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Revisited: Harley-Davidson Sportster 883

Published: 14 September 2018

Harley's mid-sized cruiser is an ideal entry point to the American hog experience.

In 2005, we rode the Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 in a group test and called it a 'pukka Harley'. 

On that January5 we also said: "Ask any non-motorcyclist to name a bike and they’ll more than likely say Harley, before muttering the words cool, chrome, highway, American dream and leather. And even on Harley’s smallest bike (at the time) in the middle of winter those dreams of riding into the sunset bubble to the top with one blip of the throttle. It’s Harley’s unique selling point and it makes you feel good, end of story." 

So what’s the Sportster 883 like now?

Buying into the Harley-Davidson lifestyle stretches further than simple bike ownership. There are clubs, dress codes and ideals you can buy into, with the riding experience taking up a mere segment of your time.

This 2005 Sportster 883 is the first Harley I have ever ridden and I was keen to find out exactly what I have been missing. Covering 6060 miles over its 13-year-life (that’s just shy of 670 a year), this example from Fasttrack Motorcycles in Leicester is practically brand new – with only minor age-related marks and the only visible corrosion found at the base of the forks.

MCN's Dan takes in his first Harley experience

Pulling out the manual choke located under the left of the tank and pressing the chunky starter button, the bike’s rumbly 883cc V-twin motor fires up from cold with no problems. Chugging satisfyingly, there are no knocks or rattles and it feels tight and well maintained.

Used primarily as weekend toys for gentle bimbles across the English countryside, low mileages like this are not uncommon for Harleys of this ilk. They are also meticulously maintained and kept well clear of rain and drizzle.  

Good vibrations

Pulling in the heavy clutch and stamping into first gear with a hefty clunk, the bike thrums along pleasantly with a linear and unthreatening power delivery. There is a long throttle action and the whole bike vibrates purposefully beneath you.

This generates a vibe through the foot pegs and handlebars, which becomes seriously noticeable when you start to push on. In under 10 miles of riding, both the left front indicator and mirror had shook themselves free of their housings and the indicator was left dangling precariously - just inches from the custom-painted tank.

It is important to note though that 'pushing on' is not what Harley-Davidsons are about though. They are not sportsbikes and aren’t meant to behave as such. Whack it in top gear and cruise along gently and they will return smiles all day long.

The indicator was left hanging after 10 miles

Features of note

This example has been treated to a set of Screamin Eagle pipes, which pop and spit delightfully on downshifts. They are unquestionably loud, without being anti-social and provided the perfect soundtrack to my gentle cruise through the Leicestershire countryside.

Despite being a crisp January morning, I was also kept plenty warm enough – thanks to the gigantic clear screen, which provided cover to my upper body and legs. Below 50mph, you can comfortably leave your visor open without the need to squint, too.

A low seat height of 760mm inspires confidence and would be ideal for new or shorter riders, however as the pegs were so far forwards, anyone smaller than around 5ft6in would start to struggle to operate the foot controls.

This was made worse by the polished seat, which caused my bum to slide backwards under hard acceleration, which in turn made the shifter and rear brake pedals too far away for my short legs!


Buying a bike makes up only part of the American-cruiser-experience. However, as an individual entity, the Sportster 883 offers an ideal entry point to the world of Harley-Davidsons.

Yes, it’s vibey to the point of undressing itself and it doesn’t particularly enjoy being hustled along, however if you keep the revs (and the speeds) on the low side, then it’s the ideal middleweight cruiser for a relaxing weekend jaunt.

Complete with a glossy aftermarket paintjob, gleaming chrome pipes and with so few miles on the clock, it’s a bargain at just £4595.

Stick it in top gear and cruise along

Sample insurance quotes for £4500 middleweight cruisers and where the Sportster fits in

1998 BMW R1200C - £81.86
2006 Yamaha MT-01 - £85.19
2015 Harley-Davidson Street 750 - £85.51
1996 Yamaha XV750 Virago - £85.76
2005 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 - £86.49
2011 Honda VT750 Shadow - £86.49

The mechanic: Jimi Ogston has been a Technician at Sycamore Harley-Davidson since 2010 and has been working on bikes since 1978.

"Harley’s with low mileage are not uncommon and not just Sportsters. You will find that they either cover around 1000 miles a year or less, or they will cover huge star ship mileages. There seems to be little in between!

"They will either use them on sunny Sunday afternoons, or they will never be off the damn things. Harley riders tend to have two or three bikes and will cover 10,000 to 15,000 miles between three machines, rather than one.

"The people that buy Sportsters are the same people that buy things like Ducati Scramblers and the Honda CB500 series. They are a first-time-biker’s choice and are aimed at the entry-level market. Despite this, we will see experienced riders getting on them just because it’s a brilliant bike!

'It's just a brilliant bike' - Jimi Ogston

"These bikes maintain steady progress and aren’t going to set your world on fire however at real world speeds they are more than adequate. They are also incredibly popular. I’m sitting here in the workshop and I can see six Sportsters out of nine bikes we currently have in.

"In truth, they hardly ever go wrong. You do get the odd electrical fault though and the regulator rectifier will let go sometimes, however you will get that with anything. Apart from that, you just have to look out for general wear and tear.

"You do get some problems with corrosion on these bikes and they don’t seem to cope quite as well as some of the Japanese alternatives. You just need to keep on top of it because they won’t thank you for neglect.

Look out for signs of corrosion in places like the forks

"You don’t see many of these bikes standard and almost everybody messes with them. They pretty much ask for it! A Stage One kit is pretty common and is often the first thing an owner will do, to make it sound like a true Harley.

"The kit adds a free-flowing air filter to help it breathe, as well as a more open exhaust. Screamin’ Eagle is a popular choice of pipe, as it is Harley’s own factory option, but there are many others also available.

Big bore kits

"Another thing to look out for is big bore kits. People with bore out an 883 to make it a 1200. You wouldn’t be able to tell by simply looking it, however it would become apparent as soon as you started riding it.  

"The first service comes at 1000 miles for these bikes and then every 5000 miles/yearly after that. Many won’t cover that distance a year, however owners do care for their bikes very well and are very knowledgeable about their machines."

Find your next two-wheeled companion at MCN Bikes for Sale. We'd also like to say thanks to Fasttrack Motorcycles for the loan of the bike (0116 262 3099).

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