Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Roadster

Deciding on my next commuter motorcycle, replacing my present scooter, a Piaggio MP3 400i, the element of hoped for FUN defined the brand, it had to be a Harley-Davidson.

Even with the biggest marketing budget, it will be difficult for Harley-Davidson to establish itself as a natural choice for a commuter bike, but that’s were we, the addicted HOG members, come in. The real question was: what Harley?

In my previous post, I defined 3 areas of competence in which a commuter bike has to tick the boxes. Today I want to talk about


It is not so much speed, but acceleration you need. As a commuter of lower powered motorcycle, I love the London Black Cabs or Big Red Buses, as they accelerate like a sack of potatoes, even overweighted pedestrians can outrun them when a red light turns green. This compares favourably to the aggressive BMW 3 series rider, who realised he paid to much for his car that is standing in long traffic jams, providing him single digit miles to the gallon. At least when the red light turns green, he wants to have his fun, and will try to outrun this arrogant Hayabusa that just squeezed next to him. He will fail, but its not safe for the Hayabussa rider. Think bike!!

High speeds are dangerous, but a good acceleration is vital, as it brings you quickly out of every danger zone, without even breaking any speed limit. Remember: there are no acceleration limits, as long as you do not burn too much rubber.

But agility is not just acceleration, its also the lightness of rolling through files of standing cars, easily filtering through them, changing to the left or right, depending on what idiotic Mini driver thinks he can park his car wherever he wants, forgetting that it’s a bloody big car nowadays. Even some Smart drivers manage to block whole streets just by their presence.

This agility you get from a short wheelbase, and a steep rack angle. If your front wheel is two car length in front of your back wheel, forget to filter between them. The turning is very much helped by a steep angle of the front fork, not these long easy riders, more like a roller board or Skaty. With zero degree angle you can turn on a post stamp.

Comparison 883 vs MP3

Weight, wheelbase and rack angle, some Harley models exclude themselves by birth from being used as commuter bike, the Ultra is overweight, the V-Rod has a wide rack angle and a custom bike… not suitable for inner city commuting!

The only viable family member of Harley-Davidson to be considered for daily commuting is the Sportster, and typically for Harley, the choices and options you have to build your dream Sportster fill the pages of a thick telephone book.

As you plan to use it in whatever weather, and will surely not wash it every evening, forget about looks for a moment, lets first stay practical. With the Sportster, you have the choice of 2 engines, the 883 cc and the 1200 cc Evolution. I drove both, and asked many people for advise, and my conclusion is: get the 883 engine for commuting. The 883 is agile, but it is one more very important thing: it is forgiving.

As commuter you ride in the early morning hours, when your brain still wants to be in bed, and you return tired after a long and hard day of work. The 1200 is nervous, it wants to run, it wants to play with you, challenging your senses. The 883 by contrast does not execute every mistake you make, specially on the wet. The 883 still not as easy as a small scooter, where the throttle only needs 2 positions: closed or fully opened, but if you open it by mistake a bit too much, no problem, the 883 will forgive you. A 1200 by contrast may well tell you that this was something you should not have done on this particular man-cover or white crossing label: wake up, or better stay home.

Seating height and foot position

So: agility is good, but not too much of it. Just consider this: bicycle drivers are often faster then the bikers, they not only jump the red lights, but easily catch you at the next red one. It is this constant stop and go that defines your shortest possible journey time, not the power of your engine nor the speed you go the few yards between 2 red lights. And believe me, they are always red.

But even with a 883 engine, Harley offers you choices: the retro 883 Roadster, or the beautiful mean black 883 Iron.

My choice without hesitation: the Roadster, as it’s the only 883 Sportster with one very important feature for commuting: double front disc brakes. Not sure why Harley offers this important safety feature only to their entry model as standard, but for commuting, strong front brakes are a absolute must.

Remember: the next red light is just a few yards away, the next iPod listening pedestrian still dreaming of the previous night steps into your path twice a day, and the cyclist who thinks that he owns the streets because he has the weakest engine will prove his arrogance over and over again to you. You want double front disc brakes, trust me on that.

Next: storage and weather protection on a commuter bike


8 Responses to “Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Roadster”

  1. […] Harley-davidson sportster 883 roadster | road king uk […]

  2. I use my bike all year round whatever the weather, I think the UK weather would destroy the bike????

    • No, drove all year all weathers and salty roads, just wash often (just with water) and apply plenty of S100. Bike may not look showroom, but be thankful for this greasy coat.

      • I might give it some serious consideration then, I grew up loving em, posters, books t-shirts, but never the bike!!
        I’ve done a BMW r1100s, Fazer 1000, and now a Triumph Sprint RS 955i, always with a slightly jealous eye on Harley riders

  3. Very nice article….informative yet simple without too much of technical jargons which other forums use assuming that if you want to ride a bike you should know it all….thanks mate

  4. Thank you for posting the selection process of your commuting bike. I considered to buy a ‘roller’, Piaggio or something like that but I prefer a real bike that is comfy and fast enough to bring me around in Belgrade and surroundings. As I like Harley as a brand, I will definately consider to buy a Roadster. Tomorrow I will visit the motor fair here in BG and inform myself a bit more, Thanks.

  5. […] Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Roadster « Road King UKMay 13, 2011 … The only viable family member of Harley-Davidson to be considered for daily commuting is the Sportster, and typically for Harley, the choices … […]

  6. Great article man! Makes me wish I had my old Sportster back.

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