Frugal Fuelers: Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster - First Look

The beginner bike that grows with you.

Frugal Fuelers:  Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster - First Look

Iconic, efficient, simple, stylish and easy to ride, the Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster has been a great first bike for hordes of riders, and unlike smaller-displacement machines, it won't be soon outgrown. Want more power? It's as close as a factory-developed and dealer-installed 1200cc kit. Likewise, upgrades to the brakes and suspension are available from the H-D catalog or a slew of eager aftermarket suppliers.

Credit that kind of support to the Sporty's longevity. Introduced in 1957, the 883 was the original badass street machine, easily outgunning the 500 and 650cc Britbikes of the day. Now considered a beginner's bike, it may not have the street-cred it once had, but the basic architecture remains very similar and unmistakably Sportster.The latest incarnation of the all-aluminum 883 V-Twin–which debuted way back in 1986, speaking of staying power–is now fuel-injected and rubber-mounted. It provides enough thrust to keep from feeling entry-level, but it's so smooth and manageable that those fresh in the saddle won't be intimidated.

While no one will accuse the 883 of being a rocketship, it will still holeshot most cars off the line and hit 60 mph in just over 6 seconds. Power delivery is linear, with bottom-end torque (almost 50 foot-pounds peak) a newbie's best friend leaving stoplights. Compared to the other bikes in this “Best Firsts” section, the Sportster had the third-quickest quarter-mile time and third-fastest top speed, backing up the statement that it's a bike an owner can happily grow with. Average fuel mileage from the 883 was excellent, putting it near the top of any list as a great commuter. Clutch pull is light, its ease of use aided by a well-shaped lever. Gearbox action, up or down, is light and positive. Gone are the days when Sportsters were high-effort machines.

Riders less than 6 feet tall will find the 883 a good fit, and the low, comfortable, 29.3-inch-high seat greatly aids first-timers' jitters at stoplights or while paddling into parking spaces. Shorter riders can order the Low version of the 883, which drops seat height another 3 inches.Don't let the 559-pound dry weight scare you off, either, as the bike feels anything but heavy. Handling is light yet stable due to the long, almost-60-inch wheelbase. It flicks in and out of turns easily in a manner that gives a new rider confidence. If you don't believe that an 883 can handle, take a look back in roadracing history when riders like Ben and Eric Bostrom cut their teeth racing in the AMA's SuperTwins class in the 1990s on Sportster 883s. Brakes are easy to modulate and offer good feel.

Those looking for a great all-around bike at an affordable price will find a friend in the $6695 Sportster. It offers lots of performance and plenty of style, and with a thick H-D accessory catalog and extensive aftermarket, you can make the 883 a bike to call your own for years to come.

Ups:| * Looks just like the 1200 * Rubber-mounted engine smooth on highway * Genuine H-D for under $7 grand!
Downs:| * Small bike for big people * Double disc brakes up front would be nice * Rear suspension could be better
Dry weight:|559 lb.
Wheelbase:|59.8 in.
Seat height:|29.3 in.
Fuel mileage:|55.0 mpg
0–60 mph:|6.4 sec
1/4-mile:|14.70 sec. @ 88.69 mph
Horsepower:|44.8 hp @ 5950 rpm
Torque:|48.5 ft.-lb. @ 3400 rpm
Top speed:|104 mph