Motorcycle: Sportsters - The First of The Breed
Date: Sunday, October 31 @ 18:07:31 UTC
Topic: Motorcycle, Motorcycles, Motor Cycle
The First of The Breed
After the debacle of the side-valve Model K, the Sportster series roared across America like a refreshing gale. At its heart was an overhead-valve engine displacing the same 883cc as the XLs of today. In those days, however, both the cylinder barrels and heads were of heavy cast iron, the latter with a hemispherical combustion chamber.
Each valve had its own gear-driven camshaft, operating the valve via "High Speed Racing" roller tappets and solid push-rods. A single Linkert carburettor fed mixture into the cylinder, where shallow domed pistons offered a compression ratio of 7.5:1. In 1957, peak power was around 40bhp but this rose considerably with the ported, high-compression "H" and "CH" versions, reputedly reaching 58bhp at 6,800rpm by the mid-1960s. By then, a good one could exceed 110 mph (177kph).
Cosmetically, even fully-equipped versions of the XL were as lean as motorcycles can be — an attribute most retain to this day. Not so much as a pillion seat was permitted to mar their purposeful lines. The chassis was adequate if altogether less persuasive. A combination tubular steel and cast iron frame married "easy riding" telescopic forks and twin rear shock absorbers, with the swing arm pivoting on taper roller bearings. Each 18in (457mm) wheel held an underwhelming eight-inch (200mm) drum with shoes one inch (25mm) wide.
In truth, the handling wasn't great, although (for a Harley) the Sportster was light and low enough for a good rider to manhandle it into shape. An improved front fork helped matters from 1968 but the XL only really began to behave with the appearance of a lighter and stiffer frame, universally praised in press road tests, in 1982. By this time, the old one was very much feeling its age. Those first Sportsters were comparable with almost anything on the road and, at $1,103 apiece, sold like "Competition Hot-cakes". By the late 1960s, this was comfortably Harley's best-selling range.
Since its introduction in 1957, the XL pollster has been the bread and butter of the Harley-Davidson range. Within a iar, the stock Sporty had been joined by the high-compression XLH Sportster Sport, the legendary XLCH "Competition Hot" (as it is commonly icalled, although it actually meant "Competition High-compression") and the stripped-down XLC Sportster
Racing. Perhaps surprisingly, the latter, intended for off-road use, lasted for only one year. Originally marked for a life on dirt, the XLCH featured the 1.8 gallon (8.2 litre) "peanut" tank (standard was 3,5 gallon /16 litres), big valves, magneto ignition — and neither lights, speedometer nor battery. It was superseded by a fully road-equipped XLCH one year later. Detail changes included a switch to 12-volt electronics in 1965, two years before the first Sportster electric start — or "Push the button... ZAP.. and away you go" as Milwaukee promoted it. For 1971, the previous diy clutch gave way to a wet one. The first l,000cc examples were the XLH/XLCH Super H and Super CH of 1972, the extra displacement coming from a 4.5mm increase in bore size to offer around 60bhp. (The captivating XLCR and XR1000 are dealt with in detail later.) Another spin-off from the Sportster line was a series of hybrid models, hoping to hit any untapped market niche. The XLT Touring came out in 1977, equipped with saddlebags, high bars and a thicker seat. More than 1,000 were built in the first year, a mere six in the second, giving way two years later to the XLS Roadster, with extended forks, highway pegs and a 16in (406mm) rear wheel. That year might be remembered as the last year of the legendary XLCH. A lasting hybrid was the optional Hugger package of 1980, offering shorter shocks and a thinner seat — this was a precursor of the true Hugger models of today. The equally far-reaching XLX61 came out in 1983, a stripped-down, budget-priced version of the XLH1000 aimed at cash-strapped riders. It has been Milwaukee policy ever since to produce a cut-price "entry-level" model. When the 883 and l,100cc Evolution models arrived for 1986, it was to be the beginning of a new section in the Sportster story.
SPECIFICATIONS: XL SPORTSTER 1957
Engine: ohv V-twin
Weight: 438 lbs (199kg)
Wheelbase: 58.5m (1,485mm)
Top speed: 95mph (152kph)
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