It’s been a dark and gloomy winter so far, and things were made no cheerier with the news that a liquidation company is holding an auction of the Buell factory assets on January 28th, crushing any lingering hopes of a Buell revival, but at least Harley-Davidson offers a small ray of sunshine in its latest offering in its youth-oriented “Dark Custom” lineup.
Based on the venerable 1200 Sportster platform, the Forty-Eight-so called because of the 1948 S-model, the first H-D with a peanut tank-is sort of a street-fighter version of the Nightster model introduced in 2008. And I thought that just once, I’d get a free pass on typing out a long-winded model name by writing about some model with just two-praise the Lord, two!-characters in its name. But nooooooo: Harley-Davidson has trademarked “Forty-Eight,” so now I gotta type it out instead of just hitting ‘4’ and ‘8.’ Thank God for “ctrl-v.”
Like the Nightster, it’s chopped, low (with a 26.8-inch seat height and shortened rear suspension) and has plenty of black finishes where you’d usually find chrome. It also has the combined stop/turn/tail lamp found on other Dark Custom models, as well as a hip side-mounted license-plate bracket. The Forty-Eight differentiates itself from its older brother (they share the same chassis, fork, shocks and 1200cc fuel-injected V-Twin) with a fat 130/90-16 front tire, lower bars, a smaller, 2.1-gallon peanut tank, a smaller seat, and (horrors!) a headlight bereft of the sacred chrome “eyebrow” that’s been on most every Sportster since the mid 19th century. Or is that 20th century?
Other changes to the Forty-Eight are new, wider triple clamps and underslung mirrors for a lower, meaner look. H-D also claims more lean angle for the 48, which should make the ctrl-v, I mean Forty-Eight a little more fun in the twisties, even if the claimed wet weight is five pounds more than the Nightster (probably due to the hefty front tire). The bike will carry an MSRP of $10,499 in black, or $10,789 for the silver or orange options.
There are those of you out there who may only have unpleasant memories of those old Sporties, memories of bone-rattling, part-dropping, oil-leaking, hard-starting nightmare rides, your “friends” jeering as you pulled up last at rest stops. Those days are long, long gone. The current Sportster models, from the bare-bones (but very pleasant) 883 Iron to the surprisingly fast XR1200 are smooth, torquey and…well, maybe “refined” isn’t the right word, but “satisfying” does the trick. Ironically, we can thank Erik Buell and his engineering prowess for that: with Buell being confined to the Sportster motor for so many years, improvements were made to the engine’s power output and delivery that the Motor Company may never have made on its own. Factor in changes to engine-mounting systems that made it possible to comfortably rev the 45-degree pushrod design to where it had never gone before. Oh, and did you know the Sportster has a cassette-style transmission? And the valves adjust themselves? Or that parts prices are substantially less than Asian brands? H-D has a good test-ride program, and with domestic sales down 25 percent in 2009 (and the Motor Company announcing a yearly loss for the first time in decades), the salesperson will be very happy to see you. H-D is unsure of when the Forty-Eight will be in dealers (more info will be available after the next dealer meeting), so call your local shop before you barge in.
MD Readers Respond:
- Great article it is both entertaining and informative.
I do have one question though is just me or does
the new ctrl-v, I mean Forty-Eight (now you’ve got me
doing it!) look an awfully lot like something from the
folks at Exile Cycles? Also I’m pretty sure the first
Sportster did appear in the 19th Century although it
was steam powered (and coal fired) at the time. Kevin
- As a current Harley owner and about every other brand over 25 years of riding, I like this bike and I think Harley Davidson is right to go after new riders with cool versions of the Sportster, like the Dark, Nightster and XR1200.
The Forty Eight I would buy.
This bike looks the part and with a rubber mounted engine you can actually ride it over 70mph.
I just wanted to say something positive, I think Harley does a lot of things right and this bike is one of them. Steve
- I’m always amazed at how biased and seemingly ignorant motorcyclists can be.
Does anyone really think the Forty Eight is intended to be anything other than a new take on an old model? One of the top-selling models from HD, by the way. Harley is the King at derivative models. Is anyone surprised?
When are people going to realize and accept that technology is NOT where HD’s bread is buttered? Buell died because nobody was BUYING the things. Forward thinking? Sure. Cool? To some. But viable in the marketplace? Clearly not.
Harley Davidson does what they do. Like it? Buy it. Don’t like it? Don’t buy it. I for one like the fat front, peanut tank and the springer seat. Cool looking motif. Brett
- Harley is at it again…. making a few cosmetic changes, adding a few bolt on parts from their 500 pages accessory catalog & then calling it a “new” model. They did the same thing with the V-Rod & sales of V-Rods went nowhere….I’m suprised they didn’t pull that plug before Buell.
H-D needs to address the design limitations of the air cooled V-Twin engine. I currently have an 09 Road King & previously had an 04 Electra Glide. The 04 was hot but the 09 is incredibly hot. Everyone knows it & everyone is trying to reduce the heat by adding high flow air filters & pipes, cams that overlap, new ECM tune, etc…..
I understand the nostaglia & H-D having a reputation to uphold but come on…. BMW’s & Ducati use oil coolers & oil jets to keep the pistons cool. Yamaha & Kawasaki have used a water jacket around the cylinders to keep the motors cool.
The longer H-D waits to come out with something new, technology-wise, to lower motor temps, the more people will get fed up & possibly walk to other brands. H-D doesn’t have to change every bike over to liquid cooled…. but come on…. the V-Rod is a niche bike that no regular H-D rider wants. They should start at the top…. create a liguid cooled Electra Glide & see what happens. & Willie G… please don’t turn the radiator into some kind of art deco monstrosity… they have the perfect bike… blend the radiator in with the fairing lowers…. there.. design complete.. go build it! & why your at it. why not a V-4??? Steve
- My Sportster memories go all the way back to me 1954 K Model. But on a bike that looks this Bad a__ why can’t we have some of the adjustable suspension and other performance mods form the flat tracker model? Does it HAVE to just look good? Why not duel front discs? 5 gallon tank?
But I do like the look and the sprung seat on the black one!! Alex
- I think that this is a great looking bike, and the direction is the only one that Harley Davidson can handle, they do not have the technical prowess or the engineering expertise to build motorcycles for the contemporary marketplace. Vinson
- Come on guys, this bike is targeting a specific type of rider, the “TT Racer”. After all, how much gas do you need to race from one tavern to another? I think the design is cool because it has a designated pusher built into it. After the bike runs out of gas, the rider runs out of gas while pushing the bike, or calls a friend for a ride, thus preventing riding while intoxicated. Of course, pushing something that heavy could sober a lot of people up too.
But seriously folks, every time I hear “NEW HARLEY”, I think yeah, in 1905 it was a new idea, now it’s a “Retro Ride” or vintage reproduction. Maybe they’re just taking the lead in the vintage market, again.
Harley Davidson, new, and innovation are words that just don’t seem to go together well.
Maybe it’s just me. Jack
- The HD 48 shows the blessing and curse of Harley. Harley has a hugely powerful brand, so powerful people will tattoo the corporate logo on themselves! But at the same time, they have a huge curse: the HD brand can only sell cruisers and touring-cruisers.
Even the minor departure of the V-rod has effectively failed. Harley doesn’t break out the sales figures of the VRSC line from the sales for the Dyna/Softtail/CVO line, but its clear: how many Dynas do you see on the road? How many V-rods?
And like every other recent Harley except the V-rod, the Fourty Eight can’t extend the brand at all: its yet another air cooled, parts-bin special. A very nice looking parts-bin special, but the only buyers it will attract are those who would have bought some other sportster. Someone who would be happy with that paintshaker engine, overweight chassis, and a teacup for a tank, because it is a Harley and looks cool.
Harley Davidson management knows this, and knew this a decade ago. Buell was supposed to be the “demographic out”: the way for Harley to sell everything BUT cruisers and touring-cruisers. Could you sell a 450cc liquid cooled supermoto as a Buell? A 1.4L liquid-cooled ST bike? A 200 MPH road-missile? Heck yeah.
Simply put, every type of bike in a BMW/Aprilia showroom, be it a Dakar podium winner, a practical naked, a world-superbike, a round-the-world trailie, or a classy ST bike, could have been sold as a Buell.
So why aren’t HD/Buell dealers filled with such bikes? Because Harley killed Buell back in 2002.
Back in 2002 it was clear that, unless Buell was given a real engine, it would never prosper: the XB series chassis may have been brilliant, but the riding experience was atrocious. The engine was and remains underpowered, peaky , overweight, and so unbalanced as to want to to shake the bike apart.
Yet Harley management dithered and delayed, refusing to give the resources until a half-decade too late: It wasn’t until 2007 that Buell was given an engine, like the Aprilia 1L twin or the Triumph Triple, which could power a full line of competitive motorcycles. And even when the engine arrived, Buell didn’t do the smart thing of putting out a giant tralie and ST on a variant of the 1125R chassis. This isn’t even considering the brand damage due to a decade of sportster engines.
At this point, there is nothing Harley can do except downsize and weather the storm. They killed their escape plan almost a decade ago. We can expect more bikes like the Fourty Eight, which will sell to their existing customers. But for those who want motorcycles which are looking forward, not backwards, we will always have to go someplace else. Nicholas
 This is not a typo. The air cooled buell engine is a classically peaky engine, as it only operates well in a relatively narrow percentage (3K-6K RPM) of the engine’s range. This was really clear when ridden back-to-back with an Aprilia Tuono.
- Most suppliers of motorcycles look to the future for their growth, HD, for some unknown reason, looks solely to their past. New models are often a rehash of current models made to look somewhat like products from HD’s glorious past.
I wonder when they’ll wake up and understand that the future, not the past, is ahead of us and engage competitors and customers with forward-looking machines. Dan
- I almost spit coffee all over my keyboard while reading about the new H-D Forty-Eight. While an otherwise ho-hum bike (really, H-D? This is the best you can do?), the tank size is what triggered the almost keyboard ending surprise. 2.1 gallons?! What kind of range does that give? 60-70 miles? Was that a typo? That’s less than some of the new electric bikes on the market today. Thanks for article, I love the site. Mike
- No one has to do anything else than look around to see that Harleys are popular here in the US. Perhaps that can be mostly attributed to it being a long lived American brand and processing great visceral noises, especially with the obligatory loud pipes, but I personally never got into the “Road Pirate” type gig. With each introduction of a new Harley it seems that theme just goes on and on. Is it just me or….? I would love to see motorcycles get completely away from that mentality but I’m not sure if it would be good for H-D. Rick
- H-D built a new model around a peanut gas tank. Really?
A gas tank so small that you couldn’t ride it from one end of Milwaukee to the other before running out of gas. Really. I am guessing that H-D doesn’t Really expect us to take this bike out on the road and do some riding. Maybe someday they will come out with a Sportster designated by the number 66, named after the route from Chicago to L.A.
Put a 6 gallon tank on that one and we will really ride it. Really! Michael
- Sheesh. I understand what HD is doing with the 48, and then I don’t understand it one bit.
First the part I understand: HD is bleeding money and needs to do everything and anything it can to lure prospective buyers into dealer showrooms; preferably younger buyers and women. Hence the tarted-up Sportsters, which can be brought to market without the costs of platform development. All they are is a basic Sporty with cosmetic changes.
Second, the part I don’t understand: Why waste resources on sub-dividing one slim part of the HD buyer demographic? What HD truly needs is to capture the owners of other brands. HD needs an Ultra with the V-Rod engine. It needs a sport bike with a torquey HD engine. It needs a good handling sport tourer on a de-raked V-Rod platform. It needs an adventure bike (sense a bit of Buell Ulysses lust here? Yep.)
In sum, HD needs to keep Willie G churning out new versions of the classic HD, but also needs to recognize that the market and the rider demographics have changed, and to move forward the Motor Company needs to substantially broaden its product line.
And HD also needs to make its dealerships more welcoming to non-HOG members. Seriously, HD, your dealers scare off a hell of a lot of prospective buyers. Just ask anyone who tried to buy a Buell. Michael
- Wow. What a stunningly innovative design. Unlike anything HD has ever done before. Good thing they killed off buell with thier boring old yesterday ideas. Damien