Tanshanomi's Snap Judgments

Harley-Davidson XLS Roadster

Tue, June 8th, 2010

I normally try to stick with basic side views, rather than this sort of overly-dramatic, ‘best angle’ beauty shot. This, however, this is the only usable marketing photo of a big-tank XLS that I have available. …and it does look great.

1983–85 Harley-Davidson XLS 1000 'Big Tank' Roadster
The 1000cc iron-barrel Sportster motor was already obsolete when the the big-tank Roadster debuted. The transmission is clunky and has only four speeds.
The '79-'85 frame was an improvement over older Sportsters, but by its last few years it was already lagging behind its foreign competition in nearly every possible evaluation of handling with the exception of straight-line stability.
Throughout its run, the high-end XLS Roadster struggled to define what a 'Deluxe Sportster' might be. Harley introduced a re-imagined Roadster with FXR styling for 1983, but the marriage of a Sportster motor and fat-bob style fuel tank was not to most Harley riders' tastes. It died a quiet death when the Evo Sporty came out in '86. In my opinion, it's the best looking Sportster variant ever. I especially like the combination tank-mounted and bar-mounted gauge setup.
By the Mid-'80s, Harley was making great strides with its newest Big Twin models, which featured the new rubber-mounted Evolution motor. But Sportster upgrades lagged behind, and had not completely shed the AMF years' legacy of archaic design and poor quality control. Durable? Yes. Reliable? Not so much.
It's not particularly fast or maneuverable and it vibrates like a jackhammer.
The rare big-tank Roadster has been my most enduring choice of Sportster for a quarter century. But I can't deny that it is crude and archaic. What I really want is a new rubber-mounted, 5-speed, fuel-injected 1200 Sporty that looks exactly like this one.
The XLS was a sales flop that is largely forgotten. That's surprising, considering that today's popular XL1200 Custom fills pretty much the same über-Sportster role.