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Harley-Davidson 883 Iron review (2009 - )

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The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 3.6

A genuine Harley, albeit a fairly dinky one, at accessible money. The Iron may be basic, but it’s also stylish, easy to ride, easily accessorised and personalised and, overall, a great entry into the Harley world.

Reasons to buy

  • The most affordable Harley
  • Reasonably novice-friendly
  • Easily customised

Design 5/5

This classic US roadster is about as authentically American as entry-level bikes get.

This classic US roadster is about as authentically American as entry-level bikes get. As part of Harley’s Dark Custom line, the Iron is a pared-down, blacked out, raw roadster – a style which is bang on the current basic, bobber trend, and helps keep it cheap. Despite this, all the classic US cruiser elements are there: bags of style; ‘Peanut’ tank; big aircooled V-twin motor; chopped down fenders; and plenty of mean and moody attitude. As an entry into Harley style, the Iron’s pretty much perfect.

Riding position 4/5

It’s more of an upright roadster than a laid back cruiser.

It’s more of an upright roadster than a laid back cruiser, which makes it both comfortable, easy to get on with for novices, and easily managed and nimble – particularly around town. One-piece bars are slightly raised and straight, footpegs are below your knees rather than way out in front, and the single seat is low. There’s nothing intimidating here, but don’t expect long distance cosseting.

Practicality 3/5

Although comfortable, easy to get on with and nimble around town, the Iron does have its limitations.

Although comfortable, easy to get on with and nimble around town, the Iron does have its limitations. Harley’s smallest Sportster lacks the comfort and easy cruising speed to eat big miles. There’s also no pillion seat and it’s rather too small for two-up work anyway. There’s no weather protection or luggage capacity, and the fuel tank is fairly small, too. It’s decent on small hops, but otherwise the Iron is fairly limited.

Performance & braking 3/5

Until the launch of the new, entry-level 750 Street in 2015, the 883 version of the Sportster ‘small block’ V-twin was Harley’s smallest engine. As a result, despite what 883cc may suggest, it’s an OK if fairly underwhelming performer, although adequate for most novices. Motorway cruising speeds and three figures are pretty much out of reach, for example. Also, the single front disc brake – although adequate for the Iron’s gentle, cruiser nature – is a little on the marginal side, too.

Ride & handling 3/5

The ride is a little firm and sometimes jarring.

The Iron’s seat is low, the twin rear shocks fairly short-travel (as are the basic forks up front), and the whole thing’s a little crude and built down to a price. As a result, the ride is a little firm and sometimes jarring. On the plus side, being a fairly small, manageable machine, the Iron’s handling isn’t bad and it can be hustled around with impunity. Although so heavy it feels like it’s made out of cast iron, that bulk is carried low, steering is neutral and it’s slim. Ground clearance, however, is limited.

Running costs 4/5

As a premium, aspirational machine, Harley ownership never comes cheap. But with the Iron being its entry-level machine, it’s about as good as it gets. Its initial purchase price is on a par with most rivals from Europe and even Japan, and being a fairly basic, understressed performer, consumables usage is low too – partly thanks to its novel belt drive system. In addition, fuel economy is reasonable as well.

Reliability 4/5

As Harleys by their very nature tend to get pampered by their owners, you should expect immaculate cosmetics.

Better than you might expect. Although an ‘old fashioned Harley’, the Iron’s 883 Sportster powertrain is proven, reliable and understressed with no major mechanical concerns. Cycle parts are straightforward and simple, and, as Harleys by their very nature tend to get pampered by their owners, you should expect immaculate cosmetics, regular servicing and fairly low mileages as a result – all good news when looking for a used buy.

Warranty & servicing 4/5

Harley-Davidson, like most of the leading motorcycle manufacturers, offer a standard two-year/unlimited mileage warranty. It’s worth noting, that its chief rival – the Indian Scout 60 – comes with an impressive five-year warranty. Servicing is straightforward (due every 5000 miles) and it’s worth remembering that most used examples are both pampered and don’t cover that many miles, so reliability or a poor service record shouldn’t be an issue.

Equipment 3/5

Although many Harleys are fairly basic in standard trim, the entry-level Iron is more basic than most.

Although many Harleys are fairly basic in standard trim – with the company’s philosophy being to encourage owners to customise their bikes via H-D’s hugely impressive accessories catalogue – the entry-level Iron is more basic than most. Not only can you forget any kind of sophisticated electronics, lavish cycle parts, creature comforts or luggage, on the Iron there’s not even a pillion seat. That said, build quality is good, a variety of different paint finishes is available, and many used examples will have already been accessorised by previous owners.

Why buy? 3/5

Harleys have always had enormous allure and appeal. They’re not just an iconic brand even your granny has heard of, but also still the best at demonstrating and delivering the American motorcycling dream. The Iron is the most affordable and easy to ride gateway to all that, and is very popular as a result, although some may find it a little basic, a little underpowered or, maybe, just too damn little all round.