rider. There is nothing more annoying than having to strain to see if you have, in fact, cancelled your turn signal.” I’d have to agree.

Some of us thought it was strange that the location of the ignition keyhole is so close to the keyhole for the locking steering mechanism. One of us tried to start the bike with the key in the wrong hole, but that Kiwi will not be named here. I noticed its location early in the day when the red tag on the keychain flittered around in my field of vision.

In regards to appearance, if you like classic H-D lines, you won’t be disappointed. Hats off to Harley-Davidson for providing this great looking and handling “confidence builder” in a low and compact package. Its configuration is sure to be a hit for newer riders, female and male alike.

That being said, the Sportster earned the lowest overall score in our comparison, but it excelled in many areas. Not the least of these is how Harley-Davidson delivers a unique riding experience. And starting at $7999, maybe the Super Low earns its name from its MSRP – the lowest in both the H-D lineup and this comparison test.

Jan Plessner

Contributing Editor| Articles | A former PR/marketing maven for Kawasaki, Jan has long been an advocate for women riders and now turns freelance writer. With more than 20 years in the motorcycle industry Jan serves as editor of LadyMoto.com.