Harley's FortyEight Special offers factory custom cool with Tallboy 'bars on the Sportster Evolution 1200 platform. Review: Kris Hodgson Images: Kris Hodgson, Jeff Ware, David H.
Harley-Davidson’s FortyEight Special offers a custom take on the standard ForyEight, with some tasteful details offering a distinct look and feel to the Sportster package.
It’s by no means a major overhaul, but does lend the Special a character all its own, when combined with the host of already noteworthy features found on the standard FortyEight.
The FortyEight Special receives a ‘70s style custom paint job on the peanut tank which helps emphasise that enormous 1202cc Evolution V-twin, with the Tallboy ‘bars perhaps the most instantly noticeable feature. These give the bike a totally different stance, and complement the nine-split-spoke cast aluminium wheels clad in super-beefy rubber on the front.
The exhaust also does away with the chromed muffler plates and goes for a tougher all black muffler, while instead you see that additional chrome on the engine cases, adding a bit of further differentiation from the standard. Both come in priced from $18,995 on the road, with two years Harley roadside assist and 12 months of International Hog membership, so it just comes down to which you prefer.
Other standard features include the 49mm cartridge forks, and ‘emulsion’ rear shocks with screw preload adjustment. The shocks are essentially a higher performance offering from Harley that are standard fitment on this model, while the brand also boasts the ‘Foundation’ brake system, which includes dual-piston calipers on each disc brake.
A single seat also plays into the style and character of the bike and ensures a pillion will not be a worry, while the 705mm seat height makes for an inviting perch for even shorter riders, with the bike’s 248kg weight held long and low.
Having recently tested both the LAMS legal Street 500, and sportier Street Rod 750, the question to me was where the FortyEight Special fits. With a more traditional Harley approach, and the custom strappings, the Special certainly leans towards an urban custom/show themed bike, however that’s not to say rideability has suffered.
Jumping into the saddle the forward feet controls feel instantly natural, while the centre of gravity is low making for good confidence, especially with that ultra-low 705mm seat height. The Tallboy ‘bars are a slight bit high for me, but at just under 180cm, and with long legs and a short torso, I think more normally proportioned, or larger, riders will probably find it just right.
Controls are simple, with a dash toggle on the left switchblock, a fob instead of an ignition key, and indicator toggles on their respective switchblocks. There’s also an auto cancelling feature on the indicators which worls well, with the exception of some lane changes, which is no biggy.
When the 1200 Evolution V-Twin chugs into life it is fairly mechanical, and while the exhaust note is there, the bike could definitely benefit from a freer flowing exhaust, because it’s a bit quiet for me as stock, and a bit louder would also move the focus to the exhaust and away from the mechanical running of the motor.
Compared to the Street 500 and Street Rod it’s a much more raw and visceral powerplant, with more noticeable vibrations, without being intrusive and the traditional V-Twin character is much more apparent.
Obviously this is a 1202cc powerplant, and with 99Nm of torque available from 3250rpm (73lbs-ft) there’s a wide torque curve to get you moving, and in the dry aggressively opening that throttle every opportunity you get is a rewarding experience. My inner hoon greatly appreciated these opportunities, including getting a day of dry riding before the storms well and truly set in.
Taking the FortyEight Special along the Old Road, and out past Beworwa Waters Ferry gave a great opportunity to put the bike through its paces with 80-100km/h country roads ideal. Stretches on the freeway are also of course possible, but in all fairness the FortyEight Special really excels through the sweeping twisties and reasonably smooth B-roads, while cruising around town with attitude is certainly a hoot, with a mixture of envious looks and furtive stares. I don’t cut an intimidating figure in my gear, so it’s definitely the bike.
Suspension is well sorted with those 49mm forks and emulsion shocks, with just a bit of noticeable dive in the forks on hard braking and a very well controlled rear. Naturally there’s not enormous travel or ground clearance on this machine, however even when hitting relatively sharp and unexpected bumps the rear stayed controlled and managed to ensure it wasn’t a back, or ball breaking experience.
Handling certainly lends itself to a bit more ‘bar input at lower speeds, although the bike still responds well to body language and my first impression taking off was that the FortyEight Special does not feel like a 250kg machine on the move. The very low CoG and wheelbase ensure good stability and it feels lively and responsive
In the dry I found the Harley embossed Michelin Scorcher tyres a good option, grip was good right out to maximum lean angle, which on our test machine was literally the ends of the forward control footpegs, although the sidestand does scrape too.
There were no hero blobs fitted, although the thread for them was conspicuously empty. Ground clearance only came into play for me in a few instances though, as I prefer to keep the bike upright and do more of the leaning myself, however that limitation is there.
Brakes are also pretty impressive considering you’re only rocking a single front rotor, with dual piston calipers on each end. As someone more used to sportsbike and nakedbikes you do get the distinct awareness that there’s a limit on how rapidly you can stop, but as long as you’re looking far enough down the road it didn’t feel like a constraint.
Where I did find the FortyEight Special wanting was in the wet, as we had essentially 13 out of 14 test days of torrential rain. Those Michelin Scorcher tyres really struggled for grip from a standstill when cold, which included from lights and intersections and going around suburban corners, while the great stability means spinning up the rear is controllable.
On the same note, riding back to Sydney down the M1 in torrential rain with lots of standing water on the freeway, the feel from those Scorcher tyres was not exactly confidence inspiring. Of course this isn’t an all weather commuter or tourer but you still need confidence in your tyres in all conditions.
2018 Harley-Davidson FortyEight Special Conclusion
There’s no doubt the big draw card is the factory custom looks and the character of this machine. In fact the torque available from the FortyEight Special had me jumping back on a supersport machine with 120hp and wondering why the throttle wasn’t doing anything. The five-speed gearbox and V-Twin characteristics make for an engaging ride that oozes personality, much in part to that peak torque that as mentioned is available from a quickly accessible 3250rpm.
The overall balance of specifications, which do include some limitations are just part and parcel of the overall machine and it’s easy to see the appeal for the right rider, especially with further customisation options available from Harley.
The Sportster range also offers plenty of options built around this platform, and I’d recommend seeing what catches your eye if the FortyEight Special isn’t your thing.
2018 Harley-Davidson FortyEight Special Second Opinion – Jeff
I had a short ride on the FortyEight Special and have to say, I really enjoyed myself. First of all, the bike got me from the word go thanks to the looks. Of all the Harley models in the past few years, the retro themed Special has done it for me.
It’s amazing how the right combo of colours can transform a bike for an individual, in my case with the Special it just draws me in with that retro feel and reminds me of the funky bikes and vans I would see on Scooby Do cartoons as a kid.
The fat wheels and hoops, as unpractical as they are from a handling perspective, really set the bike off and so do the tall ‘bars and single seat. Honestly, I can’t fault the bike in the looks department…
Sitting on the FortyEight Special revealed a relaxed and comfortable position with a super low seat and natural feeling foot placement. The handlebars are just the right height and the bike is narrow between the knees. At 185cm, I fit into the bike well.
Firing the 1200 into life, suddenly my excitement and anticipation was flattened by a really lame exhaust note. I understand it is the lay of the law but other manufacturers are managing to tune some nice sounds out of approved systems these days and if any bike is expected to have a nice note, it’s a Harley…
The engine noise is pronounced due to the lack of exhaust note but in reality, the first thing anyone including myself would do is open up the pipes and we know how good these things sound once liberated.
Rolling off for some time in the twisties and then the open country roads, I was immediately impressed with the way the weight vanished as the low center of gravity just made the bike so easy to ride and to manhandle through the tight twists and turns. The wide tall bars, wide ‘pegs, low C of G and lively for a cruiser geometry make the bike almost as nimble as it would otherwise be on skinnier tyres, so hat’s off to Harley for getting that right without compromising the styling, keeping the fat Michelins.
On or off the brakes, themselves powerful enough for the job at hand and with reasonable feel, the bike turns in with accuracy and confidence and it is only limited by ground clearance. Once you figure out the limitations there, you can ride accordingly…
In the open stuff the ride is slightly harsh over the bigger bumps, a product of the suspension travel, but overall powering along with that fat wide torque curve, via the long gears, using old school sweeping cornering style was a blast and I could have ridden the bike all day.
In short, if I owned a FortyEight Special I’d be happy once I liberated the exhaust system and I really wouldn’t do much else to it. I only rode in the dry, however, so it may be a different story after a wet test. – Jeff.
2018 Harley-Davidson FortyEight Special Specifications
Price: $18,995 Ride-Away
Claimed Power: N/A
Claimed Torque: 97Nm[71.5lbs-ft]@3250rpm
Wet Weight: 256kg
Fuel capacity: 7.9L
Engine: Air-cooled, Evolution V-Twin, 1202cc, 88.9 x 96.8mm bore x stroke, 10.0:1 compression ratio, ESPFI, Black staggered shorty dual muffler exhaust
Suspension: 49mm cartridge type forks, ‘Emulsion’ dual rear shocks, preload adjustable
Brakes: Dual-piston front caliper, disc rotor, dual-piston rear caliper, disc rotor
Wheels & Tyres: Black split nine-spoke cast aluminium, Michelin Scorcher tyres, 130/90B16 73H, 150/80B16 77H
Seat height: 705mm
Ground clearance: 110mm
Overall Length: 2165mm
Instruments: Analogue speedo, digital multifunction readout
2018 Harley-Davidson FortyEight Special Gallery
The Verdict | Review: 2018 Harley-Davidson FortyEight Special
Harley-Davidson’s FortyEight Special offers a custom themed Sportster 1200, with the inclusion of peanut tank with special paint, Tallboy ‘bars, blacked out mufflers, and additional chrome on the cases, driven by impressive torque and sporting an extra beefy front tyre. The result is an engaging and fun urban warrior, which feels equally at home through smooth twisties.