5th Nov 2008, 14:42

I currently own two older Sportsters (after 30 years of riding big Japanese and European motorcycles) both in excellent condition...

1). 1986 883 fitted with a 1200 kit - great torque and acceleration, but the vibration is horrendous at certain revs. Fantastic bike to ride short distances below 50mph!

2). 1988 883 with stock motor - quite smooth compared to the other one. And comfortable enough to ride all day at legal speeds.

Both have been reliable so far. And much easier to start from cold than some Japanese bikes I've owned.

Handling suffers if tyre pressures are a little low, but surprisingly good on decent tyres at the correct pressures!

1st Jul 2009, 15:16

1200 pistons are heavier than 883 pistons, so more vibration is to be expected. This can be offset with higher final gearing to slow the engine a little to reduce vibration and to take advantage of the 1200's additional torque. This also gives the 1200 a more relaxed pace on the highway. In the end, however, the 883 vibrates less than the 1200.

16th Jan 2018, 23:13

Re. the vibration; when the bike was converted from 883 to 1200, did you just change the pistons and barrels, or did you also re-balance the crank? If the crank was not re-balanced to match the heavier weight of the larger pistons (and possibly wrist-pins?), then you will certainly get vicious vibration, regardless of the size of the engine.

I can only speak from the experience of my 1989 883 Sportster, with which I never experienced any vibration or roughness - though it did tend to shatter the dip filament on the headlight bulb if I spent any time running at 80mph plus speeds on a long run. And it would have made night-time riding far more pleasant (and replacements much cheaper) if Harley's had fitted a 7" headlamp with a separate 60/55W quartz halogen bulb, instead of the undersized and impractical 5.25" lamp with a 45W sealed unit.

Another problem was the battery earth strap being too short, so that normal vibration was constantly flexing it, and the bolt clamping it onto the battery terminal worked loose - easily cured by using a lead a few inches longer, and putting a loop into it, which absorbed the movement nicely. But it took me weeks to figure it out! The bike would stop, I'd crank it over, and the shaking as the engine was being cranked would remake the connection. Nothing worse than an intermittent electrical fault, is there? :(

Nor was I impressed by the original way of clamping the final drive sprocket nut onto the gearbox output shaft, relying on one small screw which wasn't big enough to press hard enough on the nut to stop it working loose. That was another easy fix; I just knocked up a steel tab washer, with a tab going into the small hole in the sprocket, and another tab hammered up against the side of the nut.

I felt the bike was a bit under-geared for riding solo, even on the steep hills around the Weald of Sussex, so I decided to raise it a bit. I got some very sound advice from the Harley shop in Gillingham, Kent, as to fitting the larger sprocket (from memory, 2 teeth up from standard). The guy there drew me a little sketch, showing how to make sure that a boss was filed away to give sufficient clearance for the oversize sprocket. Failing to do that, he said, would mean that as soon as you pulled away, the larger sprocket would rip the boss and a big chunk of metal out of the gearbox casing, and set you back about £300 - 400 for a replacement!

And the final problem was at least partly due to me living within a half a mile of the sea; corrosion on the connections to the ignition coil. Mind, it wasn't helped by the fact that, as built, the steel shake-proof washers were between the connectors and the coil, so the current had to flow through them, rather than going direct onto the coil with the washers just doing what they were made for - to stop the nuts from unscrewing.

One night riding along the coast road towards Brighton, with gale force winds driving off the sea, and heavy rain, the corrosion finally brought the bike to a stand - but, again, it was an easy fix; just swap the connections around so that the tab was directly against the coil terminal, with the shake-proof washers on top. It never gave any trouble afterwards, despite the salty atmosphere.

I think the carb settings and the strangled silencers must have been due to California regulations; adjusting the pilot jet setting and bashing holes through the baffles with a long chisel soon sorted that! :))

Much harder to deal with was the tiny little tank - ridiculously small for the size of bike, especially when I was going up to visit friends about 700 miles away in Scotland! - and that crippler of a standard seat! Way too soft, so that it squashed right down onto the seat base, which left you sitting on a steel plate with a very, very thin layer of flattened foam on top. I still wince at the memory of the first time I did 150 miles on that... :((

I still don't understand the way that the light alloy components had been lacquered. As soon as any of the nuts were disturbed, the lacquer cracked, the damp, salty air crept underneath, and it corroded into crusty white crud at a rate of knots. The bit that puzzled me was that I found if I scraped off the lacquer and re-polished the alloy, it stood up to atmospheric corrosion very well - so why put the lacquer on at all?

As for the 'main dealer' who sold me the bike, and who had 'been a Harley dealer since the late 1940s', the less said the better. Despite his assurances that the bike was designed to run on unleaded petrol (gasoline), it turned out that British unleaded was subtly different from American - and one of the constituents in ours attacked the rubber inlet manifolds, causing them to craze and crack. It took me six weeks, and a barrage of phone-calls, and broken promises to call me back, before I managed to wring a pair of replacement manifolds out of him.

Overall? With a few mods, a comfortable, fast and long-legged bike; equally happy on motorways or being thrashed along the narrow, twisty roads through the Weald of Kent and Sussex, where its very low centre of gravity and hefty torque even at low revs in a high gear were real assets - and I did enjoy looking at other bikers' faces as me and the Harley went hammering past them, throttle wide open and cranking well over for the next bend - happy days!!

"Harleys are supposed to be slow? Gosh. Why wasn't I told??" :))

Would I buy another one? Yep, like a shot, if I could afford it. The only reason I sold it was because I suffered a massive pay-cut, and it was a case of sell the bike, or go bankrupt. And a couple of heart attacks (which did make me bankrupt), and heart surgery - coupled with a lousy pension - puts a Harley out of my reach.

But I've still got a smile on my face when I think about my Sportster - and nothing can take away those memories!!

Ride safe, people - and grab those chances when they come your way; they may never come again.


11th Nov 2019, 08:00

Hey Jack!

Right on Mate!

Been across the pond several times to your lovely England; and think you British blokes are first rate chaps that have a penchant for putting soul and personality in most everything you build!

Having such positive things to say about our beloved, antiquated, industrial-strength "agricultural" motorbikes is gratifying. You blokes put the original 'soul' into motorcycles and the rest of the world followed your lead!

Well done chaps!

17th Sep 2021, 02:37

It's 2021 and I still have my 1986 883 Sportster. The 883 solid engine mount vibrates less than the 1200; I have ridden both on the same day at the factory in York, PA.