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Harley-Davidson Sportster Pays Homage to Banana Bikes

By Arv Voss, June 16th, 2012

The design and development teams at Harley-Davidson have a proclivity for dipping into the company's heritage for inspirational motivation in coming up with new ideas. Nostalgia is big business these days: who doesn't want to revisit their glory days?

Harley-Davidson's 2012 "Seventy-Two" Sportster pays homage to a stretch of Whittier Boulevard -- a legendary cruising street in East Los Angeles also known as Route 72. The Seventy-Two is a member of the Sportster family reflecting a time when kids tooled around on Sting-Ray style bicycles, emulating bikers who rode real Choppers.

Sting-Ray's sported banana seats and ape-grip handlebars. They were created in the spirit of the chopper motorcycles and encouraged individual customizing and personalization. The motorcycle versions were stripped down, colorful bikes, sprayed with metal flake paint and loaded with chrome, reflecting the simplicity of bicycles -- a custom style born in California.

Metal flake is back in a big way on the Seventy-Two with a shade called Hard Candy Big Red Flake. The finish is achieved by first spraying on a black base coat, and then applying a polyurethane system carrying hexagon-shaped flakes that are seven times larger than in traditional production flake paint. Each flake is coated with a thin aluminum film that is then tinted red. Four coats of clear are applied and carefully hand-sanded and polished for a glass-like surface. The crowning touch is a "72" logo atop the period-style 2.1-gallon peanut tank, originally created by hand and converted into a decal that covered by a final clear coat.

Scallops and pinstriping details appear on both the front traditional cycle-style front fender and chopped rear fender, complemented by narrow whitewall tires (D402F-MH90-21 54H front/D401-150/80B16 71H rear) mounted on chrome-lace spoke steel wheels (21x2.15-inch front/16x3-inch rear).

The powertrain is sprayed in Gray powdercoat with chrome covers and a new round air cleaner with a dished cover. The 10-inch mini-ape bars on 2-inch risers and chromed shorty dual right side, slash-cut exhaust pipes represent a major contribution to the Harley Sportster's nostalgic "old school" image.

The Seventy-Two's power is generated by a 1200 cc Air-cooled Evolution pushrod-operated OHV, 4-valve V-Twin with electronic sequential port fuel injection that grunts out 73 lb.-ft. of peak torque at 3,500 rpm. The driving energy is geared to the rear-wheel via a five-speed manual transmission through a chain primary drive and final drive belt.

Suspension consists of 39 mm front forks with 5.69 mm inches of wheel travel, plus a swingarm with coil-over preload dual adjustable shocks in the rear with 2.12 inches of wheel travel. Braking chores are handled by a front single rotor, dual piston and a single piston rear rotor. The rear fender struts are chromed, as are the coil-over rear shocks.

My test bike's base sticker read $11,199. What's it like to straddle the Seventy-Two? Well, the seat height is a manageable 28 inches. The 10-inch mini-apes aren't a real stretch and the forward foot controls are comfortable. The ride quality on the other hand, while tolerable, seems to transmit the presence of every pebble on the roads surface.

In terms of the handling characteristics, the larger, skinny front wheel and tire of the Seventy-Two make for a different riding experience than say, the Forty-Eight Sportster, which seems considerably more stable. The rear wheel and tire combination don't seem on target with the narrow theme of the bike. The bike is supposed to reflect a retro flavor, which it does quite well, and this is translated into the ride and handling as well. Perhaps it's not for everyone's taste and perhaps not the best choice in the Sportster lineup for the beginning rider. But is it fun? You bet.

There's a lot of nostalgic bang-for-the-buck here, in a showroom custom, and you can save a few bucks more by opting for the non-metal flake paint scheme, but that's part of what really makes the 2012 Seventy-Two Sportster totally cool.

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