2017 Harley-Davidson Sportster Roadster: Reviewed

H-D delivers the performance-driven Sportster we've been craving

From flat track, to the Bonneville Salt Flats, to Evel Knievel's XR, the Sportster has been the choice for years for performance from Harley-Davidson. Its easily upgradeable engine and lighter weight frame made it the obvious choice for racers and custom builders all over the world. Recently, it has sunk back into the corner of the garage as a more docile little brother of the Big Twin, but Harley is looking to awaken the beast. The Roadster is a redesigned Sporty built for more aggressive riding with better handling and better brakes, but with what is essentially a 30 year old engine, is it enough to revive the Sportster legend we love?

HD Roadster shocks
Updated adjustable rear suspension on the Sportster RoadsterStaff

Suspension has always been one of the first things to upgrade on one of our Sportster projects, but no more. Harley has brought the Roadster up to the times with full upgrades front and rear. Up front, 43mm inverted forks smooth out the bumps with improved cartridge dampening, and hold much more stable in the turns. Upgraded adjustable rear shocks sit higher, and together with the mid-controls and lower bars, put the rider in a much more aggressive, standard riding position. All of this works with a newly adjusted steering geometry specific to the Roadster to deliver a more nimble and responsive feel than we have experienced on any Sportster to date.

HD Roadster 1200
Roadster air cleanerStaff

The braking system has been upgraded as well, though not as drastically. Dual front discs offer a much better stopping rate than on previous models, and the unique floating rotors transfer heat from the discs more efficiently for higher performance when you need it. The suspension up front lends itself to better stopping power as well, with less dive when you hit that front brake. The brake feel is still a little squishy and and rear brake could use bit more squeeze, but this is a great improvement over other, similar models.

The 1200cc Evo Sportster engine has not seen any major changes in a very long time, but is one of the most upgradeable engines on the motorcycle market, and we love it for that. The Motor Company does not put out a claimed horsepower and we weren't able to Dyno it ourselves, but the engine puts out 76 ft-lbs of torque, and we would guess it's got somewhere around 70 ponies. It's a torque rich engine, but for me, still needs some upgrades to really get the blood pumping. Working through the canyons, it still takes a bit of shifting to keep the engine in the right revs to be happy and responsive. Sure, you can lug it and it'll get there eventually, but for quick throttle response in the turns, you'll have to keep a busy clutch hand. With so many aspects of this bike now updated to the level we see from other companies, it's hard not to discuss the engine that hasn't really changed since 1986. We're glad to see the new Milwaukee Eight hit the market this year, and while we would hate to see the Evo go, hope that the Sportster line isn't far behind.

Sportster Roadster
Clean and simple up at the bars, with shorter bars and a more upright riding position.Staff

The new two-up seat is comfortable and does a lot for the classic and aggressive look of the Roadster. The steep angle at the back of the rider's saddle works very well when taking off, and the padding in the low-profile seat actually stays comfortable during longer periods of riding. The smaller passenger pad is at a little bit of an angle, so it wouldn't be as comfortable for longer rides, but is more than enough for riding two-up around town. If riding with a passenger is your priority, this probably isn't the bike you're looking for, but it can do the job.

Sportster Roadster
43mm inverted forks and all-new steering geometry on the Sportster RoadsterStaff

The Roadster has that classic H-D Sportster look, the iconic gas tank shape and the incredibly well-tested Evo engine. It's a more aggressive, better handling, faster stopping, classier Sportster than we have seen from Harley since the XR1200. For under $12k, you get a whole lot of bike in the Roadster, and if you're looking at getting a Sportster to ride more than just highway miles, there is no bike we would recommend more. Performance wise, H-D is just stepping up to the plate where some other companies have been residing for a while. We love to see one of our favorite models updated, but we hope this isn't the end, that Harley continues to push performance and bring more models up to date.

Sportster Roadster
H-D Sportster RoadsterStaff
Vivid Black $11,199
Color Option $11,549
Two-Tone Option $11,749
Security Option $395
ABS Option $795
California Emissions $100
Freight $360
Length 86 in.
Seat Height, Unladen 30.9 in.
Ground Clearance 6 in.
Rake (steering head) (deg) 28.9
Trail 5.5 in.
Wheelbase 59.3 in.
Tires, Front Specification 120/70R19 M/C
Tires, Rear Specification 150/70R18 M/C
Fuel Capacity 3.3 gal.
Oil Capacity (w/filter) 2.8 qt.
Weight, As Shipped 549 lb.
Weight, In Running Order 568 lb.
Engine Air-cooled, Evolution
Bore 3.5 in.
Stroke 3.811 in.
Displacement 73.4 cu in
Compression Ratio 10:01
Fuel System Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Primary Drive Chain 38/57 ratio
Gear Ratios (overall) 1st 9.315
Gear Ratios (overall) 2nd 6.653
Gear Ratios (overall) 3rd 4.948
Gear Ratios (overall) 4th 4.102
Gear Ratios (overall) 5th 3.517
Exhaust Shorty-dual exhaust with chrome tapered mufflers with laser cut black heat shields
Wheels, Front Type Black Offset, Split 5-Spoke Cast Aluminum
Wheels, Rear Type Black Offset, Split 5-Spoke Cast Aluminum
Brakes, Caliper Type Dual-piston front, Dual-piston rear
Engine Torque Testing Method J1349
Engine Torque 76 ft-lb
Engine Torque (rpm) 3,750
Lean Angle, Right (deg.) 30.8
Lean Angle, Left (deg.) 31.1
Fuel Economy: Combined City/Hwy 48 mpg
Lights (as per country regulation) Indicator Lamps High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low fuel warning, low battery, security system (optional) and ABS (optional)
Gauges Dual function gauge - 4“ Digital Speedometer / Analog Tachometer