Harley-Davidson has been a renowned motorcycle brand since 1957, with their 'Sportsters' being particularly popular for their affordability and ease of use. The company's bikes have gone through various stages of evolution over the decades, resulting in some iconic models and some less successful ones.
This post seeks to identify which years of Sportster Harley-Davidson should be avoided and why they may not make ideal purchases. Through this analysis, readers can understand how different versions of sportsters compare and decide which suits them best.
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Harley Sportster Years To Avoid (List Of Years)
Knowing which models should be avoided when purchasing a pre-owned Harley-Davidson is essential. During the notorious AMF era (1969–1980) and the decade following, Harley motorcycles experienced numerous problems and quality control issues. The most common Harleys to avoid include:
- 1980 Harley Sportster
- 1981 Harley Sportster
- 2001 Harley Sportster
- 2004 Harley Sportster
- 2019 Harley Sportster
In addition to poor overall manufacturing during this period, these specific models had to handle issues that put riders in precarious positions due to their lack of stability and maneuverability while on the road. Furthermore, after HD was sold from AMF ownership, they failed to make any improvements or updates for the 1981 model year despite their efforts towards reimagining the classic design.
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What Makes These Harley Sportster Years Worth Avoiding?
1. Sportster 1980 Year Problems
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Ironhead sportster had numerous technical issues noted as breakdown points in its electrical system. These challenges were compounded by a solidly installed engine, which caused parts of the bike to be lost regularly. The introduction of the Kiehan carburetor in 1976 was unsuccessful and needed to be replaced soon after it was introduced. Along with these problems, riders also experienced oil spills and gearbox failures when a shifter fork bent, causing it to fly out of gear in 2nd gear. Additionally, many found that after 100 miles, the standard seat felt like an uncomfortable rock and provided little cushioning for long rides. All these factors contributed to HD almost going bankrupt due to their Ironhead Sportster bikes.
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2. Sportster 1981 Year Problems
The 1981 Harley-Davidson Sportster is remembered as one of the worst-handling motorcycles ever produced by any manufacturer. Thought Co. ranks it amongst other poorly made bikes, all thanks to a financial agreement gone awry with AMF that led to an unfortunate year for the company. As they worked to get back on their feet, the team at Harley-Davidson released this bike in what was otherwise a dismal period in its history. The following years saw significant improvements and redesigns, though none were available until after 1981's Sportster had already been put out on the market.
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3. Sportster 2001 Year Problems
It has been noted that the 2001 Sportster gearbox problem is a common issue among many of these models. While there is no distinct pattern, it often occurs at specific points while riding, such as when the bike is cold or after engaging the clutch with the car in gear. To combat this issue, repeatedly cycling between first and second gear may help improve performance.
4. Sportster 2004 Year Problems
The Twin Cam engine used in the Dyna model has been subject to various issues. This is primarily attributed to the design of the cam chain system being deemed inadequate. The plastic shoes that support and guide the cam chains do not hold up over time, leading to further damage. While a hydraulic tensioning system has been employed in more recent models, this is not an adequate long-term solution. Additionally, Sportster versions before 2004 would often come with unrubber-mounted engines, which could make for a very rough ride.
5. Sportster 2019 Year Problems
Harley-Davidson's iconic V-twin powered models have been revised for this year, and some owners have reported electrical and shifting issues. The company released the Livewire electric motorcycle. However, its city-only range of 146 miles makes it less practical than a Sportster FortyEight with a little peanut tank since it takes an hour to charge. Furthermore, the price is high at $27,000, and repairs may be costly. Regarding reliability, the Harley-Davidson Sportster is generally considered reliable; however, there are instances where OEM clutch springs can be flimsy, and exhaust bolts may rattle freely. Therefore installing aftermarket components can resolve such issues.
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Which Years Are Safe To Buy Used?
The Harley Davidson Sportster model is renowned for its classic design and reliable performance. It was the first to feature a rear suspension and overhead valve engine, quickly making it popular in the US and British motorcycle markets. The Ironhead version has proven to be an incredibly reliable bike with lighter and cooler running than previous models.
For those looking to buy a used Sportster, these are some of the best models from different years: 1957 Harley XL Sportster Ironhead, 1967 Harley Sportster XLH, 1969 Harley Sportster XLH, 1971 Harley Sportster, 1978 Harley Sportster, 1983 Harley Sportster XLX61, 2005 Harley-Davidson Sportster 2010 CRD XR 1200 2014 XL 883N IRON 883. Many riders have found that these bikes offer superior reliability compared to other brands.
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When considering a motorcycle purchase, some riders lean exclusively toward Harley-Davidsons. Conversely, some opt against owning one due to the potential difficulties associated with them. To ensure an informed decision on such an investment, potential buyers must familiarize themselves with the issues present in specific model years and the advantages of more secure models. By reading this article, individuals will have access to the knowledge needed to make a well-informed buying decision when looking into Harley ownership.
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