2004 Harley-Davidson Sportster XL 883C
No faults other than oil usage attributed to a poor crankcase breather design.
I bought a used 04 883 Custom, thinking I was ready to give a Cruiser a try, and since HD makes the best cruisers, right???, I started with them.
Here's my findings:
First the good.
- The bike is very comfortable for me. The forward controls fit my 6'0 long legged frame perfect. I had an aftermarket seat, so I can't comment on the factory one.
- The vibration is minimal at speed, but just enough at idle to give it "character".
- The 4.5gal tank looks fantastic, and gives a great range.
- 60MPG. I can consistently get upper 50's to low 60's mpg on the open road.
- No oil leaks (this would be a given for any other manufacturer, but for Harley this is an accomplishment).
- Transmission. Feels "solid". Some would say "clunky", but I found it to be solid, positive and enjoyable. Clutchless upshifts were less than smooth, no matter how careful you were, but that's a minor point on a cruiser.
- Gets attention.
Now the bad, and there is plenty of it.
- Gets attention. I don't care who looks at me, and the attention I got on this bike was mostly from know-nothing know-it alls who seemed to think Harley was the be-all, end-all of bikes. Very annoying.
- The suspension on this thing is HORRID! Even with the Progressive (brand) shocks on the rear, it was pathetic. The dampening was somehow rough when it should be soft, and soft when it should be controlled. The forks are among the worst I've ever had to suffer through. The complete lack of adjustability means you're stuck with what you have until you're ready to invest some serious $$$$ into a good suspension. After switching to a thicker fork oil and making some preload spacers for the front, it went from horrid to merely "bad". I've seriously ridden 80's Japanese standards that had better suspenders; pitiful and unacceptable for a modern bike of this price range.
- The engine. This bike somehow manages to turn almost 900cc into mostly noise with very little to show for it. Just when it barely starts making just a little bit of HP, the rev limiter stops the party. Everyone likes to say how torquey the HD motors are, but I disagree. It makes decent torque, but trying to accelerate at less than 3000rpm (where a good torquey motor would shine) causes the motor to lug. When you lug this paint mixer, the whole thing shakes like the motor is trying to separate itself from the frame. This is on a well tuned motor. I can only imagine the horror on a bike with the low speed fuel mix wrong! This thing cannot handle large throttle inputs at less than 1/2 engine speed. If I wanted to stay in the upper 1/2 of my RPM range all of the time, I would ride sportbikes; at least then I'd have some power to show for it.
- It eats oil; it would go though 3/4 of a Qt. between changes. Because of the idiotic crankcase breather setup, the bike literally eats oil (vents oil mist into the air cleaner/carb). This causes it to build up in the air cleaner, saturate the air filter and eventually drip down the side of the bike if you don't clean it out periodically. Once again, unacceptable for a modern motorcycle, especially when the engine design (the EVO) is 25 years old. That's plenty of time to correct the problem.
- Handling. This bike handles like a walrus on roller skates. Even with a raised up suspension, the ground clearance is terrible. It scrapes on even modest corner speeds and never inspires confidence. Shortly after buying it, I did a day trip to a nice curvy area I knew. With the stock suspension height, I could not keep up with a Suzuki Sidekick that was in front of me! For all of the grinding and me hanging off the seat, you would have thought I was "tearing up the twisties", but I was, in fact, losing to a 4wd mini SUV who was just "passing through".
- The brakes were mediocre at best. They had lousy feel to them and only modest power. The back brake had no feel and would lock up VERY easy. The front had real difficulty bringing the bike down from higher speeds.
- Rust. That's right, rust. My garage kept, weekly washed/dried bike was having rust issues. This was especially prevalent in the fasteners and the chrome on the front wheel. I have no time or patience to deal with fighting rust on a bike that is less than 10 years old, and kept clean and in a garage.
Overall, I found the Sportster to be lacking in every conceivable form of performance (a big part of what I look for in a bike, even if it is a Cruiser). There is no "Sport" at all in the Sportster! This bike was a big letdown and a real eye opener as to what kinds of bikes HD is selling. I know it's cliche' but the old "1950's technology at today's prices" saying sums it up perfectly. This would probably be a great bike in the 1950's. The problem is, the rest of the world has progressed and it's not 1950 any more.
Would you buy another motorcycle from this manufacturer? No
Review Date: 17th December, 2010
10th Jun 2011, 09:54
You state that Harley make the best cruisers... Well I would very strongly start with checking out the Suzuki range; the M Boulevard is taking no prisoners, all over the world, and even making Harley lovers sit up and listen, due to its value for money, and especially reliability and quality styling.. The Japanese are masters at copying, and setting exceedingly high workmanship motorcycles that are taking America by storm.. The choice is immense and way cheaper!!!
29th Sep 2011, 13:59
I have checked out the Suzuki M50 and I liked it a LOT. The overall fit of the bike seemed pretty much ideal to me. Unfortunately, I am a bit of a power junkie and I KNOW that the M50 will never be able to satisfy. I have very seriously considered adding one to the stable as a second bike though, once finances allow for multiple bikes that is.
After my Sportster I bought a Buell. It was sort of the "Sportster at its highest level" in my eyes. The chassis/suspension/brakes on that bike was the very best of any bike I've ever ridden (Erik Buell is an amazing engineer), but that darn Harley motor was REALLY holding it back. Even after Erik used every trick in the book to make decent power from that boat anchor, it still lacked. I gave up hope on Harley after that.
The V-rod is very intriguing still, but the ergos are wretched and the price unjustifiable. Besides, after what HD did to Erik Buell, I have no desire to support them in any way.
Currently I ride a Hayabusa. The power level is DEFINITELY on the excessive side, but the comfort and capability amazes me on every ride I take. It's an amazingly well rounded machine. Even at 50hp down from where it's at now, it would still be plenty powerful and capable. Love it!