Somehow Harley-Davidson finds tolerance in its black and orange, air-cooled heart to let professional amateurs like me test brand-new motorcycles. I read a few other reviews while working on this feature and man, journalists are just phoning it in, taking cliff notes from the press release and doing a little patronizing copy and paste. Attention mainstream motorcycle media: This is not a chopper. It's also not a sick bobber. It's a good starting point for a custom motorcycle or a fine stocker, but that's it. This debate over semantics is old and tired, so I apologize, but I had to mention it. Anyway, on to the road test.
Whitewalls and flake? You either like it or you don't. Less overt paint is available
The 72 is an interesting beast. First launched as a 2012 model, it's basically a parts-bin Sportster. Not as bespoke as the 48, and not as Plain Jane as some of the other models. As all home builders know, playing Mr. Potatohead with a bike by adding and subtracting parts is a great way to change its personality. There is nothing revolutionary going on here, but the influence from Harley's own customers is loud and clear.
Dark grey powdercoat on the engine has a nice, industrial look
I could do without the huge decal branding
Simple air cleaner and engine-turned ignition cover are thoughtful details
The modern Sportster is a great platform for customizing. The mechanicals on the 72 are sorted and the powertrain doesn't differ much from other XL models. It's a fuel injected 1200, so it's got plenty of gumption, though it won't win many light to light dashes against other modern machines. The brakes work fine, shifting is fine, all standard fare, exactly what you expect when you are expecting a Harley-Davidson. Don't take that in a bad way. I understand the factory's conundrum. Change the platform too dramatically and they might lose their core customer. Keep it the same and tech pundits will beat them up for building an overpriced antique. Add all of the requirements EPA, NHTSA and DOT mandate and it's a miracle any factory can build a legal motorcycle at all.
What? We're done already? We just started...
Relatively uncluttered speedo/riser combo is tasteful. Machined stem bolt washer is an elegant touch, but would have been nicer polished instead of black
So what does it all mean to the average dude? While some may disregard it as Harley simply cashing in on chop culture, others who saw our test bike seemed interested. Is the XL72 your cheap ticket to chopper nirvana? Can you really get a metal flake, narrow-tank killing machine with apes for a couple hundred bucks a month without showing talent or busting knuckles to build it? Most guys who have built a few bikes will overlook the 72 as a sheep in wolf's clothing, but for the chopper-curious who don't have the capacity to roll their own, the 72 may be the gateway drug that puts you squarely on the path towards wasted paychecks, greasy fingernails and sleeping in rest stops on I-40. Just remember: it's a motorcycle, not a black belt. The 72 won't make you a bad ass, but it could be fun, and it comes with a 24-month unlimited mile warranty. How's that for a safety blanket?
If you want classic 16/21" spoked wheels, the 72 has 'em
So what does the 72 have other Sporties don't? The obvious stuff is a set of 10-inch chrome apes, a solo seat (thankfully without springs), low shocks, tons of chrome and of course that flake paint on a classic flat-bottom Sportster tank and shorty rear fender. That bass boat green paint and the 72's whitewalls are subjective specs that polarize observers. Not quite as obvious might be the dark grey powder coat on the engine, an unexplained lack of passenger pegs and a regular old top tree and riser set-up which lends itself to owner modifications much more easily than some of the other models with integrated risers. The fork legs and rear shocks are longer than a 48, giving it a hair more ground clearance, a slightly better ride and about an extra inch in seat height. This all adds up to a practical stance and sensible ergonomics. Or so I thought.
The money shot. The narrow tank, despite it's lack of capacity has style and makes the whole bike feel visually lighter
Even a troll can sit flat-footed on the 72 at a stoplight, always a bonus for the short set. While I prefer mid controls, the forwards were easy enough to reach, and mildly comfortable. The bars might seem outlandish to anyone not used to their high reach, but I found the 72's tall bars naturally comfortable and good looking.
Not built for speed or comfort
The nicest thing I can say about the '72's seat is that it only takes one screw to remove it and throw it away. You want chopper ergos? You got 'em. Get up over 75 mph and you'll feel like you're sliding off the back of the bike, just like the cool guy with the original Bates seat on his old shovelhead. A solo seat with some kick in the back or a set of mid-mounted foot controls would change everything. I hammered the 72 over SoCal's Ortega Highway and back on a 200-mile errand run. Its slightly taller ride height made for some great leaning in the twisties, but when it came time to jump on the highway and hammer with the Housewives of Orange County, the inadequacy of that backward-angled seat became obvious. The dreaded sliding-off sensation is never confidence-inspiring, and a beginner might find the 72's small seat size and unsupportive shape unnerving on long, fast rides.
Tail light stalks are plenty strong enough to strap gear to. I guess with no passenger seat you don't get rear pegs either
I don't know this for a fact, but I'd bet the most commonly replaced item on a brand new Harley is the exhaust. In the case of the 72 this must be the case. You can't be all chopper bro, jammin' down the street sounding like steam whistle buried in a mud hole, so save some beans and install an exhaust that lets your freedom machine roar.
Approximately 3,487.5 miles of wire are creatively hidden under the tank
While I applaud the MoCo for the attractive gas tank, when the light comes on at 55 miles and there is no manual reserve it weirds me out. Now, I know according to the specs it should get right at 100 miles per tank, but I started out full and still lit the light up twice on a pretty normal day of mixed-use riding. It's a bummer, because looking at the relatively uncluttered view from the rider's position, the skinny tank looks just right and is an integral design element on the 72. One idea would be to hide the electric fuel pump outside of the tank somewhere, which would be a challenge since even the horn hangs out in the breeze due to a lack of room in this compact package. Even that wouldn't net much more capacity, so maybe take a hint from our Japanese customizing brethren and make that thing taller. Here's a tip HD, go to the Mooneyes show in Yokohama and see how many narrow, but slightly taller sporty tanks there are. Or talk to Rene at Mercury Moto, I'm sure he'd design one for you. I'd sure be happy with another half gallon gently massaged into this basic shape and wouldn't mind the upward bump at all.
I tested the flip-in plate on OC's toll roads. If I don't get a ticket, it worked. If not, I don't understand this feature
So, is this the bike for you? Like all decisions, it depends on what you want out of your machine. It's not going to make you a chopper hero among people who build their own stuff, but you'll get lots of compliments from people who don't know much about motorcycles. The extroverted paint, bars and whitewalls might net you more friends than you're looking for, so be careful. I think what the 72 is best at being is a fine starting point for a custom bike. A weekend spent swapping out pipes, ditching all the blinkers, reflectors, horn and superfluous wiring would go a long way. Maybe add a p-pad and some pegs so you can haul the old lady and have something to lean against, or replace the forward foot controls if that suits your style. If you're not so inclined, leave your 72 bone stock and ride the piss out of it for two hard years under that factory warranty, then chop it up when it's broken in.
2012 Harley-Davidson XL1200V Seventy-Two - USA Specifications/Technical Details
Price: Custom Color Option $10,699 USD
Length 87.4 in. (2220 mm)
Overall Width 33.1 in. (841 mm)
Overall Height 44.9 in. (1140 mm)
Seat Height: • Laden2 26.6 in. (676 mm)
• Unladen 27.9 in. (710 mm)
Ground Clearance 4.4 in. (112 mm)
Rake (steering head) 29.9°
Fork Angle 29.9°
Trail 4.2 in. (107 mm)
Wheelbase 59.9 in. (1521 mm)
Tires (Michelin® Scorcher® “31” front and rear):
• Front – Scorcher® “31” 130/90B16 72H
• Rear – Scorcher® “31” 150/80B16 77H
Fuel Capacity 4.5 gal. (17 L) (warning light at approximately 1.0 gal.)
Oil Capacity (w/filter) 2.8 qts. (2.6 L)
Transmission Capacity 1 qt. (.95 L)
Weight: • As Shipped 553 lbs. (251 kg)
• In Running Order 573 lbs. (260 kg)
• Gross Vehicle Weight Rating 1000 lbs. (454 kg)
• Gross Axle Weight Rating
• Front 335 lbs. (152 kg)
• Rear 665 lbs. (302 kg)
Valves Pushrod-operated, overhead valves with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters; two valves per cylinder
Bore x Stroke 3.5 in. x 3.812 in. (88.9 mm x 96.8 mm)
Displacement 73.3 cu. in. (1200 cc)
Compression Ratio 9.7:1
Fuel System3 Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Air Cleaner Paper cartridge type
Lubrication System Dry-sump
Primary Drive Chain, 57/38 ratio
Final Drive Belt, 68/29 ratio
Clutch Multi-plate, wet
Gear Ratios (overall): U.S.
• 1st 9.315
• 2nd 6.653
• 3rd 4.948
• 4th 4.102
• 5th 3.517
Frame Mild steel, tubular frame; circular sections; cast junctions
Swingarm Mild steel, rectangular tube section, stamped junctions; MIG welded
Front Forks 39 mm
Rear Shocks Coil-over; preload dual-adjustable
Wheels4 (Black Contrast Cut 5-Spoke Cast Aluminum; Steel Laced; Black Steel Laced option): Chrome, 5-spoke Cast Aluminum
• Front 16 in. x 3 in. (406.4 mm x 76.2 mm)
• Rear 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)
Brakes: • Caliper Type Dual-piston front, single-piston rear
• Rotor Type (diameter x width): Patented, uniform expansion rotors
• Front 11.5 in. x .2 in. (292 mm x 5 mm)
• Rear 10.24 in. x .28 in. (260 mm x 7 mm)
Suspension Travel: • Front Wheel 4.12 in. (105 mm)
• Rear Wheel 2.12 in. (54 mm)
Engine Torque (per J1349):
• North America 79 ft. lbs. @ 3250 RPM (107 Nm @ 3250 RPM)
Lean Angle (per J1168):
• Right 26.2°
• Left 28.3°
Fuel Economy (EPA urban/highway test)
48 mpg (4.9 L/100 km)
24 months (unlimited mileage)