Harley Davidson XLX 1000-61 Sportster




Make Model

Harley Davidson XLX 1000-61 Sportster


1982 - 85


Four stroke, 45° V-Twin, OHV, 2 valves per cylinder


998 cc / 60.8 cu-in
Bore x Stroke 81 x 96.8 mm
Cooling System Air cooled
Compression Ratio 8.8;1


34mm Keihin carburetor


Starting Electric

Max Power

56 hp / 41.7 kW @ 6000 rpm

Max Torque

55 ft-lb / 74 Nm @ 4000 rpm


4 Speed 
Final Drive Chain

Front Suspension

Telescopic forks

Rear Suspension

Dual shocks swinging arm

Front Brakes

Single 292mm disc

Rear Brakes

Single 292mm disc

Front Tyre

MJ 90-19

Rear Tyre

MT 90-16

Wet Weight

244 kg / 537.9 lbs

Fuel Capacity

8.5 Litres / 2.2 US gal

Road Test Cycle 1982

Only Harley-Davidson could get away with this: a Sixties-style motorcycle that goes back in time—not to imitate itself, mind you, but to be itself all over again.

Think Twenty-Six, baby. In years, that's about the median age of the Cycle magazine editors. When the 1957 Sportster debuted in the fall of '56, the oldest Cycle editor didn't have a driver's license, and the youngest hadn't been born yet.

It is certain that our two oldest editors—the first with a '57 driver's license and the second a San Diegan youngster given to writing bebop-a-lulu prose to Annette Funicello beach bunnies—could at least read in '57. Both remember that Sportsters have played many positions in motorcycling since Year One. The original Sportster, they will remind you, was a 55-cubic-inch (883cc, to be exact) touring bike. The H and CH? Fifty-eight. That first CH would have shocked guys who think that only 176-pound two-stroke water-pumpers with 10 inches of suspension travel front and rear can be ridden beyond the horizon of boulevard curbs. The CH stood for "Competition Hot," and in '58 it was a stripper, strictly off-road. Tall and heavy, the CH models were nonetheless the basis for enduro mounts and TT bikes, in the days when ordinary amateur racers had big, heavy bodies. Year Three brought the road-going CH; the competition Sportster came in out of the woods and began its Superbike trip. The small competition tank was there; so was the alloy-eyebrow over the headlight; the upswept exhaust would come down later.

In the early 1960s the Superbike XLCH Sportsters jelled. They were the meanest, hardest-running motorcycles this side of a BSA-Triumph sales pitch. The XLCH made its owner prove his manhood before every ride. To start a CH (no battery, sucker), you needed a healthy right leg, practiced hands at the throttle and manual-ignition retard controls, a perfect instinct for choke/no-choke, and a good magneto. The other guys bought Sportster H models, with battery ignition.

The Sportster changed, but, even more, motorcycling changed around the Sportster. By 1973 the much revamped 1000cc Superbike Sportster was well-tanned, long-toothed and soft-gummed. Fresher designs from East and West revealed the Sportster's infirmities. The motorcycle that played the action-lead in 1962 needed a character role for 1975. Roy Rogers had aged into Gabby Hayes. For its new role, Harley-Davidson experimented with the Sportster, its image and presentation; there were, for example, the XLCR Café Racer and a succession of cruiser Sportsters. In a way, the XLX is just another image for the Sportster. Yet it's something more: purer, less contrived, the XLX brings the Sportster back to its essential touchstone—a rawboned rowdy, a motorcycle that says machine, first and last.

Harley-Davidson builds motorcycles like the XLX for steel-eyed romantics, lovers of brutish, straightforward machinery. Take the XLX guy down to the railroad tracks, show him a silent, air-conditioned, high-speed electric Bullet Train on one track and a steam locomotive on another track. Let him pick his ride. No contest. He will pick the steam locomotive, every time. Efficiency aside. Comfort aside. Speed notwithstanding. Conveniences to the contrary. Rationality, if such a word even applies, aside. The Bullet Train is a mechanical thing, so purpose-bound and complete, so perfectly efficient and tidy, that it's dead to the senses.

A steam locomotive is quite different by comparison: slower, less efficient, less convenient, more irrational. But a steam locomotive is a mechanical thing, alive to the senses. It shakes the ground. It belches steam and smoke. The gigantic drive wheels spin crazily for traction when the giant lumbers forward, shuddering. Heat and wetness and unbearable noise surround it. A steam locomotive throws off energy in all directions; that's what makes it alive.

Progress and Efficiency abhor loose energy as much as romantics love it. Progress and Efficiency complain. Capture that misspent energy! We want none of this hissing, belching, smoking, wheel slippage and excessive weight. Contain those BTUs. Make them quiet. Direct them to the great purpose of getting the heaviest load straight down the tracks with the greatest efficiency and least wasted energy. Build a Bullet Train. Let it be fast and efficient and dead to the senses. Let the romantics mourn.

Never let an XLX owner plead innocent to romanticism, in trains or motorcycles. Say "steam locomotive" and immediately his mind conjures up a vision of a giant mechanical beast, rushing across a vast landscape, leaving in its wake a trail of smoke and noise. It's fanciful, adventurous, picturesque. Who has a steam-locomotive daydream and thinks of monumental inefficiency, wasted energy spilling out in all directions? Certainly not an XLX rider, whose Harley-Davidson vision is just as romantic and picturesque.

{josquote}Computer engineering could build a far better steam locomotive today, and it certainly has built a better Sportster.{josquote}

What's 26 years of the Sportster and nearly 80 years of V-twins done for Harley-Davidson? About the same thing as a hundred-odd years of steam power has done for locomotives: created an unforgettable identity. Ask a motorcycle enthusiast to draw a pictograph of a steam locomotive—you know, the principal parts and configuration. He can do it; 12-yearolds can do it. The shape and layout is instantly familiar, part of the culture. We all know what a steam locomotive looks like. Then ask a motorcyclist to draw a Harley-Davidson, and he can do that easily: a V-twin. It's continuity, identity. Draw a Honda? Well, which one? Horizontal single, vertical single, two-stroke or four-stroke, water-cooled, air-cooled, vertical twin, longitudinal V-twin, transverse V-twin, transverse four, six, boxer-four, V-four? Which one? It's a good thing the Honda name itself is simple and memorable because the name doesn't identify any particular form.

If you're a romantic, you'll understand at once the importance of identity. If something doesn't have a strong, distinctive form and identity, the mind's eye can't conjure up a picturesque vision of the thing, be it locomotive or XLX. Your mind needs a picture before it can proceed to the picturesque.

The XLX has the simplest, strongest, purest image of any Harley-Davidson. For Milwaukee to build a $4000 motorcycle, the Sportster had to shed its excess baggage and return to stark, memorable simplicity. The XLX looks like its own thing. It would have been easier to create a $4000 Sportster that looked like the standard 1000cc V-twinwith large numbers of parts missing. But that way you'd get a Sportster that presented itself as a second-class underachiever.

The great trick was to recast the Sportster, capitalizing on its basic simplicity, and put it together without some equipment normally considered standard. Tachometer, not there. Passenger pegs, not needed. Chromed pipes, bars and mufflers, uncalled for. Turn-signal panel lights, nix; you can see the bar-mounted signals flash. Pilot lights, yes: generator, high beam, oil pressure. Neutral light? You must be kidding; that's for people who need help. Dual seat, nope. This is a streetfighter, buster, and no self-respecting gunfighter ever wore guns on both hips. Hollywood stuff. You wanna socialize? Get off yer scooter and smile. You wanna ride yer Harley? Then do it—alone.

Your body drops into the Sportster; it does not sink into the saddle. You sit there atop the solo saddle; its shape and thin padding give you one riding position. The forward-mounted pegs and flattish handlebar reinforce one-way riding. You may not be comfortable, but you sure as hell aren't going to move much. Now for the surprise. The XLX is actually more comfortable than some Japanese cruisers, which are ergonomic equivalents of medieval torture racks.

Your one-sitting endurance won't be tested by the Sportster. The peanut gas tank, the vessel everybody wishes they'd designed first, rewards frisky riding by going on reserve between 90 and 100 miles. Short tank, short range. The tank's extraordinary narrowness and the engine's slimness almost force you to double-check on the engine's presence. Even the ubiquitous Harley-Davidson air cleaner has been downsized, and consequently your right leg gets more benefit than before from the bike's trimness.

The weight may be concentrated in a narrow slice, yet there's real weight upstairs. You sense that the moment you pull the XLX off its sidestand (no centerstand) and bring it vertical. There's almost a pendulum effect. Iron heads sit atop iron cylinders, creating two massive columns which begin at the crankcase 18 inches from the ground and reach upward to 26 inches.

Rites of passage for Sportster duty no longer include kickstarting. Haven't for years. Just remember the key and pull out the choke knob; both switch and plastic knob mount opposite the carburetor on the left side. The starter button, or more properly the rocker button, is thumb handy. The size of the controls and grips tells you that cool Wisconsin summer nights are glove weather. So are Milwaukee winters.

Size once indicated crudeness, in days when it was easier and more practical to make a part excessively large and therefore strong, rather than small and just strong enough. Engineering for necessary strength was alien to size-mongers who cared little about conserving cheap resources. Making big parts covered a multitude of sins, the obvious ones being the cost and know-how of doing it any other way. Computer engineering could build a far better steam locomotive today, and computer engineering certainly has built a better Sportster. The new frame, introduced in 1982, is the piece de resistance; it makes its bolt-andlug forerunner seem as distant and rough as Cyrus McCormick's first reaper.

Present-day engineering has transformed the Sportster into a product, which, if not Monoshock Modern, is complete and fine-edged and functional in ways that would have been incomprehensible a few years ago. Parts done in the old-time way, oversized and roughly hewn, belong to the Sportster's past, a generation away from the XLX.

That catalog of the new-and-improved at Milwaukee is impressive, though, in a curious way, the list of Great Leaps Forward never attracts rivet-eyed attention. Maybe the frenzied technological progress from Japan chills, by comparison, steps taken elsewhere into slow motion. Maybe. But perhaps there's something more fundamental at work here than relative progress or yawning journalists. It's a matter of romance and tradition, image and identity. In the same way that no one takes much notice of new technology for steam locomotives, techno-progress from Milwaukee seemingly rates nonchalant nods. Romance has much to do with this. Steam locomotives are for lovers. Who cares, who really cares, if an inventor makes a more efficient boiler. In the mind's eye of the romantic, that steamer is no more picturesque or wondrous or fanciful hurdling across a vast landscape because technology has given it a better boiler. Improved Harleys? Of course. It must be. Everyone wants things to work better, last longer. Nod yes. Improvements, well, hurrah. Yet techno-progress doesn't excite. It's not at the core of things coming out of Milwaukee. By tradition and definition, image and identity, Harley-Davidson thrives on excitement of the romantic, not the technological, kind.

In that instant the Sportster engine catches before the choke runs the fast idle up, before the twin settles back down into its staggered firing, before it bellows out through its shorty duals, you can close your eyes and know this is a Harley. A blind man could detect the energy on the loose. It's in the feel of things. In the sound. In the vibration. Vibration escaping the engine in the form of forces, uncompensated for, rumbles through the motorcycle, up this frame tube, down that one, into the saddle and bars and pegs. The rubber-mounted battery and horn jitter in syncopation.

The vibration is a special sort, unknown in counterbalanced twins or multi-cylinder engines. It rises from deep-seated sources, seems to roll through the center of tubes and emanates from there. This quaking, general and powerful, comes to the surface like lazy bubbles through hot molasses. Four-cylinder buzziness, you see, has no depth to it; when present, it seizes every surface molecule and agitates it back and forth. The center of the tube might be quiet arid cold, but the surface dances in a thin, rolling boil that appears at specified intervals and then vanishes totally. The Harley-Davidson stuff in the XLX rumbles dependably. It's always there, almost organic and alive. Evident? Sure it is. Bothersome? Yes, if your brand of motorcycling must deliver all possible energy to the rear wheel.

The XLX is hardly Everyman's Machine. And no woman's. The controls require manly force. In these days of hydraulic-actuated clutches and hydraulic disc brakes and short-throw, snick-snick shift levers, the Harley-Davidson XLX refuses to be democratic, egalitarian, low-effort. The clutch insists upon testosterone-power in the wrist. The shift lever is best reached and used with a size-10 boot, or bigger. The brake lever pulls with a hardness characteristic of Harley-style disc brakes. No two-finger braking here, pal; get your mitt around that lever and squeeze, with authority. Milwaukee says the high-effort front brake is deliberate, in the interest of wet-weather safety. It also must be an insurance policy against riders with limp right wrists.

On the road, the XLX is stiff-legged, in the manner of mid-1970's sport bikes. Generous spring, pretty short travel, minimal damping. And no adjustment, save spring preload. The XLX passes over concrete freeway slabs and pavement breaks with its suspension giving little. Bumps report directly through the suspension with sharp notice; there's none of the contemporary soft-spring, heavy damping that smothers bumps and still holds the motorcycle poised on its cornering line.

Yet the Harley-Davidson XLX is a friendly, non-threatening motorcycle. It doesn't make the rider cower before its own imposing, overwhelming competence. Japanese bullets can make riders squirm in their helmets: OhmiGosh, I wonder where the outer limit of this thing is, and will it smite me down on the pavement for trespassing the unknown limit if I cross it? The Harley-Davidson XLX isn't there to indict or test your credentials as a rider or a motorcyclist. The XLX says: What the hell, enjoy yourself, the sights and sounds and energy of a good time. There is time. Time for the vibration to subside as the miles accumulate. There are speeds. Sweet-spotspeeds, like fifty-five and sixty-eight, when the loose energy finds a rhythmic harmony. There are sights. To live out that serene, romantic vision carried in the mind's eye.

Fast riding on the XLX underscores the primacy of the rider in this task. Take a group of friends, put them on motorcycles in the back country, alone on a road gone berserk with lefts and rights and opening and closing corners, give the best rider the Harley, the others Japanese bullets of their choosing, and you'll watch the XLX disappear from the rest. Switch bikes, and something else is gone over the horizon, flailing beneath the lead rider and leaving the others hastily shuffling along in pursuit. That's a hard lesson, isn't it? Speed and skill follow the rider rather than the machine. Sure, sure, if all riders were equally skilled or brave on the public roads or whatever, then the latest technology wins. But in life such contests rarely come packaged so neatly, without a crease in the wrapping paper.

The Harley yields in brakes and handling, though far less in sheer acceleration than anyone might imagine. In top-gear roll-ons, the Harley holds about even until the needle on the 85-mph speedometer runs toward the backside of zero. On-the-road acceleration through the gears? No embarrassment there, either. In the hands of a number-one street-fighter, the XLX can be a fierce Road Warrior.

Though not a happy one. Hammering on the XLX, making it slither around corners, erasing metal and rubber from mufflers and pegs, taxing the willing engine till the power curve sinks: well, it all seems unnatural, almost grim, a cruel and thorny crown pressed down on a good time. Who would run a daydream on fast-forward? Who would see a triple Mallet locomotive, pulling majestically across a summer plain, and want to jet past that moment, never to experience it again? Why, then, rush miles past the purest thing in Milwaukee locomotion? Lord knows, progress will carry us soon enough to an efficiency as cold and resolute and one-directional as an assassin's precisely executed stab. With that kind of future, we need some loose energy in things with two wheels and in things with two and twenty wheels; we need that energy lost in turning wheels and spent perfectly, wonderfully, completely on romance.

Source Cycle 1982