One of the sad perceptions about Sportster models is that they are rough riding and not very comfortable to say the least. This can be true of some off the rack bikes but it doesn’t have to remain that way. With just a little extra money and some know how you can make your Sporty not just fun to ride but very comfortable too. I know that some of you out there will claim your baggers are the way to go for spending time on the road. Don’t get me wrong, they are probably great for long rides or vacations. But most of us don’t have a lot of vacation time or the pocket book to spend on some of the “more sophisticated” rides. If you really want to take one on a trip, I’m sure your local Harley-Davidson dealership will be glad to rent one to you at a fraction of the cost of owning one. But seriously, who wants to carry around all that luggage on a daily basis? With all that added weight you need the extra horsepower just to get around. I on the other hand, enjoy a quick nimble bike that can take me around town or out on the highway every day if I so choose. So back to our main topic of making your Sportster comfortable and look good too. As with any bike it has to fit your body type, here are a few things that should be considered if a change is needed to make your ride more comfortable.
SEATS – Probably the most difficult to figure out without some trial and error. There are seats designed to move you forward, back, sit lower or taller. Solo or two up there are lots of brands out there and everyone has their preference. This is what we have found out about seats:
- If you have one that is great, KEEP it or buy one just like it. If your old ride’s seat will fit your new one, then swap it or find an eBay or Craigslist seat for the old bike if it’s going down the road with someone else. My Honda’s Mustang seat was so comfortable it was a no brainer for me to buy a new one for my Sportster. Don’t forget that a new seat may also need to be broke in just like a new pair of leather boots. After a couple hundred miles of seat time you should have an idea of how well it will feel.
- If its construction is cheap it will probably feel like it in a short period of time. Find out if the materials used are of good quality. We have found that if a seat’s back bone or base is made from solid material i.e. metal or fiberglass it will hold its shape and support you for miles. We have not had good luck with those made from materials that can flex or eventually sag. All the foam or gel inserts are not going to help much on a long ride if your seat pan does not hold its shape.
- No one likes to spend money non-stop buying new seats while trying to find the right one so don’t rule out picking up a used one off eBay or Craigslist. If it doesn’t work out then re-sell it until you find the best fit for you. Also, if your friends are willing and have model years close to yours, try their seat on your bike to see how it feels for a few miles.
- HANDLEBARS – Before making changes to the handlebars make sure you are happy with the seat. My first Low had such a bad seat that I thought the handle bars had to go as well. After installing my tried and true new seat I was shocked by how the handlebars were actually not that bad. Once you have your seat figured out are your handle bars in the right position for your arms? Do they need to move forward, back, up or down? If you like the bar that you’ve got it’s not too difficult to rotate them forward or back. Some can be moved up or down with the installation of risers. There are loads of bar styles out there and everyone has their likes and dislikes. Keep in mind that if you replace your stock bars with ape hangers or even another style it may also require longer cables so make sure you add that to your cost when considering a complete change. Hand grips can play a big part in comfort as well as style. There are firm ones, soft or squishy ones, large or small diameter, smooth or textured. It’s really a matter of personal preference. Just make sure you use the proper grips for the diameter of your handlebars.
- FOOT CONTROLS – You may have already purchased your bike with forward control and do not wish to make changes. It’s not too difficult to switch from mid to forward controls but it can be pricing. Being short I prefer mid controls but like to stretch my legs on the highway so adding highway pegs is a low cost solution. Foot pegs also fall under this category. There are numerous options available; anything from floor boards to vibration isolation foot pegs will make a difference. It is all personal preference and depends on your own taste and fit.
- SHOCKS & SPRINGS – This is a big one for those bumpy roads and your bum will appreciate it to. There are a lot of brand names and options for rear shocks to choose from and you need to consider how you will be riding the most. Weight is first to consider, will you be riding solo or two up? Do you desire a performance or touring suspension? Rear shocks can raise or lower your ride by a great deal. If lowering is your main objective, keep in mind when you lessen the amount of travel you limit the ability of the shocks to improve the ride. Shocks have a wide range of prices so do a little research before spending loads of money. Front springs can reduce the sharp jarring and also adjust the height, they are a little more basic compared to rear shocks but you must still give consideration in how you ride to determine the best choice. Front springs are relatively inexpensive and easy to install.
The above points are foremost in setting up your bike to fit you the best and offer an enjoyable comfortable ride. We will be working on videos to better explain and show some tips on making changes for the “do it yourselfers” out there so check back later for more info.