Iron 883 – Harley Davidson’s Entry Level Blank Canvas

If any of you have read any of my other Harley Davidson based articles you will already know I am biased when it comes to the Sportsters and particularly the Iron 883; so I am very excited to  have the opportunity to write about one of the motorcycles that I absolutely love.

This quote is one of my favourite about Harley Sportsters:

A neighbor of mine teases me that the Sportster is the best dirt bike Harley ever made — and he’s right. The Sportster is also probably the best hill climber, drag racer, land speed racer, ice racer, road racer, flat track racer, all-around road bike, or you-name-it bike that Harley-Davidson ever made.

Ultimate Motorcycling

Table of Contents

In the Beginning

In 2009 the Harley Davidson Iron 883 was released as the latest variation of the Sportster and was the newest addition to HD’s Dark Custom line. The aim of the Iron was to attract new riders and a younger audience into the Harley Davidson fold. There was a very attractive price point of $7,899 which aided this objective. 

Since 2009 the Sportster Iron 883 has grown a following that rivals many of the big V-twins. The Iron has become a symbol of youth for HD and has been used as a base for modern day chopper customisations, bobber projects and has even had an impact on the cafe racer scene. 

It would be rare to see an Iron 883 on the street that is completely stock fresh off the factory line, the foundation was laid to be personalised to each rider’s needs or desires.  

By the end of this article even if you don’t love it like I do, I hope you can appreciate the history, the importance and impact of the Iron 883, and if not that, then hopefully you just enjoy the article.

Iron 883 Sportster
The 2021 Iron 883

Iron 883 Variations

The Harley Davidson Sportster line can be traced back to 1957 and is arguably one of HD’s most important lines to date. If you want to check into the history of the Sportster and therefore where the roots of the Iron 883 lay, head over to the Sportster article here

Let’s look now at how the Sportster Iron 883 has developed since 2009 to present.

2009 – The Harley Davidson Nightster is where from a style point the Iron 883 got its inspiration. In 2009 the Iron 883 was released with a blacked out smaller displacement engine, machined 9 spoke wheels, and black drag style handlebar.

Cycle World’s review from 2009 was quick to see the advantages of the Iron 883 for its intended audience:

Price point isn’t alone in making this baby bobber a viable entry-level platform from which to launch one’s campaign against the spit-and-polish populous. Shorter folks and novices will appreciate the confident footing achieved at stops when settling into the comfortably dished solo saddle. Mid-mount foot controls and a low-rise drag bar provide a natural riding posture and deliver an excellent sense of command.

Cycle World

It would be 2014 before the Iron 883 would see any notable changes other than different paint schemes. 

2014 – The model received ABS, keyless ignition, new clocks and some engine tweaks which helped get the bike through stricter emission rules coming into play.

2016 – The Iron 883 was blacked out even further and received a much needed suspension update. Paint schemes between 2016-2018 consisted of some of the traditional Iron colors of black denim etc. but also some Hard Candy colors of Reds, Yellows, Greens, Purples etc all with a glitter added into the paint. 

2019-2020 – The Iron 883 and the new Iron 1200 went to two-toned paints, very retro styling, California beach vibes. Different bars and headlamp fairings were also available giving a less dark and drag strip feel to the traditional Iron 883. 

2021 Iron 883 Specifications

For 2021 the Iron 883 is the smallest motorcycle in Harley Davidson’s line-up, it comes under their ‘Street’ category along with the Iron 1200 and the Forty Eight. 

For the time being the Iron 883 is no longer available in the UK or Europe.

Let’s take a look at the 2021 specs for the Iron 883:

  • 4 color choices which consist of Black Denim, River Rock Gray Denim, Deadwood Green and Snake Venom
  • Black powder coated 883cc, Air-Cooled, Evolution V-Twin engine
  • Bore – 3”, Stroke – 3.811”
  • Displacement – 53.9 cu in / 883cc
  • Max Torque – 73Nm at 3,750rpm
  • Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
  • Fuel Economy – 51mpg
  • Compression – 9:01
  • Top Speed – approx 105mph
  • Seat Height – 25.7”
  • Weight Wet – 564lbs
  • Length – 86”
  • Ground Clearance – 5.5”
  • Rake – 30° 
  • Wheelbase – 59.6”

The Iron 883 Air-Cooled Evolution Engine

The Evolution engine replaced the Ironhead engine that had dominated Harley Davidson models since 1957. 

It was first showcased in 1986 and many riders were reluctant to begin with, but with over 30 years of perfecting and tweaking, the Evolution engine remains steadfast in both performance and reliability. 

Although, a good old 70’s Ironhead Sporty does tend to steal my heart. 

The early 90’s saw the traditional chain-drive switch to a belt-drive and the Sportsters finally got a five-speed transmission.

The Iron 883 continues with the 883cc Evo engine and not all that much has changed since it was first introduced; the Iron’s engine is just blacked out to match the dark custom theme.

The Iron’s engine’s big difference from previous generations is that it has rubber mounts which isolate both the frame and rider from engine vibration. Which for any Harley rider is a pretty big deal! 

Worth noting that there is a new Revolution engine on the way and whether this will work its way down to the Iron 883 is anyone’s guess. 

How Much Does a Sportster Iron 883 Cost?

A brand new 2021 Harley Davidson Iron 883 starts from $9,749. The Deadwood Green Snake Venom paintwork adds $700 to the base price. 

On the used market the Iron 883 holds its value pretty well. Autotrader in the US is showing a few 2019 models with low mileage for around $9,000. 

Comparatively to other models of Sportsters the Iron is relatively new and therefore maintains somewhat of a higher value. In Arizona a 2016 Iron 883 with just over 3,000 miles is advertised on MotoHunt for $6,975. In the US it would not be unheard of to spend an average of $5,500 and still be able to pick up a good condition Iron 883. 

With the Iron 883 and the rest of the ‘Street’ line having been discontinued for the UK, prices on the used market for all Sportsters have gotten a little out of hand. The average price seems to sit at £7,700 regardless of mileage, age or indeed condition. 

If you are in the market for one in the UK, my best advice is to wait a while until things settle down again and you will be able to pick up an Iron 883 without the over-inflation. Before the news broke of the discontinuation of the Sportster it was common to see bikes advertised at £5,000 even in the pre-owned section of HD dealers. 

The Sportster Iron 883 is the go to bike for customisation, whether a change of headlight, seat, exhaust, bars, whatever it is no two will be the same; but please note that these changes do not add as much value to the bike as you would think. 

Too often when searching online for an Iron 883, I will come across one that has mini-apes, a small fairing, after-market vance & hines and a solo spring-style seat, it might look the ‘Bee’s Knees’ for some but it isn’t worth the extra £5,000 that gets added on to the asking price. 

For the asking price of a used Iron 883 a rider could shoot for a bigger and new Street Bob instead and I know which one would make the most logical sense to me at that price point.

How does the Sportster Iron 883 price compare with the competition?

  • Indian Scout Sixty – $9,499 
  • Ducati Scrambler Icon Dark – $8,895 
  • Triumph Street Twin – $9,700
  • Honda Shadow Phantom – $7,899

Overall compared with the competition the HD sits at the top end of the board but not by much at all.  

Is the Sportster Iron 883 Good Value?

Part of the beauty of the Iron 883 when first released was its attractive price. It was priced in a way that younger riders could afford to buy one and enter the legendary Harley brand. I think that still holds true today in both the case of the new 2021 model and those on the used market.

The Iron 883 engine rides smooth for thousands of miles before needing some attention, then it will happily run around the clock again. That’s a lot of road miles to make riding memories on, and you will be doing it on a Harley Davidson with a rich history. 

For that reason I think the Sportster Iron 883 is very good value. 

Parts are plentiful, available and affordable so the Iron 883 is a great choice for those who want to personalise their bike at a reasonable price. It is also nice knowing that you can ride a Harley Davidson and afford the parts if something does go wrong, which with some of the bigger boys in the line up that isn’t always the case. 

Is the Sportster Iron 883 a Good Bike?

  • Good value for money
  • Great for customisation
  • A low narrow solo seat just 25.7″ high
  • Enough power for most real-world riding situations
  • Versatile. Just as capable commuting as it would be for touring
  • Heaps of traditional Harley style mixed in with modern dark and edgy aesthetics
  • Mid-mounted controls and neutral riding position 
  • Bags of history from a line dating back to 1957
  • Mechanically pretty solid

These are all points in favor of the Iron 883 being a good bike and I think they are some of the most important when riders are looking for a motorcycle. 

Here are a few points as to why some riders might think Iron 883 isn’t the one for them:

  • Not fast enough – the Iron 883 will not win any speed records
  • Not physically big enough – Riders over 6ft may feel a bit cramped 
  • Performance might be lacking – If a rider is moving to the HD fold from a Yamaha R1 or even from a bigger cruiser style HD the performance may feel a little weak in comparison
  • Rust – Every HD rider will tell you about their battle with rust. The Sportster Iron 883 is very stripped back and minimal so everything is on display, you can’t afford not to look after the bike if you want to keep it looking immaculate

With all of this in mind if you go into owning an Iron 883 with these considerations you won’t be disappointed. The Iron 883 is a bonafide Harley Davidson and one that you can make your own; it won’t set the world on fire with amazing performance but overall it is a really solid good bike. 

Why do some Bikers Consider the Sportster Iron 883 a Girls Bike?

The Harley Davidson Sportster line has always been regarded by some HD fans as a ‘Girls’ bike. 

The main reason for this is simply that the Sportster has traditionally always been the smallest displacement of the Harley line-up. It is also significantly physically smaller and weighs less. The Iron 883 specifically weighs 20lbs less than even the 883 Superlow Sportster, so the Iron was one of the lightest bikes in modern times HD had produced.  

So, here is my stance, ergonomically the Iron 883 is a great choice for ladies who want a Harley Davidson; manageable weight, mid-mounted controls and neutral riding position as well as an abundance of accessories that can make the bike your own for maximum comfort are all what make the Iron a solid choice. All of these things are also what makes the Iron 883 a good option for new riders.

However, the Iron 883 isn’t strictly a Girls bike, it should not be viewed as a HD that is ‘less than’ any other in the line-up; quite the opposite. 

There is a young American girl that bought her Iron 883 as her first bike, within a month of owning her HD she had loaded it up and was heading out on a full coast to coast tour of the US. For me, that’s pretty badass, and I don’t think she’d care much about being called a girl or indeed riding a girls bike. 

If anything the Iron 883 and the other Sportsters that came before it make up a category of Harley Davidson’s that stand alone from the likes of the Dynas, Ultra and Electra Glides. 

They can be shaped to suit everyone and molded to do anything, want a bike for a commute? Big tour? Flat-track? The Iron 883 might just be the one for you. So while the Iron will never stand up to the performance coming out of the Low Rider S, they are simply different horses for different courses, and to compare them is a bit unfair. 

Verdict

There are very few motorcycles that are as versatile as the Iron 883, there are also few motorcycles that have such a long history going all the way back to the original Sportster of 1957. 

I will always stand by the Iron 883 variant of the Sportster as one of HD’s success stories; they knew what the market required at the time and targeted their audience accordingly. 

It might be the baby Harley, but it isn’t a baby motorcycle; it’s a unique V-twin capable of frankly anything. 

So, whether it’s a young lad who has just passed his test that has short shots on his Iron to be heard everywhere he goes; or the lady rider who opted for sparkling purple candy paint of 2017, when I see an Iron 883 a little smile creeps across my face. 

My final statement on this matter is once again a little plea to Harley Davidson – The UK requires you to bring back the Sportster!

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