Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My first ride on a Harley ...

A local (non-Harley) dealership has a 2002 Sportster 1200 they took as a trade-in. I stopped by last week to look at it and ask if they allowed test rides, which they do, so I called today to schedule a test ride. It has forward controls, drag bars and straight pipes. The aftermarket seat was comfortable, and the forward controls were a bit awkward at first (my bike, a Yamaha Virago, has mid controls), but I quickly adjusted and found them more comfortable. I disliked the drag bars, though. They made me hunch forward too much, and the all-chrome grips were, well, hard to grip.

The bike was cold-blooded. The temp was in the mid- to upper-60s, and my bike would start and run fine with no choke. The Sporty had to be slightly choked, and it coughed enough to be slightly annoying, even after what should have been enough warm-up time. Also, the vibration levels on pre-2004 Sportsters, which some people have complained about, turned out to be an issue for me too (the 2004 and up models have rubber-mounted engines). The foot pegs buzzed much more than my bike, especially at highway speeds. If it was enough to annoy me on a 10-minute run, how much more would an hour-long trip wear on me? And the rear view mirrors vibrated so much I couldn't really identify what type of vehicle was behind me. That was important, because the Sportster is like a Corvette on two wheels, so I was on the lookout for cops - it was fast, loud and red! The torque slid my butt back on the seat, and I was only giving it maybe 80 percent of wide-open throttle, since I was unfamiliar with the bike and it wasn't mine. Zero to 70 mph elapsed quickly, and at that speed, the Sportster was easily chugging along, whereas my Virago would be revving pretty high.

Contrary to reviews I've read online, I did not find the Sportster to be "top-heavy". The seat height is significantly higher than my current bike, but it felt better, and I could still flat-foot it while stopped (I'm 5'8"). It felt well-balanced and agile. Admittedly, I didn't push it hard in the turns and curves (and there were few in the suggested test route), but I didn't have to "muscle" the bike to keep it down in a turn, another comment I've read. Sportsters aren't known for having road-absorbing suspensions, but, compared to my bike, it rode like a Cadillac.

Other than the aftermarket drag bars, the bike had good ergonomics. The speedometer and tachometer were in easy view, and the levers, turn signal switches and choke lever were all within easy reach. I was most impressed with the smoothness and quietness with which the gear lever shifted the five speed transmission. It was like butter! My Yamaha is much clunkier changing gears.

To me, the exhaust sounds are the best part of riding a Harley. I don't know if there is a word that adquately describes the growl or crackle the pipes make when you roll off the throttle as you upshift while accelerating, but it's a sound that seems to penetrate my soul, and is why I want a Harley over another make. Let's just say that even an hour after I ended my test ride, I had a grin on my face ....

Yes, I had to return with the bike, which has 22K on the odometer. What they are asking seems like a really good price, almost too good. The bike would come with a 30-day warranty, but I'd want someone who knows Harleys to check it out for me. But at this point, I'm not sure I want to commit to this particular bike. I've saved almost enough to buy a decent used Sportster, but would have to save double what I have now if I want to buy even a basic a Big Twin model. Whatever I decide to do, I am determined to buy with my head, not based on my emotions - which is a difficult thing to do when it comes to a Harley.

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