Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 review

The Harley Davidson Sportster Iron 883 may have the right looks, but does its performance match the style?

Beautifully styled
Feels a bit under-powered

THE Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 was one of three new bikes which the legendary manufacturer thrust at journalists to ride in a single day in Barcelona three weeks ago.

It’s almost as if they wanted to make us too busy to notice it. But I did.

Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883: Design

Like the Sportster Forty-Eight, one of the other two machines, the Iron 883 has a new fork and pre-load adjustable progressive shocks for 2016. It's also got new cast-aluminium nine-spoke wheels, said to reduce unsprung weight by 3.63kg, and the seat has been reshaped to ‘increase comfort and control to smooth the road ahead’.

The formerly oval air-filter cover is now round and the exhausts have changed from chrome to black.

Unlike the Forty-Eight, the Iron 883 doesn’t make you sit with arms and legs both stretched out in front of you, as if you’ve been hit in the stomach by a cannonball.

The pegs are much closer to the middle of the bike, just a little forward of the seat, making a more natural sitting position. That makes it also easier to reach the bars, so you don’t get instant backache and you can do U-turns without over-stretching one arm.

The mirrors are in the usual position, not under the bars as they are on the Forty-Eight, leaving you looking at thin air instead of what’s behind you.

It’s an immediately more comfortable and user-friendly machine.

At £7,495 on the road, up from £7,280, the 883 is one of the most accessible Harleys in terms of price as well as usability.

It has its limitations though. There’s no fuel gauge, just a low-fuel warning light, and the peanut tank is a titchy 12.5 litres.

With no pillion seat, you’d better not make any friends. If you did, the vibration at motorway speed would probably drive them away.

In its favour, the Iron 883 does have self-cancelling indicators that seem to actually work, with a button on each bar. And like the Forty-Eight it’s beautifully styled, with details like rear indicators that double as a tail light.

Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883: Handling and Suspension

Ground clearance is limited but not terrible. With a claimed maximum lean angle of 29° on the right and 30° on the left, it goes over further than either of the other bikes on the launch. The first metal to touch down is the hero blobs on the pegs, a big improvement on the Street 750 (the third model on the launch), which grounds the exhaust heat shield.

The Iron 883 turns with an ease that masks its 256kg weight and the ready peg-scraping can be fun.

The new suspension is capable. It’s well-damped and firm but not uncomfortably so, a complaint levelled by some against the predecessor. The soft, bum-cupping seat helps.

The single front disc and twin-pot sliding caliper don’t exactly stun with their power but that’s possibly linked to the machine’s cruiser geometry. There isn’t the same sense of weight transferal to the front that other bikes give you under braking. On the similar Forty-Eight I inadvertently activated the ABS while braking for a corner, suggesting I’d reached the limit of traction and needed to help the front out by applying a bit more rear.

Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883: Engine

The thing about Harley-Davidson is they don’t really make motorcycles, which are what I usually review; they make Harleys. If you like Harleys, then this is probably a very good entry-level option. If you like motorcycles, then there’s another limitation I should tell you about: that 883cc air-cooled V-twin engine from which it takes its name from.

Harley-Davidson don’t reveal peak power figures. With the 883 I'd say they have good reason. In a roll-on acceleration test from about 60mph in the highest of five gears, it was left behind by the cheaper 749cc liquid-cooled Street 750, and that’s no rear tyre shredder. The Iron 883 is 4kg heavier than the Forty-Eight, which has about 35% more cubes and torque. It just feels a bit under-powered. And it sounds neutered, too quiet for its badass looks.

Peak power feels like it's at 4,900rpm and at about 5,900 there's a rev-limiter. Nowhere does it deliver the sort of grunty, short-lived burst of thrust that goes some way to justifying the whole proposition of a big air-cooled V-twin cruiser.

What’s the point if it doesn’t do that?

  • Model tested: Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883
  • Price: £7,495 on the road
  • Engine: 883cc air-cooled V-twin
  • Power: No claimed figure
  • Torque: 52.3lbft @3,500rpm
  • Weight ‘in running order’: 256kg
  • Frame: tubular steel double cradle
  • Tank capacity: 12.5 litres
  • Seat height: 775mm
  • Colours: Charcoal ‘Satin, Black Denim, Olive Gold with an Eagle-and-Shield tank logo, or Hard Candy Custom Gold Flake with a flame detail paired with black fenders.’