The Great American $9k Cruise-Off: H-D Iron 883 Vs. Indian Scout Sixty

John Burns
by John Burns

Making America Cruise Again

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…

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 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.

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…

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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

CategoryHarley-Davidson Iron 883Indian Scout Sixty
Total Objective Scores92.2%97.8%
Quality, Fit & Finish80.0%83.8%
Cool Factor83.8%82.5%
Grin Factor80.0%81.3%
Evans’ Subjective Scores77.9%81.5%
John’s Subjective Scores80.4%78.3%
Overall Score81.8%83.5%

Great American $9K Cruisers Specifications

Harley-Davidson Iron 883 SportsterIndian 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 Stroke76.2mm x 96.8mm99.3mm x 73.6mm
Fuel SystemElectronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)Electronic fuel injection, closed loop/60mm bore
Compression Ratio9.0:111.0:1
Transmission5-speed, multi-plate wet clutch5-speed, multi-plate wet clutch
Final DriveBeltBelt
Front Suspension39mm telescopic fork; 3.6 in. travel41mm fork; 4.7 in. travel
Rear SuspensionDual Emulsion shocks, coil-over, preload-adjustable; 1.6-in. travelDual shocks, coil-over, preload-adjustable; 3 in. travel
Front BrakeSingle 300mm disc, two-piston caliper; ABS optionalSingle 298mm rotor with 2-piston caliper
Rear BrakeSingle 260mm disc; dual-piston caliperSingle 298mm rotor with 1-piston caliper
Front Tire100/90B19130/90-16
Rear Tire150/80B16150/80-16
Rake/Trail30° / 4.6 in.29° / 4.7 in.
Wheelbase59.6 in.61.5 in.
Seat Height28.9 in.25.3 in.
Measured Weight568 lb.565 lb.
Fuel Capacity3.3 gal.3.3 gal.
Tested Fuel Economy43 mpg45 mpg
Available ColorsBlack Denim, Charcoal Denim, Olive Gold, Hard Candy Gold FlakeThunder Black
WarrantyTwo years, unlimited milesTwo years, unlimited miles
John Burns
John Burns

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2 of 36 comments
  • Pcontiman Pcontiman on Jun 10, 2016

    "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 John on Aug 18, 2016

    I believe that is pronounced "Yuuuge", with a Y