HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER 1200 (1995-on) Review

Published: 23 November 2006

"Mid-sized Sportster makes a lot of sense"

Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding

"Mid-sized Sportster makes a lot of sense"

Overall Rating 4 out of 5

The mid-sized Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster makes a lot of sense. It’s got a bit more presence, punch and space than the smaller 883cc family but without the weight and unwieldy feel of the 1340/1450cc big end motorcycles. It’s classic, air cooled Harley – if you want one you’ll probably not consider anything else. Full name is the Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster Custom.

Ride Quality & Brakes 2 out of 5

Whisper it – modern Harleys handle ok – nicely even. Sports bike jockeys who’ve never tried one may scoff but the Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster manages to be less wallowy than most Japanese cruisers. Unfortunately short travel suspension on the rear means bumps ruin the ride, especially if you’re heavy or carrying a passenger. Unfortunately this Harley-Davidson XL1200C Sportster model only gets a single front disc, which is inadequate – other 1200s got two.

Engine 3 out of 5

The Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster's engine is undeniably crude – but is that a fault or a virtue on a motorcycle like this? No Japanese engine can touch it for character. It’s not that different to the OHV lump that powered Harley’s 1957 Sportster. Historic, torquey, vibey it is but sporty it certainly ain’t. But Harleys are about taking it easy and being seen, not rushing about - and the Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster is no exception. Gearbox is equally agricultural yet lovable.

Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5

The latest Harleys, Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster included, are well built. The American company’s really improved things since the 70s and 80s and even the 90s. The finish is quite durable but remember the Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster is a motorcycle made for posing – any corrosion is a disaster so avoid winter use or clean religiously. Some Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportsters lose a little oil through the air filter so keep an eye on levels.

Insurance, running costs & value 4 out of 5

The Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster isn't particularly cheap to buy but like all Harleys, depreciation is extremely low. The Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster's fuel consumption is impressive and insurance isn’t OTT – but not cheap for the performance – thieves like Harleys. Maintenance costs are pretty low. The engine’s simple (and the valves don’t need adjusting on later Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportsters). Find a Harley-Davidson Sportster for sale.

Insurance group: 13 of 17 – compare motorcycle insurance quotes now.

Equipment 4 out of 5

Standard equipment on the Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster is not lavish but belt drive is low maintenance. 90% of Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportsters get customised, most commonly from Harley-Davidson’s own brand of aftermarket parts, Screamin’ Eagle. Exhausts are common as are jet kits to improve low speed running and prevent stalling. There’s a telephone book of accessories to choose from and some even add to the Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster's used value.

Owners' Reviews

15 owners have reviewed their HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER 1200 (1995-on) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

Review your HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER 1200 (1995-on)
Summary of Owners' Reviews
Overall Rating 4.1 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 3.7 out of 5
Engine 3.7 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4.1 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4.5 out of 5
Equipment 3.5 out of 5
4 out of 5

Sportster

22 November 2015 by The Mad Jock

Best thing about my bike is the smile and the feeling I get when I'm out on it. No frills just fun and I wouldn't swap it for anything. Worst and only fault is that I really should swap the suspension for something that would make the two up... Read more experience better

Ride Quality & Brakes
3 out of 5
Great for day trips and crusing around the county solo. Not so good two up, needs slightly stiffer suspension when two up as it bottoms out on speed humps and some rougher B class roads.
Engine
3 out of 5
Needs a little more BHP
Build Quality & Reliability
5 out of 5
Needed a new battery after about 7-8yrs and I've replaced the standard pipes for Vance and Hines. Making it slightly better than it was. Never broke down and only had starting problems when the original battery needed replacing
Value & Running Costs
4 out of 5
My Sportster is 11 years old and still feels like new. Servicing is not as expensive as I'd been told it would be. But it does need to be on trickle charge when not in use to keep battery in good nick
Equipment
2 out of 5
what equipment. This is bare bone no frills old school and I love it
Buying experience

Bought from West Coast Harleys in Glasgow and even though I'm over 100 miles away i will use them again. 1st class

4 out of 5

Sportster

22 November 2015 by The Mad Jock

Best thing about my bike is the smile and the feeling I get when I'm out on it. No frills just fun and I would'nt swap it for anything. Worst and only fault is that I really should swap the suspension for something that would make the two up... Read more experience better

Ride Quality & Brakes
3 out of 5
Great for day trips and crusing around the county solo. Not so good two up, needs slightly stiffer suspension when two up as it bottoms out on speed humps and some rougher B class roads.
Engine
3 out of 5
Needs a little more BHP
Build Quality & Reliability
5 out of 5
Needed a new battery after about 7-8yrs and I've replaced the standard pipes for Vance and Hines. Making it slightly better than it was. Never broke down and only had starting problems when the original battery needed replacing
Value & Running Costs
4 out of 5
My Sportster is 11 years old and still feels like new. Servicing is not as expensive as I'd been told it would be. But it does need to be on trickle charge when not in use to keep battery in good nick
Equipment
2 out of 5
what equipment. This is bare bone no frills old school and I love it
Buying experience

Bought from West Coast Harleys in Glasgow and even though I'm over 100 miles away i will use them again. 1st class

4 out of 5

30 September 2015 by Don

It tickles me when i hear folks say, "yeah i have a Softail, my wife has the Sportster". Or whatever people say. The sportsters are a bit smaller than their more expensive siblings, and very fast. The 1200. (i've paid my tax and you can google it... Read more if you don't know what i mean) really can be faster than most traffic. A sport bike lover once told me, "mines faster but yours is a work of art". The true bikers are brand centric or brand offensive right? Thats my view anyway. The 1200 represents the 1950s and even thru the 1970s, classic motorcycle lines. I've put 15000 miles on mine, and would sell all possessions prior to selling my 95. The rear ride (im about 140lbs) can be a bit stiff, and honestly with a 2nd rider it smooths out. Probably some softer shocks would help me i just haven't gotten around to it. I've kept mine clean, it presents very strongly, especially amongst todays baggage laden, computer driven ignition etc etc. What kind of fuel pump does this motorcycle have? I tell people "im standing on it"..its called gravity....As some have said, the bike isn't modern, but it sure is lively, fun, with Pirelli Route 66 tires, really handles nimbly in my opinion. I have ZERO desire to "trade up". This bike IS up. It requires no justification, it fits well, I've taken it on multi hour cross country rides, and around town. In some senses, for this reviewer, it is a perfect machine. Not THE perfect machine, but as Robert Pirsig aptly wrote "..the real test, is the satisfaction the machine gives, there really is no other test". In this case, the Harley Davidson 1200, jetted, exhaust opened up, and air cleaner intake mod (i substituted my 'ham can' for a good old fashioned ROUND air cleaner), is an immensely gratifying ride. I respect all the rest i really do, from street dirt to bullet, rocket cruiser etc. This is the motorcycle i was made to ride, and cannot but recommend it.

Ride Quality & Brakes
4 out of 5
-
Engine
5 out of 5
-
Build Quality & Reliability
5 out of 5
-
Value & Running Costs
5 out of 5
-
Equipment
4 out of 5
-
4 out of 5

Add Stage 1

09 February 2010 by DonaldB

When I bought the XL1200C I found it comfortable and the handling good for a custom but the performance was rubbish for a 1200cc. I added Screamin Eagle pipes and a Stage 1 Thunder Slide kit to the carb, set the mixture a little rich via the... Read more adjustable needle (Trial and Error)and what a difference, goes more like a Buell than a Harley and calmed the vibration down a bit too. Well worth some time in the garage.

Ride Quality & Brakes
4 out of 5
-
Engine
5 out of 5
-
Build Quality & Reliability
4 out of 5
-
Value & Running Costs
4 out of 5
-
Equipment
3 out of 5
-
4 out of 5

Just lie back and enjoy it

29 June 2009 by EnglishTexan

Covered about 2,500 miles on mine so far. Stage 1 exhausts, etc. Engine vibration took some getting used to, esp. at low revs, but secret sees to be in rider attitude - don't rush it, just cruise at around 55/60mph and you'll love it, and have lots... Read more in hand if needed. Surprisingly comfortable and easy in traffic. Dual discs mean brakes are fine. You WILL spend lots of money on customisation! 52mpg.

Ride Quality & Brakes
5 out of 5
-
Engine
2 out of 5
-
Build Quality & Reliability
5 out of 5
-
Value & Running Costs
3 out of 5
-
Equipment
4 out of 5
-
4 out of 5

fun fun fun

31 March 2007 by lance-jack

Had one for five years, foolishly sold it to get a Fatboy. Stage one with open pipes, solo seat, 16" apes, forkbrace ( it did make a wee bit of difference ), etc. Rode it all year round. Front brake is pants, but if you keep on top off it, it can do... Read more the job ( add braided hoses and don't skimp on the quality pads ). Rear brake fine. Riding position was good, longest covered in one day was about 340 miles. Good gas milage on the motorway, but I had a small tank ( 2 gallons ) on mine so frequent top-ups needed. Oil consumption wasn't a problem. Parts can be expensive but the second-hand market is very good and if you punt around you can get some real cheap parts to keep you going ( buy you service items from the states with a mate or two, get 'em for half the UK, including the postage. Change your oil frequently, it does make a difference. Cover the external parts that can corrode quite quickly with Corrosion X ( used in the aircraft industry ). If you don't want to buy chrome parts you can once again get the standard parts very cheaply, as most people buy shiney bits and biff the standard finish. Loved it, would have one again any time. Don't let Harley snobbery put you off. Some think that Sportsters are not "big" or "real" Harleys. This is B.S. Think of it more as an evolution from the big old British bikes in their day. Best off all, get an older one ( post '91, with the five speed box. Trust me, it makes a difference on motorways! ) for £2500, ride it for a while, if you don't like it you will get your money back on it. Cheers!

Ride Quality & Brakes
4 out of 5
-
Engine
5 out of 5
-
Build Quality & Reliability
4 out of 5
-
Value & Running Costs
4 out of 5
-
Equipment
2 out of 5
-
5 out of 5

Awesome custom road bike for UK summer riding.

26 July 2006 by Motoguzzifan

Get the stage one modification carried out. This takes off the draconian engine restrictions that Harley Davidson put in place (amusingly called "Harley Tax"). It rides fine before. It rides even better after the stage one modification has been... Read more carried out! Strengths: Tremendous torque of the engine. Awesome Harley Davidson V-Twin rumble. Lack of need to be travelling at 90+ mph all the time, like when you are on a sports bike. Weaknesses: Engine vibration at "real" motorway cruising speeds (you know, like 90+ mph). Lovely at 70 -80 mph. Perfectly capable of overtaking at up to 100+mph, you just wouldn't want to keep it there for any length of time!

Ride Quality & Brakes
4 out of 5
-
Engine
4 out of 5
-
Build Quality & Reliability
4 out of 5
-
Value & Running Costs
5 out of 5
-
Equipment
4 out of 5
-
5 out of 5

2006 1200R - bought new

22 May 2006 by Armand_Tanzarian

Traded in a Kawasaki W650 for this. Had the Stage One done from scratch which does improve performance but makes a hell of a noise. It even began to annoy me, let alone the neigbours. Changed back to standard pipes after a 1000 miles. "Rolling... Read more thunder" has now been replaced by "Passing Flatulence". How hard can it be to achieve a happy medium (obviously too hard for HD). Now I have the quiet pipes on I'm amazed how clattery the engine is. The bike is penty fast enough (about 100mph) but is hard work on the motorway. The twin front disks are perfectly good (unlike the single disk on the custom and 883, which barely works at all). The Sportster is a bit like a 60s muscle car. Great to look at, good for a laugh, but not really that practical. Strengths: Looks great, good fun for short blasts. Weaknesses:
A bit crude, hard work above 70MPH.

Ride Quality & Brakes
5 out of 5
-
Engine
5 out of 5
-
Build Quality & Reliability
5 out of 5
-
Value & Running Costs
4 out of 5
-
Equipment
4 out of 5
-
4 out of 5

Forget the Sports-bike ethic and you will love it!

15 October 2005 by dickthebuttockscruttock

I have recently taken my first step into the cruiser market and bought a Harley 1200 Sportster Custom. I have always had Japanese sports bikes in the past and increasingly moved up the speed scale...Gsxr6, Fireblade, Blackbird, R1. In the end I got... Read more so fed-up with the frustration of riding a sports bike on the road I decided to take up racing instead, and vowed never to have a sports bike on the road again. Cutting a long story short - Totally forget about the speed thing before you even buy this bike.... vibes,easy torquey cruising and shop window posing is what this bike is all about. Lots of people asking you about the bike wherever you stop, and no worries/pressures about speed camera's, knee down's and wheelies. Whilst still getting my speed fix on the track, this has been a breath of fresh air on the road. Try to go for a bike with as many extras fitted as poss, as harley bits are pricey. RECOMMENDED :o) Strengths: Sound "with decent pipes and filter". Torque, Chrome, Harley street cred. Weaknesses: Suspension on Custom models a bit crude/harsh. Better on Sport models aparently. Some models lose a tiny bit of oil through the air-filter...sorted with a £25 kit. Cleaning it is a bit of a bugger!

Ride Quality & Brakes
3 out of 5
-
Engine
3 out of 5
-
Build Quality & Reliability
5 out of 5
-
Value & Running Costs
5 out of 5
-
Equipment
4 out of 5
-
5 out of 5

My Review

07 November 2002 by Gromit

Never thought I'd ever own a Harley but you know what? It's just great fun - I've escaped the sportsbike rat-race and am really enjoying biking once again. You can have a lot of fun below 80mph and this bike is proof - and when it looks and sounds... Read more this good, who cares if it doesn't have 140bhp? 1200 conversion well worth having - makes a huge difference and doesn't cost a fortune. Sportsters are all about biking in its crudest, most basic form - long may it continue!! I'm a convert.

Ride Quality & Brakes
4 out of 5
-
Engine
4 out of 5
-
Build Quality & Reliability
4 out of 5
-
Value & Running Costs
5 out of 5
-
Equipment
4 out of 5
-
Read all 15 owners' reviews in full

Facts & Figures

Model info
Year introduced 1995
Year discontinued -
New price £6,995
Used price £4,600 to £14,000
Warranty term Two year unlimited mileage
Running costs
Insurance group 13 of 17
Annual road tax £81
Annual service cost £130
Performance
Max power 64 bhp
Max torque 69 ft-lb
Top speed 110 mph
1/4-mile acceleration 13.8 secs
Average fuel consumption 48 mpg
Tank range 175 miles
Specification
Engine size 1200cc
Engine type 4v V-twin, 5 gears
Frame type Steel spine
Fuel capacity 17 litres
Seat height 710mm
Bike weight 255kg
Front suspension None
Rear suspension Preload
Front brake 292mm disc
Rear brake 292mm disc
Front tyre size 90/90 x 21
Rear tyre size 150/80 x 16

History & Versions

Model history

1995: Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster introduced, replacing the XLH1200.
1997: New sealed battery.
1998: Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster gets new diagnostic port for oil pump.
2000: Uprated disc brakes and seat.

Other versions

Harley-Davidson XL1200S Sportster: ‘Sportier’ member of the 1200 family. Cast wheels 19” front, 16” rear, twin front discs, flat track handlebars, more sophisticated suspension with cartridge forks. 1985-2003.
Harley-Davidson XL1200R Sportster: Uprated brakes, rubber engine mounts, 19” front, 16” rear wheels. 2003-2005.

Photo Gallery

  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Engine
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Top view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Engine
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Top view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Top view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Engine
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Top view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Engine
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Top view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Top view
  • Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
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