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I have loved Harleys ever since I was small. There was something about them, that look, that sound, THAT reputation. All bad-ass bikers ride Harleys, right? Well, erm, no actually. Now I'm a grown-up (sort of) and I find the reality is somewhat different to the dream.
The majority of Harley riders I know are very nice chaps, with not a hint of "bad-ass" about them. They simply appreciate their bikes, and enjoy riding, and, more often than not, customising them.
I entered the fold late last year. I was, at the time, in hospital recovering from a broken back and smashed pelvis following a quite nasty bike accident. Whilst incarcerated, I had plenty of time to think about what I had done, and how I wanted to proceed with my life. Quitting riding was out of the question, biking is in my blood. So, I decided the best course of action was to change my riding style (previously fast, lairy and loud). Because of my injuries I figured I need something with a nice, relaxed and above all, comfortable riding position. Of course, my pondering led me to Harleys, and the 1200 Sportster Sport in particular. My parents managed to find a beautiful model for me whilst I was still in hospital, they brought in pictures and I just had to have it.
My bike is a W plate, 2000 model with 10,000 miles on the clock. It was up for £6000 and had a Stage 1 tuning kit and extra loud pipes, boosting power by about 10% and noise by about 200%!
After getting out of hospital, it was about 2 months before I could even get a leg over it, but as soon as I could, I took it round the block. First impressions were: "Oh my God, what have I done!" The thing weighs a ton, you need arm muscles like He-Man to operate the clutch and who knew what the matter was with the gears. Still, I knew these bikes had "character" so I persevered. It turned to be mostly my fault, as I had forgotten about my new riding style I was supposed to adopt (slow, careful, but still loud!) A Harley Davidson is a lot more engaging to ride than your typical Japanese pocket rocket. Changing gear is a very different process. You have to physically roll off the throttle, pull in the clutch, lift your toe to slot it into gear, ease the clutch out as you gradually open the throttle again. nothing like those fire and forget race-reps. The heavy clutch though, was not so easy to get used to, it is still hard work in town, although I am slowly getting used to it. The weight also is not something you can do much about, although the problem is not so great now I have been out of hospital a while, and got some strength back. I can forgive my bike all these things though. It's just so darn beautiful. It's not slow though, contrary to popular opinion.
The 1200cc V-Twin engine delivers around 80 BHP at 5500rpm and about 70lb/ft torque at 3000rpm, which equates to a 0-60 time of around 4 seconds, and a top speed of 110-120mph, although it will struggle above 100mph. It will also stop you with ease, there is a twin disc setup at the front and a single at the rear. Handling also, is none too shabby, it takes corners with ease, and the fully adjustable suspension means you should have no trouble getting it set up just right.
There is however a downside to owning this magnificent motorcycle and that is the cost of parts, spares and servicing. An official H-D rear tyre for example costs £150, and a small fly screen will set you back about the same. A major service costs £350 plus parts and about half that for a minor service. Although I have noticed it does seem to vary from dealer to dealer. The tank range is also quite poor, despite moderate fuel consumption, this is due to the grossly undersized fuel tank - 3.3 gallons, which gives 130 miles to a tank at best, with this figure dropping to around 70 with more "spirited" riding.
Overall, this is a fantastic bike, it handles, it has the looks, it has the sound, and people never fail to ask "Are you a Hells Angel?"
Buy one now, you wont regret it!
*UPDATE DECEMBER 03*
Well... I have now owned my Sporty for over a year...I think it's about time for an update. I have now got 15,500 miles on the clock...not a lot you may think, but I'm still recovering remember!
I was a bit put off buying any fancy parts for the bike at first - mainly due to the cost, but also as there was still a lingering fear of crashing again. I have managed to address both of these issues by A) Getting a job in a Harley-Davidson Dealership(!) and B) Getting to know both the bikes, and my own limitations. I haven't done anything to drastic to the bike, as I don't want to spoil it! So far I have changed the exhaust for some (even) louder ones, bolted on a twin headlamp unit to give a streetfighter look. I have also binned the horrendous "bread bin" air cleaner cover and opted for a Kuryakyn Hyper Charger, which along with looking neater and more aggresive, has vacuum operated butterflies on the air intake (they open when you give it some gas!) which looks really cool!! Less serious mods include changing the brake and clutch levers for black, rather than silver ones, and replacing the chrome mirrors with black ones - I'm not a great lover of chrome, or rather, I'm not a great lover of spending hours keeping chrome looking pretty!
Living With It
I can only reiterate what I said earlier in the year. This bike is a joy to own and run. It has not let me down once - apart from running out of fuel one time - in a year of ownership. I now use it daily for my commute to work, in all weathers and the worst corrosion I have seen is a slight "furring" of the alloy on the wheels, easily rectified with a bit of elbow grease.
As I said, I have had no major problems with the bike. The oil pressure switch did fail once, in extremely hot weather, while stuck in traffic. This caused the oil warning light to come on at low revs. A replacement switch costs about £10.
I am also now in need of another rear tyre - seems about 5,000 miles is about the best you can hope for from the soft compound Dunlop (but I do give it some away from the lights!)
The most annoying concern remains the tank range. I have been on several long runs at sensible speeds and still need to fill up at 130 miles. This is becoming frustrating and as I'm riding to Portugal next June, I have ordered a larger tank (3.5 gallons) which will hopefully allow 160-170 miles between fill ups.
So...That's it! I'm still pleased as punch with my Sporty, and if you're ever in the Romford area, and you notice a loony on a bright yellow Harley bearing down on you...get out the way or I'll have your wing mirrors off!!