Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 1st September 2017

They say that flattery is the sincerest form of a compliment, if that is so then the Harley Sportster range must have gotten an extremely big head. For decades, Harley have been sticking by their vision and churning out a range of Sportster models. The biggest seller is actually the smallest and least expensive version they build, the 883 Sportster. It’s the easiest route into living the American dream and most definitely the real deal.

It’s textbook Harley and echoes everything that you’d associate with the legendary American brand. Other manufacturers have all raided the DNA of the Harley-Davidson Sportster, but they are all pretenders at the end of the day. The Sportster is the genuine article and that’s why it’s still an important bike for the brand. On paper there’s nothing to get your pulse running, in fact it’s almost the opposite. The 883 45-degree V twin not only coughs out 50 bhp, it also weighs in at a hefty 251 kilos. So far there’s nothing to get overly excited about, but it’s not what you get but how you use it. The engine is the doggy in the window and around it, there are all the elements that come together to creating a classic Harley. It is the quintessential classic motorcycle. Wheels are spoked items and the silhouette is that of a design icon. Everything from the peanut shaped fuel tank to the short chromed exhaust, click together to give a visual treat. Other brands would tag a retro label on their wannabe product, but Harley has always made them this way! Despite the old fashioned looks and basic spec, the current 883 Sportster is actually pretty modern, and its rubber mounted engine is a great improvement over earlier versions.

The Sportster is a very well put together machine; finish is top notch both to painted components and also the chrome. Part of the whole charm of Harley ownership is the ability to personalise the bikes. The ‘Motor Company’ makes an estensive range of official accessories with which the bikes can be modified and these are generally desirable on the second hand market. Indeed, not too many bikes remain original. The Sportster is an icon and will never go out of fashion. We know this, and so do Harley-Davidson.


What’s it like to ride?

The Sportster isn’t a bike you sit on; it’s more like a bike that you sit in. The 693mm seat height makes it feel like you’re about to sit in your favourite chair and it’s no wonder that these are very popular among shorter riders. Adding to the comfort are the pegs that place your feet forward and handlebars that are flat and narrow. The skinny peanut tank allows you to keep your knees close together. It is the stereotypical iron horse.

Even with the rubber mounted engine there’s still plenty of good vibrations from the air cooled engine, as well as that distinctive Harley sound.

Despite the name, this isn’t a bike that boasts any sporty credentials – at least by modern standards. The first Sportsters were introduced in 1957 and the ‘modern’ incarnation can trace it’s lineage back to 2004, when the all-new frame and rubber mounted engine was introduced. It’s not to say these baby Harleys haven’t got a decent amount of low and mid-range torque, because they do. And when it comes to character, there’s nothing that even comes close. On a dead straight 55mph road in the States you could happily plod along forever, but chuck in some bends and the occasional roundabout and you’ll soon be decking out the foot pegs. The engine is rough and tough. Rough in the sense that the gearbox is pretty agricultural, the salesman will call it character. Tough sums up the finish of the bike too. The spec sheets may not be packed with gizmos and gadgets but Harley-Davidson is a premium brand and the finish, particularly on later bikes, reflects this, even on the less expensive models. From the switchgear through to the finish on that trademark fuel tank, it’s all topped off with no expense spared attention. The sound of the bike is probably one of its biggest draws, even on stock mufflers it’s unmistakably the sound of a Harley.

That small tank means that range is pretty poor, if you hit a 100 miles from a tank it’s time to find a garage quickly and refill. Fuel economy is a pretty average at 40mpg ish depending on how you use the throttle. Final drive is via a belt, so it’s pretty smooth and one less maintenance issue to think about, which allows you more time to enjoy the Sportster.


What to look for?

We spoke to Vinny Styles, the Sales Manager at Wheels Motorcycles in Peterborough. He said: “Any Sportster that’s been looked after will sell very quickly. We don’t get enough come our way. That’s mostly because people tend to stay with them longer and when they do fancy a change, it’s more than likely going to only be for another Harley.

“Most Sportsters get covered in extras, ranging from loud exhausts to custom paintwork. We try to get the standard parts where possible. Exhausts are easy to swap back, but losing a custom paint job is a bigger problem. They retain their value extremely well, which also means buying one cheap is nigh on impossible. Most are weekend toys; therefore mileages are often below the yearly average.”


What goes wrong?

We spoke to Chris Tombleson from Grumpy 1260, they service and also break used bikes.

“The 883 motor is so basic most owners can service them themselves. The belt drive is pretty maintenance free. Checking the oil is about all you need to do every now and then. Some bikes that have extra lights fitted can shorten the life of the generator, but the only real common issue is with things vibrating off! The exhaust studs are a common victim of all that vibration. Otherwise it’s a trouble free bike. We’ve never broken one for parts, that’s probably because even crashed ones will get purchased for custom projects.“


Carole Nash can insure your Harley Davidson, get a quote online or over the phone.