REVIEW: HARLEY-DAVIDSON FORTY EIGHT SPORTSTER

I’ve been a Sportster fan since I was a little kid and Michael Parks was tearing up the TV screen as Jim Bronson in the cult classic show “Then Came Bronson”. For you younger readers that have no idea what I am talking about… that was about 1969… and since then I have had a long-lasting love affair with the entry-level Harley-Davidson.

In recent years the Motor Company has wisely given some extra attention to the baby Harley, releasing some vintage looking spin-off models including The Nightster and the Iron 883 and this year they continue to emphasize that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to own a piece of the Harley mystique by offering the model Forty-Eight Sportster. I’ve been reading about this bike for a few months now and when my friends at Bumpus Harley-Davidson in Murfreesboro, Tennessee extended the offer to test one out, I jumped at the chance.

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Right off the bat let me just say… this bike is plain-old cool. And when I say old… I mean old. Drawing inspiration from WWII era bobbers, the package includes a fat front tire (MT90B16 72H), a 1948-like Peanut Tank, a slammed speedo, under mount mirrors, combined stop-turn taillights, side-mount license plate holder, forward controls and a super low 26” seat height that all add up to a head-turning, old-school vibe. It looks great!

But looks aren’t everything… so after drooling over the Forty-Eight for a while I hopped on for a 30 minute ride that included everything from a 4-lane Interstate to curvy backroads and even some stop-and-go urban traffic.

Power was of the typical 1200 Sporty type with adequate punch and while the lowered stance offered a better ride than I expected, there was a slight but noticeable instability at take-off and in steep turns. I am assuming it is because of the larger front tire but the bars tended to want to wobble when departing from a complete stop and when pushing hard through a corner.

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From an ergonomic standpoint I’d have to say that this bike was a bit awkward for my short 5’9” frame. The low seat combined with forwards and drag style bars left me stretched out and by the end of the 30 minute ride my lower back was beginning to feel it… but you have to take into consideration my back has seen stronger days and the fact that I am used to riding an Electra Glide Standard. One other noticeable issue for me was the position of the forwards. You can see by the picture here that the shifter was hitting my foot at the very tip of my size 8.5 work boot. I had no problems shifting but I would have felt more comfortable if the shifter had rested an inch or so closer to my ankle.

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As you can tell… this is definitely not the most comfortable bike I have ever ridden but that’s not the point here. I believe Harley-Davidson has nailed it again in their quest to offer entry-level priced bikes (Sportsters) that appeal to the James Dean lurking deep within all of us. The Forty Eight is oozing with old-school attitude and while I can’t recommend it to anyone who plans on taking long road trips… it is well worth consideration by those looking for a bad little bar hopper or daily commuter that is cooler than the norm. Besides… who needs geezerglide comfort when your bike looks this good!

A Few Key Stats:

MSRP: Vivid Black $10,499, Color $10,789

Length: 88.6”

Seat Height: 26”

Ground Clearance: 3.9”

Fuel Capacity: 2.1 Gallons

Dry Weight: 545lbs

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This review indicates my own personal opinion of this product and should be taken as just that. Yours may vary and you should try this product yourself before drawing any conclusions about it.

© 2010 Biker Swag, All Rights Reserved. No part of this review may be reproduced in any format without express written permission.

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33 responses

  1. Swag, this bike is just like bikes I’ve seen friends own in the early to mid 70′. Take a rolling chassis, and add parts you were able to find at a swap meet…put em all together on that chassis….and you have your typical home built and well loved 1200 Super Glide. You know I love my Sportster, and that my bike has the same peanut tank on it…I really do like the nice “fat” tires these newer Sportsters are able to roll with…my Sporty would rub the wires under the rear fender raw with that rubber…there is no doubt I like the looks of this bike, and I’d ride it across country just like I do my 93 Sporty…this bike fits my idea of a retro bike better than anything HD has out there right now.

    April 11, 2010 at 6:47 AM

  2. “this bike fits my idea of a retro bike better than anything HD has out there right now”

    Hey Chessie… I couldn’t agree more.

    April 11, 2010 at 9:07 AM

  3. Solid-honest review. Thanks! I had ’01 Sporty that had the same limitations. But Dang, it was fun to blast around on. Harley does have the right idea on the new dark customs and this 48. Entry level people are not ready for the upper weight distribution of most Sporty, too top heavy for new riders. My get chance to demo a ’10 Road Glide this week, if so will post review on it. Did demo ride in Daytona, but too short for real review. Keep up the good work! Ride Safe!

    April 11, 2010 at 10:24 AM

  4. Great pics as always Swag! I’m not as knowledgeable about bikes, but I have to agree with you, it looks to be a “plain old cool” bike :) I likey!

    April 13, 2010 at 9:05 PM

  5. That is one sexy lookin HD – good review and pics mate!!

    April 22, 2010 at 2:01 PM

  6. chad

    Just got my new Forty Eight. This is my 1st ever road bike and I love it. I am 5ft 4 and 125lbs and have no troubles riding it. It handles great and has tons of power. I put Rinehart cross tube pipes and the Screaming Eagle stage 1 air filter kit on it. Sounds great!

    April 27, 2010 at 12:13 PM

  7. The 48 is a rock’n bike! It’s like a rocked out cafe racer! I agree with Beaker…it’s one sexy HD!

    April 27, 2010 at 5:24 PM

  8. scott

    Solid review on the 48. Picked mine up yesterday. I own 5 metric bikes, everything from cruisers to a yamaha R1 sportbike, and I have to say this is the first Harley I have ever purchased. The only draw back I have found so far on the 48 is riding 2 up. The suspension bottems out too easy, however the parts guy where I purchased my HOG, told me Harley has a better shock for riding 2 up. As far as handling, this bike is very responsive in the curves, and turns, yea, it is not a sportbike no more than my sportbike is a cruiser, but it has plenty of torque, and cuts the turns and curves with easy. No doubt I will be scraping my pegs as I will soon forget I am on a cruiser.

    June 6, 2010 at 6:14 AM

  9. Simon Furniss

    Love the review, it has completely changed my mind on a new bike. I was considering a Nightster, I like the blacked out engine and low back end…but this bobber is what I wanted to achive. The best bit is it’s stock! I live in Australia and we won’t get it until the end of the year as a 2011 model. I will place my order around September time. Just a choice of colour, was the Orange really bright? Was the silver a little more easy on the eye? From the great pics the orange looks good, but maybe too bright.

    Cheers Simon AKA The POM

    June 10, 2010 at 3:42 AM

  10. Hey Simon… the orange looks good to me but I will say that the silver seems a little more old-school looking in my opinion. I don’t know… just personal preference I guess.

    June 10, 2010 at 10:08 PM

  11. Simon Furniss

    Thanks buddy, I think Silver it will be……can’t wait! Should get a “look see” at the MotoGP on Phillip Island, which is where I live, in October……cheers again The Pom

    June 11, 2010 at 4:46 AM

  12. Zapman

    Cool ride man, just waiting for it to hit Oz. My only issue is the size of the fuel tank. Can you put a tank from a 1200 custom (or similar) onto the 48??

    July 13, 2010 at 3:12 AM

  13. donny

    It’s about time a great sportster i do not need to buy after market part’s for,BUT!!!, WERE IS THE REAR SEAT ?, is this another 400.00 dollar dealer trick,because thats the cost of a rear seat.(PS) A motorcycle with out a rear seat makes me angry,i guess you just wave at the women,or tell your girl friend,or old lady to stay home.

    July 18, 2010 at 8:06 AM

  14. Paul

    I have not riden a bike for 20yrs and was toying with the idea of a Ducati Monster until i saw the 48. Absolutely fell in love with its styling, looks the nuts.
    Went to Warrs on the kings Rd, London, cash in hand so to speak, but none in stock and now taking orders for the 2011 model. After ringing all the dealers in South England i managed to track one down from HD in Chingford. Its a silver model and they put different pipes and the single saddle on it in the showroom so ended up costing me a little more than the basic model.
    Am having a stage one done, got a Joker Machine air filter coming from the states with V&H slipons, also putting the black diamond grips and shifetrs on and side mounted folding number plate. Gonna get a 6×4 plate made up with black background and silver lettering, cant wait to pick it up in about a weeks time.
    Think i’m having a mid life crisis but boy am i gonna enjoy it!!!

    July 19, 2010 at 12:07 PM

  15. Operator7G

    I love just about everything about this bike except for that tiny 2.1 gallon tank and possibly the room. At an even 6′ tall, would I feel cramped on this bike or is that why it only has a 2.1 gallon tank – to make you stop and stretch often? What’s the realistic range on this bad boy?

    July 23, 2010 at 11:35 PM

  16. Tommy

    Got my 48 yesterday, love it! I ordered a denim black nightster tank, VH 2-1 pipes, stage 1 air filter and super tuner. This is one bad bike. Oh, and will be adding custom Corbin seat. Thanks Harley Davidson of Monterey County. Kyle and Roger rule

    September 6, 2010 at 9:32 AM

  17. Joanne

    Happened into the Harley shop today with my husband, wasn’t looking for a new bike until I saw a custom green 48, and had to sit on it.
    I’m a 5’2″ woman so height (or lack of it!) and ergonomics is really important. I currently ride a Honda Shadow Spirit 750 and am not unhappy but have always wanted a Harley if I thought I could reasonably and comfortably handle it. Thoughts??? thanks much!

    September 12, 2010 at 2:51 PM

  18. kevin sutton

    just bought a 48 from Warrs london, wow what a bike i love it , its just right. ive had big Harleys before and got fed up with them, but this little baby is super cool, running v&h black short shots with quiet baffles, screaming eagle air filter plus fuel pac, well pleased Kev

    November 10, 2010 at 11:27 AM

  19. shannan

    Got my 48 back in May . Have put 3000 miles plus on it. Couldn’t be happier with the bike. It gets about 90 miles to a tank. Put on the Brawler seat, tall black sissy bar, screaming eagle air filter, VH Shortshots solid black, black Mini Apes, and Willie G. grips. The mini apes help you not to feel stretched out. At least not with my 5’11″ 165 lb. frame. Sounds great , hauls, and haven’t found a Harley owner yet that didn’t give the bike a complement. I’m always on it because Texas has the best season for bikes. All year! Like any bike take your time getting use to it. All the comments are spot on. Thanks Swag for the review. In my opinion everyone should own a ’48!

    November 14, 2010 at 12:20 PM

  20. I’d love to see pics of everyone’s 48s!

    November 14, 2010 at 11:18 PM

  21. mean lookn bike have ownd 96 sportster 1200 and luvd it gona get me one of these 48 and be the coolest dude in town. cheers.

    January 22, 2011 at 10:31 PM

  22. Easy E

    I picked up my 2011 in December (thanks Fillie @ Quaid-Temecula!) and have absolutely no regrets. I have been off street bikes for over 20 years and once the kids were raised and done with dirt bikes I thought—-”why not”—-which seems to be a common theme among many buyers of the 48. MOCO nailed the 40+ yoa demographic—-and that reportedly wasn’t even their target. See you on PCH…..

    March 9, 2011 at 10:32 AM

  23. I bought my forty eight before I even had my bike license! Hubby was pushing me to ride with him and I didn’t feel comfortable on any other harleys until I sat on the forty eight! I’m 5’4″ tall, and really wanted to be able to sit on a bike with my feet flat on the ground for stability. Went and immediately took the bike course, been riding ever since. Only draw backs for me, although I love the look of the seat, because of my size I have to seat at the end, not that comfortable, and the foot brake is a bit to far away from my size 7 foot. Other than that, it’s a real sexy ride!

    April 4, 2011 at 7:19 AM

  24. mike goodman

    This s the first bike i have ever bought , and i love it , i get constent looks . i love this bike , ,,, BUT , i reccomend a different style seat ! i went on a 200 mile ride the other day , and i completely regretted that . My ass was killing me ! im 6′ and weigh 235 pds and i rde on this bike fine . and the next and last complant i have is the extra small fuel tank . i ride full throttle and low fuel light comes on around 52 miles and runs emoty at round 108 miles ” know from expeirance ” . other than a few mods its awesome !!!!

    August 21, 2011 at 7:47 PM

  25. Julie

    5’4 110 LB female. I Love this cycle. I kept my Buell XB 9 due to the completey different riding experience. I bought the passenger pegs today for more comfort on longer rides. Try it they feel so much better on your back and hips if your feeling too stretchd out. Damn…Harley got this one RIGHT for looks. Sweet!

    September 1, 2011 at 8:06 PM

  26. cool bike how much

    September 22, 2011 at 7:53 AM

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  28. mikemike

    I just bought a 2012 48. My brother and I walked into mikes famous…… as he was buying a ’12 street glide (I was literally drooling over the Orange/black 48. Mikes famous rings a bell whenever a bike is sold & make you feel @ home . Seconds after the bell rang for my brother …..I was still sitting on the 48……”lou ,my brothers sales person walked up to me and asked if I wanted to take the 48 I was on for a ride” 60 seconds later it was out front running with a tag on it :-) OMG , WHAT A RIDE !! 20 minutes later ………the bell RANG & I was It’s new owner ¦:~{} haha , I stole my brothers thunder & topped him ! He only got the street glide because it looked identical to my 02 e glide (his attempt to out do me).
    My new 48 is faster than my hopped up e glide, very lite & agile like a European race bike. 1.7 inches of suspension travel makes it handle like a RIGID. I don’t even notice the rough ride anymore,the attention this bike gets is absolutely fenominal !!

    November 10, 2011 at 7:05 PM

  29. edtree

    Hey Swag! Gr8 bike mate.
    Never owned a Sporty but had a ’59 Pan then an 1980 Shovel. Thinking about the 883 because I find the bigger bikes too much to deal with in city traffic. The only fault looks wise (and I’m obviously into retro) is the disk front brake. Do you know of any way to convert this to a drum that would pass a road inspection? or to minimise the appearance of the disks. Make them tiny. I mean I don’t really care about the effectiveness, I road my pan for years and my pushbike had a better front brake :) They have really good bake brakes I’m sure and I’d throw the front one in the bin if I could get away with it rego wise.
    If you have time to reply then thanks!!!
    Hari Om
    Ed

    February 2, 2012 at 5:52 AM

  30. Tom Whiteman

    I’ve had quite a few bikes over quite a few years I’m not tellin my age… But I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Harleys…BUT up till now I’ve never much cared for sporties to me they rode like a saw horse… Till about 6 months while buyin parts for my Ultra ,I saw my first 48 and even sat on it….just unreal nice and comfy and stylish…so every time I visited the shop I’d be lookin at that 48 …well on black Friday while pickin up chrome levers for the ultra.. I bought my 48 so now my big girl has a little sister….What fun I had bonnies and nortons and this bike brings back memories of how fun those little bikes were…I’ve made so changes Apes , pipes air cleaners ,custom paint job,,,all those extras that make the bike yours… I think Harley has finally got it right….

    February 8, 2012 at 3:24 PM

  31. Bought this bike just yesterday. I haven’t ridden one in 30+ years so I have to re-learn a few things.

    I agree that it does tend to wobble a bit. Maybe if it had less rake it would help. Also it is a bit top heavy which for someone my size will take getting used to. I’m 5’8 and weight 110 on a good day.

    That said, if a scrawny runt like me can ride it then anyone can. Oh and BTW I got the one in Sedona Orange. Orange was my mothers favorite color.

    Craig

    June 24, 2012 at 6:16 AM

  32. Gary

    Funny, I have ALWAYS hated the HD sportster. I always saw it as an ugly, slow, greasy haired biker bike. The new 48 however is awesome! It is what the sportster should have always been.

    August 7, 2012 at 7:27 PM

  33. Kevin

    Picked up my ’13 “48″ a couple weeks ago, and what a blast! This is my 4th Harley, I’ve had two big twins, but this one, hands down, is the most fun. The motivating factor in this recent purchase, was a ’10 Nightster, that I helped my son get back in Nov. It was so much fun to ride, I just had to get something similar! Yes, I will say, the fact that you can’t seem to pass a gas station, is a bit irritating!
    But hey, you take the bad with the good, right? And, you turn a lot of heads with this bike! Love it!!!

    February 18, 2013 at 7:36 PM

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