This Is What Sportster Owners Have Been Doing With Their Own Bikes For Generations

Harley-Davidson adds to its Sportster footprint and moves the progress bar on its “50-new-models” goal with the ’Seventies-tastic’ Forty-Eight Special. Like the base model Forty-Eight, it rolls with numerous custom touches that tie it directly to a specific era, just of a more-recent vintage. Blackout components and chrome accents mix freely across the machine with the same 1200 cc, 73 pound-feet Sportster engine that drives the base model. It all in the details, though, and it’s the details that separates it from its predecessor.

Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Special Design

This bike looks as tough as a two-dollar steak with some definite outlaw spice, but it's the true peanut tank that really sells it.

I think Brad Richards, the VP of Harley’s Styling and Design department said it best about the Forty-Eight Special when he said, “Since its inception, the Sportster has offered the perfect combination of size, power and character that makes it appealing to so many different riders. A Sportster is a relatively easy bike to strip down and reinvent. What we’ve done to create the new Iron 1200 and Forty-Eight Special is what Sportster owners have been doing with their own bikes for generations.”

Yeah, what he said. Sportsters have been used as a customizer’s blank canvas since forever, and the Special picks up some features that clearly take aim at the decade that saw the end of the Vietnam War. It starts with a cut-down or “bobbed” front fender that rides between blacked-out fork sliders over a similarly-achromatic cast wheel. The dark treatment continues into the tripletree, turn signals, headlight can and Tallboy bars that raise your fists 7.25 inches with an outlaw-custom flair. Though it carries lots of black paint, it has a lot more in the way of chrome on display than did the base Forty-Eight; namely the engine cases, primary cover and sprocket cover with various bits and bobs scattered about.

“We specifically selected the Tallboy bar for its shape. It offers less pullback than the Mini-Ape, a look that really works with the steamroller front end and the smaller fuel tank on the Forty-Eight Special model,” says Richards.

I’ve always liked the look of the classic peanut tank, and though the 3.3-gallon remake looks close enough for government work, the 2.1-gallon tank on the Special is the genuine article, and the gap it leaves between tank and seat immediately identifies it as such. That’s right, a genuine Sportster flyline courtesy of the tee-niney little tank perched over the engine.

The solo seat comes with a gentle scoop to help contain your derrière, but you’d better be hanging on when that 1200 cc mill hits the powerband; the forward foot controls take your feet out of the equation, so you have only your grip on the bar and tenuous butt-cheek clench to keep yourself mounted. Unfortunately, this has a tendency to make riders feel a bit insecure, but that’s the price you pay if you want to be a rebel, or at least look like one on the weekends.

In keeping with the chopped-and-bobbed theme, the rear fender comes whacked almost back to the struts with a tucked-under LED strip for a taillight and a horizontal side-mount plateholder. Overall, this bike looks as tough as a two-dollar steak with some definite outlaw spice, but it’s the peanut tank that really sells it.

Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Special Chassis

2018 - 2019 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Special
- image 838564
For the fiery-eyed pegdraggers out there, the factory built it to safely manage lean angles up to 27.1 degrees to both sides, so carve away you crazy folks.

Since the Sportster came out well after the demise of the factory hardtail, the Forty-Eight Special designers had no need to try to emulate the old rigid look as Triumph has done with its Bonneville Bobber line. The tubular frame follows the standard double-downtube/cradle configuration with a yoke-style, two-sided swingarm that comes with a rectangular cross-section for strength, all made from welded mild-steel members.

Raked bikes were popular with the custom crowd back in the day, especially when combined with a bit (or a lot) of stretch, and the MoCo delivers with a 30.2-degree steering angle and 5.3-inch trail for some straightline stability in spite of the short 58.9-inch wheelbase. For the fiery-eyed pegdraggers out there, the factory built it to safely manage lean angles up to 27.1 degrees to both sides, so carve away you crazy folks.

Suspension comes with fixed values, but the 49 mm, cartridge-type forks do provide a slightly-better ride than did the old, straight-up vanilla stems, as do the pair of emulsion shocks out back. A spring-preload adjustment at the rear end represents the only ride control.

Cast-aluminum, 9-spoke rims mount the fat Michelin hoops with a 130/90-16 and 150/80-16 that round out the rolling chassis and pulls some of the visual weight down low for an even more custom look. The brakes are a bit underwhelming with a twin-pot anchor and single disc at both ends. At 564-pounds wet, I would have expected to see dual discs up front, but instead here we are. ABS comes as a $795 option, which is nice, but I think having a switchable ABS as standard equipment would be good, too, Harley (Wink, nudge).

Frame: Mild steel, tubular frame; circular section, stamped junctions; MIG welded
Swingarm: Mild Steel, rectangular tube section, stamped junctions; MIG welded
Suspension, Front/ Travel: 49 mm fork set, free valve right hand and cartridge-style left hand/ 3.6 in.
Suspension, Rear/ Travel: Variable rate spring over 36 mm piston nitrogen gas-charged emulsion-style shock with thread-style preload adjustments/1.6 in.
Rake (steering head): 30.2°
Trail: 5.3 in.
Lean Angle, Right/Left: 27.1° / 27.1°
Wheels, Front & Rear: Black, Split 9-Spoke Cast Aluminum
Wheel, Front: 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)
Wheel, Rear: 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)
Brakes, Front: 300 mm floating rotor, dual-piston caliper
Brakes, Rear: 260 mm uniform expansion rotor, dual-piston caliper
ABS: optional
Tire, Front: 130/90B16 73H
Tire, Rear: 150/80B16 77H

Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Special Drivetrain

2018 - 2019 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Special
- image 838561
When this 1,202 cc mill hits the powerband, you have only your grip on the bar and tenuous butt-cheek clench to keep yourself mounted.

The beating heart in the Forty-Eight Special is still the main attraction with the classic 45-degree V-Twin configuration that Harley has used since the early 20th century. This particular generation of engine certainly withstood the test of time; the Evolution Sportster powerplant was introduced back in 1986, and it is still with us rolling into 2019. Sure, it has been refined over the years, but H-D really got it right with this mill.

A 1,202 cc displacement, slightly-undersquare layout and 10-to-1 compression ratio give the engine its low-down powerband that peaks out at 3,500 rpm with a total of 73 pounds o’ grunt. It’s air-cooled, as it should be, which simplifies construction. Unfortunately, that simplicity continues into the engine electronics with nothing in the way of traction control or fancy rider-mode action on the table. Disappointing, but not surprising.

Electronic fuel injection works to meter the fuel to deliver a 48 mpg fuel-efficiency rating, so you can only count on about 100 miles at a time. That’s okay, your butt will be ready for a break before then. Power flows through the five-speed transmixxer and down a carbon-reinforced drive belt.

Engine: Air-cooled, Evolution®
Bore x Stroke: 3.5 in. x 3.8 in.
Displacement: 1,202 cc (73.4 cu in)
Compression Ratio: 10:01
Engine Torque (J1349): 73 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Exhaust: Black, staggered exhaust with slash-cut mufflers
Primary Drive: Chain, 38/57 ratio
Final Drive: Belt, 29/68 ratio
Clutch: Multi-plate, wet
Transmission: 5-speed
Gear Ratios (overall): 1st: 9.315, 2nd: 6.653, 3rd: 4.948, 4th: 4.102, 5th: 3.517

Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Special Price

2018 - 2019 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Special
- image 771502
MSRP at $11.3k puts the Forty-Eight Special among the higher-priced Sportsters in the lineup.

Harley follows the usual pricing protocols on the 2019 Forty-Eight Special with a Vivid Black model for $11,299. The “color” option will set you back $11,649 for Wicked Red or Billiard White. No matter which you pick, the tank comes with a color-complimenting, seventies-tastic graphic on both sides. Adding ABS will set you back $795 and the optional security system is $395.

Model ID: XL 1200XS
Colors: Vivid Black, Wicked Red, Billiard White
Price: $11,299, Color: $11,649
ABS Option: $795
Security System Option: $395

Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Special Competitor

2018 Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black
- image 765196
2018 - 2019 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Special
- image 771518
Electronic goodies and the slipper clutch will make the Bobber easier to control at the upper areas of the performance envelope.

When it comes to classic custom looks like the Forty-Eight Special has that appeal to the U.S. buyers, it’s hard to imagine anything better than the Bonneville Bobber Black from Triumph. Built to take on Harley on its own turf, the Black also sports dated architecture with a faux-rigid frame and old-school fender brace. Chopped-down sheet metal rides over the tires at both ends and the Bobber’s fuel tank comes with the classic knee pockets(es) that tie directly into Triumph’s historical roots.

Cartridge-type Showa forks and a KYB monoshock fall on-par with the Forty-Eight’s suspension, so Triumph doesn’t really gain any advantage here. ABS comes standard on the Bobber, so you don’t even get a choice there, but it’s the engine electronics that really make the Bobber shine. It comes stock with a twin-channel riding-mode feature that tunes power delivery to favor either high- or low-traction conditions, switchable traction control and a security immobilizer.

The 78 pounds o’grunt puts it just a skosh stronger than the Sporty, but only by five pound-feet, so performance will be very similar, but the electronic goodies and the slipper clutch will make the Bobber easier to control at the upper areas of the performance envelope. Price works against the Bobber with a $13,150 tag on the glossy Jet Black model and a $13,400 sticker on the Matte Jet Black version.

He Said

“The Forty-Eight Special beats the Bobber on price, but falls behind in a few really crucial areas. That said, I’m feelin’ the looks of this new Forty-Eight, though to be fair, it looks like Harley is going to really be stretching to get that 100 “new” models it promised, especially when we have such subtle variations as the Special this early in the game.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “The tall-boy handlebar on the Forty-Eight Special raises the bar about 8 inches or so and should be more comfortable for ape-armed riders. I’m not one of those people, so I can’t speak to it. The Special has a little more bling in the side covers and rocker boxes than the base model and a more sleek exhaust cover along with a retro paint scheme that looks to be kinda like a throw-back to the old AMF days. As much as we’d like to forget the AMF dark times, this whole retro look does harken back to the era. It looks cool and slick, but I’m not sure this model will last more than a year or two, so if the package grabs you, you might want to grab it while it lasts.”

Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Special Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: Air-cooled, Evolution®
Bore x Stroke: 3.5 in. x 3.8 in.
Displacement: 1,202 cc (73.4 cu in)
Compression Ratio: 10:01
Engine Torque (J1349): 73 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Exhaust: Black, staggered exhaust with slash-cut mufflers
Primary Drive: Chain, 38/57 ratio
Final Drive: Belt, 29/68 ratio
Clutch: Multi-plate, wet
Transmission: 5-speed
Gear Ratios (overall): 1st: 9.315, 2nd: 6.653, 3rd: 4.948, 4th: 4.102, 5th: 3.517
Chassis:
Frame: Mild steel, tubular frame; circular section, stamped junctions; MIG welded
Swingarm: Mild Steel, rectangular tube section, stamped junctions; MIG welded
Suspension, Front/ Travel: 49 mm fork set, free valve right hand and cartridge-style left hand/ 3.6 in.
Suspension, Rear/ Travel: Variable rate spring over 36 mm piston nitrogen gas-charged emulsion-style shock with thread-style preload adjustments/1.6 in.
Rake (steering head): 30.2°
Trail: 5.3 in.
Lean Angle, Right/Left: 27.1° / 27.1°
Wheels, Front & Rear: Black, Split 9-Spoke Cast Aluminum
Wheel, Front: 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)
Wheel, Rear: 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)
Brakes, Front: 300 mm floating rotor, dual-piston caliper
Brakes, Rear: 260 mm uniform expansion rotor, dual-piston caliper
ABS: optional
Tire, Front: 130/90B16 73H
Tire, Rear: 150/80B16 77H
Dimensions & Capacities:
Length: 85.2 in.
Seat Height, Laden: 26.2 in.
Seat Height, Unladen: 27.8 in.
Ground Clearance: 4.3 in.
Wheelbase : 58.9 in.
Fuel Capacity: 2.1 gal.
Fuel Economy: Estimated City/Hwy: 48 mpg
Oil Capacity (w/filter): 2.8 qt.
Dry Weight: 547 lb.
Curb Weight: 564 lb.
Top Speed: 110 mph (est)
Electric:
Lights (as per country regulation), Indicator Lamps: High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low fuel warning, low battery, security system (if equipped), ABS (if equipped)
Gauges: Handlebar-mounted electronic speedometer with odometer, time-of-day clock, dual tripmeter, low fuel warning light, low oil pressure light, engine diagnostics readout, LED indicator lights
Details:
Model ID: XL 1200XS
Colors: Vivid Black, Wicked Red, Billiard White
Price: Vivid Black $11,299, Color: $11,649

Further Reading

Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black

2018 Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black
- image 765190

See our review of the Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black.

Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight

2016 - 2019 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight
- image 737116

See our review of the Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight.

Harley-Davidson Iron 1200

2018 Harley-Davidson Iron 1200
- image 771044

See our review of the Harley-Davidson Iron 1200.

Harley-Davidson

ALLYN IMAGES - DO NOT DELETE
- image 809334

Read more Harley-Davidson news.

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

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