The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 3.7
The Harley-Davidson 1200 Sportster is the bigger brother to the 883 Sportster and is essentially identical except for the engine size, resultant performance, some model variations and price. As the 883 underwhelms, slightly, performance-wise, the 1200’s added oomph is worth the extra
Reasons to buy
- Same entry-level appeal of the 883
- But with significantly improved performance
- Some unique models, such as the 1200T and 72
At a glance
Like the 883 Sportster (and much of the 1200 is very like the 883) the 1200 is not one bike, more a whole family of machines. The 1200 rolling chassis is largely identical to the 883’s but with a bigger bore version of the smaller ‘Evolution’ engine to boost both power and torque – and boy, it needed it. Currently four models are available (compared to three for the 883): 1200 Custom; SuperLow 1200T (a low seat ‘bagger’ with screen and panniers; the hardcore bobber styled ‘48’ and the 1970s chopper-style ‘72’. All the usual Harley bits are present and correct.
Depends a bit on which model you go for, but all are fairly ‘dinky’, cute and novice-friendly with low seats, easy-reach bars and decent manageability (despite oddly heavy weights). The SuperLow, as its name implies, is the lowest of the bunch with a 705mm seat height, but the bobber ‘48’ is small, too. Even the high-barred ‘72’ isn’t in any way a stretch. In fact, if you’re over 5’10”, you probably feel too big for any of them, like with the 883.
If anything, the Harley 1200 Sportster is probably a little more practical than its 883 little brother. While the 1200’s ultra-small proportions are a boon around town with a little more oomph available, the 1200 also feels less vulnerable out on the open road. While the new 1200T, complete with screen and luggage makes a decent enough tourer; at least for shorter riders.
Performance & braking
The 120cc capacity boost gives the 1200 Sportster an almost 30% hike in torque over the 883, with a likely similar power gain (Harley-Davidson don’t publish power figures for their bikes). That’s not just impressive, it’s big enough to significantly change the character of the bike and broaden its abilities. It’s still not ‘conventional’, admittedly, and definitely won’t set your pants on fire. But while you’d think twice about a 100-mile journey on an 883, something like the 1200T would take 200 miles in its stride. Brakes are unchanged from the 883.
Ride & handling
Mostly unchanged from the 883 Sportster and is – if you can live with the small proportions– pretty decent; for a Harley at least. As with the 883, light(ish) weight and manageable proportions make the 1200 Sportster relatively engaging to hustle around. Also, as with the 883, the 1200’s a long way from perfect: its suspension is rather crude, the tubular steel chassis unsophisticated and the whole plot is fairly antiquated. Up to the job, though.
Like with the 883, although Harleys generally are quite expensive to buy, they’re cheaper than average to run thanks to a combination of factors. These include reasonable insurance costs, good residuals, simple mechanicals and the simple fact that its at best, average performance isn’t particularly demanding of brake pads, oil and so on. There’s not even a chain to budget for, replace or maintain thanks to Harley’s brilliant belt-drive system.
Again, although more powerful and larger capacity than the 883 Sportster, the 1200 version has no major reliability concerns. It’s been continuously refined and developed since its 1986 introduction (especially with the switch to fuel injection) but remains simple, straightforward, understressed and about as developed and refined as motorcycle engines get. Also as with the 883, Harley build quality is good and bikes are unsurprisingly cosseted by their owners.
Warranty & servicing
Again, like the 883, although a fairly rugged, simple unit, the 1200 Sportster can’t boast the extended service intervals of some more modern rivals, with major services due every 5,000 miles or so. Also, Harley owners often don’t cover that many miles, treating their machines as treasured weekend toys rather than day-to-day transport, meaning an annual service is usually plenty. The standard Harley warranty covers two years/unlimited mileage, although extended warranties are available as extra cost options.
Harleys are different from most bikes in that the standard bikes are incredibly basic and most ‘equipment’ is considered an optional (and costly) extra. So you get the bare bones bike and, depending on the model, not a lot else. That said, Harley owners seem to like it that way. Virtually no bikes leave their dealers without being customised in some way and the added bonus is that most genuine Harley accessories, in contrast, to many Japanese machines, actually add to the resale value of the machine.
The 1200 Sportster is the ‘entry-level’ Harley for those who prefer the model options of the 1200 family or demand the more credible performance of the 1200 engine compared to the fairly weedy 883. In most other respects, models permitting, the two Sportsters are the same, which also makes the near-£2,000 price differential a little hard to swallow