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Since 1999, the #1 Motorcycling Magazine for Women and the Men Who Ride with Them

MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: The Lowdown on the New Sportster 1200L

Can you guess what the L stands for?

By Victoria West, Photos by Kevin Wing

New riders and those who are height-challenged have many more options to choose from because the popular Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 just got a little lower. New for 2006, Harley-Davidson has introduced the Sportster 1200L, the L stands for low. This is the lowest Sportster 1200 ever with a 26.25-inch seat height. Next in line in terms of low is the Sportster 1200 Custom, at 26.5 inches.

The idea for the 1200L was a direct response to customer feedback on the Sportster 883L introduced in 2005. Riders liked the 883L because of its low-ness, but they said they wanted a bigger engine.

In designing the 1200L Harley-Davidson looked to the 883L improving on aspects of that model to create a more ergonomically friendly motorcycle. One of those improvements is the position of the rider. The seat on the 883L pushes the rider forward to reach the handlebars. Apparently, it was a little too forward. I remember riding the 883L and thinking my knees were very close to my body. The seat on the 1200L has been pushed back and the grips are 1 inch closer to the rider. The seating position for me, at 5 feet 7 inches, fits just right.

I would have liked to feel a little more comfortable in the saddle. The flat seat created a slight numbness after a period of time. I think a passenger would expect a wider, cushier seat, too.

An issue a lot of female riders deal with is clutch effort. Harley-Davidson addressed this by reducing the clutch effort by 12 percent over last year on all the 2006 Sportsters. That combined with the reduced grip size - a couple of years ago Harley reduced grip size on the Sportsters from 1 1/4 inch to 1 1/8 inch - translates to hands and wrists that don't ache after a long ride.

I tested the 1200L on a wonderful strip of roadway, long sweeping turns that allowed the bike to do what it does best -- carve and corner going right where I pointed it. Lots of power and torque propel you upon take-off. Throttle response is right on. This 1200 has tons of zip. You'll have no problem keeping up with the larger powered motorcycles. Coming to a stop you'lll find the dual-piston caliper brakes up front and the single-piston in the back do the job just fine.

Part of the Sportsters redesign in 2004 included a new stiffer frame and an engine that is rubber mounted to the frame. This reduced vibration considerably while stabilizing the ride a lot more. Because I owned a 1993 Sportster 1200 in my early days of riding, I am very tuned in to the difference this makes in the ride. I think the redesign was the best thing to happen to the Sportsters in years.

You'll also have no problem going the distance alongside with the bigger bikes thanks to the 4.5-gallon fuel tank. This is the newly designed tank Harley introduced on the Sportster 883 Custom and the Sportster 1200 Custom a couple a years ago.

Harley-Davidson didn't skimp on styling either. Lots of chrome where you'd expect it accented by black paint on the wheels, the oil tank and the fender struts.    

For more information, visit

Specs at a Glance
Displacement: 1200cc
Seat Height: 26.25 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gallons
Dry Weight: 554 lbs.
Colors: too many to list
Price: starts at $9,395

WRN Recommendation
I could see this motorcycle being an end-all bike for a lot of people. In the past, the Sportsters smaller tank may restricted where you rode, the rougher ride may have restricted the distance you rode, the stiffer clutch may have caused limitations for riders with smaller hands, the higher seat may have frustrated shorter women trying to gain confidence, but none of that is an issue anymore. Outfit this bike with a windshield, a cushier aftermarket seat, a set of saddlebags, a backrest to hold another bag, and you're set to go the long haul with this Sportster 1200L.    

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