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Turn Your Sportster into a Long Haul Touring Bike

Posted on 09 Aug 2016 in Powersports | 13 comments

Touring on a Sportster

As an owner of the iconic cruiser, you know the joys of taking your Sportster for shorter jaunts.  It’s made for zipping around city streets and cruising through your favorite local twisties.  But the Sportster is capable of so much more. With a few additions and modifications, it can be transformed into a competent touring motorcycle.  A bike that can keep up with the bigger, purpose-built Baggers.

Even Harley believes that the Sportster is capable of long miles.  Their Sportster 1200T was introduced to help fill the void as a light touring model.  Don’t feel like you need to have the 1200T to go touring on your Sportster, though.  Check out the add-ons and modifications listed below.  They can turn any model Sportster into a touring bike capable of big miles on the open highway.

Touring on a Harley Sportster

Luggage

Going for a long haul requires you to pack some necessities to get you through the days of riding that are ahead of you.  Unfortunately, most stock Sportsters have minimal storage space, if any.  There are, however, plenty of aftermarket luggage options available to provide the storage that you need for long rides.  Removable saddlebags mounted on supports provide a good starting point for a luggage option.  Not only do they provide ample storage, but they are removable, allowing you to return your Sportster back to its cruiser form.  Removable bags also allow you to take them with you once you reach your resting point at the end of a long day of riding.  Adding a luggage rack to the rear fender provides even more room for you to strap extra luggage to your bike.

Leather Motorcycle Saddlebags

Windshield

While a windshield may not be that sexy when you are hopping from joint to joint, it is certainly a welcome addition out on the highway.  Without one, the wind can become your enemy fast.  Fatigue can quickly set in and make the ride miserable.  A proper windshield keeps the wind off of you by reducing buffeting to a much more manageable amount.  With clean air filtering up and over the shield, it makes breathing easier as well.  Also, it will keep pelting rain off of you if you get caught in a downpour.

Sportster Windshield

Seat

When you’re putting in some serious seat time, you need a saddle that will support your back and provide excellent cushion.  While the stock seat may work great for some riders, it is often not the best choice for touring.  An aftermarket seat with back support and ample cushion will allow you to stay in the saddle for far longer.  If you like your seat, a seat pad, like ones from Airhawk and Wild Ass, can improve the comfort for longer rides.  They can also be removed with ease to return your bike back to its stock setup for shorter cruises.

Harley Sportster Seat

Highway Bars/Pegs

The primary use for highway bars is to protect your bike in a laydown.  But they can also provide relief for your cramped legs.  Staying on the mid-controls for the entirety of a long ride can cause cramping and discomfort.  Highway bars outfitted with pegs allow for a stretched riding position for the times that you do not need to be on the controls.  Wind/rain protectors can be mounted to the bars to keep your feet warm on cool rides and dry when it starts to rain.

Sportster Highway Bars

MSR Bottle/Gas Can

Sportsters aren’t necessarily known for great range.  That’s especially true if you run a chopper-style peanut tank on yours. An extra fuel container provides the added insurance you need when you are miles from the nearest gas station.  Hauling fuel containers on your bike can be a pain or just impractical if you do not have a purpose-built container.  MSR fuel bottles are no bigger than a thermos and will fit nicely into your luggage.  If you would like to carry a bit more gas with you, the Reda fuel can is designed to be the shape of most H-D style saddlebags.  The spill-proof container can be tucked in the back of your bags. With it, you will have a gallon of gas at-the-ready if you happen to run out in the middle of nowhere.

Reda Saddlebag Gas Can

Suspension Adjustments

The added weight from the luggage and accessories will affect your motorcycle’s suspension.  Your ride sag will no longer be set properly and the suspension travel and handling of the bike will not be ideal.  To fix this, adjust the preload and damping to compensate for the added weight.  If you’re not sure how to adjust the preload, be sure to check out our article on motorcycle suspension tuning.

Tools

There’s a lot that can happen on a long ride.  A simple tool kit can save you from a long walk or expensive tow truck call when you are hundreds of miles away from home.  Most Harley tool kits should have most of what you need to make a roadside repair, but it is good to double-check.  Before you leave for your trip, go over the bike and choose the wrenches and tools that fit on the parts that you may need to work on.  A tire repair kit can also get you back to town if you get a flat as well.

Motorcycle Tool Kits

6-Speed Overdrive Kit

Cruising at open highway speeds on a stock 4- or 5-speed gear set can leave you searching for a gear that you just don’t have.  Running at those higher speeds can lead to increased vibration and a not-so-good fuel economy.  To resolve that issue, companies like Baker Drivetrain have developed a solution.  6-speed overdrive kits give you that extra gear to work as an overdrive.  The result is lower RPM at higher speeds, which causes less vibrations and a better fuel economy.  You will be able to ride comfortably for longer periods of time without having to stop as much to gas up.

So don’t let all of the big bikes have all of the fun racking up miles.  With a few changes, you can be out there with them, taking in the countryside on your Sportster.

Check Out All Sportster Parts

Ryan

Ryan is one of the lucky ones who gets to combine their passion with work. He has enjoyed powersports his whole life and now gets to write about it. Ryan has been around the industry since High School and continues to enjoy learning and sharing about powersports with others in his role at DK.

13 comments

  1. James McGee / August 11th, 2016 15:31

    This article equally applies to Dyna models. Many say the Dyna isn’t suitable for long hauls but i wouldn’t hesitate to take mine across country. My bike is already equipped with all the accessories except the extra gas can but with a 5 gallon tank and getting a little over 200 miles to the tank I’m not too worried. Preplanning is important. My friends all have bigger Harley’s and look down on my riding with them on long trips but I have no problems. One point in this article that causes me concern is the reference to “keeping up” with the bigger bikes. If my friends insist on riding 80 mph then I dont’ bother trying to keep up. To me if getting from point A to point B is a matter of speed then I would ride a crotch rocket. It’s all about the ride and seeing this great country.

    Reply
    • David / June 7th, 2019 5:31

      I totally agree with you no rush getting from A to B….

      Reply
  2. Tom Tailor / August 16th, 2016 1:26

    This is awesome. Thank you for sharing the tips.

    Reply
  3. Shirley Brown / December 29th, 2016 12:11

    I am 69 years old and travel on my Sportster every year on a long trip. Usually 3,000 miles. I try and stay around 350 to 400 miles per day and find it very comfortable. I use a windshield and full face helmet, carry a Tour Bag over the Sissy bar and away I go. I will admit I plan most of my trip. Never ran out of gas have missed a few motels due to weather but by using Booking.com I never get charged a fee for not getting there if I cancel even after 4 pm. I have 125,000 miles on my bike and plan to do a lot more. James was saying his friend don’t want to ride with someone who is riding the smaller bike but I find most of my friends want to stop every 100 miles of so. I do most of my touring by myself as I like to go where and when I please. Don’t let what people say stop you from going on longer trips because you are not ridding a bagger. Happy trails.

    Reply
  4. Frank / June 5th, 2017 14:08

    I’m a Sportster owner too. I’ve got the 6-speed upgrade, windshield and similar luggage carrier. It works great for long distance trips. I try to go cross country at least one a year.

    Reply
    • Russell whorton / August 26th, 2018 9:38

      Sir, I am courious about the sixth gear upgrade. I own a 2006 1200 custom and didn’t know about this extra gear. Could you please give me an idea of the cost and where I can have this work done, sincerely, Russ.

      Reply
      • Paul / April 25th, 2019 17:08

        2500 for a 500 drop at 75mph doesnot seem a good deal.

        Reply
        • Jason Todd / May 15th, 2019 16:13

          It’s really not. Save your money, get a bigger transmission gear for your final belt assembly, less than a hundred bucks and can almost accomplish the same thing and a lot less work to install.

          Reply
  5. Mark Harris / May 7th, 2019 5:15

    Took my 95 sporty from Tuscon to Miami. Great ride. Big saddle bags one gallon gas can and everything else tied to my sissy. Best thing I ever did.

    Reply
  6. Peter c / July 30th, 2019 8:11

    These add ons work with any cruiser. The big things on a bike that can turn any trip into a misery are vibrations, wind buffeting, uncomfortable seat and riding position. If you can manager these your trip will be much more enjoyable.

    Reply
  7. Don / August 19th, 2019 18:36

    Planning a trip from New Hampshire to Eaglepass Texas. About 2500 miles. Riding a 2016 883 iron. Any advice?

    Reply
    • James McGee / August 20th, 2019 12:13

      Don’t make it an endurance trip by setting goals for each day. Just relax and enjoy the trip. Take only the clothes your sure you will need but be prepared for inclement weather. In other words, get a good rain suit. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Be sure to do a pre-trip safety check. Check everything for tightness and proper adjustment. Dont carry more cash than you can afford to lose. Most of all HAVE FUN!

      Reply
  8. Robert Morris / November 22nd, 2019 13:11

    Lowering engine rpm for interstate riding is easier now. There are front pulleys of 31 & 32 tooth and rear pulleys to 66 tooth to replace the original 68 tooth.

    Reply

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