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Following my latest 2 wheeled adventure- which, if you don’t already know, left my beloved Harley Sportster 1200S, in a rather sorry state and me in a somewhat sorrier state- my manager at work showed uncharacteristic goodwill and trustingly lent me another bike! As I work in a Harley dealership I was hoping for a V-Rod or perhaps one of the new XB12 Buells, but alas it was not to be. I was handed the keys to a somewhat less impressive XL883 Sportster Custom. Now I know why my manager was smirking!
Allow me, if you will, a few moments to digress from my tale as I explain the subtle differences in the Harley Sportster range, as to the non-Harley owner, it can be a little confusing.
The range starts with the base model XLH883, this model has spoked wheels (19” front, 16” rear,) foot controls in the “normal” position as opposed to forward controls, a single seat and very little chrome. Next up is the XLH883 Hugger. Specification is exactly the same as above but the seat height is much lower due to “low-profile” shock absorbers and front forks. The XL883C Custom is next, with lashings of chrome all over, an enormous 21” front wheel, forward foot controls and a dual seat. The last 883 I will talk about is the XL883R (R for “Racing”) this bike is a little different as it was designed as a tribute to the flat-track racers ridden by Evel Knievel et al. The bike has a flashy orange and black paint job, black engine casings, cast wheels (19” and 16” front and rear respectively) standard controls and twin brake discs at the front and a dual seat. The last two models in the Sportster range are 1200cc models. The XL1200C Custom has much of the same spec as the 883C above, but obviously benefits from the larger engine size. The seat is also more luxurious with thicker padding and a wider pillion perch for comfort. The engine casings on this model are chromed also. Last, but by no means least is the XL1200S, which I own. This is in my opinion the best bike in the range. With cast wheels, dual disc brakes, mid-controls, a tachometer (!) and most importantly twin spark cylinder heads for extra compression & performance. This model does come with a dual seat, but it is primarily designed for aesthetics, not comfort, so for two-up riding a different seat is recommended!
OK, if I haven’t bored you all to death already, I shall continue!
Starting up the 883 Custom was a somewhat disappointing affair, the bike still has the standard pipes on and it sounds more like a lawnmower than a Harley! The lack of a tachometer (rev counter) also caught me out, although on this bike it really is not necessary. I swung my leg over the wee-beastie – it seems much lower than my own bike, although the quoted seat height is just 11mm less! Taking the bike off the stand I was surprised by how light it felt compared to my own. Quoted figures are 245kg for the 1200S and 240kg for the 883C. Setting off, I pulled the clutch in (same heavy clutch) and plonked the bike into first gear. Except I didn’t, my foot just flopped back to the floor. It was then I remembered the forward controls! Stretching your legs out in front of you is an incredibly unnatural experience on a motorcycle, it encourages you to lean back into the seat and hang onto the handlebars in true bad-ass style. The first corner on this bike was interesting to say the least. The huge 21” front wheel just flops into the corners, giving you no feedback at all although thankfully, the bike is light and low enough to control by shifting your bodyweight slightly, allowing you to correct mistakes caused by the vague front end. On a straight, clear road it’s time to see what this bike can do. Opening the throttle at 40mph in 5th (top) gear results in a fair bit of acceleration. Nothing too drastic, but not too shabby either. I took the bike up to about 85mph, and that was quite enough, thank you very much. The feet-forward riding position means you are splayed out on the bike (looking not unlike one of those sticky Garfield car window decorations) catching all the wind. The skinny front tyre tracks every bump and groove in the road making changing lanes and crossing white lines an, erm, interesting experience! Stopping the bike wasn’t exactly stress free either. The 883C has only one disc brake at the front (my 1200 has 2) and a disc at the rear. This basically means you have to work the front brake twice as hard, and with that skinny front tyre, you really don’t want to push your luck. I found that the best method for braking was to plan it well in advance, using both front and rear brakes in equal measure. At more sensible, cruising speeds, this bike makes a lot more sense. The forward controls mean you have your legs stretched out, rather than bent and cramped beneath you, corners should be approached gently, gradually leaning the bike in (although not too much as those forward pegs will scrape fairly easily) and accelerating smoothly out.
To sum up, I would say that the 883C is a perfect first bike for someone into customs. If a sports bike rider gets on one he will laugh. Simple as that. There is no power – around 50bhp at best, the brakes are poor, and the riding position, whilst incredibly comfortable at first, soon puts a lot of pressure on the base of your spine. Not ideal for me as I broke mine last year! There is still a lot of vibration from the engine, although not as much as on my 1200S, presumably as the engine isn’t in quite such a high state of tune. Controls are standard Harley – heavy clutch, clunky yet reassuring gearbox and mediocre brakes. The fuel capacity is the same as all ’95-on Sportsters at 3.3 gallons, although I feel fuel economy will be better on this bike due to the smaller engine size and lack of performance. Insurance on the 883 would be cheaper also as it falls into NU Group 11, again due to the smaller engine. This compares favourably to my own bike which is in NU14.
All in all, I was glad when I got the phone call saying my bike was ready and I could pick it up. It’s not that the 883 is a bad bike. It’s just a very different experience to what I am used to.
Good review, i used to own a 1999 xl53c, i thought it a great bike but i did have straight through slash cut exhausts. Also had a screaming eagle stage one put on it. So it sounded great and improved the performance no end.
I would thoroughly recommend this bike as a first bike a stepping stone to the rest of the harley range. Join your local chapter too as they are a great bunch of people.
Unfortuantly with it being a harley it is a target to criminals as mine got stolen. Now im riding a 1200 Triumph Trophy, it leaves most bikes for dust as its group 18 insurance.
gard 22.12.2005 14:40
Hi. Nice review. I got a 2005 model of 883C and it is my first big bike so there is plenty of power for me at the moment :-) I agree with you on the sound...mine became better after i got the Screamin Eagle pipes installed :-) Apart from that the engine is now rubber mounted to the frame so there is less vibration compared to older models. Regards Gard