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2012 Harley Davidson 883 Iron – Review

Posted on January 6th, by Scott in Review. 2 comments

We recently tried to get our greasy little hands on a Harley-Davidson 883 to review. Unfortunately due to a long list of rules (who would have thought Harley was into rules?) we didn’t meet their criteria – and no it wasn’t because of our lack of pony tails. It was mainly due to the fact we hadn’t had years of experience on heavy bikes. Anyway, as luck would have it, one of our good mates Laurence Cronin recently purchased his very first Harley. He is no newcomer to riding, just hung up his riding boots for a few years while he raised a couple of kids. Now they are all grown up, he decided to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams – own a Harley. And like many, he fell for the ‘man magnet’ they call the 883. This is Laurie’s review after riding the Sportster for a few months….

Having only ever ridden Japanese bikes before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect picking up my first ever Harley. Could Harley’s entry level sportster, really be all that different from any of the Jap cruisers? The thing that initially attracted me to the 883 was the look. It appears tough, sleek, stripped down and old school. It’s about heavy metal, not lightweight plastic. In fact everything about the 883 snarls through gritted teeth: “Milwaukee Iron”… Except perhaps for the shipping container delivery note the dealer gives you as a memento which tells you it’s now made in California, not one of the famed Milwaukee plants. It’s only then you start to notice the 883 has a few odd Hollywood touches.

My first such lesson being when I arrived home with my new 883 and went inside. My wife asked “what colour did you get?”. Still grinning from the ride like a school boy who’s just been laid, I replied “Black Denim”. She paused for a second confused by my reply before saying – “What kind of gay colour is that, I thought you were getting a Harley?”. Bloody-hell, she was right. Such a slip of the tongue in front of my mates would have ended in a series of merciless taunts all questioning my sexual preferences, penis size or a combination of both. It seems like blasphemy even mentioning The Harley name in the same breath as colours with names like Blue Pearl, or Red Sunglo! Thankfully the colours look a hell of a lot better than they sound and remain true to the Milwaulkee icon.

“What kind of gay colour is that,

I thought you were getting a Harley?” 


As does the famed Harley 45 degree V-twin engine, affectionately known as “The Blockhead”. Hopping on and firing it up for the first time, the thing literally rumbles between your legs. You can feel it reverberate through your whole being like sitting on one big-arsed base amp. And the trade-marked throaty Harley engine roaring to life never fails to turn a head or two. Even two grizzly, bearded older Harley riders near by can’t help but stop their conversation to turn to look. On the road, the 883 feels raw and powerful. It’s got grunt to burn. But this is Sydney and I soon find myself striking traffic.

Just like myself, the bike doesn’t like it. It doesn’t like being on a leash. Even in first gear it doesn’t crawl easily below 20km/h. You need to ride the clutch which is a bit heavy and the work out soon has me thinking my left forearm may end up looking like Popeye’s. What’s worse is in crawling traffic, every suit wearing scooter riding wanker with tan leather slip-ons and matching satchel wants to pull up along side you like they are some kinda long lost relative. Thankfully a bust of throttle from the V2 air cooled  “Blockhead” speaks volumes and quickly conveys to them exactly what you are thinking – F#@k Off!

But as soon as traffic thins, the 883 Iron comes into its own and scooter riders and their designer Italian loafers are soon left floundering in your wake. Now you truly get to appreciate the difference between the 883 and Jap cruisers. It’s like the difference between a V8 and a Toyota Camry. You don’t buy the 883 for subtle refinements. You buy it for the exhilaration that comes with sitting on top of a smoking bike that’s dripping with raw grumbling power.

The stripped back look of the 883 does come at a price though. There’s no fuel gauge for instance. And the tail brake lights are incorporated into the signal indicators. A kind of half moon shape that feels like another one of those odd Californian inputs.

The classic tapered “Peanut fuel tank” is hand finished on each bike and looks brilliant. Harley says the tank holds 12.5L, but with the fuel cap slightly lower than the highest part of the tank, I have never been able to get the last half a litre in.

Although, for an old school looking bike, without a taillight or fuel gauge, it does actually have some pretty smart technology stashed inside. A ‘walk Away’ electronic key fob automatically engages the engine kill switch once you move 8 feet away from the bike. And in case you lose the fob, you can input a secret code that will let you start the bike with only the key.

The fob also arms the bike’s inbuilt alarm system the moment you move out of range. Anyone who tries to move it without the key fob on them is in for a nasty ear-piercing shock. Although, as they cup their ears to stem the bleeding, at least they’ll be able to enjoy the distinctly Californian choreographed light show as the two half-mooned indicator lights flash in time to the alarm.

However, while the 883 is now made in California, there is still one unwanted link to Harley’s recent past they haven’t been able to shake – build quality. Having a dubious reputation for not being the most reliable bike on the road, my 883 soon lived up to this unwanted rep.

Within 3 months and with less than 2000Ks on the OD, I had to have the bike towed and both the rear wheel bearings and starter motor replaced. While the towing, the parts and labour were all covered under warranty, it was still a major pain in the arse to be left without the bike for days. A month after those repairs, and I now find my rear brakes are rubbing badly and creating a high pitched whining sound at any speed over 40kms. Harley service have tried to tell me it’s normal road noise. However, if I wanted a bike with a constant high pitched annoying whine, I would have bought a Moped instead of a Harley.

In the end, I guess owning an 883 is a bit like dating a hot chick. They might be high maintenance at times, but that’s not going to stop you wanting to ride them every chance you get.

  • Alexandre Cruz

    Hi, there, loved the review…. but gotta say, i use the iron everyday, wether it´s raining, red hot, or whatever… litery everyday since 2009… and never had any problems with the bike, non what so ever… just gotta do the basic maintenance, got 20000 km´s.

  • grumpy_old_ben

    I owned an ironhead Sportster in the early 1980s. It was a slow old thing, even compared to the British bikes that were quite numerous at the time. Gave a great impression of hairy chested power but didn’t deliver. Handling was dreadful.

    Quite a few experienced riders are turning to the 74″ (1200cc) Sportster these days. The Big Twins seem to have “lost the plot” rather, in recent years; all sorts of fancy technology to mitigate the issues of rear-cylinder heat build-up and some rather unattractive stories about cam chain tensioners and oil changes.

    I looked at a Sportster a while ago but bought a Honda VT750SA. For some fashion-driven reason this particular variant never really caught on, but as “Honda makes a Sportster” it’s spot-on. Starts, goes, vibrates a bit but nothing serious, not very fast but very well-mannered; some people are critical of the various chromed plastic bits and pieces but I take the view that any engine which can use plastic cylinder head covers, has its temperature management well under control.

    Exhaust is intrusive and the Japanese have never quite grasped that area of aesthetics. Handling could be better, the fat 16″ rear tyre doesn’t do anything for any bike of that sort if size. Honda VT series engines have been around a long time in various sizes and shapes, no worries there.

    I do have a Harley, a much-rebuilt WL 45″ flathead, state of the art technology in its day and real old-school craftsmanship (at least the remaining OEM parts; aftermarket and modern repop components, not so much)