2010 Harley-Davidson Sportster Forty-Eight

The Sportster is a cornerstone of Harley-Davidson’s empire.

It’s been a part of the annual lineup in one form or another since the late ‘50s and shows no signs of going away. Seems the Milwaukee brand knows a good thing when it has it. (For the sake of this article let’s just pretend that Buell still exists!)

Typically, Sportster models are the lowest-priced bikes from H-D and have one of the lowest seat heights in the line. Most importantly though, Sporties offer the core Harley experience: an air-cooled, pushrod V-Twin-powered cruiser. And they do so with little pretense. For these reasons and more, the Sportster is often the gleam in the eyes of new riders or those lusting for that first Harley.

Of the seven models that currently comprise the Sporty line, five are powered by the fuel-injected, rubber-mounted, air-cooled, 1203cc Evolution V-Twin, which Harley says is good for 79 ft-lbs at 4000 rpm. The 883 Low and Iron 883 are the other two Sporties; and as part of their names imply they’re powered by an 883cc version of the Evolution Twin. Like all Sportsters, the 883 models are fuel-injected.

Harley has seen fit to freshen the face of the Sporster the past couple years, creating the Nightster and Iron 883. Both models are also part of a subset of Harleys called Dark Customs. The 2010 Sportster Forty-Eight is the most recent addition and the third Sporty to join the Dark family.

The all-new Forty-Eight continues in the low-brow, bare-bones motif of its Dark Customs brethren.

Like the Nightster, this latest Dark Custom family member features a blacked-out Evolution V-Twin engine and other blacked-out components including air cleaner cover, hand controls and turn signals.

Hinting at the Forty-Eight’s bobber-inspired styling is a 2.1-gallon peanut tank, chopped front fender, solo saddle, and a chubby 16-inch front tire riding a black laced wheel; its 16-inch mate rolls out back. Another clue to its bobber theme are mirrors mounted below the handlebar. Beyond all the tuff stuff, however, the Forty-Eight is in essence a 1203cc (73.4 c.i.) Sportster.

Rugged looks but a heart of gold

The first time I saw the Forty-Eight I suspected a bike that sacrificed comfort for the sake of art. This latest Sporty proved my preconceived notions mostly wrong, as it was more comfortable than expected despite its stripped-down, Spartan appearance.

Its 26.8-inch seat height (26.3” on the Nightster and 883 Low) was a friendly-but-not-too-short distance off the ground, allowing my 30-inch inseam an easy reach for planting both feet. Yet, when putting boots down I did note the saddle’s edge seemed firm and created some discomfort at the point it contacted the back of my thigh. But when both feet were on the pegs for riding, the saddle was sufficiently comfortable.

The handlebar’s mild forward cant puts the rider into sporty, aggressive stance, offering good steering leverage, yet the position wasn’t so sporting as to feel uncomfortable.

If you’re used to mirrors in the typical above-bar position found on virtually all mass-produced motorcycles, the Forty-Eight’s under-bar mirror mount position might take some acclimatization. Eventually I got used to the location and didn’t find the styling exercise a genuine drawback to the mirror’s functionality.

The 2.1-gallon peanut tank complements the bike’s style and evokes images of Harleys from as far back as ’48, when Harley first employed the tank style. Although with such a small capacity when compared to, say, other Sportsters’ 3.3-gallon petrol holder, range will be limited. Nevertheless, Harley says to expect 42 to 57 mpg from the Forty-Eight depending on city or freeway miles.

The Evo Vee has spirited acceleration, and was especially grunty off the bottom with its classic, big Twin torque response. This bottom end-biased power proved great for quick launches from stoplights and occasionally lighting up the rear tire.

Fueling was trouble-free, as was the action in the 5-speed gearbox. Effort at the clutch lever was typical of many modern Harleys: not excessively heavy but not feathery either.

Along with my initially incorrect notion that the Forty-Eight wasn’t cozy, the other supposition rolling around in my head was a Sportster with sluggish steering response and generally crap handling due to its fat front tire. Again I was happily enlightened to the opposite.

Despite a plump Dunlop D402 (130/90 x 16) front tire, steering effort was much lighter than expected. The Forty-Eight’s steering geometry is marginally milder than that of the good-handling Nightster; and its ready-to-ride weight of 567 lbs is only 5 lbs more than the Nightster, so I was further impressed with chassis performance from the new bike with a number for a name. The bike tracked through the arc of a turn without protest, but like many cruisers, shallow lean angles are a limiting factor.

Feel at the brake lever was a bit on the spongy side in the first half of lever travel, but the single caliper/rotor set up ultimately provide adequate stopping force, and feel improved in the later half of lever travel.

Overall this new Sporty is fun to ride, especially in cityscapes where you can bop down the boulevard with a bunch of like-minded bobber-ridin’ friends. With a starting MSRP of $10,499 for the 2010 Forty-Eight, Harley adds another cool and affordable bike to its stable of Sportsters.

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