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All-new Sportster dominates 2004 lineup at Harley-Davidson

September 8, 2003
Filed under Features

Harley-Davidson kicks off its next century with an all-new Sportster, a model that’s been in the lineup in one form or another for 47 years. Considered the entry-level Harley-Davidson, the Sportster family went from an often-confusing seven models to a manageable four models.
Seventy-five percent of Harley-Davidson owners start out on a Sportster. It is their first introduction to the Harley family. Keeping the lineup simple was one of the reasons for the overhaul in the platform.
The four models include: Sportster 883, Sportster 883 Custom, Sportster 1200 Custom, and the new Sportster 1200 Roadster. Each has a new chassis, ergonomics and styling, and is powered by a redesigned XL Sportster Evolution powertrain.
Feedback from Sportster owners indicated they wanted reduced vibration above all else. So the Harley engineering team set out to redesign a new Sportster without losing the qualities that make a Sportster a Sportster.
Starting with the chassis, engineers designed a new twin-cradle, steel frame and swingarm, increasing the diameter of the main backbone tube from 1 5/8 inch to 2 1/8 inch. Frame stiffness has been increased by 26% over the previous Sportster frame. The increased rigidity, combined with an engine that is now rubber-mounted, make for a much smoother ride. Three stabilizer-links connect the engine to the frame. Despite an increase of 50 pounds due to the new frame, none of the nimbleness and flickability of the Sportster has been sacrificed. The Sportster is still as fun and easy to ride as it’s always been, but now riders can go longer distances without feeling fatigued from the strong vibration.
The XL Evolution V-Twin that has powered the Sportster family since1986 has been redesigned so riders can now use the entire powerband “without losing the fillings in their teeth,” to steal a line from Sportster Powertrain Engineer Brad McIlwee during his presentation to the media.
Bigger fins on the engine mean a 40% reduction in temperature in the combustion chamber. Riders will feel a cooler engine. New lighter pistons and connecting rods help extend the upper-end life while boosting the 1200’s redline from 5500 rpm to 6000 rpm. A new timing system uses a Crank Position Sensor (CPS) unit reducing engine complexity and enhancing calibration and spark delivery. A new oil drain-back feature reduces oil carryover by 70% improving the overall breathing system. The shifter mechanism has been redesigned making it nearly impossible not to find neutral.
The engine in the 1200 uses high flow XB (Buell) heads as well as high performance cams for enhanced torque output. While the engineers did not set out to bump up horsepower, all this tweaking of the engine contributed to a 15% increase in horsepower on the new 1200.
A new single disc rear and front braking system reduces the lever effort needed to engage the brakes. The Roadster has dual discs up front.
Styling changes include a wider rear tire (150mm vs. 130mm), a new primary, sprocket and derby cover as well as a new oval air cleaner cover, a new 4.5-gallon fuel tank on the Customs, and a new, but very similar looking 3.3-gallon tank on the Standard and the Roadster. The peanut-style tank had to be redesigned slightly to accommodate the new frame. The exhaust crossover pipe is now
hidden for a cleaner look.
Smaller riders will appreciate the reduction in size of the handgrips from a 1 1/4 inch to 1 1/8 inch. It is noticeable. So is the easier-to-pull-in clutch lever. Effort was reduced by 25% on the 883 and 8% on the 1200. Seat height also dropped an inch: 27.3 inches on the XL883 and 26.3 inches on the XL883C. There are already 180 parts and accessories available to accommodate the new Sportsters.
Other new for ’04 models include the VRSCB V-Rod, the Road King Custom, and the Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) bikes: the Screamin’ Eagle Softail Deuce and the Screamin Eagle Electra Glide. The Road Glide and the Springer Softail have been restyled; there’s a new electronic fuel injection option on the Dynas; and the Heritage Softail Springer and the Dyna Glide T-Sport have been discontinued.
The V-Rod
The 2004 VRSC models include the existing VRSCA, which now comes in five new colors, and the VRSCB with its interchangeable handlebars among other differences. Those include subtle styling changes like black tank graphics, black painted controls, and a black painted hydroformed frame versus silver on the A model. Overall model updates include a 28-tooth front drive sprocket replacing the 30-tooth sprocket for lower gearing. The instrument cluster has been changed to reflect a maximum speed change of 140 mph to 150 mph, and the odometer “trip” button can now be accessed with the ignition turned off.
Touring Models
The Road King line welcomes the new Road King Custom with its 1-inch lower rear suspension and its wide pullback “beach” handlebars. Other styling changes include a clean front and rear fender (fender trim has been removed), new chrome slotted alloy wheels, a new triple-clamp cover, a small chrome wind deflector that’s mounted above the headlight, and smooth leather-covered saddlebags and matching seat. Electronic fuel injection is an option on the Custom, same as it is with the Road King. EFI comes standard on the Road King Classic.
The Road Glide also enjoys some significant changes, including a repositioned fairing. It’s now mounted four degrees lower at the front. A new windshield has the same angle of the upper edge of the fairing, giving the bike a more aerodynamic look while maintaining the same wind protection.
All the touring models get a tire upgrade for ’04. The new 143mm MU85 tire is 0.5 inch or 8% wider than the 132 MT90 rear fitted on previous models.
The Electra Glide models benefit from a new comfort-stitch seat that’s designed to eliminate pressure points as well as pockets where water could build up.
Dyna Glide Models
The biggest change to the Dyna Glide family is the addition of electronic fuel injection as an option. As a result, the fuel tanks had to be restyled. They are now one inch longer than on previous models. The restyled tanks have new full-length consoles as well as a newly designed ignition cover and electrical panel cover.
Softail Models
The Springer Softail gets a new, edgier look for 2004 with a low, smooth Badlander seat, and wider and flatter low-rise handlebars. There are no more buckhorn handlebars on any of the Harley-Davidson motorcycles. No other significant changes to the other five models, but they do come in 13 solid and two-tone colors for 2004.
CVO Models
Custom Vehicle Operations introduced the Screamin’ Eagle Electra Glide and the Screamin’ Eagle Deuce. They share a new special CVO-styled key, a high performance clutch with hydraulic actuation and both come with Screamin’ Eagle SYN3 Synthetic Lubricant flowing through the engine, transmission and primary chaincase. Approximately 2,750 of the Electra Glide will be built with a suggested 49-state MSRP of $28,595. There will be approximately 2,400 CVO Deuces built with a 49-state MSRP of $26,995.
As of press time, prices were not released for any of the other Harley-Davidson models.
Finally, all models get an upgrade with the electrical wiring. A new Serial Data Bus System uses fewer wires to multi-task. This was first introduced on the V-Rod in 2002. The system can essentially talk to more components with fewer wires. For example, all 2004 models now have double trip mileage indicators. Dealer service departments benefit by having a faster and simpler diagnosis of problems because the diagnostic equipment can access all systems at once instead of separately.

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