The Harley-Davidson Sportster 1000

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1975 Norton Commando 750
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1975 Triumph T140 Bonneville 750
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1981 Harley-Davdison Sportster 1000 XLH with dual discs.

Harley-Davidson Sportster 1000
Years produced:
Claimed power: 61hp @ 6,200rpm (1972)
Top speed: 116mph (1972 test)
Engine type: 998cc air-cooled OHV 45-degree V-twin
Transmission: 4-speed
Weight: 492lb (wet)
MPG: 40-50
Price then: $2,136 (1972)
Price now: $2,000-$5,000

With an unbroken production run of 53 years, the overhead valve Harley-Davidson Sportster has outlived all of its early rivals, and is still able to raise its middle finger to the vagaries of the motorcycle marketplace. Riding a 2010 model instantly channels the first Sportster of 1957, even though the characteristic engine vibes have now been softened by rubber mountings.

The Sportster was an instant hit in 1957, but by the Seventies it was showing its age. Imports easily outperformed and outsold it. In a Cycle magazine seven-bike shootout in 1973, the XL Sportster ranked dead last overall and propped up the other six bikes in almost every performance category. Even so, reviewers liked its torquey, long-legged highway running and easy in-town traffic manners. They also liked its conservative styling and offbeat engine sound.

The Sportster’s future was being written, not as a competitor to the all-conquering four-across-the-frame Universal Japanese Motorcycle, but as a bastion of American durability and timeless style. So why would you want one now?

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