Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Iron (2015-on) review
- Good entry-level cruiser
- Genuine air-cooled Harley twin
- Hold their value well
At a glance
|Owners' reliability rating:|
|Annual servicing cost:||£220|
Overall ratingNext up: Ride & brakes
Sorry haters, but the Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Iron is a good bike for an entry level cruiser. Those last five words are key. Compared to another entry level middleweight, say a Yamaha MT-07, the Harley Iron 833 looks all kinds of bad (especially if you only refer to the spec sheet).
But compared to other entry level cruisers, it’s a no-nonsense, no gimmicks fun machine. It’s also not trying to be a Harley-Davidson, like the Honda CMX500 Rebel or Kawasaki Vulcan 650 for instance, which counts for a lot.
- Latest news: Harley-Davidson Sportster set to go off sale in 2020
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- Related:Best first big bikes
It’s a hard thing to explain but the Iron 883, like many other Harleys to be honest, has a certain something that makes it more than the sum of its parts. They are without doubt expensive, underpowered and overweight but they’re also really brilliant hunks of metal too.
It has a heavy clutch, its brakes are relatively poor, it’s slow steering, the engine is comparatively clunky (as is the gearbox) and the rear cylinder gets uncomfortably hot in traffic – but it does look and feel like a genuine Harley and that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Compared with the Street 750 (Harley's old entry-level hog), the 883 has cleaner lines with its purer, simpler design and the lack of a radiator. Then there’s the iconic 'peanut' tank, twin, side-mounted exhausts, classic cut-down rear 'fender' and 'drag' style bars. If you removed the H-D badge from the Iron you’d still be in no doubt who made it.
Riding the 883 feels good – and that's what matters most. It doesn't feel like riding an imitation of a Harley – it feels like the real deal.
There's a thriving enthusiast community for Harley-Davidsons run by the firm itself called HOG - Harley Owners' Group.
This bike is also very popular with those who like to personalise their motorcycle. It appears in our Best Custom Motorbikes article. Mutt Motorcycles even created their own custom blacked-out Iron 883 in 2018.
Harley Iron 883 v Honda VT750C video review
Ride quality & brakesNext up: Engine
For 2015, Harley-Davidson put the entire Sportster platform through 'Project Rushmore'. There were a few outcomes but the biggest for the Iron 883 was brand new suspension and much better brakes.
They’re not labelled up but they’re from proper named brands: the suspension comes from Showa and the brakes are from Brembo. The result is a much-improved ride all round. The forks are now much more progressive and no longer crash over bumps, although they’re fairly short travel (92mm), so braking into a pothole still sucks.
At the back the preload is now adjustable through a 50mm range, instead of the three options previously, but again the travel is short (just 41mm) so rough roads are kidney bashing experiences. Rivals, like the Indian Scout, handle this much better.
The new dual piston calipers front and rear give a lot more bite, and feel better at the lever, but still require a bit of effort to pull up in a hurry. ABS was an option until 2017 and works just like it should.
Out on the road though you don’t really notice as you’ll rarely get yourself up to the speed where you’re going to trouble the brakes.
EngineNext up: Reliability
The engine in the Harley Iron 883 is both its biggest asset and its biggest weakness. It’s a proper Harley motor, so it’s a 45-degree air-cooled, pushrod operated, V-twin - just like most other Harleys have been since 1912. That means it sounds nice and rumbles around just like it should, unlike the water cooled Street 750 and Street Rod.
However it means it doesn’t create a great deal of power or torque (just 51.2bhp and 50.2ftlb respectively). To give it a decent bit of go it’s got a fairly low first few gears, however it’s also only got a five speed gearbox and a clunky one at that.
That also means it can feel a little revvy and breathless on the motorway. And while the air-cooling looks good, you do sit remarkably close to that rear cylinder, so it slow traffic and on hot days things can get a little warm in your trousers. There’s no two ways about it but the competition have the Iron licked here.
Reliability & build qualityNext up: Value
The air cooled Evolution motor in the Sportster range has been around so long now that all the major kinks have been ironed out. The only potential nasty that remains is the spring plate in the clutch, which is known to fail and can be an expensive fix.
It’s much cheaper (and easier) to just swap in a couple of extra clutch plates beforehand to stop it going wrong. Oil weeps from the rockerboxes aren't unheard of, but it’s a cheap and easy fix. Apart from that it’s just a case of swapping the oil every 5000 miles.
Also like most Harley’s since the mid-80s, the engine has hydraulic valve lifters, so they never need a valve adjustment, while the final drive runs on a belt. Keep it adjusted properly and you can do over 60,000 miles without replacement.
On the whole build quality is good however there are a few issues that crop up regularly. The back of the front and rear mudguards are prone to rust, while the area below the fork seals are known to corrode. A liberal coating of XCP or ACF-50 should keep the worst of the problems away but, like all bikes, if you ride them in crap weather and don’t take care of them, they won’t respond well.
Our Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Iron owners review shows loads of love for this bike: "don't knock it until you've tried it".
Value vs rivalsNext up: Equipment
Where the Iron 883 really comes into its own is five years down the line.
This model came out in 2015 and you’d struggle to find a nice one for much less than £5500. Older models hit a price floor of £4000 as long as they’re in good nick. If you buy a cared for used model and take care of it yourself, it’s easy to sell it for exactly what you paid.
Alongside the Scout and the Bonnie mentioned above, other rivals to the Iron 883 include the Honda CMX500 Rebel, Ducati's Scrambler 800 range, Moto Guzzi's V7 and V9, plus the Kawasaki W800. You could also consider the Kawasaki Vulcan S, Yamaha XV950 range and Harley's own Street Bob.
In terms of rider aids, a Sportster 883 Iron is basic – you get twin channel ABS and that’s it. However there’s a lot more going on underneath.
For a start the ABS runs off the wheel bearings, so there’s no ugly sensor ring bolted to the wheels. Then there’s a fully-keyless ignition with a fob, that requires one button to turn it on and go. The keyless ignition also includes a movement alarm (with a bloody loud siren) and immobiliser.
The clocks have speed, digital RPM, gear indicator, two trips plus an odometer and that’s all controlled from a rocker switch on the bars. The only thing its missing is a fuel gauge, which is available as an extra but it’s a stingy omission given the small tank (fuel light comes on around 110 miles). The Iron also has self-cancelling indicators, which are some of the few self-cancellers that actually work as you’d imagine.
|Engine type||Air-cooled Evolution V-twin|
|Frame type||Tubular steel cradle|
|Fuel capacity||12.5 litres|
|Front suspension||Telescopic fork|
|Rear suspension||Twin shock, non adjustable|
|Front brake||Dual-piston single disc|
|Rear brake||Dual-piston single disc|
|Front tyre size||100/90 19|
|Rear tyre size||150/80 16|
Mpg, costs & insurance
|Average fuel consumption||49 mpg|
|Annual road tax||£96|
|Annual service cost||£220|
|Used price||£6,000 - £9,500|
How much to insure?
|Warranty term||Two years|
Top speed & performance
|Max power||51 bhp|
|Max torque||50.2 ft-lb|
|1/4 mile acceleration||-|
|Tank range||135 miles|
Model history & versions
The Harley Iron 883 was first introduced in 2009 as a dark and brooding antidote to the colourful and brash middleweight Harleys that came before it. It was updated in 2015. As of 2021, the 883 was no longer for sale in Europe.
The term 'Sportster' isn't actually a model name but defines a whole family of Harley-Davidson models. These include:
Watch MCN's Harley Iron 1200 video review here
Owners' reviews for the HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER 883 (2015 - 2021)
3 owners have reviewed their HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER 883 (2015 - 2021) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.
Summary of owners' reviews
|Ride quality & brakes:|
|Reliability & build quality:|
|Value vs rivals:|
|Annual servicing cost:||£220|
Annual servicing cost: £210
The Iron 883 is by all means an entry-level cruiser, but does this extremely well. This was my first motorcycle after passing for my driving license. The 883 is a great introduction into the brand. The motorbike is very nimble and easy to manoeuvre and not intimidating to handle, which makes it great for beginners. It may look heavy on paper, but the weight is very low so it doesn't "feel" heavy at all. Despite the smaller dimensions of the motorcycle and the engine, it does look the part and you feel like you are driving a real Harley Davidson. After gaining some experience on this motorcycle, you can choose to upgrade to a larger Harley Davidson, or if it's mainly local and/or citymiles you'll be riding, it could be a great long-term motorcycle. The Iron 883 is not made for touring. Although I have done fairly long daytrips, I can't recommend multi-day tours, for which other motorcycles are more suitable. I would highly recommend this motorcycle to beginners or riders that will remain reasonable local. If you're looking for a motorcycle suitable for long stretches at high speed or multi-day touring, then the Iron 883 is not for you.
The motorcycle rides beautiful through Valleys and loves doing 50-60 MPH on twisty A roads. Harley Davidson and third parties offer many different seat options which you can purchase, but I do notice that a break every 1.5-2 hours is quite welcome. Harley's own sundowner seat will probably be more comfortable, but doesn't look great on the Iron 883.
The engine is great and I really like to low down torque. For a 883cc engine, it does have little "performance" but that's not the point of owning a Harley. If it's performance you're looking for, it's best to look elsewhere. It's quick enough speeding away from traffic lights, but you will notice that overtaking at 60 MPH+ will require some carefull timing.
I have had no issues with my motorcycle.
The Iron 883 is reasonably good on fuel and a full day of riding usually cost me around £20. The 5k service did cost me £210. In my opinion, when buying this bike you do get a lot for your money. However, that only applies to people who see the value of owning a Harley Davidson. Harley Davidson was a great motivator for me to get my motorcycle license and it's a joy to own and ride one. If you do not have any affinity with Harley Davidson as a brand, you may find other motorcycles that are cheaper.
Keyless ignition and self-cancelling indicators are great. Being a Harley, you can add lots of features and mods, but my motorcycle is fairly standard. Again, don't buy this motorcycle if you're looking for all the gadgets, it's not designed for that.
Version: 883 super low
Brilliant bike and very comfortable
Version: Iron 883
Annual servicing cost: £230
Under rated. Very satisfying to ride.
OK so everyones concern with a Harley is vibrations, but it's not as bad as you think. It's more of a rumble than a buzzy vibration. Some inline 4's have annoying buzzy vibrations at certain revs which makes them uncomfy to ride, the sportster is more of a thumping rumble. Makes you feel like you are handling a beast and not a buzzy rampant rabbit. The vibrations on the sportster are comparable to an ER6. The brakes are adequate, you can stop wherever you like and as quick as you want, but they will never be like a sportsbikes, but that's just stupid to compare them to that. Comfort wise, it's a very relaxed riding position, you are sat upright on a well padded seat. If you don't like the seat there is a mind boggling selection of aftermarket seats. Anyone can get comfy on a Harley!
Probably one of the most satisfying parts of the bike. It sounds amazing, you quite literally never get bored of riding it. The pushrod v twin makes that unique Harley sound. It is very torquey and pulls well from down low, doesn't run out of steam even all the way to the end of 5th. Fuel consumption is good, it just has a small tank. No, it's not the most powerful, but it's powerful enough. When's the last time you used all your GSXR's power on the road? Exactly! It's still a big bike and it will shame and out accelerate Corsa VXR'S and Fiesta ST's etc. Nothing to be sniffed at!
Not a single problem in 8k miles, always started, never broken down. Think about it, the engine design has been around since the 50's, that's 60 years of refinement, all the gremlins have been worked out. Less moving parts and less electronics than modern engines so less to go wrong. Finish needs looking after like any other bike, if you are good with your maintenance and wash, dry and lube stuff after a ride, you won't have any problems. The paint is the deepest of any bike I've had, way better than the japs. Less time in the garage, more time riding, makes a change!
Not any more expensive than any other make, if anything it's a bit cheaper. No labour costs to remove fairings and dig deep into the middle of the bike to access plugs or filters. On the sportsters, you can remove the air and oil filters and change the plugs without removing a single piece of the bike. Long service intervals too, first service is at 1k miles, then every 12 months or 10k miles, whichever comes first.
MCN got this completely wrong, saying you only get a speedo and that's it. As standard you get a tacho, gear indicator and a clock! How many jap bikes come with a gear indicator or a clock? You also get self cancelling indicators, the bike senses you've made a turn, and if you don't cancel your indicator after 15 seconds, it does it for you. The stock tyres are Michelin Scorchers and they a brilliant, very sticky, haven't felt the need to go to a different type of tyre. Harleys are probably the most customisable bikes out there, whatever you want to replace or add, you will definately find it.