2011 Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow Review – H-D Sportster

18 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on 2011 Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow Review – H-D Sportster
Harley-Davidson XL883L SuperLow

2011 Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow – First Ride Evolution is slow, but worth it.

Not since the Great Rubber Engine Mounting of 2004 has such a big change been made to the Sportster. In fact, the big change came last year, when H-D used a stunning new technology on its new XR1200 Sportster, which everybody liked so well H-D decided it might not be a bad idea to use it on some of the other bikes, too. That’s right, it’s the radial motorcycle tire . a recent invention of the Michelin Tire Company, circa 1984.

The radial motorcycle tire uses its unusual construction to lay down a bigger contact patch for more grip, while the reduced friction of its inner plies typically allows it to run cooler than a bias-ply tire, thus better suiting the radial to high-speed applications. More grip and better high-speed handling are things the venerable 883 needs about as much as a housecat needs a wristwatch, might be your initial reaction but, in fact, the new SuperLow is a much nicer machine to ride as a result of its new rubber and the changes that accompany it—which include longer-travel shocks out back wrapped in progressive springs, a restuffed seat, a new handlebar bend and even revised steering geometry.

It all, not surprisingly, adds up to a Sportster that rides smoother and handles better. It’s a little difficult to say what percentage of the smooth new ride is due to the tires, and what part is down to the new shocks and seat foam, but whatever the case, the SuperLow XL883L much more effectively dispatches the very bumps your coccyx cringes to recall riding over on last month’s Iron 883 test unit.

Over bad pavement, where all previous Sportsters feel somewhat like riding a depleted uranium bullet through an armored outhouse door (at around 550 pounds, they’re dense little bikes), the SuperLow feels more like a modern motorcycle rolling over some bumps. Nice work.

Compared to the 19-inch front wheel assembly (wheel, tire, brake rotor) it replaces, the new 120/70ZR18-Michelin-shod front is less than a pound lighter, but its smaller diameter reduces spin inertia by about 25 percent, according to H-D’s Matt Weber, Principal Engineer of Vehicle Dynamics. Out back, where a 150/60ZR17 radial on a 4.5-inch wheel replaces the old 150/80-16 bias-ply tire, the difference is more dramatic: a weight reduction of 5 pounds and 38 percent less spin inertia.

That much less unsprung weight jacking up and down a few inches from your butt is a difference you can feel in a number of ways. Not only does it help deliver a better ride, the lighter weight of the new tires/wheels at both ends of the bike notches up all aspects of performance. The SuperLow’s quarter-mile run of 14.42 seconds at 91.11 mph is three-tenths quicker and 5 mph faster than what the Iron 883 pulled off. The 0-60-mph time is fourth-tenths quicker at 6.1 seconds.

It can’t hurt that this bike spun the dyno 5 horses harder than our last 883 Sportster, to the tune of 49.9 hp.

Uh, where were we? Tires, right… The overall diameter of the new radial out back is only a few inches less than that of the old bias tire (it looks like more), so one tooth bigger on the countershaft sprocket keeps gearing close to same-same.

Engineer Weber, who also worked on the XR1200. compliments Michelin engineers on how they listened to and worked closely with H-D to produce a pair of tires that really complement the Sportster—a front that gives great steering feel and precision, and a rear that works with the front to provide confident, steady-state cornering.

That much less spinning mass really lightens and tightens the Sportster’s steering, not that it was ever all that heavy. The XR1200 Sportster project is what got the SuperLow ball rolling, and that experience led the H-D crew to the idea that more trail would benefit the SuperLow also: New triple-clamps and fork blanks increase trail from 4.6 inches to around 5.5 inches on the new bike.

Together with a new pullback handlebar, the SuperLow does provide really nice, neutral, precise steering, with a greatly reduced tendency toward the parking-lot-speed front-wheel flop endemic to bikes like the garden variety, narrow-handlebarred Iron 883 (a feeling Harley’s research says new riders really dislike). The new bar also does away with the Iron’s pulling-oneself-out-of-a-trashcan ergos we complained about last month. It reaches back to meet most riders in a neutral, happy place that’s good for trolling around town, as well as shortish freeway hops and pretty much everything in between.

It’s all so direct and precise and good and happy, it feels like H-D even upgraded the fork internals! What a beautiful spring day, let’s ride like the wind! Wow!

Feel how precisely it bends into this SCRAAAAAWWP! Gee, the old Sporty feels like a transformed GRAAAUNNCH. Wobble, wobble!

Sigh…all the build-up makes it even sadder that the SuperLow grinds on with truly reprehensible cornering clearance—maybe even worse than before. No, we’re not talking crazy pace: The first peg-feeler touchdown occurred while stuck behind a dually pickup on our favorite local twisty section. Shortly thereafter, following a bit more scrapage, both peg feelers broke off.

Harley-Davidson XL883L SuperLow
Harley-Davidson XL883L SuperLow

No big loss, really, but after they’re gone you’ll want to exercise some caution: On the right side, the exhaust pipes would like nothing better than to spit you into oncoming traffic. On the left, the kickstand tang would like to direct you into yon rock wall. How can this be?

It all seemed so promising just moments before…yet another Sportster romance quashed, Crying Game style. You return dejected, with chicken strips on your sweet new Michelin radials visible on Google Earth.

On a positive note, if you want to teach yourself to “hang off,” there is no better trainer, and in fact maxing out the spring preload on the rear shocks does provide a little more clearance. In any case, more experienced riders need to remember what they’re riding at all times and exercise due caution.

Alas, Harley is giving the people what they want, and what beginning riders want (the prime target for the Sportster) is a low seat. H-D’s Product Planning Manager for the Sportster, Greg Falkner, says women comprise about 50 percent of 883 Low buyers, and about 60 percent of the bike’s audience is younger than 35 years old (and never mind that most 35-year-old women out riding seem to be taller than my 5-foot-8 self in addition to way younger).

Among buyers with less than two years of riding experience, says Falkner, the 883 ranks way up there. Making those people comfortable on the showroom floor is Job One, and a really low seat is how you do it; going around corners is a bridge new riders can scrape across when they come to it.

In addition to giving the people what they want in terms of increased comfort and better suspension, Sportster buyers also asked for more fuel capacity, and they got it in the form of the 4.5-gallon tank from the 1200 Custom. Returning around 45 mpg, the bike should have excellent range, but our low-fuel light comes on at around 120-130 miles anyway (partly because our 4.5-gallon H-D tank only holds 4.2 gallons when it’s completely dry).

On our SuperLow, there’s still about 1.4 gallons in the tank when the light comes on. Oh yeah, the one other thing new riders like is cheap: The SuperLow will sell for $7999.

So close, and yet…a little too close to the pavement for our taste. For beginners, maybe that’s okay. If you like the look and cornering clearance isn’t an issue you care about, this really is the sweetest-riding Sportster ever in a straight line. (And in truth, I can’t recall my baby brother, the Kansas City fireman, ever complaining about his Nightster’s cornering clearance.) And the SuperLow is H-D’s “entry-level” machine.

What the heck, why not pick one up, and if, after you’ve found your sea legs you find yourself levering the wheels off the ground all the time, it’s a small step up to the new XR1200X. And a giant leap for motorcycle kind.

Harley-Davidson XL883L SuperLow
Harley-Davidson XL883L SuperLow
Harley-Davidson XL883L SuperLow
Harley-Davidson XL883L SuperLow
Harley-Davidson XL883L SuperLow

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