Harley-Davidson Alphabet Soup Demystified
When you walk into the showroom of a Harley Dealership – it is easy to be blinded by all the chrome, the shiny paint, custom accessories and the wide array of different models to choose from. There are six different frame families and for the model year 2016 there are 38 different new models to choose from. The bike price tags and brochures have an almost cryptic foreign language to them next to the names of the bikes. When I was at my last dealership – we had over 600 used bikes on the sales floor and nearly another 200 new rides; it can be a bit confusing with the alphabet soup short hand that Milwaukee uses for their branding of the bikes. So here then is a quick guide to help you weed through and understand the difference between an FXDX, FXSTC, FLHT or a XL883. These short- hand acronyms will be imperative when you are ordering parts for your bike, because while a bike maybe in the same family of frame construction – not all parts, will fit on all bikes. Trust me, I have run into this often enough with my own custom builds.
The six families of bikes are based mainly on the different frame and engine configurations. You may already know the names of V-Rod, Sportster, Dyna, Softail, Touring and Trike; but there is also the new Street and the coming Electric Livewire models. As Harley Davidson has been in business since 1903, if you are looking at a used or antique bike – these short hand monikers will help you to further understand the history, the relative size of the bikes and aid in searching for online pricing levels as well. I will address each family in turn coming up in Moto-Life ! The basic Recipe is Frame, Tire, Engine, Model Designator, and Edition moniker if it is a limited production or special construction like the CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) models.
* The 1957 Sportster
Starting with the Sportster as it is the longest continuous running model family for Harley-Davidson; in production since 1957. The bike, in its' current format hovers around the 550 pound mark, and though for Harley-Davidson, it is considered a 'light weight' bike – across the globe – this is one of the heavier models for markets like Brazil, India and South Asia. Sportsters started from the run-around standard bikes of the 50's, meant to compete against the Triumphs racing around the track – but also a light weight bike that was suitable for commuting and weekend rural get-aways. Built as an 'Extra- Light' bike as compared to the traditionally larger framed bikes of the era – the short hand moniker XL stuck.
All street based Sportsters are labelled XL: Racing bikes of the lineage are branded XR.
For Model year 2016 there are currently 6 models in the Sportster Line up. The primary alpha construct guide is XL for the FRAME Displacement Engine Size 883/1200 and finally the model designator in the family. For example the XL883L is the short-hand for the 2016 Super-Low; where XL means a rubber mounted twinshock frame – with a Sportster Motor in the 883 cubic centimeter displacement and the 'L' identifies that the bike is LOWER than the other bikes in the family line-up. This is not the first bike to wear the L, but all of them do sit about an inch lower than the standard base model Sportster.
The next 883 for this year is the XL883N – or 'Iron'. Traditionally the N moniker meant that the bike had black accents – or accents that were muted from full dress chrome; the first time it appeared for the Sportster line up was with the 'Nightster' XL1200N model – that was distinctly popular and led the way to a family of 'Dark Custom' bikes that were devoid of chrome and had the soul purpose to take things in a black direction to 11; as Spinal Tap would have said; "None more Black."
The Iron also sits low, with the only height difference being in the contour of the seat. Other distinct differences are the sizes of gas tank – while the SuperLow has a 4.5 gallon tank – the Iron has a 3.3 'Peanut' tank; which is good for about 150 miles of riding before you have to gas back up. (it is the smallest of tanks I would go for a 'useable' bike)
The XL883R; which while no longer available domestically in 2008 – could still be found new internationally through 2013.
Here it is stock:
Here is my bike.
Join Moto-Life next time for a run down of XL1200's of the 2016 Sportster Line up
PS – for anyone that ever says Sportster is a 'girl's bike': Remind them – that it is still the bike that Harley-Davidson pushes around the dirt track at speeds over 100 mph.