Turning an H-D Sportster into a Touring Bike

Touring on a 1200XL Sportster

Touring on my Sportster through the desert

Commonly, the Harley Davidson Sportster is seen as more of a city bike, used mostly for commuting or short weekend rides, especially when compared to the larger Harley models designed for the more long distance, 400+ mile rides. I really enjoy my Sportster 1200XL because the smaller frame combined with the powerful Harley engine gives the bike a really nice kick. I’m also someone who really enjoys a really long ride when I can find the time, anywhere from 300 miles in a day to the 3,000 miles in 5-6 days that I did in 2008 to San Diego. So over the almost 3 years that I’ve had the bike now I’ve gradually incorporated customizations that make it perfectly suitable for touring.

Some really important things that I had when I first bought the bike were a windshield and engine guard highway pegs. The windshield is great for cutting through the wind, which can help with fatigue when you’re on the road for a while, as you don’t have to do as much work to stabilize yourself (important for when you’re riding through the wide open terrain like the Plains of central US). The highway pegs are great for changing the position of your legs when they start to feel stiff. It’s nice to have the bigger touring feel with your feet forward like that. Another touring tip to avoid your legs getting too stiff is to also use the passenger pegs (if they’re free). It just helps to have another position to change to, and also with your legs back, it takes some weight off of your tailbone, giving you at least another 20-50 miles that you can go without a break.

Mustang Seat, picture from the website

In ’07 when I did a trip from New York to Florida with my dad, one of the major problems I had was the 10″ seat that comes stock on the Sportster. It got to a point where I just physically couldn’t ride anymore. We ended up pulling over and getting a pad to put on the seat. I ended up upgrading my seat to a Mustang Seat, and, even though I kept the stock seat, I don’t think I’ll ever go back. 14.5″ driver and 10″ for passenger. The driver seat is a bucket seat as well which gives some lower back support. This completely solved the discomfort, and since getting this seat I have yet to again get to the point of being unable to ride.

Aside from comfort, another issue for touring is storage and luggage. So I added to my bike a rear fender luggage rack from J&P Cycles where I can mount a bag that fits over the sissy bar. It’s nice too because it lets me put a bag on the passenger seat and on the back on the luggage rack. I also got the dealership to put on some Harley saddlebag brackets to attach some over-the-fender bags (the brackets are necessary on the Sportster to keep the bag off the lights and shocks). A last nice little addition is a windshield bag. This is just a small bag that you attach to the inside of the windshield. It’s nice to keep the things that you need easy access to: wallet, keys, cellphone, id, change for tolls, etc..

A couple other things that I haven’t done yet but am definitely considering is an EZ pass and EZ pass holder for the tolls on the highway as well as a grip for the throttle where you can hold it with the heel of your hand.

If anyone else has any other stories or tips of ways you’ve customized your bike for touring, we’d love to hear! Also check out the full story of my 3 week, 6,000 mile trip that I did on my Sportster from Toronto to San Diego to see how well these touring customizations performed. You can also see the maps of my route here (TO-SD) and  here (SD-TO).

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