MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: The Lowdown on the New Sportster 1200L

Can you guess what the L stands for?

By Victoria West, Photos by Kevin Wing

New riders and those who are height-challenged have many more options to choose from because the popular Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 just got a little lower. New for 2006, Harley-Davidson has introduced the Sportster 1200L, the L stands for low. This is the lowest Sportster 1200 ever with a 26.25-inch seat height. Next in line in terms of low is the Sportster 1200 Custom, at 26.5 inches.

The idea for the 1200L was a direct response to customer feedback on the Sportster 883L introduced in 2005. Riders liked the 883L because of its low-ness, but they said they wanted a bigger engine.

In designing the 1200L Harley-Davidson looked to the 883L improving on aspects of that model to create a more ergonomically friendly motorcycle. One of those improvements is the position of the rider. The seat on the 883L pushes the rider forward to reach the handlebars. Apparently, it was a little too forward. I remember riding the 883L and thinking my knees were very close to my body. The seat on the 1200L has been pushed back and the grips are 1 inch closer to the rider. The seating position for me, at 5 feet 7 inches, fits just right.

I would have liked to feel a little more comfortable in the saddle. The flat seat created a slight numbness after a period of time. I think a passenger would expect a wider, cushier seat, too.

An issue a lot of female riders deal with is clutch effort. Harley-Davidson addressed this by reducing the clutch effort by 12 percent over last year on all the 2006 Sportsters. That combined with the reduced grip size – a couple of years ago Harley reduced grip size on the Sportsters from 1 1/4 inch to 1 1/8 inch – translates to hands and wrists that dont ache after a long ride.

I tested the 1200L on a wonderful strip of roadway, long sweeping turns that allowed the bike to do what it does best carve and corner going right where I pointed it. Lots of power and torque propel you upon take-off. Throttle response is right on. This 1200 has tons of zip. Youll have no problem keeping up with the larger powered motorcycles. Coming to a stop youlll find the dual-piston caliper brakes up front and the single-piston in the back do the job just fine.

Part of the Sportsters redesign in 2004 included a new stiffer frame and an engine that is rubber mounted to the frame. This reduced vibration considerably while stabilizing the ride a lot more. Because I owned a 1993 Sportster 1200 in my early days of riding, I am very tuned in to the difference this makes in the ride. I think the redesign was the best thing to happen to the Sportsters in years.

Youll also have no problem going the distance alongside with the bigger bikes thanks to the 4.5-gallon fuel tank. This is the newly designed tank Harley introduced on the Sportster 883 Custom and the Sportster 1200 Custom a couple a years ago.

Harley-Davidson didnt skimp on styling either. Lots of chrome where youd expect it accented by black paint on the wheels, the oil tank and the fender struts.

For more information,visit

Specs at a Glance
Displacement: 1200cc
Seat Height: 26.25 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gallons
Dry Weight: 554 lbs.
Colors: too many to list
Price: starts at $9,395

WRN Recommendation
I could see this motorcycle being an end-all bike for a lot of people. In the past, the Sportsters smaller tank may restricted where you rode, the rougher ride may have restricted the distance you rode, the stiffer clutch may have caused limitations for riders with smaller hands, the higher seat may have frustrated shorter women trying to gain confidence, but none of that is an issue anymore. Outfit this bike with a windshield, a cushier aftermarket seat, a set of saddlebags, a backrest to hold another bag, and youre set to go the long haul with this Sportster 1200L.

14 thoughts on MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: The Lowdown on the New Sportster 1200L

  1. I have had my 2005XL 1200c Sportster for more than three years now. Bought it the summer of 09 with less than 500 miles on her. While looking for a bike I tried a lot of them with no luck, when I sat on my Sporty I got goose bumps, a perfect fit, it was just right. I am 5 feet 2 inches, and fluffy to boot, so only ride one up. I have not had a single problem reaching the ground. I bought a good pair of boots (work type) and finally got a great coat from Fox Creek Leather (fits me perfect).I put a lot of miles and wore out a set of tires that first year. Even rode to Sturgis in 2010 with hubby, my oldest friend and her hubby. We all rode solo. A wonderful trip. Didn’t spend much time in Sturgis itself, as we rode 300 miles or more a day site seeing.My friend has an 03 883 Hugger (100 yr anniversary edition) and it is like night and day the difference in the riding the two. After riding mine she said it was like riding a Cadillac compared to hers!I absolutely love my bike and wish I hadn’t waited till 50 to get one. I want to get a bigger bike now but I will NEVER EVER get rid of my sporty!

  2. Really enjoyed this article. I bought my first HD XL1200L on March 19, 2010. I had never ridden a motorcycle in my life. I turned 51 the week after taking my safety course. Took the new Rider’s Edge Course in Madison, Alabama, in April and I now have my man taking me in evenings and weekends to empty parking lots to get more comfortable with my bike until I am ready for the highways. I am 5 feet 2 inches, 160 pounds, the reach of the handlebars is what sold me on this bike. We are going to do some modifications such as solo seat; lower shocks as I still want to be able to touch flat footed and can’t; need windshield and I want some hard saddlebags not leather ones; also will be getting engine guard.

  3. I have as 1983 Sportster XL 1000 and a 1989 Sportster XL 1200 (it started life as an 883cc and has the original gearing, etc). My complaints are with the rough ride and limited riding distance between fill-ups prompted me to look at other bikes. I went to North Country Harley-Davidson in Augusta and saw the newer (and new) 1200 Sportsters and love the looks. I also saw a couple of the Kawasaki Vulcans and Honda VTX motorcycles but thought they looked too big and wide. At 5 feet 10 inches and 200 pounds, I'm not exactly petite but, as I noted, immediately liked the looks of the new Sportsters far more than the other bikes. Thanks you for posting your comments as they have helped me make the decision to buy another Sportster.

  4. I have just purchased a 2008 1200L and I'm 5 feet tall. I am having a hard time with the kickstand. I purchased an extension and still find it hard to put up and down. Any suggestions? I also don't like that the footpeg gets in the way when I try to access the kickstand.

  5. A few weeks ago my husband surprised me with a brand new 2009 Sportster XL1200L my first bike ever! I absolutely love it with the chrome laced wheels and custom two-toned candy rootbeer paint. I added a quick release windshield and classic Sportster leather saddle bags before picking it up at the dealership.
    It rides so well on all the twisty turny roads here, and shows significant power on the mountainous inclines.

    This bike was a dream come true for me as I graduated the Riders Edge. I'm 5-feet-6 and 104 pounds and ride all I can (weather permitting so far, when will the snow stop?) It is low enough to reach the ground on the sloped streets and I am able to manually turn it around to get out of my garage for a ride, which is challenging with a dip getting in and out. Great bike; comfort; style and pride.

  6. After riding pillion for decades, I celebrated my 50th birthday by taking an MSF course and buying myself a 2007 XL1200L. I had a wonderful salesperson who had me try several different models; when I swung my leg over the 1200 Low, I knew I'd found the right bike. I'm 5 feet 2 inches, but found the handlebars situated just right. I did put a Reach seat on it, and that helped with any footing issues. That was 2 1/2 years ago and I still absolutely love my bike.

    I've ridden it 27,500 miles so far, including a solo cross country trip from GA to MN and back. Friends keep saying that I must be ready to upgrade, and I'll admit that I've been looking at the Road Kings because I do like the long road trips. But my Sportster has my heart, takes me anywhere I want to go, keeps up with any other bikes I've ridden with and I'll keep it even if I do get a bigger one.

  7. I bought a 09 Sporty 1200L the end of March and I love all of it. At 4 feet 11 inches I added some lift to my riding boots and had my Brawler seat adjusted so I would not be thrown back with the great acceleration she has. Now have saddlebags and will be going to the AMA convention in Keystone this August. Next on my list is a windshield (any suggestions?) and just ride and ride and ride. The summer will be great!

  8. I am 4 feet 10 inches and I love my 2007 Sportster 1200L. My husband rides a H-D Ultra Glide and I have no problem keeping up with him. I am comfortable for the long rides. I can actually flat foot my bike for the first time. I bought a custom seat and had it made specific for me. Basically I am riding on the frame, but non-the less it is comfortable.

  9. This article came at a perfect time for me. I am looking to buy my first Harley and intend to try the 1200L, I was going to go with the 883L, after reading this article, I will be looking at the 1200L. I am a 51 year old female, buying her first motorcycle ever.

  10. I purchased a 2008 Sportster 883L in May. I really, really like it around town when I'm under 50mph. It's great for back and forth to work and cruising around town. I find it very uncomfortable at highway speeds though. The seat is too hard and I'm squirming constantly after about 20 minutes on the road. I don't like the vibrations either at highway speeds. I have tendonitis in my heels and the vibration really makes my feet ache on the highway. I'm debating on buying a new seat along with engine guards with highway foot pegs. I've been told this will help. Has anyone else had the same experience? I'm looking for suggestions including trading it in if I could find a bike that doesn't vibrate as much.

  11. Purchased my 1200L Sporty one year ago. Love, love, love it. Put H-D's locking saddlebags on, a Memphis shade, new solo seat and can ride anywhere. Went from an 883 Hugger and this was my choice for a new bike.

    Also, love the fuel injection and larger fuel tank. I am 5 feet and looked for something that would fit my frame, but still put the Burley lowering kit on to get my feet flat on the ground. I began riding at 50 and I'm coming up on 10 years now.

  12. I purchased a 2007 Harley Nightster Sportster in April and starting riding in May. I am only 5-feet-2. This bike is the only one that really fit me, and I had been checking different bikes for two years. Believe it or not, I am a young 63 years old. I have not ridden in more than 30 years, so this gives the older women encouragement that you are never too old.

  13. I purchased a 2007 1200L about three months ago and love it. It handles great and fits me better than the larger cycles.

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