2009 Harley-Davidson Iron 883 Review
Harley's newest black diamond
Harley-Davison recently added another shortie to its lineup. No, Willie G didn’t have another daughter, instead the Milwaukee motor company amended its Dark Custom line with a modified Sportster 883 Low. Following the Nightster as the second Sportster-based Dark Custom in Harley’s catalog, the Iron 883 becomes the sixth addition to the dark-themed club.
Some riders want simplicity in their escape mounts, while others prefer to be surrounded by computer technology like that found on the space shuttle flight deck. If you’re not into GPS, radar detectors and video cameras mounted to your handlebars, you might be into the short-pipe minimalism the Iron 883 delivers with its low-rise drag-style handlebar, bare-bones dashboard and overall lo-brow color scheme. Toss in the reliability of a warranted OEM motorcycle and you’ll be pleased as rum-spiked-punch to get your hands on the latest in Harley-Davidson’s Dark Custom line.
Our pal Pete Brissette reported from the artistically lo-brow model unveiling held at a Santa Monica California art gallery last month. Mingling with artwork from Shepard Fairey and Frank Kozik, suit-clad connoisseurs and tattoo-sleeved artists got a peek at the Iron 883 alongside the attending member of the press. Standing out like a black diamond in the crowd, the Iron 883 is a shining example of the power of a little paint.
Standing out like a black diamond in the crowd, the Iron 883 is a shining example of a Dark Custom.
When the wallet opens, Harley-Davidson is there to deliver just what the market wants. While Harley’s CVO line appeals to a buyer that wants a bike that can blind every person within 50 feet of their exceptionally-chromed scoots, H-D now makes a bike that’s ready to blend in with the authentic nitty-gritty world of biker-dom, perfectly camouflaging to the greasy underbelly of society where ‘real bikers’ come from – if you ask an outsider. That’s what Harley calls the “raw side of the road.”
Harley’s blacked-out and matte-finished “Dark Custom” line has proven to be attractive to younger buyers, appealing in both style and price. H-D sold 29,000 bikes to people under the age of 35 in 2008, and the Dark Custom line holds particular interest for the younger demographic. Sales of DCs were up 24% in ’08, aided by the addition of the bobber-like Cross Bones.
With just one operating unit and 10 journalists at the gallery opening, Motorcycle.com didn’t get a crack at looking cool that night. So Kevin Duke and myself hopped on a jet and met up with H-D Press manager Paul James in Daytona Beach earlier this month to get us a few miles in the saddle.
Spry and steeped in style, the newest member of the Dark Custom line hasn’t changed too much from it’s more commonly known iteration, the Sportster 883 Low. They share the same narrow steel frame and lowered dual-shock rear suspension setups. Up front, the Iron sports rubber fork boots to give it that retro-cool look.
Where the bike’s geometry lacks in legroom for riders over 5’10”, the Iron makes up with attitude. It’s delivered with a menacing matte-black paint scheme, Sportster-standard dual exhaust pipes, a 26.3” high solo saddle (unladen; same as the Nightster and 883 Low) and a lighter overall weight. The three-inch shorter total length makes for a light turning machine, limited however by its lock-to-lock steering radius. I think the Victory choppers we also rode that week made a tighter circle. Luckily, Harley also shaved 18 pounds off the Low, which helps when pushing the Iron around parking lots.
The Iron’s tighter and tougher design compromise is a riding position too cramped for large riders however. “Even at my modest five-foot-eight height,” says EIC Kevin Duke, “the position of the footpegs caused my knees to ride oddly high. The Iron’s reduced-travel rear shocks and thin seat are best suited for short riders.”
And if you’ve never ridden a Sportster before, expect the air cleaner cover to feel “in the way” of your thigh. The otherwise very narrow feeling bike is asymmetrically unbalanced by the protrusion of the air cleaner. In an effort to provide adequate cornering clearance, the slammed Iron has mid-mount footpegs that felt unnaturally high to Kevin.
When we got the Iron into the sunny skies and straight roads of Florida’s coastline, we can see the 883 really shine, despite Harley’s best effort to keep the Iron dark and cool. Pete thought the staggered dual pipes should have been given the black treatment instead of shiny chrome, but I personally think a black pipe set would have ratted-out the bike too much. Pipes are the soul of a Harley; I favor them shining both day and night. In my opinion, Harley struck the perfect balance between blackened bits and chrome tips on the Iron 883. Dark enough to run with the sinister sister Dynas and Softtails in the DC line, yet still a machine with its own character.
“Stylistically, the Iron is a great success,” remarks Mr. Duke. “The matte finishes give it some rat-bike cool, and subtle touches like the fork gaiters give in a nice tinge of nostalgia. I also love the integration of the brake light into the turnsignals and the side-mount license-plate holder I expect to see on other bikes in the future.”
Every rider is unique. But when you’re in Florida for Bike Week, it’s hard as hell to stand out in the crowd. You can dress up like a leather-dipped Santa Claus, ride a four-wheeled “motorcycle” down Main Street or show up on the world’s longest bike and you still get swallowed up by the magnitude of the event.
Make the event work for you alone and ride what fits your body and your wallet. Over-chromed beasts and minimalist mounts alike are welcome in Daytona, and Harley can deliver both of those experiences. For the economically minded buyer and newbie alike, the sub-$8K Iron 883 strikes black gold.
“The Iron 883 truly delivers an authentic Harley experience for less than $8,000,” Duke concludes. “It provides a deep, soulful soundtrack so familiar to us all, and it looks like a much pricier item than it is.”
The Perfect Bike For
Inseam-challenged riders and minimalist bikers alike will appreciate the 2009 Iron 883’s lighter weight (compared to the 883 Low), it’s low saddle height and comparably low price point.