It's slow, uncomfortable and runs out of fuel every 80 miles: There are plenty of reasons to not love the Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight... but you probably will. We test it long-term
- Stripped-down version of the XR1200 Sportster tested over 1,000 miles
- Powered by a 1202cc air-cooled V-twin engine, it costs £9,675
- Forty-Eight features a 7.9-litre 'peanut' fuel tank which makes petrol stations a familiar destination
- Not built for speed, comfort or commuting - it's a bike that can't be pigeonholed by traditional measures
Harley-Davidson is Marmite in the biking world. It divides riders like no other brand. Think of it as an American college fraternity - those from within swear by it, while many outside onlookers frown upon the brotherhood.
Three months ago, I was one of those who wasn't convinced by the 113-year old marque. And the first few swings of a leg over our low-slung Forty-Eight did little to appease my cynicism.
There's a long list of things I really don't like about it - most notably the paltry 7.9-litre tank that will get you a measly 80 miles between fuel top-ups - but something between then and now clicked. Now I get Harley-Davidson, I'm ready to pledge...
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Road hog: The Forty-Eight is Harley-Davidson's answer to a stripped-down cruiser. Unfortuntately, if you hit a pothole it turns into a hip-pounding bruiser
The puny peanut fuel tank is a tradition for the all-American bike maker.
First introduced on the 125cc Hummer in - you guessed it - 1948, bikes of far greater cubic capacity have adopted the minimalist feature ever since. But why?
Quite simply, it's all about the looks. Which, as you're about to find out, is the major limiting factor for just about all the Forty Eight's shortcomings.
Away from town and city centres, the tank makes all but the first 20 miles after filling up a fretful experience as you begin to map out the next destination for a much needed swig of unleaded.
You've probably heard of the term 'range anxiety' in electric cars, when fear ensues as you watch the kilowats of juice disappear from the powerplant - it's the same dominating sensation you're overcome with during motorway treks with the Forty-Eight.
On more than on one occasion I was caught out by the infuriatingly inadequate - and gold-spangled on our particular bike - fuel tank.
And with no petrol gauge included on the single-dial readout (it just tells you speed) the 'fuel low' warning light becomes your new worst enemy. Ultimately, be ready to take an unscheduled diversion up the nearest motorway slip road so you can pull over and check Google Maps frantically in search of the nearest nozzle.
But what the panic does offer is some light relief from how uncomfortable this particular motorcycle is on motorway excursions. Quite simply, it's unfit for multi-lane use.
Cruising at 65mph, you'll barely see the revs tick beyond 2800rpm, though you won't be aware of this as there's no tachometer on the speedo - you have to filter through the digital readout menus to find a rev reading.
But even at this fairly subdued rate the vibrations are all encompassing. Trying to venture into higher realms of speed transforms your helmet into a tin can, and your head becomes the pea rattling around inside it.
The 1,202cc air-cooled V-twin engine is tried and tested - it's an almost unchanged powerplant that's been thrusting Harley-Davidsons forward for years
It makes a decent thudding sound on the go, even with the standard exhaust system fitted
Thankfully, 65mph is about all you can endure on extended motorway journeys because the windblast is unbearable if you twist the throttle any further.
Much of this is down to the exposed seating position: legs forward, bum low down, arms extended almost at shoulder height and back straight - it's a bit like being an upright ironing board in a gale force wind.
HARLEY-DAVIDSON FORTY-EIGHT FACTS & FIGURES
Engine: 1202cc air-cooled V-twin
Power: 60bhp (approx)
Torque: 70.8lbft @3,500rpm
Kerb weight: 252kg
Tank capacity: 7.9 litres
Seat height: 710mm
And it's not like there's a mass of performance to explore above this tolerable cruising speed.
Harley-Davidson doesn't reveal the maximum power output of the 1202cc air-cooled V-twin engine or where it comes in, but I'd say around 60bhp peaks between 4,700 and 4,900rpm, if you can cope with the pneumatic-drill shudders.
Top speed? It would take a braver man than me to consider attempting to give you the answer to that question.
So you're best off sticking to urban locations or B-roads on the Forty-Eight.
Though removing speed from the equation still doesn't greatly improve comfort.
'Firm' doesn't do the suspension justice.
Find yourself heading straight towards a moderately deep pothole and your brain will already be speed-dialling an orthopaedist to book an appointment to repair your shattered bones. Here's a new equation for you: hardtail looks plus short-travel rear shocks equals 'argh, my backside'.
At this point in the review I should hold my hands up and fully admit I've just made a fantastic case for why this isn't worth the £9,675 Harley is asking for one. But once you accept its limitations it is very easy to fall in love with the flawed Forty-Eight.
The Forty-Eight has been a trusty companion on various journeys, including a number of uncomfortable motorway trips
The riding position takes some time getting used to, but the benefit of the low seat means anyone can touch the floor with ease (even if you're 5ft7 like Rob Hull)
We've told you all the bad stuff, but here's why you'll love the Harley
Take the engine for starters. Trying to extrapolate the full potential of the 1.2-litre motor is not all that enjoyable, but utilising the low-down torque in town and on twisting routes is surprisingly rewarding fun.
The 96Nm (or 70.8ft lb) of torque comes in all its lumpy goodness at 3500rpm - it makes traffic-light starts and chugging along at urban-limit speeds just as fulfilling as stringing together a fast set of s-bends on a sportsbike.
And you can't overlook the Wisconsin soundtrack that it comes with. Unmistakably Harley-Davidson, it thuds like an American football team bounding down a set of stairs, even with the standard pipes fitted.
It's fairly fleet-footed too, by Harley standards. Much of this is down to improvements made to the steel-frame chassis, low centre of gravity and lighter 16-inch cast wheels.
The riding position - arms elevated higher than you've become accustomed to if you've ridden sports bikes and tourers for the last 15 years like me - helps you muscle the front wheel through congested inner-city environments.
The single dial readout only shows speed and not revs - uou have to filter through the digital display readouts to find the rev counter. The oil cap/dip stick (the circular chrome part in the picture on the right) is awkwardly positioned just below your right thigh
These chubby Michelin tyres can't cushion the pounding ride quality but they do help the Forty-Eight steer predictably
The peanut tank - this one finished in glitter-spangled gold - is tiny at 7.9 litres. It's only good for around 80 miles, so expect to experience a bit of range anxiety on your travels
Even the turning circle is pretty impressive, though if you're blessed with the same modest 5ft7 of height as I am you'll struggle to achieve full lock without needing to shuffle your bottom forwards so your arms can reach the grips.
Head out of town on a twisty B-road and the bike corners predictably. Much of this is down to the fat Michelin tyres. It's slow to change direction but is lovely and progressive when it does.
Remember, this isn't the sort of bike you'll be flicking between apexes. With all but no ground clearance, the stalks on the underside of the footpegs allow for a maximum lean angle of 27.1 degrees (and prevent the underside of the exhaust grounding out). Get overconfident on the tilt and you soon hear the scrape of the metal safety stems digging into the tarmac - a fairly satisfying sensation it is too.
A single-disc front brake gives appropriate levels of stopping power, and it has ABS as standard to improve your chances of remaining upright when your right hand has a fistful of lever in an emergency situation.
Despite its flaws, there's a lot to love about the Forty-Eight. But to fully appreciate it first you have to forget it's not a bike that can be compared by traditional measures
The Cars & motoring verdict
Evaluating the Forty-Eight is difficult, as it is with just about all Harley-Davidsons.
That's because it is not built for speed, commuting or comfort - the three usual measures we expect bikes to cater to. You have to put these factors to the back of your mind and the limitations they bring.
Once you forgive the Forty-Eight for not abiding by the single-minded restrictions other bikes adhere to, you end up grading it on is how it makes you feel. When you do, there's a lot to like about the most stylish of all the Harley Sportster range.
Yes, the tank is inappropriately small, but you can't deny how good the package looks in all its exposed metal as a result.
Okay it vibrates, even on idle, but it makes the Forty-Eight feel alive at all times.
It's not fast - not by any stretch of the imagination - but tune your brain to enjoy motorcycling at low speeds and it becomes more appreciable than a flat-out knees-to-your-ears superbike.
Even small touches, like the location of the spring-mounted oil filler cap/dip stick directly beneath your right thigh and therefore popping open each time you put your feet on the floor, will cause you constant frustration.
But the fact is, one million people worldwide are members of the Harley-Davidson Owners Group - 14,000 of them in the UK. So, in reflection, they're doing something right. What I found is that you have to take the time and endure the miles to fully understand it.
The Forty-Eight hides nothing about the fact it's not designed to fulfill any of the traditional requirements for motorcycling other than one important sensation - enjoyment. And for that reason alone, you can't help but love it.
There are a million members of the Harley-Davidson owners club worldwide - the Forty-Eight helped us get a better understanding to why that is
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