H-D 2018 Forty-Eight Special and Iron 1200

By J. Ken Conte

Two for the road

H-D 2018 48 and Iron Review

Conceptually the premise of the Forty-Eight Special Sportster makes sense. 1948 was the first year the world saw a 2.1-gallon peanut tank on a Harley-Davidson, hence the name 48. The Forty-Eight Sportster platform debuted in 2010 as the third in the Harley-Davidson Dark Custom Sportster line, with a blacked-out drivetrain and bobbed front and rear fender. At the time it seemed a little more than coincidental that just two years prior, the hot production custom OEM, Sucker Punch Sally’s, had a bike that had a very similar look named the 66 as well as a Slim, a name which was also later adopted by the Motor Company. In the last decade production choppers became a thing of the past and as riders wanted something custom that wasn’t a chopper, bobbers became the obvious choice.

The Forty-Eight Special is a compact machine with wide, beefy front tire wrapped around a blacked-out split nine-spoke wheel
The Forty-Eight Special is a compact machine with wide, beefy front tire wrapped around a blacked-out split nine-spoke wheel

Bobbers were much easier for an OEM to style from an existing platform, like the Sportster and Dyna platforms. The idea of a bobber was to bob or make the front and rear fenders minimal and take off everything that wasn’t essential. In 2006 Harley came out with the Street Bob, a fuel-injected Twin Cam, the first of their attempts to make a production bobber. With a price tag of just over $13,000, the Street Bob was a great way for a rider to get on a minimalistic bike at a reasonable price that they could customize to their own liking. The 2018 Harley-Davidson Milwaukee-Eight Fat Bob starts at $14,500 which is a considerable investment for anyone looking for a new bike. What about the younger riders who wanted something custom but didn’t have the skills or drive to do the work?

The retro-styled paint job with the 2.1-gallon peanut-size tank along with contrasting gloss black, chrome and matte black components really set off the style of the Forty-Eight Special
The retro-styled paint job with the 2.1-gallon peanut-size tank along with contrasting gloss black, chrome and matte black components really set off the style of the Forty-Eight Special

This is where Harley-Davidson saw an opportunity with the Forty-Eight and subsequently the Forty-Eight Special, which offers some custom touches but is still completely rideable especially because it has the addition of rear screw-adjustable emulsion shocks to smooth out any bumps in the road (a common drawback of the Sportster chassis and stock suspension). That also adds to the price tag of the Forty-Eight Special, coming in at just over $11,000 in Vivid Black but can quickly get well over $13,000 when you add in optional ABS as well as a security system. Although not an inexpensive option, the Forty-Eight Special gives the rider a lot of custom additions for their buck and is a blast to ride with over 73 ft/lbs of torque and a dry weight of 547 pounds.

The Forty-Eight offers rear screw-adjustable emulsion shocks to smooth out rough roads, making it fun to ride
The Forty-Eight offers rear screw-adjustable emulsion shocks to smooth out rough roads, making it fun to ride

I found the forward controls and handlebars comfortable for my six-foot frame and the solo seat had just enough padding for quick trips around town. The black accents add to the overall look of the bike while the chromed-out exhaust lets you notice the bobber type lines of the bike. One of the most noticeable parts that makes this bike “special” is the 49mm fork tubes, bulky triple trees and split nine-spoke cast front wheel. The front wheel is wrapped with a 16-inch, 130-wide tire to add some contact patch for the more aggressive riders. Typically on a light bike like this a tire that wide up front would feel sluggish but with the 30.2 degrees of rake and 5.3 inches of trail it handled exceptionally well at speed and while maneuvering through crowded Daytona parking lots at slower speeds.

The rubber fork boots, 19" front wheel and '70s-style paint job add to the retro-style look of the Iron 1200
The rubber fork boots, 19″ front wheel and ’70s-style paint job add to the retro-style look of the Iron 1200

The Iron 1200 represents similar styling as the Forty-Eight Special with the blacked-out theme but it is offered at $10,000 in Vivid Black. It comes with different custom options and a narrower and taller front wheel. The mid-controls on the Iron 1200 offer a more natural riding position that might be more suited towards less experienced riders because they instinctively will be able to find the pegs easier. The 19-inch front wheel and rubber fork boots add to the look of this retro-styled Sporty. Add a ’70s-inspired paint job and this bike will turn heads just as it sits. The Iron 1200 is stripped down, and retains the bobber look, only with a lot more blacked-out parts and a mini fixed speed screen. Goodies like the speed screen, rubber fork boots and simple nine-spoke cast aluminum wheels add to the flair of the bike while also helping keep the cost down.

The combination of the cafe-style seat, mid-controls and mini-apes make the Iron 1200 well suited for less-experienced riders
The combination of the cafe-style seat, mid-controls and mini-apes make the Iron 1200 well suited for less-experienced riders

I found the Iron 1200’s mini-ape hangers very comfortable. For those of you who haven’t ridden with ape hangers, I encourage you to take a ride to your local Harley dealer and sit on the Iron 1200. The combination of the café-inspired solo seat that pushes you up slightly, mid-controls and mini-apes make this one of the most comfortable of the Sportster line for me. I typically like my hands just above my elbows; when they start to creep up to shoulder height it gets very tiring. The reason this riding position works is that you still have enough leverage to maneuver but your arms are still relaxed with plenty of blood flow.

The mini-apes add to the Iron 1200's look and feel, while the small speed screen offers little protection but lots of style
The mini-apes add to the Iron 1200’s look and feel, while the small speed screen offers little protection but lots of style

That hand and foot positions made the Iron 1200 feel like a fun cruiser that could as easily be suited to bar hopping as day tripping. The plastic speed screen is a nod to the Sons of Anarchy-type bikes that sprouted up several years back, and, although it not utilitarian in function, it does hide the headlamp and attributed wiring nicely. Not all Sportsters are equipped with the aforementioned 2.1-gallon peanut tank; in fact the Iron 1200 has a 3.3-gallon peanut tank with a subdued ridge down the middle. The peanut-type tank sits higher on the frame and consequently exposes some of the black powder-coated steel tube backbone, making it seem more like a chopper then a bobber because of the slight angle.

The cafe-style solo seat on the Iron 1200 helps make this bike one of the most comfortable in the Sportster line
The cafe-style solo seat on the Iron 1200 helps make this bike one of the most comfortable in the Sportster line

The Iron 1200 Sportster has the typical 73 ft/lbs of torque with a total weight of 547 pounds. Compared to a Street Bob, which in my opinion is the older brother of the Iron 1200, the Street Bob with the M-8 has 110 foot pounds of torque in a 630-pound bike.

Sometimes people get mixed up about what a Sportster is. They are quick, nimble, sporty bikes that are a blast to ride, and not just an entry-level bike. Whether you like the custom look of the Forty-Eight Special or the more stripped-down look of the Iron 1200, you can’t go wrong with either one. Either Sportster will elicit looks and positive comments wherever you ride, and, at the very least, are a great start to a fully custom bike.

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