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R.I.P. XLH: How Could Harley Kill Off The Traditional Sportster?

Updated on February 4, 2009

Some of the nicest memories I have are of riding my black Harley Davidson Sportster XLH along leafy winding backroads in Mississippi, blazing two lane blacktops in Arizona and cool sparkling lakeshores in Ontario. Although I have owned nearly 40 motorcycles, that wonderful XLH always makes my top three list of motorcycles that I would give anything to own again, even if just to keep in my living room and lovingly wax all day.

That is why the news that the 2009 Harley Davidson lineup was to be bereft of this historic model has caused a pall to fall over Stately Hal Mansion and placed me in a state of mourning. Harley Davidson without an XLH is like Batman without Robin, Peanut Butter without Jelly, or Hot Dogs without Mustard!

The Sportster H model was introduced in 1956 as an offshoot of the K model which was designed in 1951. The Sporty was an overhead valve engine, distinguishing it from the original K's side valve configuration, and it was one of the first motorcycles to integrate the transmission within the crankcase. In 1961, the Sportster was restyled with a smaller fuel tank to allow for easier access to welds. As it turned out, the "peanut tank" swiftly became the icon that would distinguish all true Sportsters for nearly half a century. (Let's not even mention that delectable chrome headlight brow!) For the classic XLH model to be axed is an offense against motorcyclinghood!

Granted, the 2009 model lineup includes the XLH 883 Low which would likely have been my choice if I had been in the market for a new Sporty. The standard XLH was a bit of a tippytoe reach for my short inseam, and the flattish bars that had been fitted onto it the past couple of years were so utterly un-Sporterish they might as well have come off a Ducati. But Harley missed a very significant market opportunity in placing a 2009 XLH 883 on their model line up at a Suggested Retail Price of $5,999. Harley Davidson may be in the process of pricing itself right out of the market with bikes such as the utterly uninspiring V-Rod Muscle with its insipid cookie cutter styling and nearly $18,000 retail price. You really have to wonder what the boy wonders of Milwaukee and York were thinking: "Let's place a 1250cc bike on the market at $4,000 more than a Kawasaki Vulcan 2000!" Er... then you might wonder why they're still going to be collecting dust in the Harley dealerships at the end of the year.

Harley Davidsons are just too damn expensive. An FLHTCUSE3 Screamin' Eagle Ultra Classic Electra Glide 105th Anniversary for $35,490? Almost $6,000 more than a Tri Glide? Is Harley charging for a motorcycle or for the length of the name? When I shell out more for a motorcycle than for a Mercedes C Class, Jaguar X Type, or Land Rover LR2 is the day you can all cart me off to the insane asylum. Sure, the price means nothing to the silver haired enthusiast who has just sold 1% of his Google stock holdings that he bought at $180 and sold at $490 and has enough to buy a Tri Glide and enough left over for a Corvette. However, when the median price of a Harley Davidson is quickly approaching $20,000, Willie G. and friends have to realize that a lot less money will buy a lot more bike from the competition. It's not 1970 any longer when the Japanese were only filling in the low end commuter market. If I was going to buy a big cruising V-twin right now, the Kawi 2000 would get my check! I recently saw a brand new 2007 model on sale for $9,999! I could have two for the price of one Harley Davidson Rocker C!

You dropped the ball, guys. Bring back the basic XLH at under $6,000 for 2010 with buckhorn bars, a cobra seat and a little more rake and extension on the front end, and I'll be in the dealership with a check in my teeth!


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    • profile image

      JC 6 years ago

      Sportster are sissy bikes, good riddance!

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      Jay: Right on.

      clawbrant: What's the bike on my avatar? Huh? FXD, right? Sheesh.

    • profile image

      clawbrant 8 years ago

      It sounds like you don't really want a Sportster. You just want a cheap cruiser that says Harley on the tank.

    • profile image

      Jay 8 years ago

      I totally agree. Prices are getting out of hand. Relying to much on name and not what you get for the money.

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      plasticsman, believe me I shed more than one tear when I saw that little punk ride off on my beloved FXD, but I just could no longer justify straddling one and a half litres of motorcycle engine (and unfortunately it's been years since I've had a Sporty, but it was one of my favorite out of all the 37 bikes I've owned). Bwaaaaaahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa... :(

    • plasticsman profile image

      plasticsman 8 years ago from United States

      Hal don't give up the ship!! there are still some of us sportster fans out there. I like the way you write and your very good at this hub. I feel harley will come around and bring back the old school bike we need for our heritage.

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 9 years ago from Toronto

      I would have answered this question in a much different way a couple of years ago when I worshipped at the altar of HOG. With everything that's happened in the past little while, I too have had to reluctantly part with my beloved Harley and am now a much greener and conserving motorcyclist. Boo hoo... :(

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Do Harley make motorcycles? I thought they only made badly designed air compressor motors and fitted them to a frame that handles like a house on wheels.