A Move to the Dark Side

Those who have known me for years will find the new iron horse in the garage hard to believe. I love motorcycles and I've ridden one the better part of 20 years now. I've owned everything from a small 500cc cruiser to a huge 1500cc touring bike in that time. Most of my bikes were Japanese. The last one was German. I reckoned it was time to give an American brand a try and now there is a Harley Davidson Sportster in my garage. Yep after all these years of poking fun at these loud, shaky, oil spewing rattle traps I own one. What the...!?

The new ride is a 2015 Iron 883 Sportster. The 883 isn't a meaningful designation any more because I had a 1200cc conversion kit installed before I took delivery. In truth, 883cc was probably plenty but I've been so used to more powerful engines the past several years that I figured I'd go ahead and get as much as I could instead of grumbling about it later. Why a Sportster? Well, I wanted something very different - smaller, more nimble than my previous BMW R1150R. I've been drawn to bikes of this size lately. Actually I've been lusting over cafe racers for some time but I know my back won't tolerate the riding position. I need something that lets me sit upright. While I've never been much for Harleys, I do like the Sportster. Nothing else in their motorcycle line really interests me as much as this diminutive cruiser. 

I'd seen these blacked out beasts on the road a lot and the look really appealed to me. I'm not a big chrome guy. I like the more industrial no-frills look of the blacked out engine. One day on a whim after work I stopped by the Harley-Davidson dealership. It was a different vibe than most motorcycle stores I've been in. Usually demo rides are only begrudgingly given, if at all. These guys were like, "Which ones do you want to ride? Let's grab some keys and hit the road!" I rode several different bikes - different Sportster styles and a couple bigger twin cam bikes. The one that was the most fun was the Iron 883. I was smiling the whole time. The bike had plenty of power for me. It easily leaned into turns. It had no windshield or fairing. I haven't been without that since my starter bike many years ago. I'd forgotten the sensation of my body cutting through the wind. I felt more of the machine, the road, the air and I liked it.

It wasn't an immediate decision. I pondered the change for a good week or so after my test rides. Once I saw the Iron 883 in the Sand Camo Denim color it was all over. I loved the look and it was unlike anything else I've seen on the road around here. Done deal. After working out the final deal it was a long week for the dealer to get the bike ready due to ordering and installing the 1200cc jugs. The day came when it was ready and off we rode. And rode. And rode. The first 1000 miles to the break-in oil change came quickly - under 2 weeks! 

There is one thing you can be sure of with virtually any new motorcycle. Stock seats suck. It seems like seats are an afterthought and what they slap on the frame out of the factory is hardly more comfortable than a vinyl covered cinder block with a bit of carpet padding. They don't feel that bad at first usually. After a good long ride though, your ass will let you know that this just won't do. The Sportster was no different and the seat was promptly replaced with a Mustang seat. The nice thing about Sportsters is that aftermarket parts like this are relatively inexpensive compared with larger bikes. I don't know why but I'll take it. Replacing a seat on my Beemer would have been 3-4x as much. The seat on my Valkyrie years ago was downright crazy expensive.

Most of my previous bikes had at least side luggage. A couple of them had trunks too. My R1150R had removable hard bags and I tended to ride without them attached most of the time. I grew to like the stripped down look. On this bike, I wanted to keep that. I rarely get to take long trips anymore so I just didn't need a lot of cargo area. It would defeat the look and feel I wanted for this ride. Still, I needed something to carry a few small tools (it is a Harley after all), rain gear, bottle of water - that sort of thing. I settled on a solo bag made by Harley since it was the cleanest looking solution and came with a sturdy frame-attached mount instead of being tied on with straps. They had one in a nice distressed brown leather that goes well with the bike's paint and lends a kind of vintage look.

After riding that first 1000 or so miles I decided one more immediate change was needed. Harley builds these Sportsters for that low slung look. I don't think comfort is much of a consideration. The shocks they put on these bikes might as well have been solid rods. On the lighter side of pre-loading they would bottom out a lot. Cranked up a bit and they had no give. A pot hole would mean a jarring jolt to the spine. The stock shocks were swapped with Progressive 412 Cruise shocks and now I can ride comfortably without getting up on the pegs every time I see a bump in the road coming up. The rear fender sits maybe an inch higher now. A little of the low slung look was lost. My back is happy.

If I have one more thing I may change in the future, it's the exhaust. No I'm not looking for something louder so I can wake the neighbors and set off car alarms while revving the throttle down the street. I'm just not sure I like the chrome pipes. I've rather have those blacked out as well. Then again, this is a Harley so maybe I need that little bit of chrome. No hurry on this part. I'll figure it out, maybe leaving well enough alone. Probably not.

Hopefully I'll find time the rest of the summer to zip around to some small towns with my camera. I can't think of any other way I'd rather travel. See you on the road!