Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster Low

the iconic Harley-Davidson Sportster


I'll never forget my first time on a Harley Sportster. I picked her up on a Friday at Clearwater Harley-Davidson just outside Johannesburg. Kenn had organised a breakfast run to Parys on the Sunday, so I was gonna use the Harley for my ride. My riding experience included riding my very own Yamaha 535 Virago for a couple of years, so I was quite used to riding cruisers. But I was still chuffed at the chance to ride a Harley. To me, I was moving up into the big league.
After taking a big breath, I climbed aboard, thumbed the starter and the 'little' V-Twin spun into life. I was a bit nervous to start with (should've seen the worried look on Jono Steyn's face... think he was more nervous than me), but after the first hundred meters or so I already felt more relaxed. And I still rode the Sporty back to the office through peak-hour traffic.

Sunday morning I rolled it out of the garage and into our street, we mounted our bikes (there were a few of Kenn's buddies going with for the ride) and hit the road.


Lee cruising on the 'small' Sportster

the perfect bike for short chicks... (only on height) according to Lee

It took a few ks in the saddle before I got used to the rev range, and if you push a gear too hard near the top of the revs, the Sportster's power will fade quickly. It would have been helpful to have had a rev-counter, instead of having to rely on the sound of the engine's revs and a glance at the speedo until I learned the bike's sweet spot.

The Sportster engine maintains the same 883cc displacement. The 76.2mm bore, 96.8mm stroke and 8.9:1 compression ratio haven't changed either. The major changes to the engine have been the installation of new cams and in its retuning to accommodate the new ESPFI. The end product results in the increased torque. For me, it provided many kilos of smooth power delivery as I rumbled up and down I-5, over the bumpy, deteriorating roads on the way to Parys.
As I ran the Sportster over the assortment of road surfaces, the place it felt most comfortable was in straight-line performance on the highway. The note the shorty, staggered dual exhaust emits in fifth gear at 110kph was music to my ears. The V-Twin's resonating rumble has a calming effect, and seemed to be the range where the engine ran at peak efficiency.

I'm sure that in its 50 years of rolling off the Harley-Davidson assembly line, the Sportster has been responsible for numerous fond memories like mine. When you're the longest continuously produced motorcycle in the Harley-Davidson contingent, it comes with the territory. But the model maintains its top-selling status by keeping its unmistakable styling cues while continuing to evolve from its humble right-side drive, four-speed 55 cubic-inch beginnings to the electronically fuel-injected motorcycle that it is today.

Now there's sure to be Harley purists out there that are going to lament the loss of the Sporster's carburetor as the 2007 883s join the rest of the Harley line with H-D's Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection as standard equipment. Oxygen feedback acts independently on each cylinder, so the system "learns" and adjusts to changing conditions to deliver optimal performance. The new induction gives the Sporster more thrust in the lower revs of second and third gear. Though the switch to ESPFI is sure to be in response to the ever-changing demands of tougher emissions standards, riders benefit from a bike that has gained more torque on the low end while burning cleaner as well.
Harley claims that the four Sportster XL models for 2008 have seen about a 15 percent increase in torque at 2500 rpm as a result of the new induction and a reworked motor.


It's great that Harley-Davidson has rubber-mounted the 883's engine. Even though my first ride on a Sportster was eons ago, I remember the shake, rattle and roll of the old bikes. Though it has always been a part of the Sportster's reputation, the 2008 bike has much improved ridability.
Another area where Harley has spent time making the bike more rider-friendly is in its hand controls. The throttle response displayed no noticeable lapses, and the bike definitely pulled strong running through second and third gears.
The clutch effort has also been reduced by a claimed 8%. Although I would never be able to break the measurement down into percentages, but I can say that it no longer requires a four-fingered iron grip to put the squeeze on the clutch. It definitely isn't near as tight as older Harleys.
The front brakes have likewise seen a reduction in lever effort. Harley claims that depending on which of the four XL models you ride, the difference ranges from between 11 to 14%. For me, it responded well with only a firm two-finger squeeze. I had no problems stopping the Sportster.

The single gauge in the Sportster's cockpit is about as minimalist as you get. Luckily, it's multifunctional, with an odometer that has a time-of-day clock on it, dual tripmeters, a low-fuel warning light and low oil pressure indicator light.

Thanks to the Sportster's low handlebars, my hands were positioned in a comfortable riding position. There's no windscreen up front, and on one exceptionally blustery ride home I paid for it as the wind battered me like a tattered sail. But to throw one on up front or to bare the elements is strictly rider's choice.
The low-rise handlebars couple with the mid-mounted foot controls to leave riders in a comfortable upright riding position. But at a little over five feet tall, I don't think the riding geometry would accommodate taller riders... on the "Low" at least.

I didn't have the a duel-seat on our model, and although the added power of the Sportster would support a pillion, two-up riding is best left to the Big Twins.

The bike doesn't accelerate with the usual Sportster zip, and the brakes aren't powerful enough to bring forward progress to a halt as quickly. The suspension was hard, but still offered a stable ride.

The 883's frame is a little narrower this year and allowed us to hug up tight against the bike while barreling down the highway. The narrow frame also makes the Evolution engine stand out more. With its silver powder-coating and plenty of polished chrome covers, the 45-degree V-Twin complements the bikes overall finish. Throw in the traditional peanut fuel tank, add a staggered pair of short chrome exhaust, and roll it out on 19-inch chrome laced spoke wheels and you've got a combination of cues that have been refined by being in production for fifty years running.
The Sportster didn't reach 50 by mistake. It starts by being the most affordable bike into the Harley family. Add in styling cues you could recognize in the dark, mix in the ever-popular 45-degree V-Twin, and you have a bike that has earned its place in motorcycle history. In those 50 years, the bike has made it a part of many biker's memories.

Harley-Davidson is offering its most diverse line of Sportster models in the 51-year history of the legendary XL platform.

For more than a half-century, the Sportster family has stayed true to its roots whilst evolving technologically.

All Sportster models are powered by the Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injected (ESPFI) XL Evolution V-Twin powertrain, rubber-mounted in the frame to reduce vibration and tuned to deliver a broad powerband for outstanding street performance, reduced clutch lever effort, redesigned gauges, high performance carbon fibre reinforced belts and improved front brake lever effort.   The Harley-Davidson Smart Security System, offering hands free operation, is standard equipment on all Sportster models.

XL 883 Sportster, the most-affordable Harley-Davidson, offers the distinctive sound and performance of American V-Twin power in a package that’s narrow and easy to handle. From the classic “peanut” fuel tank to the chrome Staggered Shorty Dual exhaust, the XL 883 maintains Sportster tradition.

The 883 Low features a seat height of just 643mm and an ergonomics package that offers precise handling for smaller riders or anyone who enjoys a narrow and agile motorcycle with classic Sportster style and Evolution V-Twin performance.


XL Sportster 883 Low features:

            Isolation-mounted XL 883cc Evolution engine

Silver powder-coated engine with polished alloy treatment

Lowered front and rear suspension

Chrome laced steel wheels, 19-inch front / 16-inch rear

Wide reduced-reach polished handlebars

            Reduced Reach solo seat

            Chrome Staggered Shorty Dual exhaust

            Mid-mount foot controls

            Lowest-Profile rear shocks

            Lowest-Profile front forks

            Easy Reach sidestand

            Classic 3.3-gallon/12.5 litre fuel tank

          NEW tank graphics

          Smart Security System

Words by Lee - Photos by Kenn



Thanks to Jono Steyn and the guys




Eagle Wind Harley-Davidson Clearwater, Johannesburg.


Tel: 011 675 5440