Raising the dead: Past thoughts on Harley-Davidson’s Iron 883

15 Sep
Iron 883 Harley-Davidson

Image courtesy of Harley-Davidson

It’s been four years since Harley-Davidson introduced the Iron 883 as part of its Dark Custom lineup, and the same timespan since I got one for a test ride and review. That bike is still one of my Top 10 fun bikes to ride. There’s something very no bullshit about it.

At the time, it seemed that Sportsters were still H-D’s dirty little secret — one viewed by the Harley faithful as the Motor Co.’s “little bike” or “girl’s bike.” Since then, you can’t hit the So Cal highways and byways without spotting a Sporty blasting down the lanes, rider decked out in the proper uniform — open-face helmet, T-shirt or T-shirt/flannel combo, skinny Levis and Converse/Vans/work boots/hipster boots.

The Sportster!This is great as the Sportster, in all of its incarnations, is an absolute blast to ride. Lightweight and zippy (well, zippy enough). At one time in my two-wheeled life, I owned an Ironhead Sportster (hey, there it is to the left) that sat more often than it ran, but damn did it look good sitting there. The problem was electrical gremlins (after a homegrown rewiring job) but it also liked to shed parts while going down the road. Take the generator for instance. No really, take it, because it’s laying back there in the No. 1 lane on Artesia Blvd. in Torrance. Bolt holes in the case stripped out easily and had to to Heli-Coil or filled and retapped. Damn do I miss that bike.

Well the new generation of Sportsters has found a new generation of fans and that’s pretty cool. In honor of these little runabouts, I’m resurrecting a review I did back in 2009 on the Iron 883.

For me, one of the absolute wonders of riding a motorcycle has always been that minute you crest a hill and start to let gravity influence your ride. Where it’s less of you piloting the bike and more of you just riding it. While I love uphill cornering and sections of twisties — with all the physics they represent as I roll off, brake, lean and accelerate in that sublime danceable rhythm — it’s that moment, when you’re no longer pushing it that grabs me and lets me fly.

As a kid I used to trek up to the higher points of the South Bay area of Los Angeles on my Strand cruiser and then make that bomb run downhill. Free flying. Wind swooping. Sensory overload. The pull of flat land bringing you down to its level. It’s the pure sensation of motion, where movement and rolling forward is the only thing.

While riding pretty much anything with two wheels and a motor is a good time, some motorcycles are just more fun, the kind of fun that hints back to those coasting runs on 26-inch balloon-tired wheels. I found this sensation recently on Harley-Davidson’s latest introduction to the Dark Custom line, the Iron 883.

Harley-Davidson Iron 883Much like its older brother, the Nightster, the Iron 883 is simply a motorcycle in its most basic form. There’s no bells and whistles and with the Motor Co.’s Dark Customs, that seems to be the point. It’s a blacked-out version of the Sportster 883 Low that’s lighter by about 20 pounds and a lot more sparse and gritty given the flat paint scheme, some sweet rubber fork gaiters and the taillight/brakelight/turn signal combo and fold-away license plate that first appeared on the Nightster.

Unlike the Nightster’s spoked wheels, the Iron 883 comes with black 13-spoke cast aluminum wheels — not much of a difference in my book, though I’m partial to the traditional chrome spokes (Yes, that’s a horrible pic to the right). Also unlike the bigger blacked-out bike, the Iron comes with narrower, tucked-in handlebars that give the already compact package a slightly tighter feel. (It’s also three inches shorter in total length than the 883 Low.)

The styling is immaculate and lives up to Harley’s reputation for a beautiful fit and finish — right down to the black plastic cover that covers the standard rear brake fluid reservoir. Chrome staggered dual pipes help offset the whole black-out theme. It’s a nice contrast.

How does all this translate into on-the-road riding? It’s simple, not only is this a great entry-level bike as it’s very, very easy to ride, it’s also a great little get-around-town ass-kicker of a hot rod for those looking for a bit more oomph. The Nightster’s 1200cc motor offered that much more power, but even the pared down V-twin in the Iron gives enough go-go grunt to smear a smile across your face.

For those requiring rocket-style speed, the Iron probably isn’t for you. But those looking for a broad torque band can find it here. I should note that the bike pulls strong while clicking through each gear, but almost as a matter of course I was hitting the rev limiter through every speed. It was an odd sensation and I couldn’t see where my RPMs were as the Iron is tach-less.

But getting to the earlier point, this is simply a fun bike to ride. It’s in the class of motorcycles where it’s less about operating the bike  and more about riding it. It’s almost an intangible feeling that’s not as if you’re zoning out or losing 100 percent focus, but more simply enjoying the sensation of movement. Back to those downhill bomb-runs on the cruiser.

Out on the roads around Long Beach, Calif., and on my freeway or surface-street commute to work, the Iron willingly blasted me to and fro. It’s not much for storage, but with a small tank bag to hold miscellaneous goodies too bulky for pockets, it makes a great commuter. And those tucked-in bars, combined with a 26.3-inch seat height and mid-mount pegs make for a very nimble ride through Southern California traffic (Hooray for lane-splitting!).

Given my short stature, I’m partial to bikes that allow me to settle in immediately and start riding. The Iron’s slammed geometry allows for that. It also allows you to scrape something through anything that so much as resembles a lean angle. There’s a reason those peg feelers are so long.

And if you’re into this sort of thing, it’s also a real head-turner. Honestly. Even my tattooed, rockabilly barber praised its sweetness.

But mostly it’s a quick little runabout that reaffirms what a growing generation of motorcyclists already knows: the Sportster motor is a great powerplant. Seems that the days of V-twin riders measuring their masculinity by the numbers of CCs between their legs is coming to a close. Old Ironhead Sportsters and even newer Evos are growing in popularity as motors around which to build custom bikes. Big Twin mania will likely never die, but it’s nice to see the Sporty get its due.

    Length                                          85.3 in.
    Seat Height                                  26.3 in.
    Ground Clearance                       3.9 in.
    Rake Steering Head/Trail         29.6° / 4.60 in.
    Wheelbase                                    60 in.
    Track Width                                 N/A
    Fuel Capacity                               3.3 gal.
    Oil Capacity                                  2.8 qts.
    Weight                                           548 lbs.
    Dry Weight                                   565 lbs.POWERTRAIN
    Engine                                           Air-cooled, Evolution
    Displacement                               53.89 cu. in.
    Bore x Stroke                                3 in. x 3.812 in.
    Engine Torque                             55 ft lbs @ 3500 rpm
    Fuel System                                  Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
    Compression Ratio                      8.9:1
    MPG                                                60 hwy / 45 city
    Primary Drive                               Chain, 57/34 ratio
    Gear Ratio (overall)
    1st                        10.782
    2nd                        7.702
    3rd                        5.728
    4th                        4.748
    5th                        4.071
    6th                        N/AWHEELS/TIRES
    Front                                          Black, 13-Spoke Cast Aluminum
    Rear                                            Black, 13-Spoke Cast Aluminum
    Wheel Option                            N/A
    Tire Size Front                          100/90-19 57H
    Tire Size Rear                            150/80B16 71HELECTRICAL
    Instruments Handlebar-mounted electronic speedometer with odometer, time-of-day clock on odometer, dual tripmeter, low fuel warning light, low oil pressure light, engine diagnostics readout, LED indicator lights, hazard warning integrated into self-canceling turn signal controlsIndicator Lamps High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low fuel warning, low battery, security system (optional)CHASSIS
    Brakes                                           Dual-piston front, single-piston rear
    Parking Brake                              N/A
    Lean Angle (per SAEJ1168)      30° / 29°
    Exhaust System                           Straight cut, shorty exhaust with dual mufflers

    Black Denim; Brilliant Silver Denim

    MSRP Black                           $ 7,899
    MSRP Color                           $ 7,899
    Security                                   $ 345


2 Responses to “Raising the dead: Past thoughts on Harley-Davidson’s Iron 883”

  1. twotiretirade September 16, 2012 at 1:58 am #

    When these bikes came out, I thought they looked perfect to the eye and they still do.

  2. Steve_Bro September 19, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    Reblogged this on Steve_Bro.

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