The raw feeling of contact between rubber and pavement, and the classic notion of liberty.
Harley-Davidson is the personification of the saying ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. The 2016 Iron 883 Sportster is a sublime example of this. Since 1957, a surprisingly few number of things have changed. The motor remained the same until 1985, when the Evolution unit motor came into production and was installed on the new sportster. That Evo motor has persisted for 31 years, still appearing on the 2016 model.
The big brother of the Iron, the Forty-Eight (reviewed here), has the same motor as well, dimensionally unchanged. Through the 21st century, manufacturers have been upping the performance qualities of their bikes by monumental degrees; Harley-Davidson chooses not to. Since 2000, the only consequential changes to have been made was the introduction of rubber engine mounts and fuel injection in 2004. Still, the slight changes made to the forks in 2016 have resulted in a, well, slightly better motorcycle.
If you have never ridden anything other than a Harley, or perhaps if you haven’t ridden a motorcycle ever, the Iron 883 will feel amazing. The brakes are adequate, it pulls well, it handles alright, and it looks cool; when you first start riding, adequate, well, alright, and cool are absolutely phenomenal. I mean, everything feels like a dream. The fact of the matter is, the Iron 883’s ties to the tradition have held it back.
It hasn’t gotten worse; it just hasn’t gotten that much better. Here’s the thing about the Iron though, the amount of aftermarket parts and accessories for it are virtually limitless. This is the kind of bike you want to buy if you want to sculpt it into your dream thumper. It looks pretty damn wicked right out of the box, with sturdy and aesthetically pleasing components, but the market is voluminous enough to change almost anything. Ride the bike, see what you don’t like, change it.
One thing that won’t change much is how big it is. At 562lbs, you can feel the weight. The front end is quite heavy, though using less spokes on the tires has shed some of the bulk. Still, zipping around the city on this thing is quite fun. The gear ratio is designed in such a way that the power difference is not distinguishable between the 883 and the 1200 at low speeds. It’s when you hit the highway that the 883 lags. It definitely has enough power to be comfortable on the highway, but overtaking is just a little bit slow. That being said, the classic motor is surprisingly capable revving high up to the 6,000 mark, where the limiter kicks in.
The front suspension has been modified to be less harsh on the spine, but travel numbers haven’t changed. Instead, the inner cartridge has been modified and upgraded to absorb impact with more grace. Rear shocks utilize a new emulsion technology that weaken potholes that would have been devastating on previous models. Again, for a Harley, the improvement is monumental. Compared to other modern bikes, the suspension is still lagging way behind.
Through this, it must be remembered that this is what Harleys are for. Harleys boast this connection between the rider and the road: the raw feeling of contact between rubber and pavement, and the classic notion of liberty tied to that. On that note, my personal opinion is that technological advancements and innovation exist not to hinder the aforementioned connection, but rather to enhance it and limit the distractions.
Speaking of enhancements, let’s talk about the seat of the Iron 883. This was one of the more redeeming factors of the bike – it is damn comfy. On the Forty-Eight, I found that highway speeds sent me to the back of the seat. The Iron 883, on the other hand, has a wonderfully sloped seat that keeps you in a nice body position. The placement of the footpegs is closer to the vertical alignment of the seat, which keeps the rider compact but comfortable nevertheless.
The price point for this bike is one of the more promising aspects as well. It’s the second most affordable bike on the lineup, coming in at $10,399. As for final thoughts, I enjoyed the Iron 883. It’s a fun bike to ride in the city, it looks amazing, and if you don’t like something, you can just change it. It’s only when the capabilities of its competitors are mentioned that the Iron’s flaws are drawn out. Balance, as I’ve said before, needs to be given the spotlight.