x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

What a girl wants: small, cheap and handsome

The Sportster 883 is the best choice for a woman, or a person vertically challenged, wanting a motorcycle.

It's always a mistake for a man to guess what a woman is thinking. Divorces have been consummated on less. It's an even bigger mistake for anyone with an XY chromosome to express an opinion on what women need. Murders have been committed for less. Except for Mel Gibson in his pre-Oksana days, men generally have no idea what women are thinking. Clint Eastwood had to read Cosmo magazine (in Heartbreak Ridge) to get a clue. Gibson had to electrocute himself to gain the telepathic powers (the theme of What Women Want) required to figure it out. The rest of us just blunder about haplessly wondering why the yellow roses are the wrong colour this week.

Yet, despite the knowledge that I may indeed be walking into quagmire of misogynistic ineptitude, I will express the following opinion on the behalf of womenfolk (actually, to anyone short of stature trying to take up motorcycling); the new SuperLow version of Harley-Davidson's venerable Sportster 883 could be your best choice for a new motorcycle. Of course, that's dependent on if you're predisposed towards cruisers as opposed to sport bikes. Nonetheless, that's a dramatic statement, at least for me, since I have not been a fan of the Sportster, and to be perfectly truthful, I am still not that big a fan of some of the other models. Traditional Sportsters generally feel like small bikes, their steering as twitchy as a moped, their suspension (especially on the previous Low version) overly stiff and the seat buckboard-like. The lowered versions - the "Low" or XL883L that feature shortened suspension and more thinly-padded seats to accommodate those lacking in inseam - suffer worse.

Imagine my surprise then, when not five minutes into riding the new SuperLow, I find myself scooting along a twisty Oregon backroad on a bike that handles well, has excellent stability and is not uncomfortable, yet still has a Sportser nameplate on the tank. Harley-Davidson obviously heard some of the same complaints - especially in the suspension department - from owners of last year's Low model and decided a total revamp was in order.

The first thing The Motor Company's engineers did in creating the SuperLow was to increase the rear suspension travel by 25mm. Then they added a bunch of padding to the seat. Bingo, both the ride and comfort were improved. Complaints addressed, right? Well, not quite. Both changes, while improving the Sportster's comfort, elevated, rather than lowered, the seat height; not exactly an ideal attribute when you're advertising your bike as, well, SuperLow.

To remedy the situation, Harley took a novel approach, substituting the Sportster's traditional, high-profile bias-ply tyres for some sportier, much lower profile radial rubber (indeed, this may be the first time that radial tires have ever been applied to a motorcycle for purely ergonomic reasons). The net result is the best of both worlds - the seat is more amply padded, yet still remains a low, low 645mm.

The even better news is that the radial tyres - 120/70ZR18 in the front (one inch shorter than the standard's 19-inch item) and 150/60ZR17 in the rear - have also transformed the handling. Gone is the darty, nervous feel of the standard Sportster on its narrow bias-plys. Instead, there's a stability far beyond the Sportster's diminutive stature. It's no doubt helped by Harley's decision to also rake out the SuperLow's steering and add about 25mm more trail. Nonetheless, I suspect the majority of the improvement is the Michelin Scorcher tires.

And not only do the Michelins enhance the ride, but they also make the SuperLow look much more modern than the standard Sportster, the low-profile tyres looking like it was liberated from full-on sport bike. As well, the wider rims Harley chose for the radial rubber look like aftermarket Marchesinis, a step up from the retro stuff that most Sportster's ride on (and wouldn't the SuperLow's wheels look fantastic on Harley's new XR1200X?).

Indeed, the SuperLow is, in my estimation at least, the best-looking Sportster ever. The two-tone gas tank adds a bit of class on the budget bike. The tank is also larger, now able to carry 17L of gas for longer range, which adds a sense of gravitas. Combined with the lower profile, it makes for the hottest Sportster yet. Indeed, the one improvement I would suggest (other than applying these upgrades to all Sportsters) is that Harley give the XL1200 the same SuperLow treatment. The 883 is not exactly underpowered, but neither is it a powerhouse. Who's to say that those lacking in leg don't want more horsepower?

In the meantime, what they'll get in the 883 SuperLow is the best Sportster ever, the best-looking Sportster ever and a price tag - starting at Dh35,000 - that's still the cheapest Sportser in Harley's lineup. Bargoon!