Review: 2016 Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow 1200T

A small and easy to handle touring motorcycle

By Pamela Collins, photos by Pam and Tim Collins

The rise in sales of touring motorcycles — usually larger bikes equipped with luggage and windshields designed for multi-day trips — may have some smaller-sized riders feeling uninvited to the party. Often referred to as “baggers,” these motorcycles are heavier and larger and that can make smaller or newer riders uncomfortable. Bikes sized “just right” for these riders often lack essential touring amenities.

The Sportster SuperLow 1200T is Harley-Davidsons way of filling the gap in its lineup for a smaller touring bike. The Motor Company increased displacement (and therefore power) of its 883 Sportster SuperLowto 1200cc and added creature comforts to make it more appealing for motorcycle touring.

review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t right
The Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow XL 1200T includes a removable windshield, lockable, leather-covered hard saddlebags, and other modifications geared for touring duty.

But hanging extra goodies on a “smaller” motorcycle doesn’t automatically morph it into an honest-to-goodness touring machine. Power, engine performance, rider ergonomics, comfort, and other considerations factor into the touring equation, too. I took the Sportster SuperLow 1200T on a multi-day nearly 1,000-mile trip through southern California alongside my husband, Tim (who was riding a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic) to evaluate its touring capabilities.

review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t woman riding
Rider ergonomics, which includes the seating position and the distance between the rider and the handlebars and footpegs, is ideal on the 1200T for the average-sized woman to be comfortable.
review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t seat height
At 5 feet 2.5 inches tall with a 29-inch inseam, Pam has a comfortable bend in her arms while reaching the Sportsters handlebars, and no problem with her feet reaching the pavement thanks to the 26.1 inch seat height.

review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t mini floorboard
Pam likes the mid-placed mini floorboards on the SuperLow 1200T, which are located three inches forward of other Sportster models with mid-controls (Sportster SuperLow and Iron 883), making her knee bend a little more relaxed for longer days in the saddle.

review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t seat
New for 2016, the 1200T features a two-up touring style reduced-reach seat with a narrow nose to make putting feet on the pavement a secure affair. Pam says despite being in the saddle for long hours the stock seat was quite capable. She didnt experience any discomfort or hot spots, however, she thinks both a rider and passenger could feel a bit cramped over time due to the smaller seating area of this touring saddle.

review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t man seated
At 5 feet 8 inches with a 30-inch inseam, Tim says the 1200T feels too small and cramped for him. He prefers a stretched-out riding position but thinks smaller riders will feel comfortable on this bike.

Ive ridden and owned many different Harley-Davidson motorcycles over the years going back to the 1990s, but I felt that this 1200Ts engine vibrated a lot, more than what Im used to feeling on a Harley-Davidson. I felt the vibration in the handgrips and floorboards in every gear, and found it difficult to see what was in the mirrors until I was traveling pretty fast. Only until about 60 mph in fourth gear or 70 mph in fifth (top) gear, did the vibration finally subside enough to see clearly in the mirrors. That said, “feeling” the engines vibration is part of what makes a motorcycle a Harley-Davidson motorcycle a Harley-Davidson. I highly recommend a test ride if youre considering the 1200T to make sure youre comfortable with the vibration over a long ride.

The Sportster SuperLow 1200T is powered by a rubber-mounted air-cooled 1200cc Evolution engine, with a five-speed transmission. (Many touring motorcycles have a six speeds to improve fuel efficiency.) Pam finds the shifting to be somewhat clunky, meaning she can “feel” the engagement of the gears, but this is a signature feature of a Harley-Davidson, allowing the rider to actually “feel” the motorcycles gears. Someone not used to riding a Harley-Davidson may notice the gears “clunking” into place more than someone used to Harleys.
review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t pam riding
Pam enjoys the nimble handling of the 1200T, which she says “glides effortlessly through the twisties. But its mere 4.2 inch ground clearance means the floorboards scrape as I round some of those curves.”

Fuel economy seems to be close to the 48 mpg Harley-Davidson estimate. The fuel tank holds 4.5 gallons, giving riders more than 200 miles per tank … an important factor for a touring motorcycle.

The grips on the SuperLow 1200T are a smaller diameter than most Harley grips — 1.3 inches compared to the usual 1.5 inches — and feel perfectly sized for my smaller hands. The clutch and brake levers are non-adjustable meaning the distance between the levers and the handgrip cannot be adjusted. (Adjustable levers are common on many Japanese cruisers.) Fortunately, the smaller diameter of the handgrip gives my shorter fingers more “reach” to the levers, and the pull to engage the levers requires no additional effort. I never experienced any discomfort holding them in for long periods of time like at stop lights or in stop-and-go traffic.

Braking is adequate on the 1200T. Single discs in front and rear each use dual-piston calipers. The optional ABS works very well and is a $795 add-on I recommend. Electronic fuel injection is spot-on with no jerking or hesitation, and acceleration is quick and responsive when rolling on the throttle.

Touring usually means bringing along “stuff,” and though the rigid, lockable saddlebags look good, they don’t hold much more than a couple-day’s worth of gear.

review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t saddlebag
The Sportster 1200Ts leather-covered rigid saddlebags are hinged on the outside which allows them to open wide, without the lid getting caught on the seat. A pushbutton lock is on top of the lid, creating a clean contemporary look. They are watertight and Pam especially enjoys the security of having lockable bags.
review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t open saddlebag
Pam loves how easy the 1200T’s saddlebags are to open and fill, though their hard sides don’t offer any give. Docking points are pre-installed for adding an optional Harley-Davidson Genuine Accessory sissybar or luggage rack, which helps secure more bags and gear.
review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t windshield
The 1200T includes a 14-inch quick-release windshield that easily converts the touring bike into an around-town cruiser without tools. Pam looks over the shield which she prefers (as opposed to through it), finds it distortion-free, enjoys its protection from wind and rain, and feels no windblasts or buffeting.
review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t wheel
The SuperLow 1200T sports black and silver split five-spoke cast aluminum wheels and Michelin Scorcher touring tires.
review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t saddlebag
New for 2016, all Sportster models now have an adjustable shock for 2016, but the 1200T is the only hand-adjustable one. All other Sportsters require a spanner wrench to make adjustments, which is stored under the seat. Here you can see the 1200Ts knob just in front of the saddlebag. It can be adjusted without removing the bag.
review harley davidson sporter superlow 1200T rear shock
The 1200T’s easy-to-use dial-adjustable rear shock, that you can see with the saddlebag removed, helps smooth the road’s bumps and bounces, and helps offset the low 2.13-inch rear suspension travel, a concession to keeping the 1200T’s profile low. A twist of the wrist (no special tools needed) is all it takes to tailor the 1200T to one- or two-up riding, whether traveling light or loaded with gear.

review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t man riding
Tim noted that an adjustable windshield would be nice as the Sportster SuperLow 1200Ts stock shield is too small for his 5-foot 8-inch height. This picture shows how much distance there is between the top of the windshield and Tim’s eyes giving his face and head little protection from the wind.

The chrome speedometer is easy to see and displays a variety of information controlled by a toggle button on the left handlebar. Without removing your hand from the grip, each push of the switch changes the information displayed, cycling through an odometer, clock, two tripmeters, gear indicator, and tachometer.

review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t green right
The 1200T is a chrome-swathed, good-looking bike with a retro look. The one tested here features a two-tone paint combination called Deep Jade Pearl and Vivid Black. The Jade green hue really glistens when the sun reflects off it.
review 2016 harley davidson sportster superlow 1200t left
The Sportster SuperLow 1200T is offered in seven colors, including Velocity Red Sunglo shown here.

The addition of the touring accessories, along with a larger engine displacement, does indeed change the 1200T from a boulevard buddy to more of a long-haul friend as long as you don’t mind a little engine vibration and limited cargo capacity. But riders of smaller stature seeking a Harley-Davidson that fits them while promising the ability to tour more comfortably would do well to consider the Sportster SuperLow 1200T.

Specs At A Glance: 2016 Harley-Davidson Sportster Superlow 1200T
Engine Size: 1202cc
Seat height: 26.1 inches
Weight: 599 pounds
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gallons
Colors: Vivid Black, Black Quartz, Velocity Red Sunglo, Billet Silver/Vivid Black, Deep Jade Pearl/Vivid Black, Purple Fire/Blackberry Smoke, Cosmic Blue Pearl
Price: Starts at $11,799 (add $795 for ABS; add $395 for security system)

WRN Recommendation
We applaud Harley-Davidson for finding a way to enable smaller-sized riders, as well as those on a budget, a way to tour comfortably and keep up to speed adequately on the highway with their friends on larger and higher-powered motorcycles. The SuperLow 1200T is a nice step up from a beginner motorcycle for riders just starting to tour overnight on their bike.

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14 thoughts on Review: 2016 Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow 1200T

  1. I’ve been riding for 50 years and usually put between 15-20,000 miles a yearon my Honda Valkyrie and a BMW R1200R. I haven’t owned a Harley since 1962.My Harley-riding buddies were always ripping me (good-natured) for not riding a Hog so when I saw a cheap 2011 SuperLow with no miles I grabbed it. For the record, I’m 5 feet 10 inches with a 30-inch inseam. I put regular shocks on it, dropped the bars 2 inches, moved the signals, added a H-D accessory speedometer with a fuel gauge and tachometer, and polished and powder coated some stuff.It’s a fun bike, but I wouldn’t want to ride coast to coast on it. The stock seat is fine for around town and the brakes are adequate (I put EBC HH pads on it though), and at 3,200 rpm under light throttle it’s as smooth as my Beemer. (But only at that RPM.) It doesn’t handle like a sportbike (but doesn’t pretend to be a sportbike) and is a little top-heavy.My machine of choice for a smaller new rider is a metric cruiser in the 700cc range, but if a person can deal with the weight, the Sporty will do.

  2. I bought this bike for my wife, used with just 300 miles on it. I was very happy for the price point, but that’s about the end of my happiness.1. This is not a “touring” bike. They can put a “T” in the name all they want. a. Seat is not built for any length of ride. b. No forward controls? On a touring bike? c. Handlebars (as others have said) are not quite right. d. Vibration, no question. It’s got those rubber mounts.2. Mirrors. Can’t see squat. I had to add mirror extensions just to get around looking at my shoulders. (I’m 5 feet 8 inches, my wife is maybe 5 feet 6 inches.)3. Brakes. I can deal with no ABS, but the rear brakes on these are just lousy. 4. Saddlebags. That locking mechanism sucks, but it doesn’t matter because we tore them up! (And have since replaced them.)5. Top heavy? Poor handling? All true. I ride a 2016 Heritage, and even though that bike is far bigger, I can make an easy u-turn on it. It’s way easier than on the 1200T.We bought this when my wife was ready for her own bike. She struggled in the training class we took together. She just needed more course time. Since I know riding was guaranteed, we just went ahead and bought this bike for her to practice with on weekends, etc. in large warehouse parking lots. She struggled with it, and to be honest when demonstrating this or that technique, I struggled too. And I actually took to bike riding very well, very fast. This damn bike is just hard to ride! I bought my 900 pound bike and rode it home and I hadn’t ridden in 20 years (and did this, dumbly, before I even took the class). It was still easier than riding that SuperLow.Like many other commenters, I wouldn’t suggest this bike for a beginner. Maybe for an experienced rider, and definitely only for in-town riding. If you’re going to put miles on it (and we certainly have), I’d recommend getting yourself a Softail, if you want to keep the budget down. (The Heritage is a Softail and costs twice as much as the SuperLow.)If you are going to buy this bike, I would recommend finding a used one, because if you pay full H-D new price, you’re going to be disappointed, I think.

  3. Very down-to-earth conversation, similar to a friend discussing something. I wish the article was longer.

  4. I bought a 2013 Softail Slim. It has the 103 motor. From seat to ground is 24 inches. I love it. I’m only 5 feet 4 inches and about 110 pound. I have no problem riding this bike.

  5. I’ve got a 2013 custom Sportster. Loved the bike from the moment I sat on it. I’m 5 feet 3 inches with a 31 inch inseam. I would agree the bike is a bit top heavy, but the setup was perfect for me. My first bike was a Yamaha Virago 250, so this was quite a step up. I bought a quick-release windshield. There are two different height windshields, so getting the right one for the primary rider is key. My husband likes the bike, and often takes it out for a spin just for fun. When we travel together I have no problem keeping up with him on his 1100cc Yamaha Silverado Classic. I haven’t noticed extreme vibration, but haven’t done more than about four hour stretches riding with a food break.

  6. I bought a Sportster 1200L in ’07. It was my first bike and I had no idea about a lot of things I know now. I loved that bike and yes, the back of the bags were unfinished. Yes it was top heavy and for me at 5 feet, I still wasn’t flat footed and since it was a low I couldn’t lower it any further. Also, the mid-placed footpegs become uncomfortable on long rides. I can’t imagine that Harley was able to improve on those things. However that bike with all it’s imperfections allowed me to experience some really great times. No, it is not a touring bike, but you can make it what you want ’til you know how to handle what you want, then you move on. I got a 2014 Softail Deluxe and now I’m really ready to tour. Safe travels.

  7. I have the 2015 1200T and quite frankly, I can’t wait to trade it in as soon as I can. It is a miserable, horribly vibrating ride at more than 60 mph on a straight level road. My husband rides a Dyna Low Rider and attempting to keep up with him doesn’t make for an enjoyable ride. I think they should have added a sixth gear to help offset the engine strain and vibration. I feel it is also top heavy. Height wise it’s great. I’m 5 feet 5 inches with a 30-inch inseam so it fits nicely in that regard. The saddlebags are not waterproof on the inside. I left my goggles in one inside its cloth baggie. The bag was soaked when I got them out. Also, we don’t get THAT much extreme cold here in Florida. I went to crank the bike today and stretch her legs. Battery is dead. Seriously? It’s FLORIDA. Batteries shouldn’t die when it’s less than 40 degrees.

  8. Love the supplementary reviews. Shows the advantage of electronic media over print media.

  9. I had a 2006 Sporty 1200. Everyone I knew said, don’t buy it! It was my first bike. They were all right. As some of the other folks said, it’s too top heavy. In windy circumstances, it’s not a good bike. It sits way too high. And if you’re short, its worse! I had mine one year, then traded it in for a ’08 Deluxe, and I still love her to this day!

  10. I bought my SuperLow in 2011 when they first came out with an 883. It is a great city bike but not touring.The vibration I found is really overbearing and the seat comfort is horrible. I feel that Harley-Davidson designed these for the lady rider but forgot the comfort what we deserve. It is also under-powered — and now thought that I would like the 1200 but being an auto-parts person know that the gearing on these bike is incorrect and that is probably what half the cause of over vibration is because of rev count. There is no tach so you never know what the engine is doing. I would never recommend the purchase of this bike and am so damn disappointed that Harley-Davidson doesn’t care either. Most women know what they want and how it should ride.

  11. I am 72 years old, 5 feet 2 inches tall and have ridden a number of different motorcycles over the 40 years I have been riding. The H-D SuperLow 1200T is the best handling bike I have ever ridden! It is quick, handles turns very well, as long as you don’t go around curves at 90mph and is very balanced! I’ve ridden some bikes that are so top heavy that every time you come to a stop it feels like you’re going to fall over! My feet touch the ground easily and it is not so heavy that I feel it will fall over! I love this bike! Now there are a couple of drawbacks: 1) very cheap saddlebags. Not much room. 2) A lot of heat coming from under seat on long distances. The seat is not very comfortable on long rides. Other than those things, I’ve never felt the horrible vibrations as described in previous reviews! I think this is a fun bike suited for smaller riders, especially women!

  12. I’m 5 feet 2 inches with a 29-inch inseam. I had the 2014 model; after a year, traded it in for the 2015 model (current bike). 2015 model is better. Bike feels more solid, much better. Bags are good, locks are good. Cornering is good, smooth. Long trips (400+ miles) feel good. Handling is good. Feels same handling, a lighter version of Road King Classic. Issues faced in 2014s 1200T model are not present in this model. This bike overall is good. Will keep this one until time to change. The 2014 model. Had trouble with it. Didn’t feel solid, lightweight like the Cross Bones model. Bags leaked; locks difficult to open after wet/damp weather, throttle play too much; throttle too sensitive when engaged, a few other issues. I am glad I changed up to a newer year model.About me: Long torso, short arms, therefore I lean forward when riding. Need taller ape bars, always, on all bikes. I miss having the footpeg system of the Sportster Custom and Road King Classic. I like my legs stretched out. All HD bikes, I have had to buy non-HD seat for short, and long ride comforts. Guess HD seats are not for me.I’ve had the Sportster Custom, top heavy feeling. Different handling required for cornering, still did well. Good bike.I’ve had the Road King Classic, dream bike! So many miles, was time to trade it in. Now I have this bike, current (2015) 1200T model handles well. I am happy with this 2015 model year.

  13. I bought the 2015 Sportster 1200T after reading similar reviews to this, and would like to share my experience of it. I am 5 feet 5 inches and enjoyed that I could put my feet down comfortably. The seat was comfy, it had oodles of power and looked great. However low speed handling was awful. It was so top heavy it wanted to fall over all the time. Even more so with a full tank of fuel. First gear was too high; I didn’t change to second until I was going at least 40kph. The battery was too small; never knew if it was going to start. Had to keep it on charge all the time even though it was ridden every few days. I had to replace the windscreen with a smaller one due to huge buffeting. The mirrors are in the wrong place unless you want to look at your elbows. The lid broke off one of the panniers due to the vibration. And it’s certainly too small to take a pillion more than 10km.I was very disappointed and would not recommend this bike to anyone, especially beginners. It nearly destroyed my confidence in riding.

  14. I’ve owned this bike since June 2014. I certainly hope H-D has improved those saddlebags because mine are NOT water tight. Not in a rain storm, not when washing the bike or simply riding through standing water. Honestly, the leather (I think mine is vinyl) doesn’t cover the entire bag and standing behind it, you can see where it was cut off/attached to the back. They are cheap looking and way overpriced (about $635 each!).Also correct about the size of the saddlebags; they really only hold a pair of gloves, maybe a small tool kit, purse and other tiny items. If you need to take off a jacket while on a run, it might not fit inside them. Too much room is lost to the cutouts for the shocks.You are correct about the vibration – an’t see a thing in the rearview mirrors. I’ve ridden mine touring to Canada, the midwest and very long weekends around home (generally only 450 mile days). The vibration is EXHAUSTING!I’m 5 feet 4-inches+ and my handlebars are far enough forward that I’m always riding with a slight forward lean which is uncomfortable after a long day of riding. I’d have to change out the handlebars and cables for about $1,000 in order to fix it.MY stock seat was so uncomfortable, I couldn’t ride more than 50 miles before pain/severe discomfort set in and had to purchase a better seat from another company (again, lots more $$$).The bike IS quick and maneuverable but that short ground clearance doesn’t allow the rider to truly enjoy good curves or even take some right/left turns at more than 7mph without scraping.I like the way my bike looks and it fits a shorter rider, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. As you can imagine, I’m selling mine and getting a “better” bike.

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