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nose to the grindstone
ferris wheel
japanese machines
gas tank
big guys
hiccups
technology advances
2007 Harley Sportster - Owner’s Review
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2007 Harley Sportster  -  Owner’s Review

Having owned numerous motorcycles in the past forty-seven years, I think I have experienced most of the extremes and conditions one can meet with ordinary driving. In the early sixties, I started riding the little Japanese two-wheeled chainsaws. Cheap and dependable.

The Harley's I saw in those days were similar to the big dressers you see today. Some festooned with more lights than a Coney Island Ferris wheel and sounded like they had been created by Thor, god of thunder. They turned heads then and people still will stop and look over a well-kept Harley. There were smaller track versions but we hardly considered these a real Harley. A Harley carved a space around themselves like a small locomotive. They were simply awesome. Our puny Japanese machines felt like tricycles in comparison.

Always forward thinking, the Japanese decided to take on the established big guys. In their familiar, patient and methodical oriental way, they made improvement after improvement. Over the decades, they caught up. But, when the old established motorcycle companies stagnated, the Japanese swooped in and caught the market by storm. People were realizing that they not only had an alternative to British and American machines but that these machines were cheaper, better made and more technologically advanced.

In the U.K., after their plant burned to the ground, Triumph swore they would build the most advanced assembly line in the world. They did and now build superb machines. Surprisingly though, each Triumph gas tank is painstakingly pinstriped by just one person and by hand as they had traditionally. After some hiccups and revivals, Harley put their nose to the grindstone and really started to market a dependable machine. No more leaky engines, great paint, fuel injection and a few more minor technology advances.

I have two years and about 10,000 miles on the 2007 Sportster XL883L I purchased used from the dealer and feel I am ready to compare it with the machine I just replaced which was a 1982 Honda 900C. How does the 30 year old Japanese machine compare to the 5 year old Harley?

Engine

I didn't expect the V-twin to have the same power as the in-line four of the Honda. Although the engines are similar in displacement, the Harley is considerably lighter. I expected that to even out performance-wise. It didn't. The stock Harley is anemic compared to the Japanese machine even though 2007 Sportster has modern fuel injection which gives it an immediate 15 percent power boost over older carburetor models. The modern Harley V-twin is very reliable although underpowered. Thankfully, there is an easy upgrade for Harley performance.

Fuel Consumption

While the venerable Honda was a pig on gas, the Sportster 883 is a miser showing a consistent 59 mpg or just under 100 kpg. That is a boon considering the Sportster’s tiny 2.3 gallon peanut tank. The XL883L gives a fuel/distance of 180 kilometers/110 miles not including reserve. Sportsters are just not made for passing gas stations.

Fit and Finish

I am impressed with the high quality of craftsmanship in all aspects of the Harley. The paint is second to none, excellent chrome and real leather for the seats. I can't find a single thing cheaply made on my machine. They have matched the basic quality and then some of the Japanese machines in the fit and finish department.

Handling and Braking

Unfortunately, I do have to give low scores in the handling and braking departments. While I would have thrown the much larger Honda into any tight corner, I approach corners much more gingerly with the Sportster. A habit of scraping the pegs with a Sportster will soon see you in a bit of trouble. The effortless handling of the old Honda is just not there nor is the stopping power. The three disks on the heavy Honda pulled down the speed smoothly and reliably. I had an occasion to test the emergency stopping power of the Sportster's single front and rear disks and was very disappointed. Instead of a smooth, controlled stop, I ended up locking up with the brakes wailing like a banshee and catching the young deer I was trying to avoid in the rump. And, that was only at a speed of 60 kph/40mph. Not impressive at all.

Maintenance Costs

Something you have to be prepared for is Harley gouging every penny out of you they can. My local dealer charges $100 per hour for any work done. Add that to the inflated cost of Harley parts and you have yourself an expensive machine to maintain. Take an ordinary part, stamp Harley Davidson on it and it suddenly doubles in price. What can help is finding a good and "qualified" Harley mechanic in your town who will charge half of what the dealer will. They are usually retired dealer mechanics.

Conclusion

All the negatives being said, I have grown to love the little Sportster. It is a brazen, vibrating, snorting little bastard that simply feels great to ride on short runs. Most new machines can do everything a little better than a Harley but only a Harley is a Harley. It is something mystic and intangible. I have never regretted buying the Sportster but would I buy another? ……."You bet!"


Street Talk

Glad you shared your hobby here! Thanks. Did not realize maintaining Harley Davidson sportsters is such an expensive undertaking.

Reply
  about 7 years ago

Owned a 2008. Liked it OK, but it was far from stock. I would have to agree with your article.

Reply
  about 8 years ago

Thanks, Shawn. I still enjoy it. One thing I would seriously like fixed is the noisy valve train. I have never had such a noisy engine. It sounds like like a bunch of steel bearings in a mix master. The extra sound from my Vance and Hines Short Shots helps to drown it out.

Reply
  about 8 years ago

I had an S&S top and Shorty carb on mine. You could really hear the valves working. Lotta swooshing. The S&S kit sure made a huge difference on the lower torque. S&S factory is about 21 miles from where I live, so getting the kit was real easy and affordable.

  
  about 8 years ago

The head/valve cover was S&S? If so, I haven't those. I have fuel injection so I installed a V&I Fuelpak. What a difference. The power really sucked before that. I does use extra gas but uses it in a way that makes you smile. I'm guilty of being heavier on the throttle because of the sound and added power. Like being 16 all over again. The short shots really sound awesome. Will you be back to riding or did your accident turn you off?

Reply
  about 8 years ago

The S&S kit consists of new jugs, pistons, rings, valves and heads. The whole top half of the motor.

  
  about 8 years ago

Dave, I have a relative who is caught up in the Harley mystique. He has a warehouse full of bikes, vintage models included. A real little goldmine. Nice article.

Reply
  about 8 years ago

Thanks, Lewis. Been riding for 47 years now. Still have my fingers, toes and most of my skin. Both my legs are still the same length. Regards

Reply
  about 8 years ago
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