Ten years ago I sold my Harley-Davidson Sportster, and I still don’t miss it. I thought it would be my dream motorcycle, but boy was I wrong!
If you read my previous article, 10 Things I Miss About My Harley-Davidson Sportster, you know that at 22 years old I was on top of the world. My father had been off of chemotherapy for almost year and life was great.
After endless months of research, I carefully selected a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to celebrate all that was good in life. It turns out, I could only put up with that motorcycle for a year before getting rid of it.
Sure, there were a lot of things I do miss about my Sportster, but here are ten things I don’t miss.
This isn’t a Harley-Davidson Sportster review, but if you’re thinking about buying a Sportster, you might want to know about these ten Sportster shortcomings before you buy.
- It leaked
- It got hot
- Weak suspension
- Too many aftermarket options
- BMW riders being insecure
- So much chrome
- Always waking up the neighbors
- Being harassed weekly
- Strangers always ask…
- Bonus: Repair costs
1) It leaked
It’s not just a rumor, many Harley-Davidson motorcycles do leak. My 2007 Sportster, even though it was only a few years old, was no exception. Don’t be too put off if you find a Harley-Davidson you want to buy that leaks oil, just figure out where the leak is coming from, so you can figure out (or ask a dealer) how much fixing the least might cost you.
Don’t let a small leak turn you off of buying a Sportster. On the contrary, don’t run away from the deal unless a seller says “It used to leak oil, but then it stopped.”
2) It got hot
The Harley-Davidson Sportster is an air cooled motorcycle. If you aren’t sure, here’s a list of the pros and cons of air cooled and liquid cooled motorcycle engines, but to sum it up, air cooled engines run hotter.
If you’re cruising along, even in the desert, this isn’t a problem, provided you have air passing through the engine’s cooling fins. The problem was that I was stuck in bumper to bumper traffic in a densely populated city. That made the Sportster get dangerously hot.
3) Weak suspension
The Harley-Davidson Sportster is an excellent base model motorcycle, one that needs to be customized to the rider’s needs and taste. One of the areas I suggest customizing immediately is the rear suspension.
The rear suspension on the Sportster is pretty weak. If you do a lot of two up riding, like I was, you’ll find your Sportster’s rear suspension bottoming out frequently. I can’t say I miss that feeling.
4) Too many aftermarket options
In 10 Things I Miss About My Harley-Davidson Sportster, I wrote that I miss how many different things were made specifically for the Sportster that you could buy and bolt-on yourself to customize your motorcycle. Now I’m saying there’s too much. Is man never satisfied?
The problem with having options, is they can take up a lot of your time, and a lot of your budget. Before you know it you can spend all of your weekends customizing your machine, and forget to actually go out and ride it.
5) BMW riders being insecure (?)
Truthfully, I don’t understand this phenomenon. Many BMW riders seem to completely ignore you on your Sportster. I’m not sure why. I talk more about it in 10 Things I Miss About My Harley-Davidson Sportster.
If you know what’s up with the BMW riders disliking the Sportster, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.
6) So much chrome
I’m not the type to keep my motorcycles meticulously clean. I ride rain or shine, so my bikes get dirty. There’s also a ten year long construction project happening on my street. In short, my motorcycles are usually dirty.
But Sporsters get next level dirty because there is so much chrome. All of the chrome really shows how dirty the bike is, and it takes much longer to clean it than it does to clean a painted surface, and I don’t miss that at all.
7) Always waking up the neighbors
Sometimes the girls living above your basement apartment bring guys home at 4 am and wake you up with their late night romps. When that happens, having the option to wake them up at 7:30 am with your loud exhaust pipes is nice.
Sometimes the girls upstairs were really cool, and I was the one coming home late and waking everyone up. I don’t miss how obnoxiously LOUD my Sportster’s open pipes were.
8) Being harassed weekly
I got more harassment in catcalls the year I rode a Harley-Davidson Sportster than in any of my other 13 years of motorcycle riding. It was usually either over-tanned, dried and wrinkled looking women hitting on me. Or else it was gay men shouting “Hey biker boy!” because my university campus was two blocks away from Toronto’s gay village.
Actually, in hindsight, I’m kind of disappointed I don’t get cat-called as much as I used to. What the heck? Forget it. I do miss this! Nothing wrong with funny little ego boosts.
9) Strangers always ask…
When you own a Sportster, you’ll get stopped a lot, in shop parking lots, at the gas station, wherever, “Hey, is that a Harley?” It will happen to you weekly.
The interruptions to your day aren’t bad. It’s that people with children will ask if they can put their kids on your motorcycle for a picture, so then you need to take time to explain that they can’t because the exhaust pipes and the motor are very hot and there’s a good chance the kid could get burned. I don’t miss all of those conversations with strangers.
The Sportster itself isn’t the most comfortable cruiser. If you’re 5’11 or taller you will probably find it cramped, especially if your Sportster has mid controls instead of forward controls.
Luckily, you can get Sportster forward controls for as little as $120 if your bike comes with mid controls, but the seats will still be uncomfortable on long rides.
Bonus: Repair quotes
I spent a lot of time in my garage working on my Sportster. That’s because everything seemed to cost $700 Canadian (about $550 USD).
Luckily, I was able to find my own parts (sometimes second hand), or get a few cheap seals from the dealership, and do the work myself for about $25 and a six pack of beer.
Did you find this interesting? Let me know what you think/thought of your Harley, or of Sportsters in general, in the comments section down below.
Harley-Davidson has been making the Sportster since 1957, tweaking and improving it all along the way. I don’t think the Sportster is a bad motorcycle. I think it’s an excellent building platform. With the Sportster, you have an excellent foundation to swap in the parts you want and build an excellent motorcycle, but that means it doesn’t come perfect right from factory.
I enjoyed my year on my Sportster, but I’m glad her 10 shortcomings are someone else’s problem now.
If you found this interesting, let me know what you think/thought of your Harley in the comments, and go ahead and take a look at 10 Things I Miss About My Harley – it wasn’t all bad!
I agree entirely with your 10, and I would add an 11th, that being its rawness. Its a vibrating snorting pulsing thing at its heart which at times gets rather old and tiring. I had a Sportster for 3 years before I tired of it and added a Suzuki Vstrom to the stable. The differences are so stark and I found myself spending much more time on the vstrom. The Vstrom was incredibly cheap and easy to work on, ran as smooth as butter, had gobs of suspension travel, cornered/handled so much better, that I found my sportster gathering dust in the garage as I spent more and more time on the vstrom. At the 4 yr mark I sold the harley (I called mine “the gnarley”). 2 yrs after that, I’ve also moved on from the vstrom to a goldwing f6b, which is my latest two wheeled infatuation! Its like a magic carpet ride of glory compared to the “gnarley” in every possible way. Ive not missed the harley. It was a stopping point on the journey of motorcycling but one I do not plan on revisiting.
Yeah the rawness is a lot of fun, but when I had my Sportster I was doing about 15,000 km a year (almost 10k miles) and honestly, I loved the Sportsters character, but at long rides, or long days where you’re running around running errands on the bike all day, sometimes big characters can start to get annoying.
Agreed. I believe that a lot of Beemer riders probably do not wave at Harley owners… for the same reason(s) a lot of rice-burners don’t, and that is: perception of “criminality”.
Honda was first to coin the phrase about meeting the “nicest” people, but I think these days, the REALLY nice (not to mention well-to-do) folks are straddling BMW’s. And the furthest thing from THEIR minds is being associated with anything potentially related to the “dark side”. (which was precisely why Honda came up with their award – winning campaign). Conversely, “wild and untamed” has been Harley’s clandestine calling card since the day Brando starred in the movie!
Nonetheless, I love giving a wave (from my decked-out cruiser) to the nastiest, tattoo-covered, wife-beater-wearing, drug dealer on the run-looking, two-wheeled pirates. And I love it even more when they get close enough to realize (in horror) that they just saluted a Yamaha owner. (My Midnight Venture does a pretty good job of impersonating an FLHRDFXRTKTRDSHTRF… from a distance!)
That’s my favorite model of Harley.
I had my 1200S for five years and definitely agree on finding it cramped. Absolutely fine for a very enjoyable local blast but not a good motorway/long distance bike. Mine had aftermarket rear shocks already so I didn’t encounter the soft stock suspension till last year, when I was loaned a brand new 883 Iron to run-in for my local dealer whilst my SuperGlide was in for lengthy repairs. (My SuperGlide has Progressive 412’s on the back, which give a lovely ride, solo or two up). Also agree that the Sporty is an excellent building platform. My 1200S had been modified by its previous owner and there was still plenty of scope for more work to be done, but as you say, where do you stop?! Keep modifying what you have or buy the bike it turns out you really wanted?! That’s why I swapped the 1200S for the 1450 SuperGlide Sport when I got the chance!
Any Harley usually invites questions from admiring bystanders and that is kinda cool, I think! (No, you can’t put your sticky-fingered kids on it, mate)! Yep, they do take a lot of cleaning (as does my Dyna!) but that’s therapy to me! Great excuse to lock myself in the Man Cave with a couple of Beers for a couple of hours and look what you get to stand back and admire at the end of it! As for the disdain of BMW pilots: I think it’s just their own Deutsche-induced arrogance/snobbery, personally!
So for my own part: Like you, I like the Sporty; but not for a long term relationship! For that, I have my Dyna!
A LOT of people go Sportster to Dyna just like you did. I hear “It’s the bike I really wanted.” a lot from those who take the same path you did, and for good reason. They’re right.
Even still, sometimes you see Sportsters listed for sale on the used market, and you see the upgrades you would have done, and you stop and think, hmm, that one’s already got all the expensive fixes… should I just go look at it?
Few folks who ride Harley’s define their experience by the Sportster. As others have said, it was designed to be raw and gnarly and badass. It was always the relatively inexpensive entry into the Harley world. It was always cramped for most riders and was never designed to be a long distance bike or a two-up bike. Those who graduated from Sportsters or bypassed them entirely in favor of full-sized Harley cruisers or tourers have a different story to tell and far fewer of them migrate to other bikes.
You can hear wannabe Harley riders with absurdly loud pipes on their Honda and Yamaha V-twins too. Pipe noise is a matter of how oblivious you are to the comfort of fellow riders, fellow citizens, your own hearing loss and perhaps concern over the length of a certain body part.
Waves? I am usually the leader of my riding buds and I wave to everybody on a motorcycle. You can usually tell by the silhouette what kind of bike is approaching. The most likely wave snubbers are the BMW riders, but lately even they seem to be loosening up a little, a considerable accomplishment for them.
Hahaha, glad to see even down there the BMW riders are of a certain breed
My first Harley was a 1970 xlch Sportster kick start only graduated to Evo Sportsters I presently own a 2002 xl 883/1200 with 143598 miles on the speedo and a 2007 1200L Sportster with 138.546 miles 8hv5he speedo. I rejoy them inmensly as for your comments. Ride what you like but I enjoy my 2, Sportsters. In fact they are the only Harley’s I have owned since my first one.
Might be worth trying new ones? My Sportster was the only Harley I had ever owned since my V-Rod. Now that I’m used to my V-Rod I don’t think I could ever go back. Not without spending so much in upgrades to the Sportster that it would end up costing more than my V-Rod did.
It’s all dependent on what you expect out of a motorcycle. In the 47+ years of riding I’ve own a host of bikes, all having their purpose and quarks. Sportsters are for short rides, not long cruising. For the most part, they are bar hopping, backroad bikes, and they do it quite well. As far as Bimmer riders attitudes, they snuff at anyone not riding another BMW. Took a performance riding course class when I owned an FJR1300 and there were 2 BMW riders in the class. Both shunned everyone not on a Bimmer…
I take it as immaturity and move on… It’s their problem they believe owning a certain type motorcycle makes them important. I like all bikes and just want to ride
Agreed. I like my BMWs, but I also like my Vespa, and my Triumph, and my KYMCO, and and and