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EXCLUSIVE MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: New 2011 Sportster 883L SuperLow

Redefining the Sportster ride

By Genevieve Schmitt, Photos by Wes Allison
7/27/2010


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When I was approached by Harley-Davidson in early July to test ride exclusively a new Sportster called the SuperLow for 2011 model year, with a name like that I envisioned a ground hugging, peg scraping Sportster, very different than the already "Low" designated Sportsters, the 883 Low and 1200 Low. Turns out the SuperLow isn't that much lower in actual seat height measurement, but because of a complete overhaul by Motor Company engineers in steering geometry, wheel and tire sizes, and suspension tuning, the SuperLow feels lower to the ground and, for the first time, I feel like I'm sitting "into" a Sportster as opposed to "on top" of it as is the feeling with many of the classic Sportsters to date. 

Genevieve Schmitt is the first online journalist to spend a day exclusively test riding the 2011 Sportster 883 SuperLow. Harley-Davidson knows this is an important motorcycle to attract women to motorcycling and to its brand.
Genevieve Schmitt is the first online journalist to spend a day exclusively test riding the 2011 Sportster 883 SuperLow. Harley-Davidson knows this is an important motorcycle to attract women to motorcycling and to its brand.

The new 883L SuperLow replaces the 883L Low for 2011. Genevieve is wearing armored Silhouette jeans by Shift. Her review is found in the Apparel & Product Reviews section of WRN.
The new 883L SuperLow replaces the 883L Low for 2011. Genevieve is wearing armored Silhouette jeans by Shift. Her review is found in the Apparel & Product Reviews section of WRN.

Sitting into a motorcycle allows for a feeling of a low center of gravity, an important quality for women just learning how to ride. A low center of gravity gives the rider a feeling that she is one with the motorcycle as opposed to feeling like an appendage of the motorcycle. Feeling part of the motorcycle allows a rider to sense "rider input" from the motorcycle immediately creating interaction with the bike that leads to faster learning of the skills required to ride a motorcycle proficiently.

The SuperLow has an overall lower appearance and Genevieve appears to be sitting “into” the bike.
The SuperLow has an overall lower appearance and Genevieve appears to be sitting “into” the bike.

Knowing a bike with the name SuperLow would attract the fastest growing demographic of new riders, women, Harley-Davidson called me to be the first online journalist to spend an entire day by myself with the SuperLow exclusively putting on 150 miles riding the canyons, freeways and coastal roads of Southern California.

Let's start with seat height, a spec so important to women riders as they like to be able to reach the ground for maximum control of the bike. The SuperLow is 25.5 inches, which is the actually .2 inches higher than the 2010 883 Low's 25.3-inch seat height. But like I said, the bike feels lower so let's not mince fractions of inches here. The SuperLow is 20 pounds lighter than the Low weighing a manageable 563 pounds.

Genevieve demonstrates how the 25.5-inch seat height on the Sportster SuperLow fits with her 30-inch inseam and 5-foot 6.5-inch frame. At her height she has a lot of leg room left, so women much shorter should be able to stand flat footed.
Genevieve demonstrates how the 25.5-inch seat height on the Sportster SuperLow fits with her 30-inch inseam and 5-foot 6.5-inch frame. At her height she has a lot of leg room left, so women much shorter should be able to stand flat footed.

Many women say they feel Sportsters are top heavy. That feeling is eliminated thanks to a new bucket shape seat that cradles the rider's butt so she feels like she's sitting "into" the bike. In addition, the handlebars and front-end geometry render the front end more solid with a much better fit to the bike giving the rider a feeling of being more in control overall therefore less likely to drop the bike. 

The SuperLow's bucket seat provides good lumbar support and the narrow nose lets short riders reach the ground by scooting forward.
The SuperLow's bucket seat provides good lumbar support and the narrow nose lets short riders reach the ground by scooting forward.

Amazing how subtle changes affect ergonomics. Check out the comparison photos of the handlebars on the SuperLow (left) and the 883 Low (right). The SuperLow's bars are similar to the Low's but the bend is slightly flatter and wider rendering a more rider friendly reach. To me, they feel like they are in just the right place for a variety of sized riders to feel comfortable. 

The new "Easy Grip" handlebars on the SuperLow.
The new "Easy Grip" handlebars on the SuperLow.

As you can also see in the SuperLow photo above on the left, the bike has the larger 4.5-gallon Sportster fuel tank—same one as on the 1200 Low—rather than the peanut style 3.3 gallon on the 883 Low. Harley-Davidson specs say the SuperLow averages 60 mpg on the highway and 45 mpg in the city. When my trip meter indicated 100 miles I started get antsy to find a gas station. Then I reminded myself that the SuperLow has a generous fuel capacity and that I could probably go at least 150 miles before the low fuel light illuminates on the control gauge. Limited time did not allow me to run the fuel to that point.

This shot shows the ergonomic triangle really well—the rider's three points of contact with the bike—the reach to the bars relative to the seat, and foot placement relative to the seat.
This shot shows the ergonomic triangle really well—the rider's three points of contact with the bike—the reach to the bars relative to the seat, and foot placement relative to the seat.

The most noticeable and pleasing qualities of the SuperLow come when you ride it as the new front end specs create a completely different Sportster feel, a more linear ride as the marketing notes indicate; that's really the best word to describe it. A significant increase in trail on the front end of the SuperLow, now measuring 5.7 inches, means the bike tracks better, rolling forward more precisely. For comparison, trail on the 883 Low is 4.6 inches, and on the 1200 Low it's 4.7 inches. Trail is the horizontal distance from where the tire contacts the ground to the where the angle of the steering axis intersects the ground.

The bike feels securely planted to the pavement as I cruise down the road. This is due in part to new Michelin Scorcher 11 radial tires, a 120/70 on the front and a 150/60 on the rear, designed specifically to enhance the handling of the SuperLow. New wheels were designed for this bike as well, an 18-inch front and 17-inch rear, combined with the new tires contribute to the revamped ride on this Sportster.   

The specially designed SuperLow tread pattern includes a cutout of the Harley-Davidson bar and shield logo cosmetically adorning the edge of the tires.
The specially designed SuperLow tread pattern includes a cutout of the Harley-Davidson bar and shield logo cosmetically adorning the edge of the tires.

The Split 5-Spoke wheel design is unique to the SuperLow model…for now.
The Split 5-Spoke wheel design is unique to the SuperLow model…for now.

Another factor contributing to the improved ride is the increase in suspension travel. I was riding on the freeway at 70 mph in the HOV lane when a sign indicated a steel plate ahead. The HOV lane broke from regular traffic going up a ramp preventing me from seeing the pavement ahead to anticipate this bump in the road. Sure enough there it was in front of me, too close for me to react and brake. I brace myself as I ride over this "plate" at 70 mph, which was actually a large flattened speed bump. Boomp! The generous 4.26 inches of travel in the Showa front forks and the 2.12 inches of travel in the rear coil spring shocks gobble up that bump without jarring me out of the saddle as I was expecting. 
  
Pre-load on the rear shocks is adjustable. Have a trained technician adjust them if needed.
Pre-load on the rear shocks is adjustable. Have a trained technician adjust them if needed.


All this firm and precise handling gives me confidence to lean the SuperLow over in the corners more than I normally do breaking through my comfort zone. I'm quickly deterred on the lean on more than one occasion when the little metal tab sticking out from the foldable footpegs comes in contact with the pavement sooner than I expect. Sure I could lean and let the tab scrape and do its job, but like a lot of riders, that split second contact startles me for the moment. While the tab is there to protect the footpeg and help it fold when it touches the pavement, to me the tab touches way too soon limiting my lean angle.

Metal tabs attached to the end of the footpegs are about 1 inch long.
Metal tabs attached to the end of the footpegs are about 1 inch long.


Other than on those really tight corners where I scrape the peg tab, the sweepers are where the SuperLow shines. I enjoy pushing on the handgrips as I countersteer the bars sweeping gracefully through the soft S turns. This way and that way and this way and that. The smooth "go right where you point" handling is due to the aforementioned new front end geometry, wheel and tire design, and suspension tuning—development that comes out of lessons learned when engineers created the racy flat-track inspired XR1200X Sportster. While the bikes have two completely different missions, the goal of finding just the right balance of these specifications is the same making the SuperLow's ride noticeably better over existing Sportsters.

The SuperLow has some of the same components as its Sportster cousins including the chrome, staggered shorty exhaust pipes with dual mufflers, the silver powder-coated engine with polished covers, and chrome oval shaped air cleaner cover.
The SuperLow has some of the same components as its Sportster cousins including the chrome, staggered shorty exhaust pipes with dual mufflers, the silver powder-coated engine with polished covers, and chrome oval shaped air cleaner cover.

Same gauge found on other Sportsters featuring two trip meters, clock, low fuel light, and engine diagnostics readout.
Same gauge found on other Sportsters featuring two trip meters, clock, low fuel light, and engine diagnostics readout.

The 883cc V-Twin Evolution fuel injected engine and 5-speed transmission on the SuperLow are the same that powers existing 883 Sportsters.
The 883cc V-Twin Evolution fuel injected engine and 5-speed transmission on the SuperLow are the same that powers existing 883 Sportsters.

Since I ride 6 speed motorcycles most of the time these days including my own touring bike, the Street Glide, while cruising on the SuperLow between 70 and 70mph I keep pushing up on the shifter with my toe to doublecheck I was in top gear. Indeed I was in top gear, 5th. I'm used to Harley's 6th gear Cruise Drive that lowers rpms when cruising at higher speeds.


That said, having not ridden an 883 in awhile I was pleased with the power this middleweight possesses coming off the line as my riding buddy and I race through the gears in an effort to dart back to our starting point to return the bike on time. It also handles smoothly at cruising speeds. I never feel the bike lag or become underpowered.

I keep envisioning myself touring on the SuperLow. Yes, I'd need a windshield; yes, I'd need forward mounted pegs to stretch my legs; yes, I'd need saddlebags and yes...well, that's about it. Got the bigger fuel tank to accommodate longer distances between fuel-ups. Got a comfy seat. I'd just keep my speed around 70 mph as over 70 I feel engine vibration transfer to the footpegs and mirrors. I did not feel it in the handgrips. Over 70 the images in the mirrors resemble a blurry photo. I can make out how far the car is behind me in the next lane, just can't decipher what type of car it us, say an SUV or a truck. When my speed backs down to 70, the blurriness disappears.

To mitigate the buzzing in my feet, I rest my thick rubber soles on the pegs instead of placing the peg in the recessed part of the sole where the sole is thinnest. This is a rubber-mounted engine, but the "smaller" middleweight size and coordinating XL chassis have their limits.

The clutch pull is the same as the other Sportsters; minimal effort is needed to pull it in.
The clutch pull is the same as the other Sportsters; minimal effort is needed to pull it in.

The reach to the brake and clutch levers is also the same, fine for average sized hands.
The reach to the brake and clutch levers is also the same, fine for average sized hands.

I had a choice of colors for my test ride and I chose this two-tone off-white and orange, Birch White/Sedona Orange is the official name. Matches my Harley mesh jacket. If I were in the market for a Sportster this would be it. I don't care that it's the smaller engine Sportster, the 883 versus the 1200. The comfortable seating position and incredible improvement in handling characteristics make this a downright fun bike to ride, and for beginners, an easy motorcycle on which to learn to ride and become a skilled rider.
 
Specs At A Glance: 2011 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883L SuperLow
Displacement: 883cc
Seat Height: 25.5 inches
Weight: 563 pounds in running order
Colors: Vivid Black; Cool Blue Pearl; Merlot Sunglo/Vivid Black; Birch White/Sedona Orange
Price: starts at $7,999 for black
Warranty: 24 months unlimited mileage
 
WRN Recommendation:
The SuperLow changes everything you ever thought about the Sportster 883 as an entry-level motorcycle. No more top heaviness that lends itself to the dropsies. The overall low feeling and easy maneuverability of the SuperLow give new riders a greater chance at success in feeling confident on a Sportster. This is one Sportster you may not want to trade in.    

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Reader Comments


The handlebars are too high. It forces my arms to bend at the elbow and at the wrist. This limits my riding to a couple of hours before fatigue. It also reduces confidence when making quicker turns and creates a large pocket of air at the torso when running on the highway. The HD catalog or site doesn't provide options in handlebars for this model. I think this SuperLow may be the redheaded stepchild of Harley or Davidson.

Angel
New York City, NY
Thursday, July 04, 2013
My wife (5'2") bought a 2011 Harley SuperLow Sportster. We just looked at the new Fat Boy Lo and the Slim. These bikes are supposed to be lower, but she is so short that her legs cannot touch the kickstand. My question is, is there any other seat that will bring her closer to the controls and place her lower to the ground? We have been looking at the Mustang seat with the backrest. Would that help her any?

Kent
Shawnee, KS
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Editor Response
Hi, Kent—This is a common problem for shorter-than-average female (and some male) riders. Luckily there are plenty of aftermarket options to remedy it! To name just a few, the "Heels Down" seat from Saddlemen, which works for Sportsters, moves the rider lower and forward. Harley-Davidson offers a Reduced Reach Forward Control Conversion Kit that repositions the forward-mounted footpegs and foot controls up and back by two inches, while the company's Reduced Reach Seat for the Sportster SuperLow moves the rider about half an inch forward. You might also check out this article about the pros and cons of changing out a motorcycle's shocks in order to lower the seat height. Finally, another great place to ask this question is the WRN Forum, where you might receive advice from other Sportster SuperLow owners. Good luck to you both!
Amy Mortensen, Editorial Assistant
I took a 2012 for a spin just around the dealer parking lot. I immediately saw the difference...but it was my understanding that there are differences between the 2011 and the 2012/13 SuperLow. I had a 2005 883 Low and had a hard time balancing it and backing it up. I am 5 feet and weigh about 110 pounds soaking wet! I really liked the 2012 but are you saying that the first year for the Super Low was 2011? I am still shopping so any info you can provide will help me.

Patti M.
Philadelphia, PA
Monday, April 29, 2013
Editor Response
Yes, the SuperLow as introduced as a new model in model year 2011.
Genevieve Schmitt
This bike is great. Got it in January 2013. I am 205 pounds, 5 feet 6 1/2 inches tall. Fat guy, but good looking. Love to have great food and wine. Forty years old. Got back into riding. I rode back when I was 12 on a 250 Yamaha Virago. First bike for road back when I was 17 to 19.

Now at 40 I did not want a big heavy bike and speed was not a big thing. I love the bike and love the way it feels in the turns and sitting at the lights. Not hard to hold up at all. Great job HD! This is a bike I will ride for 50-plus years or so. I do love the Slim. This SuperLow will get me ready for the Slim.

Frank D
Cherry Hill, NJ
Sunday, April 07, 2013
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