Iron in the blood

by Andy Bryenton

The year 1957 is one which will go down in history as the high water mark for a certain motoring aesthetic. The beloved style of ‘57 shines through in classics like the Chevrolet Bel Air, the original Chrysler 300 C, the Cadillac El Dorado and an all-American machine that’s still made to this very day. It’s the Harley Davidson Sportster, and for 2020 it’s getting a retro-modern new look.

In many ways, it’s hard to believe that the Sportster (the bloodline is now designated the XL1200) has been with us longer than the Beatles. There’s a timelessness, which the designers of the 2020 Harley Davidson range have tapped into when creating the profile of both the Iron XL1200NS and its more retro-themed stablemate, the Forty-Eight Special.

Things take a while to change in the world of Harley bikes, with a definite sense of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it’ prevailing across the range. Part of this is because the classic styling of these American road machines is at the heart of what makes them popular. Harley Davidson is still pushing the barriers; note their revolutionary all-electric motorcycle, revealed last year.

They have concocted a winning formula during the years, and in the Sportster XL1200 range, they have stripped that sound, feel and look down to the basics.

That means a ‘peanut’ tank with retro graphics, fat tyres, mini-ape style handlebars, strategically blacked-out components and a low-slung solo seat on the Forty-Eight Special, giving it an aggressively old-school look while still offering the power and reliability of the Evolution engine in its latest form. The Forty-Eight name comes down from 2010, when a special retro edition of the Nightster (itself a special edition ‘sporty’) was released, with cues going back to the post-war years.

The current edition doesn’t come standard with whitewall tyres, but deck it out in black and add some, and this might be one of the best looking bikes on the streets today. Then again, that’s just opinion; the beauty of this bike is that you really can have it any way you please.

There’s a good reason that the fun-sized Harley Davidson has lasted the distance, even in the shadow of its brothers like the mighty Road King.

That’s because this nimble, free-spirited and simple bike has been putting smiles on faces since 1957. Take a ride this summer and you’ll find it’s hard not to join in.