Showing Off A Brand New Look For 2018

Coming into 2018 with a new look, the 1200 Custom in Harley-Davidson’s Sportster line hits the streets with the tried and true 1200 Evolution® engine and agile chassis that’s secured a place for itself in the lineup for over half a century. Kinda the black sheep of the Sportster stable, the 1200 Custom lives up to its name with a look apart from the rest of its siblings with a beefier front end and more aggressive riding position to put a little more ’sport’ into the ride.

Continue reading for my review of the Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom.

  • 2015 - 2018 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom
  • Year:
    2015- 2018
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    Air-cooled, Evolution®
  • Displacement:
    1202 cc
  • Top Speed:
    118 mph (Est.)
  • Price:
    10999
  • Price:

Design

2015 - 2018 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom
- image 767136
The 1200 Custom sports a black-and-chrome treatment with black highlights in chrome, black wheels and new graphics.

The Sportster’s roots go all the way back to the 1952 flathead-powered K-Model. Harley went to an over-head cam engine in ’57 and slapped the XL designator on the family. Conventional wisdom holds that the letters come from “eXperimental modeL” because that’s exactly what it was at the time, a market study to see how well a smaller, sportier product would perform in a market dominated by larger and heavier cruiser-style bikes. I suppose you could call the “eXperiment” a success given that we are still seeing XL models here in 2018.

One problem you run into with such a long-lived family is that you can run out of new things to do to keep it fresh, and the 2018 Sportster 1200 Custom demonstrates that Harley isn’t quite out of ideas yet. For 2018, the 1200 Custom gets a black-and-chrome treatment with black highlights in chrome, black wheels and new graphics.

The 1200 Custom sports the usual narrow “L” frame and skinny “X” front end (these designators came to reflect these components after the original XL was named) one normally associates with the Sportster look. In spite of that, the overall look of the Custom is very different from the norm.

A fat, 16-inch front wheel and thicker-than-usual tripletree lend a certain beefiness to the front end that you usually don’t see in a Sporty. That custom look continues as we move up to the chrome riser/wire cover with short-rise handlebars and teardrop-shaped fuel tank. I think it’s the shape of the fuel tank that changes the look the most. Dropping the classic peanut tank in favor of the teardrop lends the bike a big-twin look not unlike the Super Glide, which was also a factory-custom bike built on changes customers have made to their own bikes.

Chassis

2015 - 2018 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom
- image 684875
The 1200 Custom gets a more aggressive riding position for 2018 with the pull-back handlebar and feet tucked under on mid-mount controls.

As one of the XL models, the 1200 Custom rolls on Harley’s skinniest frames and front ends. The double-downtube double-cradle frame is made from mild tubular steel, and it supports and protects the bottom of the engine/transmission unit. It’s not a fancy frame, just simple and pragmatic like the Sportster line itself.

Part of the custom look is owed to the steering head angle that kicks the forks all the way out to 30 degrees for a 59.8-inch wheelbase and 4.2 inches of trail. The front forks are plain vanilla, but 2016 saw the addition of cartridge-style forks for better ride quality. One can hope this is a prelude to adjustable front forks, but no such luck yet. The 1200 Custom gets a more aggressive riding position for 2018 with the pull-back handlebar and feet tucked under on mid-mount controls.

External, coil-over emulsion shocks — also new from 2016 — float the rear with variable preload as the only adjustment. I can’t say I’m surprised or even disappointed with the suspension, it is typical for the less-expensive bike brackets, but there are so many options available out there that would add a lot in the way of comfort control. Just sayin’, Harley.

Brake disc diameter got a boost up to 300 mm from 292 mm, and the dual-pot calipers run 34 mm pistons to effectively convert lever/pedal pressure to braking power with the help of the zero-expansion, braided stainless brake lines. Unladen seat height of the new-from-2016 optimized seat design is up around 28-inches tall, so even the shortest riders should be able to comfortably reach the ground from the saddle, and if not, there are always lower shocks to be had.

Frame: Mild steel, tubular frame; circular sections; cast junctions
Swingarm: Mild steel, rectangular tube section, stamped junctions; MIG welded
Rake (steering head): 30°
Fork Angle: 30°
Trail: 4.2 in. (107 mm)
Lean Angle (per J1168): Right: 26.2°, Left: 28.3°
Front Forks/Travel: 39 mm/ 4.12 in. (105 mm)
Rear Shocks/Travel: Dual coil-over; threaded preload adjustment, emulsion/ 2.13 in. (54 mm)
Wheels: Steel Laced
Wheel, Front/Rear: 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)/ 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)
Tire, Front: Michelin®Scorcher® “31” 130/90B16 73H
Tire, Rear: Michelin®Scorcher® “31” 150/80B16 77H
Brakes, Front/Rear: 300 mm Dual-piston/ 260 mm Dual-piston
Anti-lock Braking System: Optional

Drivetrain

2015 - 2018 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom
- image 767134
Some be tempted to call the Evolution engine out-of-date, I prefer to think of it as matured to the point where the factory has it just right.

The Evolution Sportster engine has been around for a minute, since 1986 in fact, and while one might be tempted to call it out-of-date, I prefer to think of it as matured to the point where the factory has it just right. As with the Ironhead (Shovel) Sportsters and even earlier iterations back to 1957, the “Evo” carries the transmission in a common case with the engine, so you end up with an all-in-one drive unit.

The 45-degree mill runs a long-stroke configuration with an 88.9 mm bore and 96.7 mm stroke for a total displacement of 1,202 cc. Self-adjusting hydraulic lifters and external pushrods time the two-valve heads, and the 10-to-1 compression ratio should keep you on the middle hook and off the supreme-grade champagne.

Electronic fuel injection and ignition control manage the induction and the timing, and help keep emissions down and mileage up around the 48 mpg mark. A five-speed transmission (No, it can’t be GP shifted!) keeps the engine in the usable rpm range and a belt drive sends power to the rear wheel.

Engine: Air-cooled, Evolution®, pushrod-operated, overhead valves with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters; two valves per cylinder
Bore x Stroke: 3.5 in. x 3.811 in. (88.9 mm x 96.8 mm)
Displacement: 73.4 cu. in. (1202 cc)
Engine Torque (per J1349) North America: 73 ft. lbs. @ 3,500 rpm (99 Nm @ 3,500 rpm)
Compression Ratio: 10:1
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Clutch: Multi-plate, wet
Transmission: 5-speed

Pricing

2015 - 2018 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom
- image 684876
MSRP holds steady from last year, but no Vivid Black for 2018.

Harley skipped the Vivid Black base model, but set MSRP for 2018 at last year’s Vivid-Black price of $10,999. The two-tone colors — silver or gray and black this year – will run you $11,549. Harley covers your new 1200 Custom with a 24-month, unlimited mileage warranty.

Warranty: 24 months (unlimited mileage)
Colors:
2016: Vivid Black with Med. Silver pinstripe, Charcoal Pearl with Black pinstripe, Superior Blue with Blue and Med. Silver pinstripe, Amber Whiskey/Vivid Black with Med. Red and Pale Gold pinstripe, Deep Jade Pearl/Vivid Black with Lt. Green and Pale Gold pinstripe, Mysterious Red Sunglo/Velocity Red Sunglo with Med. Red and Pale Gold pinstripe
2017: Vivid Black; Velocity Red Sunglow, Corona Yellow Pearl, Superior Blue/Billet Silver
2018: Black Tempest, Sumatra Brown, Twisted Cherry, Bonneville Salt Pearl, Silver Fortune / Black Tempest, Industrial Gray Denim / Black Denim
Price:
2016: Vivid Black: $10,899, Color: $11,249, Two-Tone: $11,449
2017: Vivid Black: $10,999, Color Option: $11,349, Two-Tone Option: $11,549
2018: Color: $10,999, Two-Tone Option: $11,549

Competitors

2016 - 2019 Indian Motorcycle Scout / Scout Sixty
- image 645682
2015 - 2018 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom
- image 766934
The Scout would make a good alternative for someone who wants an American bar hopper but doesn't really dig the Harley scene.

Sportster-like rides are popping up here and there as “standard” or “classic” offerings from various companies, but none have quite the extensive pedigree enjoyed by The Motor Company save one: Indian Motorcycles. Looking at the current Indian lineup, I noticed they had no direct equivalent to the Sporty, but instead offer a smaller-engine model with a look all its own. Let’s see how Indian’s “anti-Sporty” Scout stacks up against the tried-and-true H-D.

Harley calls this 1200 a “Custom,” and that’s exactly what it looks like, a customized standard cruiser. In other words, not exactly the same figure a typical Sportster cuts with its traditional peanut tank. The Scout carries a curious blend of progression and nostalgia that doesn’t exactly scream custom, but does manage to exude an Indian-ishness that is difficult to ignore. The Sporty runs altogether traditional suspension components, but the Scout lays the rear shocks over at about 60 degrees to sort of mimic the lines of a rigid frame. Sort of like the Softail, but not.

Indian shows a progressive bent when it comes to the mill. The 1,130 cc plant comes with liquid cooling rather than the old fashioned air cooling Harley still uses for its engines. Fuel injection and electronic engine management is consistent across the board, but neither offers anything in the way of rider modes, traction control or any of that sort of thing. I’m not saying that is good or bad, just that it is.

Power numbers from the two are close, and show the typical gruntiness inherent in V-twin designs. Indian brings 72.2 pound-feet of torque at 5,900 rpm, right on par with the 1200 Custom with its 73 pounds of grunt, but the Harley comes on earlier with max torque being produced at 3,500 rpm.

As usual, Harley offers a range of prices that are dependent upon your choice of color. A solid color choice will set you back $10,999 while the top-of-the-line, two-tone paint will cost you $11,549. Indian follows a similar tact. It offers the base Scout in one set of colors for $11,499, and the ABS version in a different colors for $12,499 and ABS in two-tones for $12,999. As much as I love my Sportys, the Scout would make a good alternative for someone who wants an American bar hopper but doesn’t really dig the Harley scene.

He Said

My husband and fellow motorcycle writer, TJ Hinton, says, “I would tend to agree with Allyn, the 1200 Custom is cool and all, but so is the Scout. Having said that, I love how the factory was able to lose the Sporty look with just a few simple changes. I realize this isn’t the first time they have done so, but it’s still fun when they do it. Now if they would just make a proper Softail Sportster frame...”

She Said

“I really like these Sportsters. I know people have complained about the vibration, but it isn’t as bad as it was when they were rigid-mount engines. Of course, people have it in their heads that Sportsters vibrate so that’s all they’ll think forever.”

Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: Air-cooled, Evolution®
Valves: Pushrod-operated, overhead valves with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters; two valves per cylinder
Bore x Stroke: 3.5 in. x 3.811 in. (88.9 mm x 96.8 mm)
Displacement: 73.4 cu. in. (1202 cc)
Engine Torque (per J1349) North America: 73 ft. lbs. @ 3,500 rpm (99 Nm @ 3,500 rpm)
Compression Ratio: 10:1
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Air Cleaner: Paper cartridge type
Lubrication System: Dry-sump
Primary Drive: Chain, 38/57 ratio
Final Drive: Belt, 29/68 ratio
Clutch: Multi-plate, wet
Transmission: 5-speed
Gear Ratios (overall) U.S. :
1st: 9.315
2nd: 6.653
3rd: 4.948
4th: 4.102
5th: 3.517
Chassis:
Frame: Mild steel, tubular frame; circular sections; cast junctions
Swingarm: Mild steel, rectangular tube section, stamped junctions; MIG welded
Rake (steering head): 30°
Fork Angle: 30°
Trail: 4.2 in. (107 mm)
Lean Angle (per J1168): Right: 26.2°, Left: 28.3°
Front Forks/Travel: 39 mm/ 4.12 in. (105 mm)
Rear Shocks/Travel: Dual coil-over; threaded preload adjustment, emulsion/ 2.13 in. (54 mm)
Wheels: Steel Laced
Wheel, Front/Rear: 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)/ 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)
Tire, Front: Michelin®Scorcher® “31” 130/90B16 73H
Tire, Rear: Michelin®Scorcher® “31” 150/80B16 77H
Brakes, Front: 300 mm Dual-piston
Brakes, Rear: 260 mm Dual-piston
Anti-lock Braking System: Optional
Dimensions & Capacities:
Length: 87.6 in. (2225 mm)
Overall Width: 33.1 in. (840 mm)
Overall Height: 45.3 in. (1150 mm)
Seat Height: 28.5 in. (725 mm)
Ground Clearance: 4.3 in. (110 mm)
Wheelbase: 60.2 in. (1530 mm)
Fuel Capacity (warning light at approximately 1.0 gal.): 4.5 gal. (17 L)
Oil Capacity (w/filter): 2.8 qts. (2.6 L)
Transmission Capacity: 1 qt. (.95 L)
Weight, As Shipped: 562 lbs. (255 kg)
Weight, In Running Order: 587 lbs. (266 kg)
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: 1000 lbs. (454 kg)
Gross Axle Weight Rating: Front: 335 lbs. (152 kg), Rear: 665 lbs. (302 kg)
Electrics:
Battery (per Battery Council International Rating): Sealed, maintenance-free, 12V, 12 amp/hour, 200 cca
Charging: Single-phase, 30-amp system (357W @ 13.5V, 2000 RPM, 405W max power @ 13.5V)
Starting: 1.2 kW electric with solenoid shift starter motor engagement
Lights (as per country regulation):
Headlamp (Quartz Halogen): 55-watt low beam, 60-watt high beam
Tail/Stop Lights: 8W/28W per lamp
Indicator Lamps: High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low fuel warning, low battery, security system (optional)
Details:
Fuel Economy (EPA urban/highway test): 48 mpg (4.9 L/100 km)
Model ID: XL 1200C
Warranty: 24 months (unlimited mileage)
Colors:
2016: Vivid Black with Med. Silver pinstripe, Charcoal Pearl with Black pinstripe, Superior Blue with Blue and Med. Silver pinstripe, Amber Whiskey/Vivid Black with Med. Red and Pale Gold pinstripe, Deep Jade Pearl/Vivid Black with Lt. Green and Pale Gold pinstripe, Mysterious Red Sunglo/Velocity Red Sunglo with Med. Red and Pale Gold pinstripe
2017: Vivid Black; Velocity Red Sunglow, Corona Yellow Pearl, Superior Blue/Billet Silver
2018: Black Tempest, Sumatra Brown, Twisted Cherry, Bonneville Salt Pearl, Silver Fortune / Black Tempest, Industrial Gray Denim / Black Denim
Price:
2016: Vivid Black: $10,899, Color: $11,249, Two-Tone: $11,449
2017: Vivid Black: $10,999, Color Option: $11,349, Two-Tone Option: $11,549
2018: Color: $10,999, Two-Tone Option: $11,549

Further Reading

2016 - 2019 Indian Motorcycle Scout / Scout Sixty
- image 730658

See our review of the Indian Motorcycle Scout.

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: harley-davidson.com, indianmotorcycle.com

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