What this country needs is a great $9,000 motorcycle made in America by Americans, a bike that will be great, trust me on this, a bike that’ll be huuge. Not a loser. Look at the size of my hands…

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Lucky for us, suddenly there are two choices that fit the bill: Harley’s Iron 883 has been a huge winner for Milwaukee for years, a hit with the men and the ladies (much like myself), not that it’s a chick bike or that there would be anything wrong with that if it was. We love the ladies. Enough that we’ve married a few of them.


Speaking of wearing the pants, it’s beginning to be a little difficult to understand who’s in the driver’s seat at Indian: Is it just me or does the new Victory Octane look like the same bike as the Indian Scout? Pretend not to notice the hair. One thing Polaris did right was to sleeve down the Scout Sixty and slash $2,300 off the price. We’re all about the deals, the good deals, not the lousy one America’s been getting from the rest of the world.

American Power

For that deep haircut, you don’t get fifth gear with the Sixty (but the remaining five speeds are plenty), a leather seat, or quite as much polished bling. (I didn’t miss any of it much the first time I rode the bike.) Nor do you get as much power as the 69-cubic inch Scout. But the 61-incher is closer than you might think, as we learned at the dyno last week.

And we hate to be cruel, but it’s a cruel world, and there’s no place for weaklings who haven’t been to military school. On the dyno chart, the Iron 883 is a loser.

The H-D makes 20 horsepower less than the Scout and 9 pound-feet less torque, and it’s lights out at 6000 rpm, too. We like bikes fast enough not to get captured by the enemy.

The H-D makes 20 horsepower less than the Scout and 9 pound-feet less torque, and it’s lights out at 6000 rpm, too. We like bikes fast enough not to get captured by the enemy.

The funny thing about the old Iron, though, is that it seldom feels that much less powerful than the Scout in everyday use, even though the dyno says the Scout is putting the hurt on it from the get-go. You get distracted by the floor show the old cam-in-block Twin puts on, thrashing in its rubber mounts and expressing itself in a variety of ways that makes it feel fast and makes the Scout seem kind of subdued in comparison; it’s Trump vs. Kasich.

The thicker seat, with new foam, is one of the nicest things ever to intentionally touch the rear end of any Sportster rider.

The thicker seat, with new foam, is one of the nicest things ever to intentionally touch the rear end of any Sportster rider.

At the same time, the rest of the Sportster has evolved into a surprisingly civilized conveyance. Some of us remember riding the old four-speed Sportster back when it was solid-mounted in the frame and America was great. (It got the five-speed gearbox in 1991, and a new rubber-mount frame in 2004.)

Classic lines, cooling fins, valvetrain clatter...

Classic lines, cooling fins, valvetrain clatter…

The Elvis Presley quiveringness of the Iron just encourages you to twist the throttle harder, really, or else it just uses a quicker-opening throttle. Both bikes are making good torque at just 2000 rpm.


To keep up with the Indians, the Hog also has a tachometer, gear-position indicator and clock you can scroll through with the little button on the left grip.

Meanwhile, the Scout Sixty runs really smooth up until around 6000 rpm, when a little vibration begins creeping into its grips. But as you can see from its dyno trace, there’s really no pay-off in winding it out much beyond 6000 in its as-delivered form. From the looks of its dyno chart, though, a little ECU tuning might unleash quite a bit more excitement from 6000 to its 8100-rpm redline. The Scout has four cams just like the Sportster, but its cams are the overhead variety, activating four valves per cylinder. The Sportster, with its pushrods and two valves per, has left the building at 6000 rpm (though I don’t remember ever bumping into its redline).

American moderne, with radiator and DOHC.

American moderne, with radiator and DOHC.

We’ve Grown Soft!

And that’s not a bad thing. For 2016, the Iron gets H-D’s Emulsion shocks out back, a new cartridge fork up front, and new foam in its new tuck-and-roll solo seat. I thought this thing felt nicer than any Sportster I’d ever ridden, and that’s because it is.

You could almost make your Iron a hardtail if you cranked its new Emulsion shocks’ preload all the way down. (They sell for $599 in the accessories department.) Lighter new wheels also help the suspension work better.

You could almost make your Iron a hardtail if you cranked its new Emulsion shocks’ preload all the way down. (They sell for $599 in the accessories department.) Lighter new wheels also help the suspension work better.

Strangely, H-D’s official specs say there’s only 1.6 inches of rear-wheel travel, which is ½-inch less than before. Even so, the new shocks give a much plusher ride with better control no matter what the specs say; likewise the fork. There’s even a nice preload-adjuster wrench under the seat that lets you dial in a bunch more spring (too bad you can’t crank up the rebound damping too). Doing that gives you a bit more cornering clearance, which is still not enough.

Be careful making quick right turns; the exhaust pipes will attempt to lever you onto your keister like a security guard at a campaign rally, of which we do not approve. The left is just as guilty! Evans found out the hard way when he rode the bike at its coming-out party last August.

To celebrate America, I wore my Union Jack lid from which we sprang, one nation, totally divisible, with liberty and justice for all. (Brasfield photo.)

To celebrate America, I wore my Union Jack lid from which we sprang, one nation, totally divisible, with liberty and justice for all. (Brasfield photo.)

But people are tired of the same old complaints from motojournalists. How about term limits? Throw us out!

The Scout Sixty serves up a similarly perfectly acceptable ride. At three inches, it’s got almost twice the rear-wheel travel of the Harley. Neither bike bottoms out much, but when they do you feel it.

Both bikes’ two-piston slide-type calipers and single discs are perfectly adequate, but the Iron is the only one that offers ABS as a $795 option.

Both bikes’ two-piston slide-type calipers and single discs are perfectly adequate, but the Iron is the only one that offers ABS as a $795 option.

Ergonomics play a huge part in motorcycle comfort, and the length of the rider determines which of these two bikes’ ergos is preferable, since they both place having a low seat height above all else: To 5-foot-8 me (on a tall day) and my 30-in. inseam, I totally prefer the Sportster’s layout, with its mid-mount footpegs and narrower handlebar. Being able to use my legs to absorb some shocks is way better than having them stuck out pretty far forward on the Indian, which leaves my butt cheeks to defend my delicate fundament unassisted.

Brassknockers, at 5’11” with 32-inch legs and gorilla arms, feels cramped on the Sportster, riding with knees above hipbones, and he finds the Sixty way more comfortable.

Both bikes are for lone wolves, though both companies offer options for dual seats and passenger pegs.

They’re All Sportbikes to Us

We generally always find a nice curvy road or two whenever we go out for a ride, and we haven’t found a motorcycle yet that’s not up for a good romp, some more than others. The Iron has less ground clearance than perhaps any other motorcycle except the 883 Low, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still fun to ride. Hang off like Lorenzo, but be careful after the footpeg feelers are down to half their original length. Other than that, they don’t call it Sportster for nothing; those bias-ply Michelins feed back pretty good road feel, the chassis feels like “tuned flex” though I’m sure not intentionally, the new suspension is way better, and the ergonomics encourage flogging.

When they get around to building the Sport Scout, we hope they won’t use the 16-inch fatty tires, which give the Sixty a vague feel when on the warpath.

When they get around to building the Sport Scout, we hope they won’t use the 16-inch fatty tires, which give the Sixty a vague feel when on the warpath.

The Scout’s fun too in a more civilized manner; it begins dragging its footpegs a few degrees later than the Harley, its engine revs to 8000 rpm, that cast aluminum frame feels more solid and trustworthy – but the Indian’s fat 16-inch front tire gives it a vague, less precise feel than the Harley.

Both bikes are more competent and fun to ride than you’d expect if you’re some kind of sportbike snob.

The Starbucks Grand Prix

These smaller, gentler cruisers are all about zipping around town on a budget, really, wowing the locals and impressing the ladies. Well, no actual ladies seemed to notice them as they were all texting, but guys in Mustangs with no apparent motorcycle knowledge were all attracted to the Sportster. It’s hard to believe anybody couldn’t know what it is, since it’s looked basically the same since 1957 and since it says HARLEY-DAVIDSON on the gas tank, but there it is. Some people are quicker with the visual/mental receptors than others.

Guys who have a little motorcycle awareness, on the other hand, were attracted by the Indian and wanted to hear all about it.


At the end of the day, once I rode the Sportster home after filming the video and spent a few more days with it and filled out the Scorecard, I feel like it finishes much closer to the Indian than we at first declared in the video. Like we said before, though the Indian way overpowers the 883 and out-moderns it, it really doesn’t feel that way on the road. And the Sportster’s new suspension has brought it way closer to the modern era.

Also, on the ride home, I remembered a thing the Harley’s had so long I’d forgotten about it: The friction-wheel throttle lock isn’t electronic cruise control, but it’s way better than nothing when the road’s flat and straight. Old tech at its finest.

From the sands of Daytona to the shores of Tripoli, the Indian vs. Harley debate has raged since the turn of the 20th century, and we’re glad to rekindle it. The smooth-suspended Harley retains its anachronistic air-cooled charm, and nearly everybody is impressed by its classic lines, cooling fins and big hair. I am sick of the word iconic, so overused, but that’s what the Sportster is.

The way-more-modern, more powerful and objectively better-in-nearly-every way Scout Sixty wins this round but not by as much as some thought it would going in.

Yo, it’s America. We’re all winners. But you’ll have to pick a side.


2016 Harley-Davidson Iron 883
+ Highs

  • New suspension and seat much more comfy
  • Elvis character
  • Thumbwheel throttle lock = `50s cruise control
– Sighs

  • Longer shocks should be a no-cost option
  • Cramped for guys above 5’11” or so
  • Need a lot of road to break the Ton
2016 Indian Scout Sixty
+ Highs

  • The price is right
  • Smooth, revvable powerplant
  • Tall guys like it
– Sighs

  • Powerplant could be more revvable past 6000 rpm
  • Pegs are too forward, bars too wide for short people
  • Indian will have to throw on its premium shocks to keep up with Joneses
Great American $9K Cruisers Scorecard
Category Harley-Davidson Iron 883 Indian Scout Sixty
Price 100% 93.3%
Weight 99.5% 100%
lb/hp 70.1% 100%
lb/lb-ft 84.1% 100%
Total Objective Scores 92.2% 97.8%
Engine 80.0% 86.3%
Transmission/Clutch 80.0% 85.0%
Handling 77.5% 76.3%
Brakes 83.8% 77.5%
Suspension 73.8% 76.3%
Technologies 75.0% 73.8%
Instruments 81.3% 80.0%
Ergonomics/Comfort 75.0% 70.0%
Quality, Fit & Finish 80.0% 83.8%
Cool Factor 83.8% 82.5%
Grin Factor 80.0% 81.3%
Evans’ Subjective Scores 77.9% 81.5%
John’s Subjective Scores 80.4% 78.3%
Overall Score 81.8% 83.5%
Great American $9K Cruisers Specifications
Harley-Davidson Iron 883 Sportster Indian Scout Sixty
MSRP $8,399 (+ $795 for ABS as tested) $8,999
Engine Type “883cc (53.9 cu. in.),
air-cooled 45-degree OHV V-twin; 2 valves/cyl.”
999cc (61 cu. in.), liquid-cooled 60 degree V-twin, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl.
Bore and Stroke 76.2mm x 96.8mm 99.3mm x 73.6mm
Fuel System Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI) Electronic fuel injection, closed loop/60mm bore
Ignition Electronic Electronic
Compression Ratio 9.0:1 11.0:1
lb/hp 11.70 8.20
lb/torque 11.30 9.50
Transmission 5-speed, multi-plate wet clutch 5-speed, multi-plate wet clutch
Final Drive Belt Belt
Front Suspension 39mm telescopic fork; 3.6 in. travel 41mm fork; 4.7 in. travel
Rear Suspension Dual Emulsion shocks, coil-over, preload-adjustable; 1.6-in. travel Dual shocks, coil-over, preload-adjustable; 3 in. travel
Front Brake Single 300mm disc, two-piston caliper; ABS optional Single 298mm rotor with 2-piston caliper
Rear Brake Single 260mm disc; dual-piston caliper Single 298mm rotor with 1-piston caliper
Front Tire 100/90B19 130/90-16
Rear Tire 150/80B16 150/80-16
Rake/Trail 30° / 4.6 in. 29° / 4.7 in.
Wheelbase 59.6 in. 61.5 in.
Seat Height 28.9 in. 25.3 in.
Measured Weight 568 lb. 565 lb.
Fuel Capacity 3.3 gal. 3.3 gal.
Tested Fuel Economy 43 mpg 45 mpg
Available Colors Black Denim, Charcoal Denim, Olive Gold, Hard Candy Gold Flake Thunder Black
Warranty Two years, unlimited miles Two years, unlimited miles

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Harley-Davidson Communities

  • Ser Samsquamsh

    Are you sure the Sportster has four cams?

    • Auphliam

      Always have

      • john burns

        just like RC30: four gear-driven cams.

        • Ser Samsquamsh

          Well I’ll be.

    • Jeff LaLone

      One cam per valve. Seems a bit inefficient.

  • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

    Nice, JB!

    When you go to a press intro, and the moto-press sends its journalists, it’s not sending its best. They’re sending slackers, freeloaders, moochers…some, I assume, are decent people.

    • john burns

      can someone direct me to the Free Stuff?

      • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

        Look in Evans’ closet.

        • Evans Brasfield

          Shh, now the secret’s out.

      • Starmag

        I’m sure Bernie can…

        • john burns

          fishing with worms

  • schizuki

    “To keep up with the Indians, the Hog also has a tachometer, gear-position indicator and clock you can scroll through with the little button on the left grip.”

    It does? It looks like the same instrument pod as on my 2011 Iron. There’s a clock, but no tach or gear indicator. And the button is on the back of the housing, not the handgrip.

  • Starmag

    1.6″ of rear wheel travel. LOL. Why bother with the expense of shocks at all? Cruisers are getting to be more of a joke all the time. People who buy these must have grudge against their own kidneys.

    • TC

      More like a half inch after you sit on the bike. If they only made cruisers, I wouldn’t ride a motorcycle. Too bad the reviewers can’t say what they really think, because they would lose their advertising.

      • TheMarvelous1310

        Some people actually like the suspensions on these. Some people still buy hardtails! Not everything is going to be the way you like it, get over it.

        • TC

          Yes! And some people will pay a dominatrix to tie them up and give them a good spanking!

          • TheMarvelous1310

            As long as they’re not paying her to spank YOU, it shouldn’t matter! Different strokes, melting pots, live and let et cetera.

          • Jaime Berrones

            hahahaha i cant write because the laugh but i think the same

      • john burns

        thank you for next column idea, Starmag.

  • Kenneth

    After all these years – and I know it’s highly subjective – the Harley still rules, aesthetically, for me. Besides the Indian emblem on its tank, I see absolutely nothing attractive about the Scout (and even less about the Octane), while the massive radiator and rear fender are inelegant, to be diplomatic. ‘Looking forward to demo-ing the 1200 Roadster.

  • John B.

    My son’s industrious friend moved in with us when his family ran into
    a tough stretch. One day, I came home and saw this 1998 Harley 883 in
    our garage. He bought it for $1500 on Craigslist. The bike had been in
    storage a long time and only had 3000 miles on it.

    I became a motorcyclist late in life so this bike is like an
    archeological specimen to me. I can’t stop looking at it. All metal
    parts, a clutch pull like one of those old hand exercisers, no tach,
    no gas gauge, a petcock, small, low and heavy, and brazenly loud. This bike seems to amaze my son and his friend too, but for different reasons.

    The kid rocks our mostly empty nest neighborhood riding up and down the
    streets. It’s only a matter of time before he gets an ear full from
    Mrs. Cooper. (She can’t hear, but she can detect people having fun and
    will allow none of it.)

    He plans to sell the bike and expects to make a nice profit.
    Everytime he and his girl come in from the garage with an ear-to-ear
    grin, however, the time to sell creeps further into the future.

    As for the contemporary iterations John reviewed above, I am totally taken with all things Indian. If ever I buy a cruiser it will be an Indian!

    • pcontiman

      I love that kid!

  • Peter c

    I test road both bike. I disagree you have to be tall for the Indian. I’m 5’7″ and found the Indian’s ergonomics far better than the Sportster. The seat comfort on the Harley is far better than the Indian. The Indian seat design and lack of padding gives soon gives you a sore tailbone. Overall you can’t go past the Scout 60 delivering much higher torque & HP than the Sportster.

  • Old MOron

    Two bikes I couldn’t be less interested in. Yet JB makes it a good read.

  • GodWhomIsMike

    This is one of my favorite motorcycle.com articles and the video is excellent. Great job all around on this article. I wouldn’t mind either of those bikes in my garage, but I would prefer the Scout Sixty for a longer range ride.

    • http://www.themotorcycleobsession.com/ Chris Cope

      Arguably, John wrote things correctly. Compared with the six gears on the Scout, the one missing on the Scout Sixty is fifth. Since its fifth gear has the same ratio as the Scout’s sixth.

      • Kevin Duke

        Nailed it!

      • sukonmyrightwing

        The problem is that except for someone saying something that is either going to get someone killed or not prevent them from killing themselves
        Except for serious discussions

        Who really cares what is said in the forums, it’s all just a joke, just fun

        It’s the serious stuff that really matters

        And when you and the other writers step on serious discussions because you have personal issues with the people involved in those serious discussions then you guys are the problem. When you do it because you don’t like their opinion.what they are saying.on serious topics? Then you are a huge pronlem.

        When your own opinion is stupid and you do that? That is almost manslaughter.

        Otherwise who really cares. But when it is an important topic them I definitely do care. But I am not about to start my own website just to have important technical discussions about motorcycling free of interference from you that idiot Chris cope or the likes of Sean McDonald and Wes siler. Because most of that problem is that you will still be out there posting your nonsense..and not just you but thousands of other idiots….and tens of thousands of idiots will be riding and reading. And ultimately the proof of pudding is in the tasting.

        But a true idiot will not only get it wrong, they will also misunderstand what they did wrong and then come up with stupid non-solutions. But the fact is that there is only so much that you can do to help a true idiot. If they are really dumb enough then they are beyond saving. And the most important thing that you can do is to be honest with them and just tell them that they are too stupid to ride.

        But that would mean being rude and insulting.
        And a true idiot wouldn’t listen anyway.

        The success or failure of any one motorcyclist ultimately depends on how smart they are. Given that they decide to ride in the first place. From there all that we can really do is either agree with them or criticize them. And with some people you simply have to criticize them firmly in order for them to get the point. And if so write to someone and their main problem with what is say is stye but they have no rational argument against the facts or logic of what I say and then you clowns come behind me and delete not only what I said to that one guy that one time but also every frigging post that I have ever made on your site using that account, just how smart do you think that you are. How much are you helping your readers? You are just being big dumb bullies in your own forums. But you are still being big dumb bullies. I just cannot see wasting my time and energy on a forum where some idiotic mod is going to come behind !e and try to delete everything that I say just out of spite or because they don’t agree with one thing that I have said. They are going to win…because they promote idiocy and repress intelligence. It is not just deleting my posts, it is also promoting stupid posts from dozens of other readers in addition to their own stupid comments. I just cannot undo that level of stupidity with a few wise comments and corrections. Nor should I have to waste my time and energy doing it. Even once much less repeatedly. And I simply cannot kick you clowns off the internet. That has to be done by the internet itself…people have to be smart enough not to take you guys seriously or there is no point in arguing with you.

  • scott.

    The dyno test confirmed something I thought when I demo’d the Scout Sixty, that the torque and horsepower of the Sixty are more of a match performance-wise to the 1200 Sportster than the 883, despite the lower price. Totally don’t get why they don’t have an ABS option like Harley does though.

  • SRMark

    Getting pretty tired of cruisers. How nice it would be if Indian would make a standard out of the Scout. Amen to the smaller front tire. Those fenders aren’t my cup of tea and I’m in my 60s. How many riders are left who actually have fond memories of those goofy fenders? That was a long time ago. Let it go. But the tank and engine are very nice. NHTSA should mandate 4″ minimum rear shock travel. And no, I’m not serious. Without your feet under your butt you can’t absorb any road shock with your legs. And yet the rear travel gets shorter and shorter. One can wish.

    • Jaime Berrones

      you are absolutely right, i think something like a triumph boneville will be fantastic with that engine

      • SRMark

        I have two VX800 Suzukis. The bikes are great. They are a perfect example of what might be done. But buyers stayed away in droves form those bikes so I won’t hold my breath. But I will hold on to the VXs.

  • Moto Ray

    This was a great read–more than just a review. Thanks, JB.

  • Craig Hoffman

    HD has a lot less tooling in its comparatively unchanged bikes than other makers and they are laughing all the way to the bank. The Sporty should cost far less than this Indian, which is far more advanced.

    The HD wins hands down on styling though. This Indian reminds me of the fat kid who is trying to be cool – it just can’t pull it off as it’s chubby front tired fat fendered dorkiness is apparent for all to see. This is a pity too, as the Indian has a far more interesting engine in it. Would like to see this engine and its variants in a more appealing setting.

  • Ian Parkes

    47 horsepower, one and half inches of suspension, the ground clearance of a filing cabinet. “Yes sir, this is the ‘Sportster’.” I’d laugh if I wasn’t completely baffled.

  • Ron Hayes

    I have to laugh that it appears that John is wearing a British helmet while they refer to the American motorcycle. Maybe a Triumph Street Twin should be included to go with the helmet. LOL!!

  • pcontiman

    “Their all sportbikes to us” – my new favorite stolen line! -I’ll add that I had roughly the same summary when I demo’d the Scout a few years back. Way more modern, sleek, comfy, smooth and possibly a little faster than my Rubber Mount 1200…but definitely not more fun…..sometimes you just wanna shake.

  • John

    I believe that is pronounced “Yuuuge”, with a Y