1959 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLH
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Saving me the embarrassment of failure, Rick kicks the Sporty to life (it’s something of an acquired skill), and gives me the quick drill: left hand manual advance, right hand throttle with no return springs, and right side reverse-pattern shift.
By this time the sun is coming out, and as a fog starts rising from the road I lift the shifter into first and pull away. My route is a meandering two-lane blacktop through an alternately forested and farmed valley, perfect for familiarizing myself with the Sporty’s meaty twin and ancient tires.
Anyone used to old Brit Iron would find shifting the Sporty a familiar exercise. With an upside down pattern and a long throw, it clicks into gear easily as long as you shift with authority. The clutch is surprisingly light, and there’s no shudder, just a smooth, linear feed.
The same’s true of the engine, which feels smaller than its 883cc. Throttle response through the Linkert carb is surprisingly good, and the engine’s hefty torque gives effortless acceleration. Short-shifting the four-speed gets the best out of the V-twin, allowing me to focus on the suspension, which is surprisingly supple. Balanced and light through the corners, the pig-like handling I’d expected is nowhere to be felt. (To be fair, I hardly pushed the Sporty — there’s that impossible-to-replace thing again.)
The manual advance and lack of throttle return springs takes some getting used to (you have to keep reminding yourself to roll the throttle back during shifts), but after a bit even that starts to feel natural. It’s fun, and every shift reaps the reward of hearing the assertive bark of the bike’s great V-twin.
Compared to more modern machinery the Sporty’s brakes are decidedly weak (you stop by jamming on the rear break and finishing with the front), but about on par with a lot of other bikes of the same era. Overall, it’s an easy bike to ride; surprisingly competent and user friendly.
Much too quickly my ride comes to an end, and I’m handing the Sporty back to Rick. Unstrapping my helmet I hear Rick asking me what I think of his Sporty, but as the helmet comes off he sees his answer; I’m grinning ear to ear. MC
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