2004 Harley-Davidson Motorcycles

New 883 and 1200 Sportsters headline Harley's second-century motorcycles. Also new: B-model V-Rod, Road King Custom, revised Road Glide.

We have now seen the Harley-Davidson's 2004 Sportsters, and as expected, they use an all-new frame that rubber-mounts a revised engine. The 2004 Sportster line will consist of two 883 models, a base model and a Custom, and two 1200 models, the XL1200R Roadster, which melds the standard 1200 and the Sport, and the XL1200C Custom.

Because the engine no longer serves as a structural member, the 2004 Sportster frame is much stronger to compensate -- over 100% stronger than the 2003 version, according to Harley engineers and 26 more rigid when compared to the 2003 counterpart with the engine mounted. The downside is that the larger, thicker-wall tubing and the various links and junctions needed to isolate the engine add plenty of weight -- about 50 pounds.

Realizing that once vibration was snubbed, people would work the engine harder and longer, Harley Sportster team also made increasing durability a priority. The engine is essentially the same -- same bore and stroke, V angle, basic layout, etc. -- but many of the components were updated. More finning on new cylinders and heads improves cooling dramatically. Oil is now sprayed under pistons to aid cooling, and new rings are used for for better cylinder life. Ignition timing is now cued off the crankshaft for more accuracy, and virtually all the gasket points in the engine have been improved in one way or another.

Both 1200s have the same engine, which makes about 15 percent more power than last year's standard 1200 mill. The new 1200 engine gets hotter cams taken from the Buell XB engine, although at 70 horsepower the Sportster engine makes less power than the similar engine in the Buell, largely because the Buell sucks through a much larger airbox. Unlike the 2003 Sportster 1200 Sport engine, the new one does not have dual spark plugs because the new combustion-chamber design does not require them to inhibit detonation. The compression ratio is 9.7:1. Lighter pistons, rods and valve-train components allow the 1200 to rev 500 rpm faster to 6000 rpm. The 883 has a much milder power gain, a modest 2 horsepower, giving it a claimed 53 horsepower.

The engine was also restyled with a revised air-cleaner shape, new covers throughout the bottom end and an exhaust design that hides the cross over tube.

Though the frame is totally new, its dimensions, except for a lower seat height, are generally the same. Many other components have been changed beside the engine. Although the 883 standard and 1200R list the same 3.3-gallon fuel capacity and a familiar shape, the tanks are significantly altered to accommodate the new frame. The Custom models now have a 4.5-gallon tank, with a full-length stainless-steel console on the 1200. The Roadster gets a graphics treatment reminiscent of the original Sportster on the 1950s. It also has a tach and duel disc front brakes. All the brakes are new, less bulky calipers and the the actuation pressure is claimed to be reduced. The handgrips are an eighth-inch slimmer, which Harley says also helps. A wider 150mm rear tire (instead of the previous 130mm size) required the rear end to be completely altered, and the engine was also moved right a quarter-inch to cwenter it in the frame. The battery was moved into the frame, and both side of the bike now have side covers. The oil tank on the right holds most of a quart more oil, offers added cooling and features a push-to-release oil dipstic that pops out when you push and then comes free with a quarter turn.

The Roadster does not get the adjustable suspension of the now-discontinued 1200 Sport or any special sporting calibration. Harley says buyers don't care. It figures the money spent on special suspension components could be saved to make the Sportsters a better value. And although, the company won't give price until perhaps earl September, it makes it clear that it wants to price the Sportsters very attractively.

Other news includes a second V-Rod model, the VRSCB, which is mostly revised graphics -- powder-coated engine parts, alloy bodywork on a black frame, black control levers and three colors. The handlebar is interchangeable on this one. The original VRSCA comes in five color variants this year with raised tank logos and improved frame paint. Both have lower gearing and minor instrument changes.

The new Road King Custom is a lowered 'King which lost the bulky fender trim, wears new "Smoothie" leather bags and sports a generally cleaner look. The triple-clamp cover is new, there is a chrome wind deflector instead of a windshield atop the headlight. It reaches for you with a pulled-back beach-bar handlebar. Other details include streamlined floorboards, bullet turn signals, a stretched fuel-tank console with a restyled speedo, and other touches.

The faired Road Glide had its faifring tilted forward four degrees and the windshield reangled to better align with it. The graphics take their cues from the CVO version of 1999.

All 2004 Harley have the serial data-bus system, which debuted on the '03 V-Rod and simplifies wiring while adding capability. The Touring models get a half-inch wider tire claimed to be more durable. Fuel injection is now optional on the Dyna models (which no longer incluide the T-Sport) and it brings longer fuel tanks. Also gone are the Heritage Softail Spring and buckhorn bars. The Springer Softail has a flatter, wider bar this year.

The CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) limited production models for '04 are a special Electra Glide and a Deuce.

The new bikes will make their public debut at Harley 100th anniversary celebration in Milwaukee at the end of August 2003. Prices should be announced then or shortly after.

XL1200R Roadster
The basic, no-frills Sportster 883
The Road King Custom
Road Glide