HARLEY-DAVIDSON’S entry-level trio of the Iron 883, the Superlow and the Forty-Eight were each fairly significant bikes for the marquee, as far as the Indian market was concerned. As it turned out, a large percentage of the biking population was hungry for Harleys, and the Sportster series was the most affordable initiation into the Harley club. The Superlow was the most affordable one  in the Sportster series, but it was discontinued, since Harley had a new motorcycle on the way.

On the surface, the 1200 Custom doesn’t seem to be too different from the Forty-Eight — it even wears the same shoes — but there are plenty of small changes which add up to transform how the bike feels. The 1200’s got more of a retro, chrome-laden, custombobber sort of vibe to it, one which has been missing from the Sportster range so far. It’s got a chunky, 26-inch front tyre, new suspension, a bigger tank and a brand new seat, thereby ironing out all the niggles that plagued the previous model.

The engine is perhaps the only aspect of the motorcycle that feels familiar. It’s the same 1202cc, air-cooled, Evolution V-twin that’s found in the Forty- Eight. H-D never reveal the power figures on their motorcycles, but the Evo V-twin, more so than others, is all about torque (9.7 kgm). It’s got a raw, earthy and decidedly traditional torque curve that Harley seems to have preserved well over the decades. And this, along with the riding position, makes it seem much faster than it actually is.


What we like: Styling, comfort and practicality

What we don’t: Lack of ABS, engine vibrations at idle


 

Although the Sportster series has always represented Harley’s urban, street-friendly ambitions, the 1200 Custom is, of the three, most suited to long-distance riding. It’s got a larger 17-litre tank, which allows it to cover longer distances without constantly stopping for fuel. It’s also got a more sweptback rider position, unlike its siblings, and that makes it a lot more comfortable over long-distance cruises. It’s city riding that Harley needs to be more concerned about, because it’s precisely there that Harley’s issues with refinement tend to crop up. Firstly, the engine vibrates quite a bit at idle, and the gearbox feels too clunky, especially in first gear. There’s also the usual trouble going into neutral, and it’s about time someone did something about that. Then there’s the need for ABS, which crops up every now and then during hard braking. The new suspension, however, makes the bike feel much more balanced while entering a corner.

With its five-spoke cast-iron wheels and a small chrome lip above the round headlamp, the 1200 Custom packs enough retro charm to provoke double takes. It’ll never run out of torque, and with a significantly larger tank, it’s less likely to run out of fuel as well. In a lot of ways, it’s the Sportster that aims to be more like its more expensive, big-bellied cousins — which makes it the best and the cheapest compromise between urban, street bobber and highway cruiser that Harley has to offer.