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"

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.

Insurance, running costs & value 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

24 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.

Review your HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER 883 (1993-on)
Summary of Owners' Reviews
Overall Rating 3.8 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 3.2 out of 5
Engine 3.5 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4.0 out of 5
Equipment 3.1 out of 5
3 out of 5

Fun for first bike, for about 6 months.

30 November 2015 by Nigel palmer

Looks cool, crap brakes no power for overtaking. Read more

Ride Quality & Brakes
3 out of 5
You feel the bumps in the road, only single seat.
Engine
3 out of 5
No power, soon get bored with the bikes performance.
Build Quality & Reliability
5 out of 5
-
Value & Running Costs
3 out of 5
1000 mile service not cheap, but ran a lit better after run in period.
Equipment
5 out of 5
ABS and alarm standard , so was keyless ignition.
1 out of 5

Horrible bike to ride.

26 October 2015 by Stan

My first and last Harley which I bought earlier this year. Beautiful bike with great image and great sound ruined by poor brakes, lack of grunt, peg scraping in easy turns and painful to ride for more than 20 minutes. Read more

Ride Quality & Brakes
1 out of 5
Rock hard painful ride. Poor squishy brakes. Navigating roundabouts without scraping pegs is a challenge.
Engine
4 out of 5
Lovely noise but little a 833 cc. Too much torque at low end does not make it easy to control in slow traffic. Too little torque higher up the rev counter to overtake.
Build Quality & Reliability
5 out of 5
Solid build.
Value & Running Costs
4 out of 5
Expensive for what it is, but values keep well and I sold it at the same price as I paid for it.
Equipment
1 out of 5
No fuel gauge as standard (an expensive optional extra). No ABS - not even sure if it is an option. I hated having one lock for ignition and another for the steering lock.
Buying experience

Bought second hand from dealer, with a year's warrantly and new tyres thrown in.

5 out of 5

2013 Sportster Superlow - continuous smile from ear to ear.

12 August 2015 by JTHOG201MT

I have ridden a number of motorcycles in the past. Yet the ride of my Sportster is superior and exhilarating. Read more

Ride Quality & Brakes
5 out of 5
I have ridden my bike from Malta to Naples and back, via Sicily, for a total of 1745km. As a rule, fuel top up on every 100km, yet I rode 500km straight without any particular physical complaint.
Engine
5 out of 5
I am very satisfied with both performance and power delivery. On Italian autostradas, my average speed was 130km/hr, taking it to 160km/hr when overtaking. However, I did 175km/hr with no problem on the A3 to Naples.
Build Quality & Reliability
5 out of 5
-
Value & Running Costs
4 out of 5
The average servicing cost is about €250 and Harley-Davidson parts are on the higher side of the scale, in terms of cost and quality. Yet consumption is very reasonable and efficient.
Equipment
4 out of 5
The 17lt fuel tank is a blessing. However, the bike should include a tachometer and gear indicator as standard. (Harley-Davidson have included the gear indicator as standard in the 2015 version)
Buying experience

I paid €11,200 for my two-tone bike, brand new. The purchase experience was extraordinary, nothing like I ever experienced before with other brands. You must appreciate that first time registration in Malta is expensive and that is included in my purchase price.

4 out of 5

It's a Harley, can't say more than that.

20 July 2015 by Harrison

I have ridden a multitude of bike types (2007 Bandit 650, 2010 GSX-R 600, 2005 Triumph Speed Triple to name 3) so I am used to different riding styles some serious acceleration and tremendous handling. The Harley however has none of this and when I'm... Read more not on it my brain keeps telling me to get a different bike, I even spend half my time looking, but when I'm on it that all goes away and I think "why would I want to get rid of it?" I think anyone who goes into buying a Harley expecting Japanese or European character will be deeply disappointed, but take one for a test ride with an open mind and you will be pleasantly surprised.

Ride Quality & Brakes
2 out of 5
The ride quality from the forks is great until you hit a pot hole or need to negotiate a speed hump or take corners with a bit of vigour, clearly none of the designers/engineers from Harley have ever seen a European road or a poorly maintained one. Given that Harleys are heavy bikes, even the sporty, you would have thought that twin discs on the front would have been a given. I also have a quibble with ride height, I have an issue with scraping the foot pegs, but again it was never designed with that as a concern. However I am thinking about jacking up the rear end.
Engine
5 out of 5
Power and performance have much to be desired, but thats not what a Harley is about. It chugs along beautifully and if you open it up it is surprisingly responsive. I have V&H Short Shots (in chrome) which create a torrent of tonal abuse for you and anybody within a mile, which is just superb.
Build Quality & Reliability
3 out of 5
The engine is absolutely spot on every time I start it up, takes a few minutes to warm up as it's air cooled. The vibration is noticeable which I don't think its a bad thing, but it caused one of battery cables to come loose which caused the bike to misbehave, once it was tightened up the bike went back to normal. I have had a problem with paint flaking off and rust spots appearing but properly cleaned and treated this was quickly halted from spreading. Took it to the dealer and they said would investigate but never heard anything back from them.
Value & Running Costs
3 out of 5
Servicing costs are high, even if you maintain the bike and very little work is done, but most dealerships have a flat rate (barring any surprises) so you know how much it will cost (£300 for the 10k). Fuel economy is great if you ride it like a "Harley" but if you decided to go for a high rev bender on country roads it sups fuel like it was 90's prices.
Equipment
3 out of 5
The range of OEM accessories available is huge, but the online catalog is a little bit hard to navigate, some parts may work on one but not on another, so be careful and always read the description. There are loads of third party after-market parts too which are the same or similar to the OEM so shop around and you might find a bargain. Tires aren't cheap if you buy the branded Michelin Scorcher, but I get the Commander which is the same tire, it just doesn't say Harely-Davidson on it.
Buying experience

Bought new from the dealer (Leeds Harley) the team were great, answered all questions I had but seemed surprised I didn't go for any of the deals. The after sales began well, but I have had a few problems since then however this is not a place to review a dealership.

5 out of 5

My best friend!

12 June 2015 by HD883Ryder

I bought this bike new and am still riding it, and still minimal issues... 88,000 miles later. I've done an iron-butt ride on this bike, commuted regularly 100+ miles/day, rode 250-300 miles round trip to service calls with tool bag on the back, and... Read more have only had to do normal maintenance items. (drive belt, brakes, tires, etc) She has never left me stranded... maybe I'm due?? Well worth the purchase price.

Ride Quality & Brakes
3 out of 5
lots of vibration... wear the enamel off your teeth. Brakes are fine. shifts smoothly, runs well, fast acceleration. Tends to be "top heavy" and cornering is reflected in that. Would not consider this a good choice for a novice rider. Maybe after one burns through a Honda Rebel first.
Engine
4 out of 5
Sometimes wish I had a sixth gear, but I'm a light-weight and this is ample bike for me. This engine has been a champ. No issues and the service tech is always amazed at how clean this engine is inside. I've faithfully changed the oil regularly.
Build Quality & Reliability
5 out of 5
only weird issues were early on... speedometer @ 2,000 miles, rocker top gaskets @ 7K and the other at 10K.
Value & Running Costs
5 out of 5
Regular servicing of fluids, inspection, etc. Tires would run more.
Equipment
5 out of 5
I have a detachable windshield and it's still in good shape 15 yrs later. cargo rack, sissy bar, saddlebag stand-offs... all good. the seat has become torn and worn, however. have not found any heated hand grips that last more than two seasons.
Buying experience

Bought new from dealer... they played some cheap games that left the typical bitterness that causes one to never buy from them again. Would never buy from a dealer again... so many good deals on Harley's elsewhere and at much better prices... financing through a credit union is better deal, too.

1 out of 5

Don't waste your money

27 May 2015 by Gavin Booth

Possibly the worst bike I've owned. Read more

Ride Quality & Brakes
1 out of 5
Ride okay, but brake master cylinders seize (locking the brakes) by about 10,000 miles.
Engine
1 out of 5
Engine management sensors rot by about 12,000 miles.
Build Quality & Reliability
1 out of 5
Rusts within 6 months no undercoat. Hard to find a part that's not rusting.
Value & Running Costs
1 out of 5
Expensive, Harley don't repair under warranty.
Equipment
1 out of 5
Basic equipment.
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.

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!

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!

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.

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
-
Read all 24 owners' reviews in full

Facts & Figures

Model info
Year introduced 1993
Year discontinued -
New price £6,395
Used price £3,700 to £12,000
Warranty term Two year unlimited mileage
Running costs
Insurance group 11 of 17
Annual road tax £81
Annual service cost £220
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
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