In the late 40’s – early 50’s the brit bikes entered the scene and outperformed everyone, that’s a fact. The big heavy Harleys, no matter how much stuff you unbolt or cut off, just didn’t have it to compete with em. They were lighter, faster and made to perform, the full size Harleys just weren’t.
Enter the K model. Harley built the K for one purpose, to answer the challenge of the brit bikes, it was their first foray into the quicker lighter bikes. Not including the lightweights of course. The K model, for its time worked pretty well, the KR had good success racing and it really was a big step up from the older WR 45” flathead as a race bike.
I wasn’t until ’57 that the K model had its big change and became the Sportster, overhead valve compared to the side valve technology was a huge step forward and performance proved it both on the street and on the track.
Enter the XR, the destroyer, dominating the racetrack for years and years, so much that you can buy the pieces to build a XR motor to start racing today from the HD dealership. But back to the 70’s.
Sportsters were coming into their own as people were building killer choppers out of em, long bikes, diggers, you name it were all represented well, by builders who today are household names like Arlen Ness. He built a ton of killer sportys in the 70’s, he realized as many people did that the XL was a real honest to god performer. Maybe not necessarily in stock form but what stock big twin wasn’t a pig back then! Even when the FX’s came out they still needed tweaking to perform.
How many competitive drag racers chose a big twin over a sporty for their choice of powerplant in their drag bike? Ok some did, sure but the unitized construction of the sporty (The motor and trans share the same case) makes it much stronger as the trans case and engine case aren’t fighting each other. Ask Pat Leahy what he thinks of sportsters, he will tell you that they out perform big twins, and he was Evel Kneivel’s jump bike mechanic for years!
But when did they become girls’ bikes? Is it just because they are smaller? I think that that is probably the main reason, it can’t be because they are slower or “Easier” to ride and girls can ride em easier. How many guys out there have tried to kickstart an out of tune XL? Think most little girls can do that? Hell I have been on the floor white as a ghost because of a sportster kicker hyper-extended my knee!
Why do they have a bad rap? I was having a conversation the other day about AMF, I don’t really think it’s completely AMF’s fault that the bikes from that period had problems. I will admit that I have worked on a ton of AMF sporties that were piles of shit and I am surprised they ever ran. But I think the main reason is that, yes they are cheaper than big twins cost wise, and a lot of the guys with less money bought em, rode the living piss out of them and didn’t take all that good care of them, as long as they ran they got ridden and once they broke, it was a nightmare to fix because they weren’t properly maintained!
Fast forward to today, sporties are still cheaper than big twins and some of the fastest Harleys I have ever ridden were hopped up sporties. Take Brawny’s sporty that was in the Horse a while back, that bike is a f@ckin rocketship that will run forever just as it is. Why shouldn’t a bike like that get the respect it deserves and not get written off as a “Girls bike?”
Well it should get the respect.
Sporties make killer choppers, people want to build choppers cheap and it’s true used XL’s are cheap. I just wish that the guys that looked down up on em would realize that a sporty can be just as cool a chop as a big twin, and definitely out perform one.
This brings me to the new HDXR1200. Yes it s “Factory” performance bike. It’s got a bunch of serious innovative stuff on it. But it’s for sale only in Europe! That tells me a few things:
One, Harley realizes that image of the “Girls bike” is still real, and it seems to be ok with them. That’s fucked!!! Yeah, the Americans won’t “Get it” let’s just keep giving them the Nightster! God forbid the XR gets painted at black and called the XRDark1200? Lame.
Two, my original theory of “They only are selling them in Europe because Storz owns the copyright to the name XR1200.” Well, that one is partially true, leave it to Storz, a company who builds killer race stuff to use the name XR1200 for their killer street tracker kit. I read a few days ago that HD reportedly paid an undisclosed sum to Storz to purchase rights to the name back…
Maybe I’m just sick of the stereotype that has been lumped on the sporty, it only seems to be that way here in the USA. Everywhere else everyone likes and respects em. Me personally, it’s my next build, and I don’t care what anybody says. Say what you want, but I’m gonna be riding circles around your sorry ass!