With the XL model line, the “H” for touring, the “CH” as the high performance version, Harley-Davidson satisfied the needs of riders looking for lighter, nimbler high performance motorcycles. Following in the tracks of the side-valve K model, which remained only in racing form as the KR750, the XL Sportster arrived in 1957 with the XLCH added in 1958. The biggest advancement over the K Model was the overhead valve design plus eventually electric starting on the basic H model. But the XLH options list included saddlebags, a windshield, buddy seat and riders could even opt for two ride heights by specifying 18 inch or 19 inch wheels. Seat options varied from traditional sprung post to rigid mount in later years, and there was even the Willie G Davidson designed “boat tail” for awhile.
While it has played an extremely limited role in the military, or as a police mount, like its predecessors the K Model and the WR model, the Sportster has been a very flexible machine. Properly equipped it was a light weight “sport touring” machine. Stripped, it served well at the drag strip. And men like Leo Payne were able to tune it for assaults on the Land Speed Record at Bonneville. Some riders have enjoyed chopping and bobbing Sportsters as well. Even completely stock, an early Sportster, to this day, has an aggressive appearance that’s just right.
With the high performance Buell no longer in Harley-Davidson’s product mix, after over 60 years in the model line-up the Sportster lives on. Recently with big changes to bring comfort, smoothness and overall sophistication, the Sportster is as cool as ever. This great original Sportster is on loan to the National Motorcycle Museum from the collection of the Antique Motorcycle Foundation and was donated to the AMF by Illinois resident Ted Moran. It’s one of several Sportsters, stock, custom and competition that you’ll see when you visit.
- Engine: 45 Degree Overhead Valve V-Twin
- Displacement: 54 Cubic Inches / 883 cc’s
- Bore & Stroke: 3.00″ x 3.81″
- Carburetor: Linkert
- Primary: Triplex Chain
- Clutch: Dry, Multi-disk
- Transmission: 4-Speed, Foot Shift
- Ignition: Magneto
- Horsepower: 55HP
- Frame: Steel, Double Down Tube
- Suspension: Telescopic Fork / Dual Shocks, Swingarm
- Brakes: Drum, Internal Expanding
- Wheelbase: 58.5 Inches
- Weight: 530 Pounds
- Wheels/Tires: 3.50 x 19 / 4.00 x 18