Harley-Davidson’s Sportster line is instantly recognizable by even the most casual of bike enthusiasts, and this 2006 Harley-Davidson Sportster XL1200 Roadster is no exception. While other manufacturers have scrambled to keep up with the retro styling craze and launch models in homage to past performers, Harley-Davidson has continued to do what they’ve done for decades – update last year’s model. Fads have come and gone over the years, but America’s oldest continually operating motorcycle manufacturer never strayed far from their roots, and the bikes they know their customers come to buy.
The first Harley-Davidson Sportster hit the streets of America in 1957, and now, still in production it is among the longest running model lines in history.When you were a kid, no matter when that was, you probably wanted to ride a Sportster when you grew up.
Our test bike was fitted with a dealer installed Sportster Low front suspension kit and billet Low rear shocks that lower the bike an inch front and rear. This drops the bikes already low 29.9 inch seat height to 28.9 inches. The Sportster’s seating position is very comfortable with a supportive saddle, mid-mount controls placing the rider’s feet directly beneath, and a wide handlebar providing plenty of leverage. The electronic speedometer and tach are well placed and easy to read, and the mirrors offer excellent rear vision. Self canceling turn signals are a nice feature.
Hit the ignition and the rubber mounted 1200cc Evolution twin shakes to life with a familiar staccato. The bike vibrates quite a bit at idle, as you would expect a big bore Harley to do, but the vibrations smooth out when you roll on the throttle. Once on the road you won’t care, if you even notice at all. The stock Harley-Davidson pipes are quiet, but not silent. Even so, the overall tone and character of the big Sportster would benefit greatly from a free flowing exhaust. This is, after all, Harley’s factory hot rod, and the bike deserves a loud voice. You don’t mess with tradition.
On the road the bike is well mannered and a lot of fun to ride. Handling is quite nimble for a large motorcycle and the twin disc front brakes are phenomenal. If this were my personal motorcycle I would stick with the stock suspension height as the added ground clearance and increased lean angle are better suited to my riding. With the Low setup I was concerned about dragging the kickstand in some of the tighter left hand turns. The Sportster never let me down though, and the bike surprised me with its quick handling. This is a bike you can ride all day long, storming your favorite back roads, camping for the weekend, or rolling to your buddy’s house on the other side of town. The Sportster is versatility meets classic style.
Power delivery from the wrinkle black finished twin is smooth and linear from idle right up to the 6,000 rpm redline. the Sportster’s five speed transmission is smooth as well, providing a positive feel and solid shifts. Harley-Davidson engineers report reduced clutch effort on all 2006 models, and while the Sportster’s clutch is not as light as the Dyna we tested previously it feels good.
In a nutshell, the 2006 Harley-Davidson Sportster XL1200 Roadster, like the original 1957 Sportster from which it evolved is a bike for the rider that appreciates the basic essence of motorcycling. This is a care free, wind in your face, ride to nowhere motorcycle. The Sportster is the reason you started riding.
This article was originally written for Octane Magazine in 2006. The 2006 Harley-Davidson Sportster XL1200R demo bike was provided by Southside Harley-Davidson in Virginia Beach, VA.