XL 1200X Sportster Forty-Eight 48
The Forty-Eight is Harley Davidson’s latest expression of their trademarked Dark Custom styling and attitude. The 48 model was rolled out in 2010 and joined the Nightster and Iron 883 as the XL avatars of that gritty minimalism, and it shares a number of attributes with those models besides its dark complexion, most conspicuously in the rear end. The slammed suspension, chopped fender wrapping 150/80-16 rubber, side-mount license plate, combination turn indicator/brake light.
The Forty-Eight an entirely new, slammed and beefy front end rolling a fat MT90 skin borrowed from the Cross Bones is juxtaposed with a miniscule 2.1-gallon peanut tank to create a compact brute of a bike visually. It’s a brute with a slammed profile, too, owing to mirrors installed on the underside of the grips, a lay-down speedo bracket, turn indicators stuck directly to the triple tree and a relatively flat handlebar. A stubby front fender mounts to a beautifully executed combination fork brace/fender bracket.
Harley-Davidson Sportster models like the Forty-Eight have retained an aura of rebellion since their introduction in 1957, when the foundation of custom culture was being formed by hot rod gear heads hanging out on city street corners, in gritty garages or at dusty dragstrips. Sportster motorcycles became an iron canvas for many legendary choppers of that hot rod era and beyond.The peanut tank is not only evocative of the original such units (tracing its roots back to Harley’s DKW-derived 125S in 1948; get it?) and right in step with current custom bobber fashion, it serves also to emphasize the physical mass of the 1200cc motor and the general stockiness of the model’s styling.
Teaming up with the forward controls to make the Forty-Eight an ergonomic pleasure which provides a good comfortable reach and posture against the wind, and the placement of the solo saddle, which parks the nates back over the rear shock mounts. The result is the sensation of riding a much bigger mount while enjoying the quick reflexes, quick performance, and 50+ mpg fuel consumption economy of an XL1200.
The Forty-Eight’s ride quality is dictated largely by the slammed rear suspension and muscular short-travel front forks. As such, it’s a taut, solid, and occasionally jarring ride over the notoriously chunky, patched and downright evil pavement of Daytona Beach’s crumbling city street infrastructure. On decent pavement it delivers decent bounce, and overall it sure beats the hardtail chassis that are so prevalent among the custom production bobbers on the market—though, at times, not by much.
The trade-off for that stiffness is the laudable agility of the Forty-Eight in twisty conditions and when knifing through the urban traffic snarls. Despite appearances, the fat-tire front end is downright nimble and confidence-inspiring. There’s not a smidgen of flex in the front forks; any steering input is met with an instantaneous and predictable response, and the overall feel of the handling is a lot like Harley’s hard-charging Dyna Fat Bob.
Belied by the Forty-Eight’s raw, rude and rowdy exterior is its downright civilized powertrain performance. Vibration is utterly isolated by the motor’s rubber mounting at virtually every operating speed, and the fuel-injected 74-incher rolls on the power seamlessly from an idle. Start up is effortless, acceleration hiccup-free, and quick twists of the throttle exhilarating.
Two idiosyncrasies of the Forty-Eight take some getting used to, the first being those underslung mirrors. Anyone conditioned to taking a quick glance above their gloves for a look behind (i.e., everyone) will have a disconcerting moment or two when that habit finds nothing there but air. (Oh, right. The mirror’s down there.) Once accustomed to looking down instead of eye-level, you discover that, surprisingly, you’re not looking at reflections of your knees. The field of reflection provided is pretty much unobstructed, though you may have to move your thumbs to see the whole picture.
The other unfamiliar feature of the bike is the jiffy stand. It’s a springy affair that snaps back sharply unless fully deployed, and once fully deployed and bearing weight, it sets into a sort of lock position that prevents it from snapping back and collapsing if the bike is inadvertently—or intentionally—bumped while parked. It’s a worthwhile concept except that once in a while the stand doesn’t dislodge from its lock position when the bike is righted and a quick kick to retract it is met with an immovable object and an awkward moment. Weird. We dubbed the device the “hinky stand.”
With a base price of $10,499, the Forty Eight is an attractive package of performance and looks, but in truth that sum is only the down payment on what you’ll be tempted to do to this model. An example of how far you might take it was displayed prominently out front of Harley’s Beach Street pavilion during Bike Week, and it’s pictured here. Of the many tweaks and flourishes found on the bike, the most immediately appealing is the gorgeous Brown Leather Solo Sprung Saddle. It runs about $300 from Harley-Davidson P&A.