Which Harley Sportster Years to Avoid and Why? (Explained)

Harley-Davidson is a well-known motorcycle brand with a large and dedicated following. Since 1957, Harley-Davidson has been making motorbikes called “Sportsters,” which are known for being cheap and easy to use.

Harley-Davidson is either adored or despised by the public… or perhaps a mix of the two. It’s hard to argue with their famed cruisers, though. Harley-bikes Davidson’s has evolved over the course of a century of development engineering. They’ve made some of the most famous and revered bikes in history, but they’ve also made some that aren’t very good.

With the help of this post, I have tried to come up with a list of sportster years to stay away from and the reasons why.

Harley Sportster Years to Avoid (List of Years)

If you’re seeking to acquire a secondhand Harley-Davidson, there are some models that are probably best avoided, since they tend to come with more faults than most people would care to deal with. I’ve updated this page with the most common problems you should look out for.

Avoid the AMF era, which spanned from 1969 to 1980 and the next decade. These are the few worst years with the most issues, so at any cost, avoid them.

  • 1980 Harley Sportster
  • 1981 Harley Sportster
  • 2001 Harley Sportster
  • 2004 Harley Sportster
  • 2019 Harley Sportster

In the 1970s, the quality of automobiles built in the United States was generally poor, especially when compared to those made in Japan. It took approximately a decade for AMF’s quality control to improve once HD was sold.

The Sportster was produced by Harley during those dark years when they were struggling to manufacture functional motorcycles. After the breakup with AMF, the Sportster was reimagined, but not for the 1981 model year.

In general, Harley-Davidson had a dismal year in 1981, but this Sportster may be said to be the worst attempt at the time.

When riders complain about their bikes’ poor handling, it puts them in perilous positions. This was likewise a product of Harley-Davidson’s period, the AMF era.

What Makes These Harley Sportster Years Worth Avoiding?

1. Sportster 1980 Year Problems

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Ironhead sportster was a harrowing technical disaster. Almost all of the issues arise from the engine’s solid mount and the vehicle’s shoddy electrical system. There were several breakdown points in the electrical system reported. Rather, it’s a pattern of failure. And the vibration from the solidly installed engine was causing parts of the bike to come loose on a regular basis. HD almost went bankrupt because of this bike. 

There were a lot of oil spills. When a shifter fork bent, the gearbox would suddenly fly out of gear in 2nd gear.

The introduction of the Kiehan carburetor in 1976 was a disaster. As soon as possible, it was replaced. After 100 miles, the standard seat felt like a rock and was no better than sitting on an ironing board.

2. Sportster 1981 Year Problems

One of the worst-handling bikes ever built by any firm, the 1981 Harley-Davidson Sportster was not simply one of the worst Harleys. Thought Co. ranked the 1981 Sportster as one of the worst-handling bikes ever.

Due to a disastrous financial agreement with AMF, a firm that briefly acquired Harley in 1981, 1981 was a bad year for the company.

During those gloomy years, Harley-Davidson struggled to develop successful motorcycles and introduced the Sportster as a result of the chaos. After the breakup with AMF, the Sportster was reimagined, but not for the 1981 model year.

3. Sportster 2001 Year Problems

The 2001 Sportster gearbox problem appears to affect a large number of sportsters.

In general, there isn’t a specific pattern, but it tends to occur at certain times.

Firstly, the bike is chilly. right after you put the car in gear and engage the clutch. If you’re going for a big lead in the first round, you may see this happen.

You could get better results by shifting it back and forth between first and second several times.

4. Sportster 2004 Year Problems

The same Twin Cam engine was used in the Dyna, so the same issues apply.

The design of the cam chain system is most likely to blame for the Twin Cam engine’s issues. The design of the actual product is shoddy. Because it relies on plastic shoes to “ride” on the cam chains, the shoes will eventually fall apart. With its new hydraulic tensioning system, this problem doesn’t go away, and it’s not a long-term fix.

It was a jackhammer of a ride on both Sportster versions before 2004, since the engines were not rubber-mounted.

5. Sportster 2019 Year Problems

The company’s iconic V-twin-powered models are aimed at a different demographic than the LiveWire bikes. This year have many electrical and shifting issues. Many owners on various forums and reddit complained about these issues.

Harley-electric Davidson’s Livewire was billed as a high-quality electric motorcycle. Although it offers a city-only range of 146 miles, it’ll only go around 80 miles on the interstate. As a result of this, the bike is less practical than a Sportster FortyEight with a little peanut tank since it takes an hour to charge. The price of the Livewire is likewise excessively high at $27,000. And fixing the issues of this particular model can cost a lot of money.

While the Harley-Davidson Sportster is a very reliable motorcycle, there are a few points to consider. The OEM clutch springs can be somewhat flimsy; many owners replace them with aftermarket ones. Due to the design of some exhaust bolts, they may also rattle freely. However, installing more secure ones resolves the issue.

Which Years are Safe to Buy Used?

For the first time, a Harley Davidson had a rear suspension and an overhead valve engine in the Sportster model. The Triumph Thunderbird, which dominated the British motorcycle market in the 1950s, was clearly reflected in the design. This strategy proved to be a goldmine. In the United States, the motorcycle market was pleased with the new portfolio.

Here are the best years to buy sportster —

  • 1957 Harley XL Sportster Ironhead
  • 1967 Harley Sportster XLH
  • 1969 Harley Sportster XLH
  • 1971 Harley Sportster
  • 1978 Harley Sportster
  • 1983 Harley Sportster XLX61
  • 2005 Harley-Davidson Sportster
  • 2010 Harley CRD XR 1200
  • 2014 Harley XL 883N IRON 883

 Only a small number of Reddit and ChopCult forum members described this bike as “bulletproof” or “indestructible.” Sump Magazine states that the new Ironhead is lighter, cooler-running, and substantially less prone to oil leaks than the previous model.

Additionally, it eliminates the chain tensioner and other difficulties that plagued Harley’s Twin Cam engines from 1999 to 2006.

Recommendations from the subreddit for Sportsters include models from 2000 to 2003 as well as those from 2007 and after, as well.


While some bikers won’t ride anything but a Harley, others aren’t interested in owning one because of the numerous difficulties that have been associated with Harley ownership.

Please read this article thoroughly so that you are aware of which Sportster years you should avoid and what complications may arise. I’ve included the best years as well, so you’ll know which years are the most secure to invest in.

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