Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200

Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200

Harley-Davidson has manufactured motorcycles under the Sportster model family since 1957, making it the Motor Company's longest running model. The earliest Sportsters were equipped with 883 cc and 1,000 cc Ironhead engines. The Sportster 1200 debutted in 1988.

Vital Stats




Sportster 1200

Bike Class



1988 - present


1200 cc air-cooled fuel injected


562 lb (dry)



Seat Height

30.5 mm



Related Bikes

1200 Custom
1200 Low
1200 Nightster
Sportster Forty-Eight
Sportster Seventy-Two

Background of the Sportster 1200

Harley-Davidson has manufactured motorcycles under the Sportster model family since 1957, making it the Motor Company's longest running model. The earliest Sportsters were equipped with 883 cc and 1,000 cc Ironhead engines. The Sportster 1200 debutted in 1988.

Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200

In an effort to combat increasing competition from British and Japanese imports following World War II, Harley-Davidson introduced the mid-sized K series in 1952. Harley outfitted the K series motorcycles with the side-valve Flathead engine. By 1957 Harley engineers had developed a new overhead-valve engine, the Ironhead.

The K series was discontinued and the Sportster was born, employing the Ironhead engine. The earliest Sportsters retained the basic frame of the K models and the crankcase design, housing both the engine and the transmission in the same casting.

The Sportster used the Ironhead engine until the 1986 model year. Harley-Davidson had introduced the 1,340 cc Evolution engine on five of its Big Twin models in 1984. For the 1986 model year the Motor Company came out with an 883 cc and 1,100cc version of the Evolution for the Sportster family.

Early Years

The first Sporster 1200 appeared for the 1988 model year when Harley increased the displacement of the 1,100 Evolution engine. Variations of the Sportster 1200 have been in the line up ever since. That first Sportster 1200 was equipped with a four-speed transmission, chain final drive and generated a reported 58 horsepower at 5,200 rpm.

Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200

Harley gave the Sportster 1200 belt final drive and a five-speed transmission beginning with the 1991 model year. The 1996 model year saw two new versions of the Sportster 1200 added to the HD lineup, the Sportster 1200 Sport and Custom.

The Sportster 1200 Sport featured cast wheels, flat track handlebars and adjustable cartridge type front shocks and adjustable rear gas reservoir shocks. The Sport version of the Sportster 1200 was discontinued after the 2003 model year. The Sportster 1200 Custom had a skinnier 21 inch front tire.

Middle Years

The Sporster family underwent major changes for the 2004 model year. A new frame brought greater stability and the Evolution engine was rubber-mounted to the frame, reducing vibration. The Sportsters also got wider rear tires, 150 mm, up from the previous 130 mm. The battery and oil tank were moved under the seat and giving the 2004 models a cleaner look.

Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200

There were only four Sportster models in the 2004 line up, the Sportster 883 and 883 Custom and the Sportster 1200 Custom and 1200 Roadster. The new frame on the Sportsters added 67 pounds to the Sporster 1200 Custom, up to 558 lbs from 491 lbs (dry weight) on the 2003 Custom. The Sportster 1200 Roadster had a dry weight of 557 lbs, compared to the 491 lbs of the 2003 Sportster 1200.

The new Roadster had a 29.9 seat height, wide handlebars, and new design fuel tank. The wheels were 13 spoke silver cast, 16 in. in the rear and 19 in. up front. Harley would drop the Roadster after the 2008 model year.

Later Years

A new model joined the Sporster 1200 line up for the 2006 season, the Sportster 1200 Low. Featuring a 28 in. seat height, the Low had handlebars that were an inch further back than the other Sportsters, and mid-mount foot controls.

Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200

2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the Sportster and Harley-Davidson offered nine models in the Sportster family that year, five of them 1200s. There was the Custom, Roadster and Low as well as the new Sportster 1200 Nightster and the limited edition 50th Anniversary Sportster 1200. All of the Sportster models got fuel injection for 2007.

Harley-Davidson produced only 2,000 of the anniversary 1200s. The limited edition Sportster 1200 was available in two-tone Mirage Orange and Vivid Black with the 50th anniversary logo on the tank badge and bar clamp nameplate.

The Nightster had a dark, gritty appeal, with Medium Gray powder coated engine, black front fork, black low rise handlebars and clutch and brake levers. A side mounted license plate holder, black rimmed wheels and staggered chrome shorty slash cut dual exhausts added to the attitude of the Nightster. Its solo seat had a height of 26.3 inches. Harley referred to the looks of the Nightster as minimalist retro-chic.

In 2008 Harley-Davidson left the Sportster 1200 line up pretty much the same, with the exception of the addition of the limited edition 105th Anniversary Sportster 1200 Custom. The anniversary edition Custom had 105th Anniversary badging and came in the two-tone Anniversary Copper and Vivid Black paint scheme.

The Harley-Davidson XR1200X and the Forty-Eight

Two new models joined the Sportster 1200 line up in 2010, the Sportster Forty-Eight and the XR1200X. The Forty-Eight was one of Harley's Dark Custom line of bikes. It featured a 2.1 gallon peanut fuel tank which first appeared on Harleys in 1948, providing the inspiration for the bike's name.

Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200

The XR1200X was inspired by Harley-Davidson XR750 flat track racers of the 1970s. The XR1200X had brushed, straight shot dual exhausts, Showa inverted front forks and black three spoke cast aluminum wheels. It also has the Best Rear Shocks for Harley Davidson Touring.

The XL1200V Seventy-Two

The Sportster XL1200V Seventy-Two debuted in the 2012 model year. The Seventy-Two harkens back to 1970s chopper style and the custom culture of Los Angele's Whittier Boulevard, also named Route 72. The Seventy-Two sports lots of metal flake paint, a peanut fuel tank, whitewall tires and ape hanger handlebars

The Sportster in Culture

A rather infamous appearance by the Sportster 1200 happened on live local television in May of 2012. Reporter Stephanie Berzinski of WXII-TV in Winston-Salem, NC was doing a feature on Motorcycle Safety Month called “Biker Babe”. Berzinski had recently received her motorcycle license after taking a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course. At the conclusion of the report Berzinski was slated to ride, on live TV, a Sportster 1200 across a parking lot. Upon stopping the Sportster she had some trouble engaging the kick stand and dropped the bike.

Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200

The Sportster 1200 has had its share of appearances in movies and on television, some more notable than others.

Wild Hogs (2007)

When four middle aged men from Cincinnati head out across the country on their motorcycles they run into more adventure than they anticipated, especially when they come across the Del Fuegos motorcycle gang. Dudley Frank, played by actor William H. Macy, the nerdiest and least experienced rider of the group, rides a Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1992)

High school senior, Buffy Summers, is a typical teen-ager, until she learns that she is destined to be a vampire slayer. In a one scene Buffy, played by actress Kristy Swanson, is seen riding a Sportster 1200.

Other films and TV shows have used the Sportster 1200 in minor scenes and in the background, including:

  • Spread (2009)
  • Bedtime Stories (2008)
  • Reign in Darkness (2002)
  • The Crow: City of Angels (1996)
  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on CBS
  • ABC Family's 10 Things I Hate About You
  • The Border on CBC

Biker babe! Stephanie Gets Motorcycle License

joshua mattie

Joshua D. Mattie

My motorbike addiction began with 50cc at 5 years old. I rode motocross as a teenager & into my 20's when I worked as a mechanic. This helped me to see the light—sportbikes & cruisers became a passion. Now I'm building BikersRights to be the #1 resource for everything on 2 wheels!