A compact, practical touring motorcycle

With a history stretching over 50 years, Harley’s Sportster has been lauded for its versatility, from street tracker to café racer to bobbers and choppers. For 1977 Daytona 200 winner and respected motojournalist Cook Neilson, it was a 160-mph drag bike. The Sportster also endeared itself to Nielson as a touring machine, one he happily explored the country on. He’s not alone as riders have been outfitting Sportsters for touring duty for a long time, opting for the lither handling the narrow-framed Sportster offers over a heavier, Big Twin-powered Harley. Instead of having to assemble piecemeal parts to complete the transition to Sportster tourer, The Motor Company has done the work for you with the release of its 2014 SuperLow 1200T.

To make the 1200cc Sportster touring-friendly, Harley added a clear, 14-inch polycarbonate windscreen capable of being adjusted on the fork. This requires loosening the mounting brackets and moving them up or down, depending on rider preference. Popping the windscreen off altogether is even easier thanks to quick-release latches. The windscreen works well, diverting air over the crown of a rider’s head with a little wind coming up from underneath.

Harley also added a set of locking saddlebags wrapped in black vinyl. They pop open easily with a push of the button on top, the lid swinging outwards. The bags will hold a couple days' provisions but aren’t overly large, Harley needing to maintain the aesthetic balance of the slim standard Sportster. A couple of bolts hold each in place, making for fuss-free removal. Sans saddlebags, you’ve got the clean look of an everyday Sportster, the rear now showcasing the sharp-looking split, five-spoke cast aluminum wheel. The 1200T also has factory-installed rear docking hardware for the addition of a luggage rack and sissy bar with backrest that matches up to its new two-up touring seat.

The 2014 SuperLow 1200T sees updated suspension and brakes, too, the 39mm Showa fork retuned and tauter than other Sportsters. The rear suspension now features a preload adjustable emulsion shock with a convenient hand dial on the left side, the dial accessible with the bag on, while the right side is equipped with a twin tube shock. For a rider my size at 225 pounds, we set the 32-click adjuster knob four clicks over stock settings. Travel on the front is limited to 4.11-inches, and the front compressed fully a couple of times on direct hits at speed. The rear setup does an admirable job of sheltering riders from jarring blows, smoothing out imperfections in the road so riders can relax and enjoy the outing.

In the braking department, the SuperLow 1200T gets new dual-piston 34mm Nissin calipers to go along with a bigger front rotor, a 300mm disc replacing the 292mm one. Both all-aluminum master cylinders, front and back, have been updated too. Braided stainless steel brake lines provide better feel at the lever and makes the front quick to respond. The new calipers provide a stronger bite, and overall braking is improved over older Sportys we’ve ridden. ABS is a $795 option on the 1200T, an option that’s money well spent for the extra peace of mind it provides.

Because even though the SuperLow 1200T sports the same chassis as the SuperLow 883, its bigger engine and touring accoutrements add almost 30 pounds, pushing claimed weight to a fraction under 600 pounds. That’s plenty of mass in motion for two single discs to handle. Matching up to the SuperLow chassis means the 1200T runs the same mid-mount controls, front end geometry of 31.1-degrees rake in the steering head and an offset triple tree to allow for more lock-to-lock movement.

For me at six feet tall, the rider’s triangle is very compact, its bars providing one of the easiest reaches on the market. The “Reduced Reach” two-up touring seat moves riders forward too, while the portion of the seat nearest the tank has been narrowed. Its mini-floorboards have been positioned three inches forward compared to the SuperLow 883. The mid-controls and a 26.1-inch seat height leave me just enough room to squeeze in comfortably, but also locks me into place for long hauls, resulting in a bit of “numb butt syndrome” during extended stints in the saddle. It does make it a cinch to place both feet squarely on the ground at a stop though, as Harley PR explains the ergos of the SuperLow 1200T are tailored toward riders between 5’1” to 5’7”.

Dynamically, the 1200T is all Sportster, with the characteristic Harley vibe provided by a 1200cc Evolution V-Twin and 3.5-inch pistons hammering away at a 3.81-inch stroke inside aluminum cylinders. The engine has just enough rumble to sate Harley purists before rubber-mounting makes the majority of them fade away once the bike’s in motion. Clutch pull is light, making it easy to bang through gears, the 1200T outfitted with the standard Sportster five-speed gearbox. It hooks up with an authoritative surge in first gear, low-end torque abundant and immediate. In fifth gear at 65 mph, it settles into a comfortable pace at 3,150 rpm. When a little extra passing power is needed, the Harley V-Twin provides a pleasing top-end surge in fifth gear around 3,650 rpm. In its role as a touring motorcycle, we were a bit surprised it didn’t have a sixth gear, but fifth provides such a wide spread of power it never left us wanting.

The 2014 SuperLow 1200T features Harley’s proprietary Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection and fueling is spot-on, throttle response crisp. On the opposite end, spent gases exit via a new closed loop exhaust system while the signature note emanating from its staggered dual exhausts remains the same. The mufflers are equipped with a catalyst and mini heated oxygen sensors to help minimize emissions, Harley working hard to meet ever-tightening EPA demands without muting the sound that’s helped forge the company.

Though the SuperLow 1200T has gained about 30 pounds over the standard Sportster, steering is still light and transitioning remains fluid. With bars at such an easy reach, leveraging the motorcycle is a cinch while its low seat height keeps its center of gravity down as well. An 18-inch cast aluminum wheel wrapped in a Michelin Scorcher 11T tire is stable on its edges and the 1200T remains poised at lean, but its peg feelers put limits on lean angle when the bike hits around 25-degrees.

On the fit and finish side, Harley has integrated the new touring accessories cleanly into the design, as neither the windscreen nor bags are so bulky they detract from the Sportster’s lines. And both come off fairly painlessly, giving riders the capacity to strip down solo-style. With the windshield off, the pullback and height of the 1200T bars is a bit more prominent. Wedged between them sits a round chrome speedometer housing, high enough on the bars so it’s easy to read at speed. The bike features an updated electronics package featuring a left-hand toggle switch for the odometer, trip meter, gear indicator and RPM display. Harley also reworked its wiring harness and tweaked designs of both the oil tank and side cover. There’s plenty more going on to please the eye, from the sheen of the contrast-cut five-spoke cast wheels to the black springs of the rear shocks to the black powdercoating of the cylinder heads. Its mini-floorboards are a new twist, their arrangement comfortable underfoot as the small pads are rubber isolated. Harley offers enough of a variety of colors to appeal to most palettes, the 1200T in Vivid Black starting at $11,799 and topping out in a two-tone Birch White/Midnight Pearl for $12,334. As mentioned, ABS is a $795 option, while a factory-installed H-D Smart Security System is offered for an extra $395.

The 2014 Harley SuperLow 1200T adds a new wrinkle to Harley’s touring line with its lighter handling and rider friendliness. Some people like to tour but don’t want to muscle around an 800+pound motorcycle. With the 1200T, Harley has shrunk the rider’s triangle to a bare minimum, cut down the reach to the ground, and have provided a little shelter from the elements. The new touring features are functional, practical, and can be removed quickly, providing riders with essentially two bikes in one. Granted, capacity is limited with the bags, and the 4.5-gallon tank is a touch small for a tourer, but the addition of a sissy bar and luggage rack would be just enough to upgrade it from a weekend getaway machine to a weeklong tourer. And though the Sportster isn’t the first bike that comes to mind when talking touring motorcycles, the model has been used as one for a long time. Thanks to the 1200T, more people will surely come to the realization that it is a viable touring platform, something Cook Nielsen realized a long time ago.