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A final farewell to the Harley-Davidson Sportster

The Harley-Davidson Sportster has been with us since Elvis existed only in black and white, and it’s been part of our culture through evolutions and revolutions and in dozens of model iterations.

But nothing lasts forever, and the Sportster platform as we knew it came to the end of its road in 2022. Ultimately, one of the Sportster’s strengths – its honest and lovable air-cooled engine – became its fatal weakness, as its inability to meet Euro 5 noise and pollution regulations put an end to the venerable X engine.

The Sportster as we now know it, the 2021 Iron 1200, was one of just three Sportys in H-D’s 2021 lineup. (American Rider)

However, H-D has reinvented the platform and has two new Sportsters in its lineup, both powered by Revolution Max engines that were first seen in the Pan America adventure bike. The Sportster S uses the liquid-cooled 1,250cc motor, while the Nightster is powered by a 975cc version.

Since we have entered a new era of the Sportster, we’ll enjoy a history lesson of the model from our buddy Kip Woodring, who takes us back to the model’s roots and the highlights and lowlights of its development through the years.

The K-series engine debuted in 1952.

It feels as though the Harley-Davidson Sportster has always been with us, and there can’t be many riders who remember a time before the X-engined marvel existed. The Harley-Davidson Sportster is likely the machine that forms the image of “motorcycle” in riders’ minds. It’s won the hearts of many a fan, through thick and thin, for almost 65 years! Only Chevy’s small-block V-8 has lingered longer or stronger in the vehicular world.

When the Sportster roared onto the scene in 1957, emissions regulations weren’t of any concern. What mattered then was building a machine that could take the measure of hot-rod parallel-Twins of even older origins that were coming across the sea, mostly from Triumph and Norton in England.

Evolution (35 years’ worth), and this is about as evolved as it could get.

One could argue the Sportster had lingered too long, a beloved anachronism that was clearly past its prime. Fair enough, but we all have our own definitions of “prime.” There are plenty of fans of each iteration, plenty of opinions, some facts, a fair bit of fiction, and a large circular firing squad for the mistakes made.

Harley-Davidson Sportster Hits

  • 1957-70: Iron engine, for its purity and purpose.
  • 1973: XR750 flat-tracker – because it did it so well, for so long.
  • 1976-78: XLCR, as a styling exercise.
  • 1986-2021: The “Evo” engine, for all it did and does.
  • 1991-on: Five-speed transmissions for adding versatility and 30 years of life.
  • 1995-2010: Buells with X-engines for a performance renaissance.
  • 2000-on: Disc front brake, for coming to a halt with certainty.
  • 2004-on: Rubber-mounted engine for teaching an old dog a new trick.
  • 2007-on: Low maintenance trifecta – EFI, hydraulic lifters, belt drive.
  • 2008-10: XR1200, for proving a performance point to the rest of the world.
  • For all they offer and all you need to know

Read the full story on American Rider’s website.

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