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“Yeah, the 2016 Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 has been brought up-to-date. It now comes with ABS.” Those words were spoken to us when we went over to Harley-Davidson Malaysia to pick up the Sportster Iron 883, and the author nearly swallowed his Marlboro.

Now, when you speak to your normal man- or woman-on-the-street, ask them to visualise a motorcycle brand-name, and invariably the image that comes to mind is Harley-Davidson. That the American brand’s marketing is ubiquitous would be putting it mildly.

Movies, advertising, product placements, merchandise – Harley has covered nearly anything and everything. But, riding on a company’s heritage and image will only go so far. The modern consumer, specifically the younger set of motorcycle riders, have a different mind-set when it comes to what a motorcycle is supposed to portray in terms of image and performance.

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Recognising this, Harley has embarked on a concerted marketing effort to draw in the ‘younger’ rider with a series of entry-level motorcycles that are less in the style of the big American cruiser, and more in line with a rider wanting a motorcycle that actually performs, somewhat, instead of just looking good parked on the street in Bangsar.

So, what has been done to the 2016 Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 to actually bring it up-to-date, and make it appeal to a young rider sub-set who isn’t all that interested in chrome and bling? Our ride review of the Iron 883 will tell you all you need know.

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Motorcyclists can sometimes be concerned with image, that cannot be denied. And perhaps the greatest purveyor of the motorcycle ‘image’ is Harley-Davidson. The quintessential large-displacement American cruiser, dripping with chrome and accessories, is pretty much emblazoned in the mind of the public – riders and non-riders alike.

That a Harley-Davidson uses a big-cc V-twin, is heavy, and doesn’t go around corners well is the opinion of the rest of us, especially sports riders. But, faced with an aging fan-base, Harley has decided to pursue the younger demographic, and come out with the “Dark Custom” series.

Eschewing the use of chrome, and featuring a murdered-out style, Harley’s Dark Custom wants to draw in the new, younger rider into the Harley-Davidson lifestyle. And right at the bottom, as the entry-level of the “true” Harleys, is the 2016 Iron 883.

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Touted as an easy-to-ride, ‘beginner’ Harley, the Iron 883 is targetted to the new rider, and especially the distaff side of the riding world. This is apparent when first approaching the Iron 883, with its low seat height of 780 mm, allowing any rider to easily throw a leg over the thickly upholstered saddle.

Starting the test bike was effortless, thanks to the key-less system. Keep the key-fob in your pocket, get on the bike, and thumb the starter. The 883 cc V-twin Evolution engine rumbles into life without hesitation, fed by EFI. Quickly settling into that familiar lumpy Harley idle, shifting the gearbox into first comes with a loud, but not alarming, “clunk.”

Taking off is easy, allowing for any rider to quickly build confidence in riding the Iron 883. The clutch lever isn’t stiff, but smaller hands might find the effort a little tough, especially when paddling the Iron 883 around in heavy traffic.

Dealing with traffic is the easy part, as the low seat height – typical of cruisers from Harley – makes getting both feet down easy. Grabbing the slightly raised handlebars felt alright, but needed a little laying forward at the bar-ends for a better fit to suit this rider.

The grips were not over-sized, perhaps better to suit riders with smaller hands. No matter the case, the seating position felt somewhat normal, without the feet feeling too far raked forward. Rowing through the gears was precise, with the engine’s 72.9 Nm of torque at 3,750 rpm allowing the rider to keep the engine in the meat of the powerband.

By the way, don’t ask for a power figure, as Harley-Davidson isn’t in the habit of publishing official power outputs for its machines. However, an educated guess would put it at around the 60 hp point. And don’t scoff at that number.

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While Harley’s bigger Evo twins have stump-pulling torque and horsepower, the smaller Iron 883 is perfectly adequate in dealing with traffic and over-taking, as well as highway cruising. The five-speed gearbox makes it easy to keep the low-revving engine where it’s most comfortable developing power in, shall we say, an interesting manner.

So why isn’t this your grandfather’s Harley? Well, for one thing, and this took us somewhat by surprise, the Iron 883 actually went around corners quite well. Full disclosure, the author happened to have had an FLSTF in the stable for a while, but decided that the sports bike side had better cookies.

So, none of that feeling like you were piloting a train around a corner, but the Iron 883 instead gave good feedback on what was going on at both the front and back ends. This was enabled by the front forks, which, while not adjustable, acquitted itself well on fast, sweeping corners and twisty roads.

What wasn’t so nice was the sharp rebound response when hitting small holes and ruts. The back end was reasonable, again, very comfortable at highway speeds but better than the front end at dealing with short, sharp shocks. This was because the rear shocks – cartridge emulsion units – are adjustable to dial-in the suspension to suit the rider.

Take this with some reservation though, as the adjustment is somewhat limited, and a rider may not find enough adjustment to suit, especially if they weigh on the outer end of the bell curve. In which case, there are several after-market options that will both increase handling performance and ride comfort, for a price.

Ground clearance is, in normal cruiser fashion, set at around 100 mm. Adequate for normal highway cruising and street riding, rather more spirited seat time up in the hills soon revealed a lack of ground clearance. The heero-blobs on the foot pegs were pristine when we picked up the Iron 883, but suffice it to say, they were rather the worse for wear when returned.

This means no cut-and-thrust cornering with the Iron 883. It prefers to take the classic sweeping outside-in line to the apex, and a gentle roll on the throttle coming out. The gentle roll is essential as the 150/60-18 rear tyre doesn’t exactly put a lot of footprint on the ground when heeled over.

No traction control here, darlings, so you’re on your own with this one, or, as Harley puts it, a direct connection between the rider and the road. Using your right hand, that is. Fret not, as the Iron 883 does come with ABS. Did it work? To be very honest, we didn’t dare try.

The kicked out front fork, at 30-degrees of rake and 110 mm of trail made the steering feel responsive, but not sports bike sharp. Which the Iron 883 is not. However, it will still take, and reward, a firm hand at the controls.

The nearest we could get to the Iron 883’s handling performance would be a middle-weight sports bike from the 80s, from our experience. There was nothing bad about the Iron 883’s handling performance. Feedback was good, response was perfectly adequate, just that it didn’t like to be rushed.

Rushing isn’t what you would do with the Iron 883, in truth. While we did manage to push the V-twin up into the illegal part of the speedometer, it felt best loping along in top gear at around 130 km/h, showing about 3,500 on the tachometer.

We’ll wait a moment while you recover from the shock. Yes, the Iron 883 comes with a little LCD tachometer in the single, round, instrument pod. The readout also includes the tripmeter, engine diagnostics and the such, which brings Harley-Davidson’s instrument readout into the modern world, modern being round-about the last millennium, give or take.

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None-the-less, the Iron 883 is not about high-tech gadgetry or outright high-performance. Its traditional looks, and wet weight of 254 kg, plant it in cruiser territory, albeit a cruiser with some performance to match.

This was borne out with some fast highway cruising, something the Iron 883 excelled at. The rubber-mounted engine took away most of the vibration, while the tuck-and-roll saddle cosseted the rider’s butt over the miles. Suffice it to say, the vibration traditionally associated with Harley’s V-twin was there, you just had to touch a directly mounted component to feel it.

Speaking of highway miles, the Iron 883, with its ‘Sportster’-sized tank, could only carry 12.5 litres of fuel. With a rough fuel estimate of 5.1 litres per 100 km, and a range of about 240 km, give-or-take. Frequent fuel stops were a necessary evil, especially when we weren’t sparing the horses. Being somewhat enthusiastic with the throttle on the highway dropped range down to 190 km, so plan fuel stops with care.

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Harley being Harley, of course, means the options list for the 2016 Iron 883 is somewhat jaw-dropping. Anything and everything you can think of, from engine-mods, different wheels, exhausts in both chrome and black, sissy bars, luggage – both hard and soft – as well as handlebars and front- and mid-controls to suit different leg lengths, it’s all there.

Quality of build isn’t anything to scoff at either, with the paint on the tank flawless, and the gloss black of the frame a, well, deep gloss. Everything was tight, and there were no signs of anything dropping off, despite what some say about Harley reliability. No oil marks either, but we only had the bike for a week, and that is not enough to say anything about long-term ownership.

There are four different paint options – Black Denim, Charcoal Denim, HC Gold Flake and Olive Gold as tested. Our test Iron 883 came with the HD Smart Security system with key-less ride, and ABS, which are listed as options in Harley’s catalogue, but come standard for the Malaysian market bikes.

The 2016 Harley-Davidson Iron 883 retails for RM89,000, including GST, along with a five-year warranty. The purchase price also includes two-and-a-half years free service, and a year’s membership in the Harley Owners’ Group Assist scheme.

We found the 2016 Harley-Davidson to be an honest motorcycle, providing the essence of the Harley experience, with no unnecessary frills. There just a direct connection between the bike, the rider and the road, and in this particular instance, the advertising taglines happen to be true.

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So, who should buy this entry-level sportster bike as a lead-in to the Harley lifestyle? The purchase price is steep, comparatively, as Triumph’s 2016 Street Twin, with 900 cc, only goes for RM55,900, while the Ducati Scrambler Icon – on review soon – retails for a little over RM60,000.

A young rider with access to some funding would find the Iron 883 appealing, as would a senior rider wanting a more laid-back ride, especially when the back no longer tolerates the hunched-over seating position of a sports bike. All-in-all, we did like the 2016 Harley-Davidson Iron 883, as a representation of Harley’s current “Dark Custom” offerings at the entry-level.