My opinions on Sportsters are well documented. For years I have trumpeted my love of the quad-cam machine, the do-everything bike that I believe is the best motorcycle the Motor Company has ever produced.
Of course they have been maligned by some Harley-Davidson faithful over the years as being “too small,” a beginner bike, and some other not-so-nice generalizations. But the fact remains that you can do damn near anything with a Sportster. Flat-track racing, no problem. Dirt Sportster, got it covered. Sweet chopper, for sure. Load it up and ride it cross country, nailed it. The Sportster is the Swiss Army knife of motorcycles.
And over the years I have put my money where my mouth is, owning more than my fair share. I still race a hooligan Sportster, built a dirt Sportster last year, and a nitrous drag race Sportster the year before that.
Two weeks ago, Harley told us that the last new Evolution-powered Sportster to be produced by the company rolled off the line. After producing Evo Sportsters since 1986, the kind that featured in all those projects I described above, the simple and sturdy air-cooled bikes are no longer being built. The Sportster name goes on, but with the very different new Sportster S and Nightster with the Revolution Max engine.
All along, one of the best things about the XL Sportster was that you could score a used one to be morphed into your vision for about $3,000. That’s good news now, since pretty soon the only way you’ll be able to buy one is to find a used one, but for years that has also been a problem for H-D. Aside from some details that other Sportster-loving goons like myself are well aware of, the bike really hasn’t changed much for about 30-plus years. Yes, it has been refined a bit over the years, with better cylinder heads, rubber mount frame, wider rear tire, and later, fuel injection. But the meat and potatoes are still the same, a 1200 cc air-cooled V-twin making about 55 horsepower at the rear wheel, weighing 550ish pounds, basic controls and gauges, no whammer jammer ride modes or traction control. And it's going to set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of $12k from the nearest bar and shield dealer… or you could jump on any Facebook Marketplace across the country and score one for half that.
It's a tough sell to ask Harley-Davidson to keep the beloved Sportster on life support. It simply can’t compete with other bikes in its class. As much as it pains me to see the end of “the best bike H-D ever made” era, it's time. Like a prize fighter who's past their prime, the mighty Sportser is going out on its shield. I realize the name will be carried on by the new “sport” bikes from Harley, but it will be in name only. The air-cooled Evo Sportster era of production has come to a close and rightfully so.
But that doesn’t mean the era of the Sportster has come to a close. With over a million Sportsters produced and a huge aftermarket selection of parts available, the Sportster scene is alive and well. By no means do I think the end of production is going to result in Sportster shortages or have used prices going through the roof. With a million or so on the road the laws of supply and demand will more than likely hold prices in check for some time. And in my opinion there isn’t a better buy in the $2,000-$5,000 street bike market than a trusty XL model, especially if you’re looking to build something fun.
Of course we can compare spec sheets vs. dollars spent and find a Suzuki SV650 or something that on paper seems like a better buy. But trust me, it's not. The fun factor of ripping a knobby-clad Sporty down dirt roads and two-track trails is next level, and banging bars at your local dirt track with the 450s and framers will staple a smile to your face as you hear the exhaust sing the song of an American V-twin as it rips out of corners.
If you aren't into the dirt scene, a Sportster still is hands down the easiest (and coolest) chopper project bike going. Weld on a hardtail, ditch the front fender, slap on some straight pipes and live out your chopper dreams (let me see you do that with an SV650). The point is with the purchase of one motorcycle you can morph the bike into a laundry list of styles by swapping out a few parts and get to experience a wide variety of motorcycling segments all with just one machine. I’m not saying you should give up your current ride for a crusty Sportster, but you should definitely have one parked next to the current ride in your garage.
I won’t be giving up my KTM 890 Adventure R for a Sportster, but I will be adding one to my garage again. Now that we know the supply of Evo Sportsters is never going to get bigger than it is right now, it’s time to furiously comb through my local classified ads to put away some Sporty inventory for future projects.