I was recently on the receiving end of a snide comment from a fellow rider. The gist of it was "yeah but it's not a real Harley". My response was " Why? because it doesn't weigh the same as a small car?". One of the guys I used to ride with called it a "girls bike". The same fellow also said that if I let him ride it he would tear up the streets. I guess because his Heritage Classic wasn't much good at tearing up the streets, and it definitely wasn't worth crap going around corners. (Not to mention keeping it upright!)
Despite the fact that the Sportster can be much maligned (even by some salesmen at certain dealerships) it actually has some qualities that I appreciate. First off the economy. My Sporty gets between 50 and 60 mpg, which is pretty respectable for a 1200. And it was only $8000 new, there weren't a whole lot of bikes of any brand that come much cheaper than that.
It sounds like a Harley ( I happen to like a bit of noise coming from the pipes). I think the old saying "loud pipes save lives" is ridiculous. You either like the sound of a loud bike or you don't. Although I must admit that when I drove it off the lot it didn't have much of a rumble, but nothing a good hole saw to the baffles couldn't fix.
I love the classic styling of the Sportsters. I can't remember how many times people have mistaken my bike for vintage, commented that my bike is in great shape, and then are surprised when they find out it's a 2005. The Sportster line is one of Harley's longest lived models , dating back to the fifties, and quite honestly until they incorporated fuel injection in 2006 it hasn't changed a whole heck of a lot.
But the thing I like most about the Sportster is that it's a "jack of all trades" It doesn't do anything great but it does most things decent. It's light enough that it can handle dirt roads with no problems, it's got enough power to keep with bigger bikes on the freeways, and It doesn't always scrape foot pegs going around corners. I can haul enough gear on it for a three day camping trip. (Although I don't think I'd like to ride two up for long distance.)
All in all the Sportster is a great all around bike for me, and honestly the only Harley I have a desire to ever own.