The introduction of the Harley Davidson Sportster to the US market in 1957 was more of a strategy to counter the increasingly successful British motorcycles sold in the US The Sportster was one of the first Harley Davidson models to include a suspension. rear and a high performance, overhead valve engine. The design was remarkably reminiscent of the dominant British motorcycles of the 1950s, in particular the Triumph Thunderbird. This approach turned out to be gold. The poster was warmly received by the American motorcycle market. Here are our picks for the top 10 Harley Davidson Sportster models (in no particular order).
1. 1957 Harley XL Sportster Ironhead
The Sportster legend began with the 1957 Harley XL Ironhead, which featured a new overhead valve engine that ran with a 3.81-inch stroke and 3-inch bore to produce a displacement of 883cc. A crank pin was used for both cranks and was called a “knife and fork” design. The individual valves were controlled by a separate cam to simplify the valve train geometry, while the front and rear cylinders were powered by a single carburetor. Integrated into the rear of the engine housings was a “unitary” 4-speed transmission, while the engine, which was almost perfectly hidden behind the gas tank, featured two-cylinder jugs about 45 degrees apart.
2. 1967 Harley Sportster XLH
Before the 1967 XLH, all previous models were boot only. The new model came with revised engine boxes to incorporate electric start. Between 1967 and 1969, two cases were made for the Sportster: one for electric-start motorcycles and the other for quick-start models. In 1970, all XL models were equipped with the same engine boxes. The XLH retracted the frame just above the arm pivot to support the electric start, as well as the new battery box. With the long frame, the seatpost tubes were placed 1 1/2 inches back.
3. 1969 Harley Sportster XLH
Northwest Utah-based Bonneville Salt Flats has always been known for high-speed competition. It is here in 1970 that an aerodynamic motorcycle operated by Sportster broke the world speed record. The aerodynamic featured a 15-foot-long aluminum body, with a cross-section of just 23 inches. Inside was a small cockpit with a cuddly and boring custom XLR engine at 1480cc. The engine was powered by 70% nitromethane and the rider was renowned Harley Davidson rider Cal Rayborn, whose record speed of 265 mph lasted 15 years!
4. 1971 Harley Sportster
1971 was a special year for Sportsters, marking a transition from 900cc to new engine boxes. The lineup transferred the distributor into the gearbox, now using an automatic advance mechanism to assist with starting. The fiberglass tail section and seat, dubbed “the boat tail” were introduced for the second and final year. The Sportsters were transformed into a wet clutch setup that, as the name implies, sits in oil, while dry does not. They are also quieter than dry clutches, but are more difficult to pull the lever.
5. 1978 Harley Sportster
The 1978 Sportster borrowed cast-aluminum wheels and dual-disc front brakes from the Cafe Racer, plus Siamese tailpipes that improved both mid-range power and torque. Longer stroke rear shocks were important in increasing passenger and driver comfort. At that time, all XL bikes had a stable voltage regulator and electric ignition, which required less maintenance and made starting easier.
To celebrate 75 years of production, Harley Davidson offered a special edition Sportster, with limited edition anniversary graphics, gold cast aluminum wheels and dark black paint highlighted by gold trim. The company’s brochure called the 1978 Sportster the fastest, most powerful and most agile motorcycle of its time. 17,000 units were sold that year, marking the highest Ironhead Sportster sales ever.
6. 1980-1981 Harley Sportster
In 1980, Harley Davidson released the 1980 Sportster with dual discs and triangulated frame and discs and discontinued the 1979 quick-start models. All XL models now come with electric start only, leaving room for the rear master cylinder to relocate underneath. Y…