Motorcyclist Archives 1985: H-D 883 XLH Evolution Sportster, GSX-R750, Yamaha V-MAX

FROM THE ARCHIVES: August 1985, Issue 1058

Motorcyclist August 1985 Issue 1058
Motorcyclist August 1985 Issue 1058©Motorcyclist

Cover Story

H-D 883 XLH Evolution Sportster "...The Real Thing - only better - for a bargain price"

Heralded as the first in a series of new alloy-engined XL's that are on the way from The Motor Company this no-frills Sporty hit showroom floors at a mere $3995! Another cost effective benefit of the motor size is the 900cc insurace step it will neatly creep under that will save owners a sizable chunk of cash. "Anyone who has been harping about how unaffordable Harleys are just ran out of wind."

Bye Bye Ironhead

  • Of the 426 parts, the EVO motor has 206 new ones
  • 29 fewer parts than the iron cylinder XL-1000 engine
  • The top end is aluminum, not cast iron
  • The common combustion chamber and valve angles drawn are from the XR750 racer
  • Higher compression than the 1338 (9.0:1 vs 8.5:1)
  • Tighter tolerances on the transmissions gear train, these improvements realized by by using more modern gear making machinery

“One of the most important changes made for this engine, and one that required new cases, was the switch to hydraulic valve lifters, ending valve-adjustment hassles on the Sportster. It also reduces noise and saves wear, especially in conjunction with the roller tappets.”

Although the XLH has an all new alloy top end, new cases, exhaust, and lubrication system (larger capacity pusher too), the Evolution Sportster is still a harley. It retains the 45° V-angle and also retains the resemblance in all of the covers, cases and component locations. Though looking a lot like it predecessor, the EVO is a big jump in quality while reducing service intervals.

1985 H-D 883 XLH Evolution Sportster
1985 H-D 883 XLH Evolution Sportster©Motorcyclist

Riding Impressions
Same low saddle as previous Sportsters with slightly more narrow bars and a slightly subdued bark (80Db noise restriction to deal with). The low RPM power and inertia are still there and she'll chug along happily at low RPMs when warm. Although it is less likely to stall in off throttle situations than the previous generation it will buck and lurch. The four speed gearbox has some awkward ratios especially from third to fourth gear.

The major shortcoming is comfort. The foot-forward riding position doesn’t allow you to lean into the wind at highway speeds, the air cleaner still intrudes into your right legs space, and the saddle doesn’t fit any of the Motorcyclist staffers. The saddle issue also helps emphasize the shortcomings of the suspension. It is a bit abrupt, sending initial impact of bumps and rebounds to the rider and bottoming out “more than we prefer”. Although suspension lacks, the bike does handle well. The motorcycle bends in with little pressure and holds the line well requiring minimal effort to stay leaned over. The bike also has tons of ground clearance and good traction that translates into better stopping power. The good tires help the single binder up front but the lever pull is tough. H-D believes that a harder pull reduces the number of accidents caused by panic braking.

1985 H-D 883 XLH Evolution Sportster
1985 H-D 883 XLH Evolution Sportster©Motorcyclist

Overall, a much improved bike at a cost effective price. “precision, efficiency, smoother and more consistent operation and greatly reduced maintenance - with Harley-Davidson’s latest technology or transmission, clutch, etc. Combine reduced maintenance costs, a lower insurance bracket and lowered initial cost, and you have a Harley that is, at last, a better buy than it’s competitors.

1985 Yamaha V-MAX
1985 Yamaha V-MAX©Motorcyclist

Motorcycle of the Year: Yamaha V-MAX
How can a 145-horsepower motorcycle be anything else?

MOTY is given out annually to signify machines that may in some way change motorcycling. They could signal the beginning of a trend, offer a simple solution to an age-old problem or be a complex new variation on the theme. It's no surprise that performance was the benchmark set this year. Performance was only one part of the equation of this musclebike. The V-MAX offers a package of unbridled straight-line thrust and a street-mean image. "We think the V-MAX has used every bit of Mainstream America's tolerance for boulevard blasters and dragstrip demolishers."

It is true that the performance of the V-MAX is not the upper limits of the abilities of technology today but the American Musclebike really doesn’t need much more. The fact that low-milage riders rider with-padded wallets and poorly disciplined right wrists can take one of these home and get into a lot of trouble is something to consider. The 145 horses are too much for this rider but so is a Riva scooter. The only difference is that the V-MAX will be going faster when it crashes and the Riva is less likely to attract the rider that will get in over his head so deliberately.

For the experienced rider the power is usable and kept the Motorcyclist staff engaged. Unlike most cruiser styled machines in the motorcyclist garage this one spent little time there. Yamaha recognized this bike had to have a more engaged riding position without sacrificing comfort.

“The V-MAX has expanded the motorcycling performance envelope, and at the same time drawn new limits for it. It is controversial in almost every aspect, from performance to appearance. It is the definitive prototype for the emerging Musclebike class. It is uniquely American, and if shown respect, provides a new variety of fun for motorcyclist who never thought they would never like a motorcycle that looked like this. For all of these reasons, it is our unchallenged Motorcycle of the Year."

The contenders (in position behind the V-MAX):

  • Yamaha FZ750 - The 20-valve in-line four with it's forward canted stance upped the ante in the sport bike performance wars. The combination of engine stance and chassis that works better because of it is a landmark in bike design.
  • Honda 250 Rebel- Design is the only thing that stands out about this bike but it signals Hondas commitment to the entry level market. This bike will have profound effects for all enthusiasts.
  • Kawasaki Eliminator - Helping to ring in the arrival of the musclebike the eliminator is the embodiment of cruiser meeting drag racing performance. The eliminator dishes out dollops of performance but it overshadowed by the V-MAX.
  • BMW K100 - After years and years of horizontally opposed twins a new four is an important development.
  • Suzuki Cavalcade, Kawasaki ZX600, Suzuki Intruder - All of these bikes advance the classes they come from and remind us of the continual improvement in our industry.
Motorcyclist August 1985 Hotline/New
Motorcyclist August 1985 Hotline/New©Motorcyclist


Coming Up: Kawasaki Kawi has seen success with the 900 Eliminator and the 600 Ninja so does that mean we'll see a 600 Eliminator? Another question is, will there be a 750 or 1100 Ninja? We expect the 1100 which will entice the 900 Eliminator owners to step up.

Coming Up: Honda Motorcyclist expects more inline fours from "Big H" in the future. Their guess was possibly a 550 or 600 and probably a 1000. There were no guesses on what bike they would be stuffed into but wanted to see a 1000cc version of the 700 Nighthawk. Another hope was for the next generation of Gold Wings to include two displacements.

Coming Up: Harley With the introduction of the alloy engine we're expecting to see it bolted into more traditional variations. Since the XR1000 didn't sell well we're not expecting to see an allot version of this platform. If we did, we predict it would sell much better.

Coming Up: BMW Next year BMW will have a 750 triple for the US market. About to be introduced to the European market it is still not something being mentioned here in the US.

Coming Up: Amazonas The Brazilian firm Amazonas is currently running a VW Bug powered bike through the EPA testing process and is considering selling kit bikes to the US market. The buyer supplies the motor for the touring-type machine. Amazonas relaizes that it is a long way from being a mainstream motorcycle choice for Americans but anticipates a few sales to riders interested in something different.

Coming Up: Suzuki The hot GSX-R750 is on the way. Will the oil cooled engine design be expanded to other classes? A 550 or a 1000 maybe? Any plans to build a 750 musclebike to compete with Yamaha's Maxim? Another expansion expected would be the Intruder line in 86 or 87. Wondering if an 899cc V-twin that slips under the insurance cut-off wouldn't be a good idea too.