First Ride: 2010 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight

Crouching Sportster, Hidden Herniation

First Ride
Rites of passage exist to illustrate your movement through time. You know, birthdays, weddings...your first mortgage. The receipt of an AARP card. Those milestones are often accompanied by a painful epiphany, which-in my experience, anyway-is usually an unwanted reminder of one's age bracket.

My latest aha moment came five minutes into a ride on the new Harley Forty-Eight, when L.A.'s crumbling asphalt swallowed the rear tire, causing my lumbar vertebrae to get extraordinarily intimate with the neighboring sacrum (you'd be forgiven for thinking that a rear suspension is supposed to prevent just this sort of thing).

As my L4 and L5 shook from the hit, it dawned on me: I'm not the target market for this bike.

Late To The Party
But I digress. First, let's meet the Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight-the newest Sportster and a mid-year addition to the family. It may be a 2010 machine, but it gets its moniker from the 1948 S model, apparently the first Harley fitted with a peanut tank. Based on the 1200 Sportster platform, the Forty-Eight feels like a street-fighting riff on the Nightster, and it also happens to slot into H-D's Dark Custom series.

The Nightster, you'll recall, took a standard Sportster 1200, added matte black and grey finishes to the bodywork and engine, a lower rear end, chopped the fenders and stuck on some old-school fork gaiters. The Forty Eight continues in that tradition but basically swaps in forward controls, skips the normal-size fuel tank and lowers and spreads out the handlebar.

The Forty-Eight also skews leaner and meaner, showcasing a good chunk of its blacked-out 1200 Evolution V-twin with polished accents and various finishes. You might recognize that hidden taillight and hinged, side-mount license plate bracket from its shadowy kinfolk, but what stands out most clearly are the under-mounted mirrors and a fat front tire-a 130mm Dunlop nod to the Fat Bob. It's wrapped around a black, 16-inch laced wheel that rolls between a new fork with wider triple clamps.

Unique details continue up front with fork-mounted turn signals, a low-profile speedometer mounting bracket and a fork brace shot through with lightening holes. A dual-texture solo seat sits just 26.8 inches off the ground, and Harley says you can add a passenger pillion, footpegs and backrest, if you're so inclined. We wouldn't recommend it though; with less than two inches of travel out back, your companion isn't likely to be gushing about the luxury level.

The air cleaner, frame and fenders also get doused in black, so the only hint of shine is from the shorty dual exhaust. The Forty-Eight also gets the combined stop/turn/tail lamp found on other Dark Customs, but Sportster aficionados will more likely applaud the resurrection of the 2.1 gallon 'peanut' tank, which, on this model, is contrasted against lightening holes in the backbone mounting bracket beneath. You might also notice the naked headlight bereft of the chrome "eyebrow" that's been seen on most Sportsters since the dawn of time. Forward-mounted controls also make the scene here; the only other 1200 with that configuration is the Custom.

The Forty Eight will definitely get you noticed, which seems to be the point here. With the older members of its Baby Boomer customer base set to turn 65 this year, Harley hopes the Dark Custom sub-brand will appeal to younger, female and upcoming riders, and from what we've heard so far, it is.

Let 'Er...Rip
As you ease down on the DVD-size solo seat, the Forty-Eight splays you out, directing body weight back on the glutes. Unlike the kinder Nightster, with its mid-mount controls and more upright riding position (though lower seat), the Forty Eight makes you stretch more. Internally, it's the same 1203cc Evolution V-twin that powers the other 1200 Sportsters. The closed-loop EFI system comes to life easily, though you have to wait for the bike's onboard computer to complete its self-diagnostics after you flip the switch to "run."

At a standstill, the seat height and semi-standard ergos probably fit shortys like me best, but the riding position becomes friendlier when you shove off, with the low seat height and the overall cockpit layout inspiring plenty of confidence. The low, wide bars give you lots of leverage to toss the bike into turns, and minutes after saddling up, I am a man on the run, splitting through the downtown traffic chaos with ease. At 567 lbs. wet, the Forty-Eight isn't exactly a lightweight, but the center of gravity is low, and despite that chunky front tire, it turns in easily and beckons to be ridden aggressively. There was an occasional hint of vagueness from the front end, but nothing overly dramatic.

Things felt more connected out on the open road. After I pinned the throttle on the 73ci air-cooled V-twin, I felt more in tune with the available torque (peaking at a claimed 79 ft-lb @ 4000rpm). The rubber-mounted engine has a wide powerband, and thanks to a low first-gear ratio, it's a cinch to launch off the line hard without having to tap too many RPM or use much clutch. The ample torque makes the Forty-Eight's mill fairly rider-friendly, even if things run out of steam up top. Still, you don't even miss the absent tachometer; the bare-bones, single-gauge instrumentation is really all you need on this bike. The torque curve falls off a bit in the higher gears, and taller ratios there mean a few more trips to the gearbox than you're used to. Through all this, you'll still get the requisite Harley low-frequency vibration.

That's all well and good, but ride quality is another matter altogether. The Forty-Eight's cool, crouching stance comes courtesy of a shortened rear suspension, which makes itself known when you hit a bump-of any size or quality, really-at speed. Sharp-edged imperfections are downright nasty. It's not only your ass that gets kicked; the backbone mounting bracket is also-let's just say, "uncomfortably"- configured.

But then, as I mentioned earlier, I'm not the target market for this bike: I don't wear skinny jeans, have a chain hanging off my ass or suck Parliaments down to the nub. Far as I'm concerned, this bike should be called the Ball Breaker. Because when the bumps come, trust me, your 48-year-old butt (or other parts) does not want to be on the Forty-Eight.

Insolent, chain-smoking 22 year-old masochists will absolutely love this machine. Clearly, it's meant to be an urban bomber, but here's a newsflash: cities tend to have potholes (especially Los Angeles). And the Forty-Eight/Asphalt Acne combo platter is one dish you do not want to taste firsthand. Allow me to elaborate: Gents, if you're in need of a vasectomy, take the Forty-Eight downtown.

And because the Forty-Eight's pegs are forward-mounted, even if you see the bump coming you can't stand up easily to absorb that kick. Then again, we lent the bike to our friends over at Super Streetbike magazine, and they absolutely loved it. They were more concerned with the stock exhaust's anemic soundtrack.

The Forty-Eight can be comfortable-on a smooth, glassy road-for um, say an hour in the saddle, except for one problem-wind blast. As you might expect on an unfaired bike where you're fairly upright, wind can pummel your chest. Things get ugly if you spend a period of time above 65mph, so forget about long-distance junkets. Sure, the blast can be minimized with a shield, but the stiff ride and small tank would still be a pain-your low fuel light will come on at around 45 miles despite having over a gallon left in the tank. Then again, it makes sense for Harley to minimize the fuel load on the XL 1200X-a ride longer than 80 miles is bound to chafe.

Like most bikes with a rear-biased stance, scrubbing off speed on the Forty-Eight quickly requires pretty liberal use of the rear brake too-the front calipers alone don't pack much power, and offer a somewhat wooden feel.

Even though many consider Sportsters to be entry-level Harleys, this model doesn't cut many corners when it comes to fit and finish. Most parts are metal rather than plastic, and seams and flanges are kept to a minimum. Some will love the mirrors hanging under the bars, but I struggled to get used to the odd positioning.

Overall, the Forty-Eight brings nothing new to the table, but like most Sportsters, it's a fun ride-especially if that ride goes from stop light to stop light. Some might even argue it's the most attractive model in the Sportster line (if you don't count the XR1200). What we can applaud is what the Forty-Eight offers: accessible performance with good looks at a low price, which begins at $10,499

MSRP in Vivid Black. Kudos to Harley for successfully reaching its target demographic, but man, I never felt so old as when I rode the Forty-Eight.

Now, where's my walker?

Enlighten yourself with the video:

2010 H-D forty eight
MSRP $10,499-$10,789
COLORS Black, Silver, Orange
TYPE Air-cooled, 45-degree V-twin
DISPLACEMENT 1200cc (113ci),
BORE X STROKE 88.9mm x 96.82mm
VALVE TRAIN Pushrod-operated OHV
TRANSMISSION Five-speed, multiplate wet clutch
WHEELBASE 59.8 in.
WET WEIGHT 567 lbs.
SEAT HEIGHT 26.8 in.
RAKE/TRAIL 29.9-degree/4.7 in.
REAR TIRE 150/80B16
FRONT BRAKE 292mm dual hydraulic discs, dual-piston calipers
REAR BRAKE 292mm hydraulic disc, single-piston caliper
FRONT SUSPENSION 39mm fork, 3.6 in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Dual dampers, preload adjustable, 1.6 in. travel
FUEL CAPACITY 2.1 gallons

Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight