Harley Davidson has a habit of producing a variety of motorcycle choices for serious riders who are particular about their rides and demand certain specifications in their bikes. While for some, this may seem a daunting task, the American giant in the motorcycle manufacturing industry has had no problem designing rider specific units aimed at pleasing, it seems, just about everyone. The Sportster XLH is one such model that reaches out to a certain kind of rider. The 1969 is one of the most significant machines in the history of the line and of the brand and those who are fortunate enough to claim ownership have something that a lot of others would like to get their hands on. What makes this edition so special? Let’s take a closer look at the unique design and attributes that make this such a highly collectible example.
The history of the Harley Davidson Sportster XLH
The Harley Davidson Sportster XLH has its roots in the Sportster line which was launched in 1957. The variants within this model line are coded with the letter designations starting with XL. The XLH was officially launched in 1958 as a touring model with high compression. This particular model has undergone a series of updates and revision since its inception, which mark milestones in the progress in the evolution of the line as well as the brand. Prior to 1967, this bike was a kickstart type but the XLH was redesigned with an electric start in 1967. by 1970, all Sportster models had the same cases for the engines. Another characteristic of the XLH was the lengthened swing arm to make room for the electric start mechanism and the new battery box. This moved the fender rail mounts and the upper shock mounts to the rear.
What’s so special about the Sportster?
The Harley Davidson Sportster in general is a model that was designed to satisfy the requirements of a broad selection of the population of discriminating motorcycle riders. It’s a versatile bike that is well qualified for whatever you have in mind, give or take. It’s one that does the touring scene well and it’s also a good dirt bike, capable of climbing hills, taking on the competition in drag, track, ice or road racing, or simply driving it around town. It’s gender neutral and the ladies and gents are all comfortable with this bike. According to rider Gary Ilminen, “the Sportster has made its mark in nearly every niche in motorcycling.” It doesn’t take much of a search to discover this truth and Harley Davidson has hit the mark with the XLH. This was one of the first ‘superbikes’ to be offered for sale as a production model. The versatility and appeal to the masses is just one of the things that makes the XLH so special.
The 1969 Sportster XLH as an American icon
How does a motorcycle rise to the status of icon in pop culture? Appearing as the ride for one of the biggest names in the television industry is a good start. The 1969 Sportster XLH became even more popular when the model was featured in red on the popular television series “Then Came Bronson,” starring Charles Bronson. The episodes featuring the bike were aired in the 1970 season of the show and it gave the XLH a lot of exposure, doubled with the fact that it was the bike of choice for a super star celebrity. Harley Davidson responded in kind, capitalizing on the connection and offered a special paint option that was called “Bronson Red”. The show was a popular hit with the public and it didn’t hurt bike sales either.
A Harley Davidson that stands on its own merit
The 1969 Harley Sportster XLH is a model that clearly can stand on its own. When we asked what made this model so special, the answer is simple. It’s an incredibly versatile bike from a line that appeals to nearly everyone in the riding community from all walks of life. If for some reason the XLH doesn’t fit the bill, there is one within the Sportster range of models that will, and this is why we chose the Sportster to highlight, and particular, the XLH model that comes close to being a motorcycle that fits most riders needs and lifestyle choices, at least during the era in which it was made. It was at this time within the industry that innovation in motorcycle design became an important factor and the public demanded more of the manufacturers as competition increased to take the top position in the industry.
We could go on about its popularity and the fact that it appeared in a popular television series, but the bottom line is that this bike was and still is a performer. There were a total of 2,765 Sportsters sold during the decade from 1960 through 1969. The XLH was also referred to as the Super H and in 1969, it sold brand new for $1,225. This was a mid-range price which was another reason riders liked going with the brand new models. The XLH would continue to evolve through the years, but there was something special about the bike that was among the first to become available with an electric starter versus the old kick start mechanism. It signified the passage of time into a new generation of riding convenience and changes, which for many riders, was an exciting concept, particularly those who were just getting into riding. This was an important model in the History of Harley Davidson as well as for the Sportster line of motorcycles.