Harley-Davidson Iron 1200 review: 'the Sportster we've been waiting for'

Published: 27 April 2018

The Harley-Davidson Iron 1200 and Forty-Eight Special first ride reviews

In a continued effort to fulfil their promise to release 100 new models over the next 10 years, Harley-Davidson have unveiled two new Sportsters powered by the 1200cc Evolution engine: The Iron 1200 and the Forty-Eight Special. Both have their own unique look and identity while sharing the same engine and frame. We’ve been out in Croatia putting them through their paces and here’s our first thoughts:

Iron 1200

The Iron 883 is one of Harley-Davidson’s most popular bikes and for good reason: it’s cheap, it looks great, it’s got a proper air-cooled Evolution v-twin and it handles reasonably well too. The only thing it lacks is power, coming in at just 51bhp and 54ft lbs of torque, which is why many owners fit a 1200cc conversion. Now Harley have done the hard work for you and released the Iron 1200 – the bike we’ve all been waiting for.

Engine

Bumping up the capacity by 30% to 1202cc has had an obvious effect on the power, so the shuddering Milwaukee lump now puts out 66bhp and 73ft lbs of torque – a significant bump up from the 883. This gives it much more drive out of the corners and when out for a fun ride, you can just leave it in third gear and ride everywhere on a wave of torque. Being honest, that’s the most enjoyable way to ride it. If you want to get the maximum amount of power out of it, you can rev it until all four of the valves start dancing on top of the cylinder head but all you’ll do is give yourself earache and burn all your fuel without making much more progress. Instead, just sit back, relax and bring on the noise. The Iron 1200 has the same final drive ratios as the other 1200s too, so you won’t rev it out like you will with a converted 883, making it much more palatable on long stretches.

Handling

The old ‘Harley’s don’t go round corners’ tale is a thing of the past and has been for some time. You can ride the new bikes fairly swiftly, as long as you don’t mind dragging a peg or two. Unfortunately when Harley stuck the big motor in the Iron, they didn’t update the rest of the chassis, suspension or brakes. Suddenly there’s a lot more speed to be gained between the corners, without any extra help scrubbing it off or managing it when lent over. Without traction control, the extra torque makes it much easier to spin up coming out of corners too. You have to really crack it to get it squirming, so it would take a hamfisted rider to do it by accident, but there’s no doubting that it’s easier to get yourself in a pickle riding the 1200 than the 883. Better suspension would be nice (as would a second front disc) but suddenly the cost of the bike would go through the roof and Harley would argue, quite reasonably, that if you’re after those things then you’d be better off with a Roadster. The Forty-Eight (more on that later) doesn’t have quite the same issues, as the beefy front forks add some extra stiffness upfront lending a more sure-footed feel.

Style

The Iron 1200 has been ‘murdered out’, so everything that can be black is. In fact the only colour options are the tank, which is available in three different AMF-Harley-esque paint schemes that all look great (although the white is definitely the pick of the bunch). The Iron’s brooding looks are further enhanced by satin black mini-ape bars and a West Coast style ‘speed screen’. The fastback café single seat and nine-spoke wheels complete the look.

Should you buy it?

If you’re in the market for an Iron, there’s almost no reason to buy the 883 anymore. For just £500 (a damn sight cheaper than an aftermarket 1200cc conversion) it represents great value. The extra power does mean you have to be a little more careful when riding it, but it’s no fire spitting superbike and it’s still A2 friendly. If you’ve always fancied an Iron but wanted more go, then this is the bike you’ve been waiting for, but if Harley’s aren’t you’re bag it won’t be different enough to change your mind.

Forty-Eight Special

In contrast to the Iron 1200, the Forty-Eight Special has a more classic appeal with the maximum possible square inches of chrome including rocker boxes, primary, inspection and derby covers. The Forty-Eight too has a retro paintjob on its tiny 10l peanut tank but the aesthetic is dominated by the shiny metal surfaces. As well as the paint, the Special also gains a set of ‘fists in the wind’ Tallboy handlebars. In truth, the Forty-Eight Special doesn’t really move things on from the standard Forty-Eight. Paintjob aside, the new handlebars do give you a different riding position but it’s not such a radical change as to transform the bike’s handling. Some people love the foot-forward position but for little old 5’ 6” me, the riding position of the Iron is more suited. It’s the same price as the standard Forty-Eight, so it really comes down to looks. If you prefer the style of the Special or didn’t get on with the riding position it might convince you but if you don’t fundamentally like the bike, it’s effectively just more of the same.

Pricing

The Iron 1200 will be £9395 when it arrives in dealers in May, while the Forty-Eight Special will be £9995. These should help Harley take the fight back to the Triumph Bobber and the Indian Scout, which have both been gaining ground on the old bar and shield brand. We’ll be giving both bikes a run out when we’re back in Blighty, so keep an eye out for some in-depth analysis of the bikes and their rivals.

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