1987 Harley-Davidson FXRS-SP Low Rider Sport from United States of America


Mixed. The bike needs mods for utility


Leaks around the primary case and derby cover.

Right shock broke at the mount.

Expelled a spark plug!

The clutch pressure diaphragm chewed itself up.

General Comments:

A Harley is purchased for looks, not handling or speed. That the bike looks good even after 18 years of use is quite something.

All Harleys -- including this one -- come from the factory with poor paper gaskets, under the assumption that the owner will replace the cams, the air filter and perform other work, hence the rumor that "all Harleys leak oil." Yes, they will all leak until the gaskets are replaced. This is almost certainly the cause for the leak about the primary case.

The derby cover in this model year range has three mount points -- far too few to hold oil under pressure. Models made in the '90s have been issued with five-point mounting holes.

The right shock began leaking fork oil for some weeks prior to breaking entirely through, while on the freeway on a long ride. As with all bikes, the stock shocks should be replaced with decent ones at around 10,000 miles, if not before. This was a hard lesson to learn.

Nuts and bolts: after 25 years of owning Japanese bikes I imagined that I had gotten good with torquing bolts "by feel." But SAE has a courser thread than metric resulting in a far higher pressure per turn. I snapped five bolts off of the bike before investing in a torque wrench. This effect is probably what stripped the spark plug threads, resulting in the engine blowing the plug right out of the head.

I probably did not adjust the clutch properly when performing maintenance behind the derby cover, resulting in the pressure diaphragm destroying itself.

The bike is otherwise robust for what it can do. I imagine that at 50,000 miles the engine is only in its middle age. Most components appear to be very solid and capable of severe punishment. All of my bikes have gone over 100,000 miles. I recommend synthetic oil and add-on oil coolers. Changing the oil religiously every 2,000 miles will enable even a 650cc engine to go around the clock.

Maintenance is a chore. Because of the oil tank design, some dirty oil remains in the tank surrounding the drain nipple, which projects into the tank about 3/4 of an inch. Typically, I use a syringe with aquarium tubing to siphon out the rest before packing in paper towels through the fill hole to scour out the sediment. This model has the oil filter mounted under the engine in the worst place to access imaginable -- succeeding models have theirs mounted logically up front where the filter can also act as an oil cooler.

Succeeding models also had logically placed fork oil fill caps placed on the fork caps themselves so that you don't have to remove the fork caps and the fork springs to replace the oil. The fork caps from the later models fit this one and so I had a shop replace the caps with the newer ones. Now, no mess, no fuss.

This model has dual front disk brakes and replacing the stock lines with braided steel improved braking immensely. I did not replace the lines for looks.

This bike originally came with cushy 15 inch shocks. Lowering the bike even an inch resulted in a rougher ride. I experimentally lowered the bike a full 2 inches and the ride felt like a hardtail experience.

The bike likes long sweepers and is very heavy in turns. Its acceleration is nothing special, but with cruising cams installed, its top speed went up to Canadian capabilities, easily leaving 85mph with a sense of a lot more available, and with a sure sense of stability.

This engine is rubber-mounted and the handlebars are rubber-mounted as well, resulting in good isolation from vibration.

The gas tank holds 3.5 gallons, realistically. Fortunately, it has a reliable gas gauge. Consumption on the freeway approaches 50mpg with a 32mpg average on the city streets.

Would you buy another motorcycle from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 7th December, 2004

28th Jan 2005, 09:02

With your luck with bike maintenance, I would save some money and get someone who knows what they are doing to service your machine.

5th Feb 2006, 16:02

I've owned my 1987 FXRS-SP since 1990, the bike now has 148,000 miles, of which I've done 137,000.

As far as dependability, it's pretty good, it's never left me stranded on the side of the road, but requires more maintenance than a Japanese bike.

It's held up well, the belt was replaced around 85,000 miles in case you're wondering how long they last, and the original primary chain is still going strong. The clutch went over 100,000 miles before being replaced.

My motor did like to leak oil at the base gaskets and rocker boxes even after many gasket replacements. I had the motor rebuilt at 108,000 miles, not that it needed it, it's just that I rebuilt the entire bike and opted for the black & chrome motor through Harley's rebuild program.

The rebuilt motor is much more oil tight, with virtually no leaks in 40,000 miles. However, the valve guide seals were not installed correctly at the factory and it burnt oil like crazy.

It has the usual performance upgrades, coil, ignition module, EV27 cam, Mikuni HS42 carb, heads are ported and polished, Python III pipes.

The bikes goes really well, explosive top end with the Pythons, and it sounds great, but it's real loud. I switched to quieter Cycle Shack pipes and gained some low end in exchange for top end.

It's a good all arounder, comfortable enough to ride all day, every day. The stock seat is great, but I wish the foot-pegs were back a little further. To get around this I use the passenger and highway pegs a lot.

I tried lowering the bike (it looked cool) but found the ride too harsh and went back to stock shocks. It handles well for it's weight and can out-corner the typical Softail. It'll out-stop it as well, with it's dual discs up front.

The motor is rubber mounted so it's smooth, with just enough vibes getting through to let you know your on a V-twin.

The bike is really set up like a '70s standard, speedo and tach on the handlebar where you can see them, a low handlebar, and the foot-pegs below you. This is the classic set up of the bikes I grew up with, such as the Bonneville, Norton Commando, CB750, and Z1. Add bags and a windshield and it's a good touring mount. Strip it down and it has much more of a hooligan feel than any other FXR.

Its weak point is that it's not great for stop and go, city riding due to it's weight, heavy clutch pull, and heavy vibes right above idle. I take the truck to do errands.

My only complaint is the foot-peg placement, the weight, (which can be a little tiresome after a few days of touring) and sometimes, I'd like to exchange a little character for a little less maintenance. Other than that, I love it.