Common Tread

Why the Sportster Is the Best Harley Ever Made (Change My Mind)

May 04, 2021

The Harley-Davidson Sportster is the best Harley ever made.

To be more specific, the Evo Sportster. Of all the Sportster versions, the Evo stands out as the pinnacle of Milwaukee's best. Over the years I've heard it all - it's a girl's bike, it's too small to ride long distances, you need to get a big bike, and the list goes on. I've had a  laundry list of all kinds of H-Ds over the years and because of my job have had the opportunity to ride countless numbers of Harleys in a ton of different scenarios. I've ridden cross country on baggers, Dynas and Softails. I've ripped twisties in the Smokey Mountains on a bagger, hit the most aggressive curvy roads in the Black Hills on Dynas and Softails, and in all the scenarios the Sportster remains king. It is, after all, the longest continually produced motorcycle Harley's ever made, a fact that supports my assertions. 

The best thing about the Sportster is its versatility. You can morph it into just about any style of bike you please and it still remains a very capable machine. Into choppers? No problem, a hardtail chopped Sporty can be achieved without too much fanfare as there's plenty of weld-on hardtail kits in the sub $500 range. Hell, Led Sled Customs built an entire business model around bad ass Sportster choppers. If hardtails aren't your thing but you still want that keys and a seat bobber look, it's even easier to build it into a bobber/brat style bar hopper. We knocked out a rad little hot rod Sporty for Sick Boy recently and we barely broke a sweat.

A Sportster can be built into just about any kind of custom you want.

Sportster with Fairing
You can make it a cafe racer.

Hot Rod Sportster
Sportsters are the king of versatility.

Maybe you're into touring. No problem. You can pack a Sportster with enough gear to go cross country, easy-peasy. Last month our videographer loaded up his 2001 Sportster with camping gear and rode to Mexico and back on the El Diablo Run. If your heart desired you could add bags and a windshield to your touring Sporty and have a mile-munching machine capable of racking up the miles in comfort.

Canyon Sportsters
Who says you can't go long distances on a Sportster?

Touring Sportster
People have competed in and finished the famous Iron Butt Rally on Sportsters, proving they can go extreme distances.

You can race 'em! One of the funnest things I've ever done with a Sportster is build a hooligan bike and take it to the dirt track (try that with a Big Twin). You can pick up a $2,000 Sportster and for another $2k you can have a perfectly capable hooligan bike. As a matter of fact, one of the hooligan bikes I built was ridden on the El Diablo Run by Brad Gregory and a few months before that it was a basket case that had been cut in two pieces. So over the span of four months or so Brad pulled a split-in-two Sportster off Craigslist, built it into a road bike, then rode from Iowa to Mexico. Then he loaned it to me to turn it into a hooligan bike that was raced at the X Games. Name another model Harley-Davidson that could make those transitions....I'll wait.

Before and After Sportster

Custom Sportster

Sportster Flat track
A Sportster can be a tracker.

One of my favorite versions of a Sporty build is the tracker or off-road build. The folks at Biltwell pulled off the ultimate version of an off-road Sportster in my opinion. They not only built a radical looking off-road machine, but an extremely capable one at that. They not only built it but put it to the ultimate test, too, as the crazy dudes entered the bike in the NORA Mexican 1000. Not only did they enter the rugged race through Baja, they finished the race 27th out of the total 43 bikes entered and of course were the only H-D entered.

Biltwell's Frijole 883 in action.



Thanks to the Biltwell dudes for the pics of their rad machine, the Frijole 883!

All these builds and versions of Sportsters are possible due to not only the versatile nature of the best Harley ever built, but because of its durability and the huge variety of aftermarket parts available. There's virtually any part you could imagine for every genre of motorcycle when it comes to Sportsters, and on top of that the parts are cheap when in comparison to Big Twins. And it's not just the aftermarket. Used bikes and parts are plentiful and reasonably priced, allowing for cheap maintenance and replacement parts. Sportsters not only weigh around 200 pounds less than the lightest Big Twin, they make more power-per-dollar (and cubic inch) then their Big Twin siblings. A 1200cc Sporty with some cams and massaged heads will hurt an M8 or Twin Cams' feelings if its got anything less than a big bore and cams, and in a corner forget about it, the Sportster is gonna show you its taillight with the quickness. In the cruiser world of "bigger is better" the little Sportster stands tall in every scenario, something that can't be said for other Harley models. I know the Sportster isn't for everyone, but I for one will always be partial to the "girls bike."