Clothespins and playing cards. That’s all you needed when you were a kid and you wanted your bicycle to sound like a motorbike. In fact you were brainwashing yourself with that loud rattle because if there’s one motorcycle brand that approaches that sound, it’s Harley-Davidson, right?
Fast-forward to 2014. If I’d like to test a Harley for a week, they asked. My motorcycle experience is limited, I never even rode a Harley, so … why not?
If you think of Harley-Davidson, you probably imagine choppers, big tour bikes and of course that typical Harley sound that you hear coming from a few streets away.
My test bike wasn’t a massive Milwaukee beast like the CVO Limited but their lightweight: the Iron 883 from the Sportster series. Although a new featherweight will join it in august when the Street 750 will expand the bottom end of the Harley range.
The Iron 883 will however stay one of the entry-level Harleys, with a boarding ticket starting from $8,999. That’s an attractive price. And with its narrow built and low seat it’s not intimidating so Harley newbies who don’t want to tame a Fat Boy right away are easier to convince to join the HOG.
Sitting position: it’s a rebel
From the first meters you feel the Iron 883 waking up the rebel inside you, even if it’s one of the lightest Harleys. Pressing your knees against the tank? Riding with your toes on the footpegs? Forget about it. Not with this chum.
The footpegs are positioned far out and your toes don’t feel at home on them. But if you put the center of your feet on the pegs, you immediately notice that this is the way to go. Now you can just pivot your foot on the left peg to switch gears. Same story on the right for the rear brake.
And because x-legged riding is a very strange feeling, you ride with your legs spread. Period. Of course the downside of this sitting position is less feedback, less control and more wind.
The seat doesn’t offer any space to move. You sit down and you’ll keep the same spot all ride long. Which isn’t a disaster on short rides but longer trips aren’t very pleasant for your back and behind.
Bad boy with tempting looks
The Iron 883 is a real headturner. At home I – or rather the bike – got a very warm welcome from my wife. It stole her heart in an instant. “Why don’t you change your BMW for this one,” she asked several times during my week’s test.
The 883 has an attractive type of toughness. The black coated engine looks more modern than the average Harley’s chrome overload and the matt beige paint (or Sand Cammo Denim as the color is officially called) absolutely fits the bike. Expect drooling friends and colleagues.
The design looks classic but the Iron’s technology surely isn’t outdated. You can keep the key in your pocket for example, because this Harley starts keyless. The alarm system is standard but ABS will cost you extra.
The speedometer is round and analog, with a tiny digital display that has two trip meters, an odometer, a clock, a tachometer and a gear indicator.
Powerful but relaxed
The 883 cc twin cylinder delivers 52 hp. My BMW F 650 GS has 2 hp, 1 cylinder and 200 cc less but the difference isn’t that big. They both have sufficient torque at low rpm. The Harley may react more sharply from standstill but the GS feels more lively in general. The 883 never comes short however, mainly because it calls for relaxed cruising. It’s not built neither does it persuade you to ride fast and furious.
On small country roads you’ll discover that the Iron 883 is a splendid easy rider. Some laid-back cornering at average speeds, a bit of sightseeing, enjoying life. You’ll automatically keep the bike in low revs because under 3000 rpm it sounds just yummy: a full and deep drone.
At 75 mph on the highway – where the 883 stays under 4000 rpm nicely – the soundtrack will transform into a snoring sound. Luckily its slim body is perfect for some lanesplitting so you can leave that highway asap.
If you dream of pops and crackles blowing out of the exhaust pipes, you have two options: bury that dream or customize the exhaust.
You’ll hardly notice you ride 564 lbs of American steel thanks to the low center of gravity. It enters corners smoothly and builds your confidence. And because of the low seat it feels less like the bike drops into a corner than on an adventure bike.
The Iron 883 switches gears without hesitation. Always spot on, with a dry short clacking sound.
The flip side
There are also some drawbacks, especially for those who don’t mind a bit of comfort during longer trips.
Speed bumps and cobbled roads for example are best to avoid. Here the Iron 883 shows some spartan character: those with back problems will curse the hard and short suspension.
The mirrors’ placement could be improved although it wouldn’t be an aesthetical improvement. They’re positioned close to the handlebars and make it hard to see anything else then your arms.
There’s also a kind of metallic ticking sound that rises from the engine. You hear it mainly at average speeds and it can spoil some of the audible enjoyment.
After 220 miles of testing the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 still put a smile on my face. Its look and sound are mainly accountable for that. If I would be a weekend-only biker, I might even consider one.
However, there are better choices for long journeys or daily commutes on the highway. But if that’s what you intend to do with a bike, an Iron 883 probably won’t even make it to your longlist. Unless you have an Hell’s Angels membership card of course.
This bike is essentially built for relaxed riding. It lacks some comfort, with the hard suspension and stringent sitting position spoiling most of the fun. But it’s something you won’t really mind once you’ve fallen for the 883. Because you’re riding a real Harley and you won’t be the only one hearing and seeing that.
+ Look and image
– Forced sitting position
Engine: Air-cooled, evolution®
Bore: 3 in.
Stroke: 3.811 in.
Displacement: 883 cc (53.9 cu in)
Compression ratio 9:01
Fuel system: 3 electronic sequential port fuel injection (espfi)
Exhaust: black exhaust headers and black mufflers
Length: 86 in.
Seat height, laden: 25.7 in.
Seat height, unladen: 29.9 in.
Ground clearance: 5.5 in.
Rake (steering head) (deg): 30
Trail: 4.6 in.
Wheelbase: 59.6 in.
Tires, front specification: 100/90b19 57h
Tires, rear specification: 150/80b16 77h
Fuel capacity: 3.3 gal.
Oil capacity (w/filter): 2.8 qt.
Weight, as shipped: 545 lb.
Weight, in running order: 564 lb.
Engine torque: 53.8 ft-lb, 70 Nm
Engine torque (rpm) 3,750
Power: 52 pk / 53 PS / 39 kW @ 5750 rpm
Lean angle, right (deg.): 27
Lean angle, left (deg.): 28
Primary drive chain: 34/57 ratio
Gear ratios (overall) 1st: 10.41
Gear ratios (overall) 2nd:7.436
Gear ratios (overall) 3rd: 5.531
Gear ratios (overall) 4th: 4.584
Gear ratios (overall) 5th: 3.931
Wheels, front type: black 9 spoke with machined highlights
Wheels, rear type: black 9 spoke with machined highlights
Brakes, caliper type: dual-piston front, dual-piston rear
Lights (as per country regulation), indicator lamps: high beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low fuel warning, low battery, security system (if equipped), abs (if equipped)
Gauges: handlebar-mounted electronic speedometer with odometer, time-of-day clock, dual tripmeter, low fuel warning light, low oil pressure light, engine diagnostics readout, led indicator lights