The 2016 Harley-Davidson Iron 883 Sportster is built around sensations. Not steel, bolts, and welds but sounds, smells, and vibrations.
Let’s do away with some superficial-but-compulsory bullshit, shall we? This production bobber is one of six Sportster models built by motorcycling’s biggest, most blown-out brand. It sits at the smaller end of Harley’s offerings and, starting at $8,849, is far more modestly priced than the frilly highway hogs most of us associate with the Milwaukee-based motorcycle company. It’s also the best-looking bike in the whole of Harley-Davidson’s lineup; it’s simple, handsome—especially in Olive Gold—and has classic “street bobber” finishes, from its tuck-and-roll leather seat to its lone headlight, drag handlebars, chopped fenders, compact fuel tank, and mix of matte- and gloss-black trim.
Yet none of that sets the 2016 Harley-Davidson Iron 883 Sportster apart from a slew of similar “tough guy” bikes, and the Harley is special only because of its sensations. The Iron’s air-cooled, 883-cc V-Twin engine feels like it might violently shake itself free of its mounts the second you press the ignition button. Once the engine catches and fires, the V-Twin quickly settles into a gentler, thrumming idle that travels through and out a side-mounted exhaust, which is surprisingly subtle and smooth and not nearly as obnoxious as you’d expect.
It takes some leg to stand up the hefty 562-lb motorcycle, but the bike is easy to keep upright once your feet are planted on the pavement, which they will be since the seat is only 25.7 inches from the street. It takes only two fingers to pull in the feather-light clutch lever but the wooden gear linkage has less give than the handle on a bolt-action rifle. Your left foot kicks up against the taut shift lever so deliberately that you’re sure it’ll leave a bruise, and the whole bike jerks forward as the transmission slams into first gear with an astonishingly loud “clack.”
Cruising in traffic, you can feel every single tremor, no matter how minute, coming through the Iron’s seat, handlebars, and frame. The motorcycle has an assuredness that’s intimidating at first, but you quickly realize that the solidly built street bike will never put up too much of a fight and isn’t the rattlesnake it looks like. The Iron 883 pleasantly wafts down the road with the confidence and machismo of well-endowed dude sauntering around the locker room, and, on it, you feel as badass as a road-worn vagabond with a dreadlocked beard whose tattoos tell the tales that drink made him forget.
Looks- and engineering-wise, the 2016 Harley-Davidson Iron 883 Sportster isn’t special, but, damn, does it feel like it is.