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Harley-Davidson 48 Review

Harley-Davidson 48 Review
By Trevor Hedge


Harley’s new 48 Sportster is perhaps the coolest new motorcycle of the year. It is Steve McQueen or James Dean cool. Like Triumph’s Thruxton the 48 provides riders with best of yesteryear styling without the oil stains, kick-starts and electrical failures that go with it.

Even the name 48 is somewhat cool. The moniker is derived from the year Harley’s Model S was first introduced and with it the peanut shaped fuel tank that helped provide the model with its streamlined look.

Unfortunately the handsome tank is of a peanut sized capacity. Only a meagre eight litres of unleaded can be squeezed into the tank.

A pitifully short touring range means you can hardly pass a service station without wondering if you will make it to the next one before you run dry and have to resort to pushing 251kg of Harley-Davidson to the next bowser.

Thankfully modern day Harley’s are quite economical but even returning six litres per 100km the puny tank puts the touring range at a maximum of around 130km which leaves little room for error. Punting hard around the city could drain the 48 dry in less than 100km.

That limited range essentially makes the 48 predominantly a city bike. And like all Harleys its low speed balance and handling is marvellous further enhancing its commuting credentials. Anyway, out in the country there are less reflective shop windows to check yourself out in as you ride by…

Don’t expecting to be picking up any passengers that throw an admiring glance your way though, the 48 has no room for a pillion. The H-D accessories catalogue can help you out with a pillion seat but it would prove absolute torture for your passenger.

A fat Dunlop hoop up front had me thinking the 48 might steer like an XD Falcon with no power steering and flat front tyres. Harley’s engineers have done their homework though and the bike steers quite sweetly.

Ground clearance is limited due to the low stance and forward mounted pegs but with practice a riding style can be adopted to help keep the undercarriage off the deck while generating a moderate pace through your favourite set of bends.

Another trait shared by all low slung cruisers is short rear suspension travel and the resulting lack of control over bumpy roads that can deliver a coccyx punishing ride on poor surfaces. Harley have been putting a lot of work in on this area and improvements can be felt but overall rear suspension compliance is still fairly poor, although it is better than the cheap imitation Harleys coming from China and Japan.

The brakes work reasonably well although ABS is notably absent.

The 1202cc air-cooled twin is smooth and responsive. Yes it still vibrates like all hell at a standstill but on the road no unwanted sensations reach the rider and the whole drivetrain package is a class act. It won’t pull your arms out of your sockets like a hyped up power cruiser but there is enough performance on offer to ensure a satisfying ride.

A decent set of aftermarket pipes would add a more evocative note and a healthy dose of auditory pleasure to ensure that all your senses are stirred by the 48 each and every time you fire the machine into life.

This is a truly beautiful machine. Up close there are a few small details that point to a few corners being cut to achieve its accessible $16,625 ride away asking price. But overwhelmingly this is a machine that despite its limited practicality is essentially one of the coolest new motorcycles on the market. That allure will ensure a multitude of buyers forgive it any shortcomings to start their work day or Sunday mornings with a healthy dose of cool. There are few better ways to start the day that’s for sure.


Specs – Harley-Davidson XL1200X 48
Engine – 1202cc, air cooled, v-twin
Bore x Stroke – 88.9 x 96.8mm
Transmission – Five speed, belt final drive
Seat Height – 710mm
Dry Weight – 251kg
Fuel Capacity – 8 Litres
Average Consumption on test – 6 litres per 100km
Range – 160km
Warranty – Two years
Price – Expect to pay around $16,625 ride away inclusive of 24 months roadside assistance

Verdict – ***½

+ Positively gorgeous
+ Nice engine
+ Great city bike

– Tiny fuel tank
– Limited cornering clearance
– No ABS
– No passenger facility