HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER 883 (1993-on) Review

Published: 23 November 2006

"A basic, budget way into Harley ownership"

Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding

"A basic, budget way into Harley ownership"

  • At a glance
  • 883cc  -  50 bhp
  • 43 mpg  -  115 miles range
  • Low seat height (760mm)
  • £6,395

Overall Rating 3 out of 5

The Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster is a basic, budget way into Harley ownership: that possession prized by anyone whose idea of heaven is a long, straight, American highway and for whom Peter Fonda remains the ultimate role model. The Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster is not the greatest cruiser in the world: it lacks power and performance in virtually every area, but it is a Harley and it’s affordable to most. Lay back and enjoy the Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster's ride.

Ride Quality & Brakes 3 out of 5

Weighing 251kg but offering just 50bhp, the Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster is a lot of motorcycle to move. At slow speeds you can really feel its weight, too and handling out on the open road isn’t razor sharp either. Ground clearance is a problem if you tip it in too far, the brakes are just about ok and the gearbox, whilst predictably clunky, does the job. The Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster's punch is great in town but it’s too low to see over traffic.

Engine 4 out of 5

The Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster's engine is lardy, lumpy and laborious, unfortunately. However, sharp and sleek aren’t what Harleys are about: they’re about burble, gurgle and chilled-out trundle and the Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster can do all three. The carbed, 883cc Evolution engine has masses of grunt low down but wheezes at it approaches the ton mark. The engine’s now rubber-mounted to reduce vibrations.

Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5

There’s no question over the build quality: Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportsters are tough. Finish is superb on everything from switchgear to paint jobs. Harley offer a good aftersales service and technical back up, which is reassuring and, whilst Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportsters have a reputation for being “agricultural”, like tractors, it takes a lot to destroy them.

Value & Running Costs 4 out of 5

Harleys are not cheap and buying the Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster is the way most fans of the marque can get a foot in the door. You can get more bike for the money elsewhere but that’s not the point: these machines are legendary. Once bought, like all Harleys, Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportsters hold their value very well and, if you buy a used model, chances are it’ll be well cared for and have a plethora of extras already added by an earlier, passionate owner (which may, or may not, be a blessing). Find a Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster for sale.

Insurance group: 11 of 17 – compare motorcycle insurance quotes now.

Equipment 3 out of 5

This is the basic Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster but Harley provide loads of extras, enabling you to customise it to your needs. Standard Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster has a single seat, low bars and a basic dash. The foot controls are mid-mounted, so not too extreme, and the clutch lever action’s been lightened to save aching wrists. Transmission is belt drive.

Owners' Reviews

18 owners have reviewed their HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER 883 (1993-on) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

We’re currently improving the way this section works, which means we’ve had to suspend the submission of new owners’ reviews for a short period. Please check back soon.

Summary of Owners' Reviews
Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 3.4 out of 5
Engine 3.5 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4.3 out of 5
Equipment 3.1 out of 5
4 out of 5

07 XL883R

19 July 2014 by 07sporty

Stepped off a Triumph 1050 ST on to my sporty. Not the fastest or best handling bike in the world. But in real terms it has enough power and handling for A roads B roads even motorways. Will cruise along at eighty no sweat. The seat is quite... Read more literally a pain in the a**e, 100 mile fuel range and you will want to get off it. Changed for a sundowner saddle, now you can ride all day no probs. The paintwork is generally top quality,The orange is so deep when I chippeed the mudguard I only had to use laquer to repair it.It's a shame the same can't be said about the paint on the swinging arm and belt guard. Reliability wise can't fault it. Never let me down,easy to home maintain. very few specialist tools required,just bare in mind that it's imperial not metric in the main. Having owned 20+ bikes in 30+ years ridding, I have kept my Sporty the longest. I think that says something about the all round abilities of the bike.This one is a keeper.

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 3 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
5 out of 5

Can't be compared to the Japs

22 December 2013 by markyvespa

I bought mine during the hot summer months of July 2013, a 2008 Fuel Injected 883R. I was riding a Vespa GTS300SS before, which I used to commute to Uni everyday, until I got a car for the colder/rainy days. Having done over 3K miles since I bought... Read more her, the Sportster is more than capable of being an everyday ride, providing it is serviced and made sure the simple things are taken care of. It is useless comparing this bike to others for speed, quality, finish etc because it is in its own category! I will say, since buying the bike with 7k Miles, now done over 10K I've spent well over £1K on the 10K service, the usual stuff was done, but the extras were the bearings, front & rear, brakes front and rear, and whatever else I now don't remember. Ownership is not cheap! But I don't care, guess I'm lucky!

Overall Rating 5 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 5 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4 out of 5
Equipment 2 out of 5
4 out of 5

Explain to me why

03 July 2013 by BikeMagpie

OK i can not explain why this is a good bike because it is not. Also ride a hornet which is quicker, faster off the mark, better handling, easier to throw around and still be in control and about as comfortable. However! Everytime i jump off of that... Read more and onto this im grinning like an idiot, even at low speeds which you cant realy do on the hornet. Once you get some decent tyres, seat that was't just made for show and a open face helmet you can let the good times roll and while you get harleys two a penny these days there is so much you can do to make this bike "yours". All in all a bike that ticks non of the box's yet still a great little bike. On a side note while bike is great the fan club is't. Had some weekend warriors who refuse to talk to me while we were all waiting untill they saw i also had a harley. It dont matter what you ride JUST RIDE!

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 2 out of 5
2 out of 5

Iron? Must be the seat.

22 April 2013 by jenko1

Dunno why I bought it. I've been riding all sorts of bikes for over 25 years, and suddenly I buy this piece of c"*p. The most I've ever paid for a bike. The newest bike I ever bought. It's awful. It's slow. It's uncomfortable, even after buying Hagon... Read more shocks. The brakes are worrying. This is a new bike! Harley should be ashamed of themselves for ever building it, let alone selling it. Yes I know it's "only" 883 cc, but that size of engine a few years ago was a big powerful bike. Compare it to other bikes out there and you see why it's disappointing. It has looks, certainly. The Iron is the best looking bike I've ever owned, but that is it. Nothing else to commend it. The dealer back up is abysmal. The parts are stupid prices. The servicing costs are ridiculous. The warranty is useless. Did I mention that it is the most uncomfortable bike I have ever ridden? I went touring on a 15 year old Armstrong 500 a few years ago, and it puts this bike to shame. The fuel range is ridiculous, only 75miles to reserve. Still, you're more than ready for a break at that point anyway. It is the most disappointing bike ever. Vote with your wallet and buy something else, anything else, just not HD. You have been warned.

Overall Rating 2 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 1 out of 5
Engine 1 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 2 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 1 out of 5
Equipment 2 out of 5
5 out of 5

883 Iron 2011

14 August 2011 by rewey

A good choice as a first cruiser, goes well enough well geared, looks and sounds superb, mirrors are useless until flipped and foot pegs need moving forward Read more

Overall Rating 5 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 3 out of 5
Engine 3 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 5 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
4 out of 5

Fun Machine for returning Rider

11 December 2009 by snoman1956

The Sportster was my weapon of choice as a 50+ returnee to biking, I have to say I have loved it 9K miles under my belt and no intention of parting company . Not for the sports fans but a great ride out machine unless of course your a motorway fan Read more

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
3 out of 5

Booooooooooorn to be wiiiiiiiiiiiiild!

09 November 2009 by KimLondon

.... ner.... ner ner neeeeeeeeeeer! Okay. This bike is rubbish, but that's not the point. When you ride one of these things you are on the lowest rung of a special ladder to a weird club. You are Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper from Born To Be Wild.... Read more You are a rebel, one of a kind. All other Hog riders are your brothers-in-arms. Jodie Kidd rides one too, how cools is that?!?! But as for an actually bike. Nah. Nop. Doesn't stack up too well, though not really bad or anything, just doesn't have the trousers to back up the mouth. Ride? Soft, but takes bends. Just about! Comfy, heavy. It goes like it looks. The engine is a bit of a relic. I mean, it's just shy of 900cc and it ain't ballsy. I did check to see if it took petrol or lumps of coal, but it has some charm where it lacks oomph. Tank? Capacity of a gnat's codpiece. But the world is a nice place from the back of an 883. If you ever get the chance to ride one on a sunny day when the sun is high then go for it, you WILL come back with a smile. It won't get me of my Japanese motor tho...

Overall Rating 3 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 3 out of 5
Engine 2 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 3 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 3 out of 5
Equipment 2 out of 5
5 out of 5

Tractor? Don't think so!

22 July 2009 by Tazz74

I have just bought an "883 Iron", that has been treated to a stage one and a set of Vance Hines Short Shots and what can I say? ITS FANTASTIC! I am amazed by the sheer number of people who ask me about the bike and seem drawn to it. Having ridden... Read more Japanese bikes for many years I can honestly say that I have never had so much fun on a bike. Looks amazing, sounds like the wrath of God and puts a smile on my face every time. I'm converted, Harley's Rule!

Overall Rating 5 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 5 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
5 out of 5

Bulletproof

25 April 2009 by brucieg

In 8 years and 17000 miles (24500 miles on the bike now) ownership of my 883 sportster hugger, I think I am well qualified in giving my opinion. In all this time, she has proved bulletproof, and the paint and general finish still looks like... Read more new. She is still on the original battery from 1997, in the winter she starts up every 2 months without complaint, and get this when I originally got her, rode her for 5 months before laying her up for winter, the next spring at service time got a call from the dealer telling me there was no gearbox oil at all period! I probably ran her for 5 months without gearbox oil and guess what, that gearbox is still running sweet to this day! Try that on your Jap bike! In 8 years of ownership, I only had 2 major problems, namely a battery terminal had corroded and perished, and this year the throttle cable snapped. Both wear and tear items and no big deal to sort out. The handling is safe and secure, sure it's no sportsbike but then it's nowhere near as bad as non Harley people like to make out. Brakes take some getting used to, especially 2 up, but you adjust to that fairly quickly. But the best bit is that engine. It may not be that fast, but it wasn't designed to be. To sum up, if you are thinking of buying a Sportster, go for it you will not regret it!

Overall Rating 5 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 5 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
4 out of 5

Why on Earth

28 July 2008 by bigbol

Well i've just got the Harley 883, 1st 100 miles coevered and love it. It's basic, it's not fast, but it looks good. For leisure riding and nipping out and about i cant fault it. As for heavy, not noticed but then again i do also ride a Z900. Read more

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 5 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
Read all 18 owners' reviews in full

Facts & Figures

Model info
Year introduced 1993
Year discontinued -
New price £6,395
Warranty term Two year unlimited mileage
Running costs
Insurance group 11 of 17
Annual road tax £80
Annual service cost -
Performance
Max power 50 bhp
Max torque 51 ft-lb
Top speed 105 mph
1/4-mile acceleration 15.4 secs
Average fuel consumption 43 mpg
Tank range 115 miles
Specification
Engine size 883cc
Engine type 4v V-twin, 5 gears
Frame type Steel cradle
Fuel capacity 12.5 litres
Seat height 760mm
Bike weight 251kg
Front suspension None
Rear suspension Preload
Front brake 292mm disc
Rear brake 292mm disc
Front tyre size 100/90 x 19
Rear tyre size 150/80 x 16

History & Versions

Model history

1985: Harley-Davidson XLH883 Sportster introduced. Numerous tweaks during the next few years, including gaining belt drive and five speed transmission (rather than four). Discontinued in 2003.
1987: Harley-Davidson XLH883 Sportster Hugger: higher bars and lower seat height, otherwise like the standard model. Similar updates to basic model. Discontinued in 2003.
1990: Harley-Davidson XLH883 De Luxe model launched: same basic spec but with higher bars and dual seat as standard. Discontinued in 1992.
2001: Harley-Davidson XL883R model introduced with a 2-1 exhaust, black engine and new (dual) seat. Later gains spoked, cast alloy wheels.
2003: Harley-Davidson XL883/L Sportster introduced with rubber-mounted engine, lower seat and a lighter clutch. Also, 883C Custom model launched. All 2003 Harleys have the company’s centenary badge on them.

Other versions

Harley-Davidson XL883C Sportster: Custom model, with 17.5 litre tank, redesigned seating position and wider rear tyre. Less ground clearance than standard model and considerably more expensive.
Harley-Davidson XL883L Sportster: The current, basic model.
Harley-Davidson XL883R Sportster: Similar to the basic, L, model but with added graphics, alloy wheels, twin front discs and other tweaks.

Photo Gallery

  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Engine
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Brakes
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Engine
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Brakes
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster motorcycle review - Side view