Harley-Davidson surprised riders with the new XL model line for 1957. And for 1958, the hotter XLH and XLCH Sportster satisfied the needs of riders looking for lighter, nimbler high performance motorcycles.
Following in the tracks of the flathead K model, which remained only in racing form as the KR750, the overhead valve XL Sportster was built on the K model. The biggest advancement was overhead valves 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 “boat tail” seat/fender unit for awhile. The magneto ignition XLCH was a no holds barred beast, strong competition for the Triumph Bonneville.
While it has played an extremely limited role in the military, or as a police mount, like its predecessors the K Model and the WL 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.
With the high performance Buell no longer in Harley’s product mix, after over 60 years in the model line-up the Sportster lives on now as DOHC technological wonder. Recently with big changes to bring comfort, smoothness and overall sophistication, the new liquid-cooled Sportster is as cool as ever. This great original XLCH Sportster was donated to the National Motorcycle Museum by Lawrence Allen of Sterling, IL. 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: Tillotson
- Primary: Triplex Chain
- Clutch: Dry, Multi-disk
- Transmission: 4-Speed, Foot Shift
- Ignition: 12V Battery, Points & Coils
- Horsepower: 61HP
- Frame: Steel, Double Down Tube
- Suspension: Telescopic Fork / Dual Shocks, Swingarm
- Brakes: Drum, Internal Expanding
- Wheelbase: 58.5″
- Weight: 530 Pounds
- Wheels/Tires: 3.50 x 19 / 4.00 x 18