First Ride / Test : 2014 Harley-Davidson SuperLow 1200T

The Touring Sportster that gets it right

2014 Harley-Davidson SuperLow 1200T

Smaller-size people are an important demographic, since exactly one half of the riding population is below the median height in every single motorcycle market. It should come as no surprise the, that so many new model introductions are aimed at this particular segment. Problem is, the bikes are always a compromise of qualities, so the rather painful choice is to either hop up a size-appropriate bike, or live with a bike that doesn't quite fit (or modify it to come closer). This new bike from Harley-Davidson is designed for riders of smaller stature, but also attempts to appeal to larger and/or more experienced riders of all sizes.

See, we're used to small-people bikes being beginner bikes. But the Sportster SuperLow is a good small people tourer for all experience levels. The only trade-off on this latest 1200 from Harley is low cornering clearance, but it’s still totally set up for light touring.

Sportster SuperLow 1200T

According to the design team, the Switchback is the Harley designed for those uncomfortable or intimidated by the Motor Company’s Touring models, while the Sportster SuperLow1200T is the bike for those who are too small or just want an even smaller motorcycle than that Switchback. In other words, not me. I fit a Harley touring rig just about perfectly, and while the Switchback is fine, it's a little on the small side.

Sharing a chassis with Harley’s (formerly) smallest model, the 1200T adds more capability in every dimension. Harley-Davidson’s Sportsters share a common engine, differentiated only by the cylinder bore and internal head shape, so every 883 is basically a 1200 waiting to happen; the SuperLow 1200T is the graduation model for the original SuperLow 883.

By adding displacement, a windshield, larger wing-like pegs, improved suspension, a bigger seat and saddlebags, the SuperLow went from street prowler to highway drifter. Even with all of this equipment added, the SuperLow still weighs less than a typical non-touring Dyna, or almost 120 lbs. less than the Switchback. While the 1200T doesn’t look like a parts-bin bike, it definitely looks like a Genuine Accessories bike. With the bags added, the rear fender looks about six inches too short. The bags are also not up to the standards set by the Switchback or Harley’s other touring models. They’re fairly small, but also have a typical locking mechanism that is easily fouled by the gear packed in the bag. They are, however, lockable. The wide pegs that resemble miniature floorboards have been in the catalog for years, as has the removeable windscreen. ABS and security are optional, the security is a keyless system that works completely innocuously and naturally.

Though definitely too small for a 6-foot human, the 1200T could easily work with different bars and forward controls. The seat is supportive, but not really made for riders over 190 lbs. The wide pegs are nice since they give you options for repositioning, and don’t lock the rider into a specific spot. The pegs are farther forward than on previous mid-mount models. Like on its smaller sibling, the chassis geometry and excellent Michelin Scorchers on the 1200 conspire to make a very light-steering bike; it's very nimble and easy handling. Power is adequate, but not overwhelming right from the go. The real power is past 4000 rpm, just out of reach of timid beginners.

While the steering is light, the peg feelers are very easy to touch down in even a mild corner. Perhaps Harley is attempting to keep newer riders from touching hard parts like frame and pipe to the ground, but if such things don't worry you, remove the stock peg feelers for a few more degrees of lean angle. The most notable thing about the bike, from someone who’s ridden his fair share of late model Sportsters, is that the suspension actually works. Though the roads I tested on were smooth, this Sporty did a very good job of soaking up dips and irregularities, like no Sportster I’ve ridden in recent memory.

When I was done with the press junket ride and photo shoot I took off on the 1200T for a longer trip to South Florida to put some real highway miles on the rig. Since the bags are hard-mounted, the Factory thoughtfully built-in mounts for their Detatchables line of accessories. For the trip, I slapped on the Detatchables backrest and luggage rack (in about 10 seconds) so I’d have somewhere to put my luggage. Harley also thoughtfully included saddlebag liners. While cute, they were only about enough for underwear and socks on one side and snacks on the other.

the preload adjuster is easy to reach, and makes a huge difference in ride quality when properly adjusted

While I made do with the suspension in stock position for our back roads testing, I bumped it five clicks (of 32) to ride on the Interstate with a pack of gear on the back, and it was perfect. The adjuster knob peeks out from behind the left saddlebag and requires no tools to use. On a longer ride than just a couple hours, the slightly cramped position had me putting more weight on my backside, meaning the otherwise decent seat started to be a pain in the ass at about 100 miles.

The motor is spectacularly well suited to Interstate flogging. With its super-broad powerband and high-spinning nature, it has no need of a 6th gear that traditional cruisers frequently add for touring. In fact, that would only necessitate downshifting to pass; it’s right at the sweet spot at 80 as is. Despite all of this high rpm fun, it still gets over 40 mpg hauling ass on the open road, and even better in town.

In cross winds at 80+mph, the front end can get light enough to worry an inexperienced rider, but then if you’re an inexperienced rider you shouldn’t be going 80+ in a crosswind. It’s seriously light handling at all speeds, which should keep the beginners at appropriate speeds. The bike is rock solid, but sensitive to inputs. Power delivery is perfect for all audiences as well. In the rev ranges that most newbs ride in, it’s pretty sedate, not accessing real horsepower until well after 3000 rpm.

Missing from this touring machine is a fuel gauge or a range meter. The fuel light is slightly oversensitive, coming on when there’s still well over a gallon in the tank and making me think the range was far less than it was (and that the tank was smaller than its relatively generous 4.5 gallons).

It’s a touring Sportster! Which is something a Harley-Davidson rep in the 90s said “would never happen.” It's a practical Sportster. With the lone exception of the SuperLow 883, there have been no practical, useful models in the Sportster line-up in years. Most recent models brought either crap suspension, challenging riding positions, or a tiny tank (or more than one of these) so they weren't all that useful. I test rode a 90s Sportster for a friend recently, and even without the (current) rubber-mounted motor, it was a nicer ride than any recent Sportster I'd been on. This bike changes that.

This all-around usefulness and classic style, reminiscent of the 50s Sportys, might bring back some of the old timers that have forsaken the XL for Big Twins in recent years. I showed it to some old bike buddies, veterans of LA's 80s and 90s bike scene, and they'd thought it a nice piece of equipment.

With this model given - for once - a decent suspension, here’s hoping it’s a new era at H-D where comfort isn’t sacrificed at the altar of lowness.

Specifications: 2014 Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow 1200T

Base Price: $11,799

Colors: Black, Orange, Black/White

Standard warranty: Two years, unlimited miles

Engine

Type: air-cooled 45-deg v-twin

Displacement, bore x stroke: 1202cc, 88.9 x9 6.8mm

Valve train: OHV pushrod, 2 valves/cyl

Compression ratio: 10:1

Fuel system: EFI

Transmission: 5-speed

Final drive: belt

Chassis

Overall length: 87.6 in.

Wheelbase: 59.1 in.

Wet weight: 599 lbs

Seat height: 27.7 in.

Rake/trail: 29.7deg / 5.7 in.

Wheels: 10-spoke cast aluminum

Front tire: 120/70 x 18

Rear tire: 150/70 x 17

Front brake: 
 two-piston caliper w/300mm rotor

Rear brake: two-piston caliper w/260mm rotor

Front suspension: 39mm fork, 4.11 in. travel

Rear suspension: Dual remotely-adjustable shocks, /2.1 in. travel

Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal

Instruments: Speedometer w/ digital odometer, dual tripmeters, clock, gear indicator, tachomter.

Performance

Fuel mileage 
42 mpg Average range 189 miles