I have long suspected that I have influence within the hallowed halls of Harley-Davidson HQ, that its chief strategists hang on my every word, that in every meeting room there is a gigantic screen displaying The Motorcycle Obsession – now, it seems, I have proof. Because documents recently filed with the US Environmental Protection Agency have shown the Milwaukee company is planning to release an Iron 1200.
IT WAS MY IDEA: An Open Letter to Harley-Davidson: Bring Back the Nightster
Nigh four years ago, I wrote an open letter to Harley-Davidson on this site, asking the MoCo to bring back the Nightster. Or, well, an updated version of the Nightster, as it was visually closest to a model that has always been near and dear to my heart: the Iron 883.
I love that bike; I credit the deeply sexy allure of its understated coolness with helping to make me interested in motorcycling again. You may know that my greatest complaint about the Street line (ie, the Street 500/750 and Street Rod) are the fact they don’t touch the Sportsters in terms of aesthetics.
I’d suspect Harley will want to aim the bike at those cool kids who weren’t even around when the first Evolution roared to life.
Over the years, I have toyed – again and again – with the idea of abandoning the übertechnowhizzbangery of bikes like my Triumph Tiger Explorer XRX and pursuing the more raw, pure experience of an Iron 883. Yes, winters would be awful. True, long journeys would be infinitely more complicated. But the stories I could tell, man! And with a bike that looks like the Iron 883 people would want to hear them.
This fantasy falls apart pretty quickly when I apply it to the reality of my actual situation, however: living in Britain, riding year-round, and relying on a motorcycle as my sole means of transportation. One of my main sticking points is the Iron 883’s overall lack of motorway puff.
Way, way back in 2013, I rode the Sportster Superlow and was in love with the overall aura of its 883cc air-cooled V-twin (which also powers the Iron 883). But I found it far from pleasurable at British motorway speed, ie, in excess of 70 mph. Some of that discomfort came from poor suspension (an issue Harley has since remedied), some from the inescapable reality of unfettered windblast (an issue I feel I could learn to deal with), but quite a bit of it came from the shaking, overworked engine.
Since then I have always felt the solution to the problem would be more power. True, the roughly 55 hp of a Sportster 1200 engine (compared to the 44 hp of an 883) isn’t the sort of wallop that’s going to see you bending the laws of space and time, but it’s enough. I became convinced of that fact last year when I spent a few weeks zipping about on the 54hp Triumph Street Cup. The problem I’ve had, however, is that I don’t like the Sportster 1200 options as much as the Iron 883.
I was a fan of the Seventy-Two, but its tank was way too small and it’s been dropped from the line-up (I once expressed my dismay over this to a Harley-Davidson PR guy and he suggested I’d be happier with a Street Bob, which is kind of a fair point), whereas the fat tires and chrome of the Custom put me off. Fat tires on the Forty-Eight also annoy me, as does its awful riding position, and equally too-small tank.
I’ll admit I’ve not had a chance to ride a Roadster, so my dream Sportster may already exist, but I’m pretty excited for the forthcoming Iron 1200. By all accounts, it will be powered by the same 1200cc air-cooled Evolution V-twin engine that’s been driving Sportsters longer than most Millennials have been alive (There have been some tweaks, of course, but the Evolution engine was introduced in 1984). Feel free to grumble your anti-Harley grumbles at that. I used to agree with you, but over time I’ve arrived at the mindset of: why do you care? There is at least one motorcycle company out there for each letter of the alphabet; if you’re not hot on what Harley (or Honda or KTM or Royal Enfield or whoever) is doing, just don’t buy it.
Conversely, don’t whine if you are a fan of something and someone has the effrontery to disagree with you…
Anyhoo, I would expect the rest of the Iron 1200 to look pretty much like an Iron 883, perhaps with a few slightly fancier bits to help vindicate the almost certainly higher cost. In truth, the Iron 1200 shouldn’t really cost that much – if any – more than an Iron 883, since the two are effectively running the same long-ago-paid-for engine (indeed, hitherto, the solution to those wanting a more powerful Iron 883 had been to invest in a big-bore kit). It might turn out that to quash that discussion, Harley will drop the 883 version altogether. After all, the 883 was a “beginner” bike before the Street 500/750 came along, so it may now be an awkward fit in the line-up.
I’d expect to see an announcement of the Iron 1200 pretty soon. Harley introduced the Street Rod at Daytona Bike Week last year; that event is now about a month away (it runs 9-18 March this year) and I’d argue that event is an even better setting for the reveal of a new Sportster than it was for the liquid-cooled not-a-cruiser Street Rod. Though, I’d suspect Harley will want to aim the bike at a market that doesn’t really show up at Daytona: all those cool kids who weren’t even around when the first Evolution roared to life.
Will an Iron 1200 help Harley-Davidson to connect with that audience? I don’t know. I mean, as much as I like the idea of an Iron 1200, it is effectively a blacked-out (and updated) Nightster, which means its look has been on the scene since 2007. That’s 11 years, y’all. Though, hey, motorcycling is full of successful bikes that haven’t really changed their look. In addition to a number of other Harley-Davidson models, you can also point to models from Triumph, Moto Guzzi, Suzuki, Royal Enfield, and so on.
Another potential target audience, of course, are those Europeans that Harley’s been really courting lately: folks who might be of a similar mindset to myself in terms of wanting an Iron 883 but wanting it to be more powerful. Environmental regulations have pretty much put the kibosh on aftermarket kits over here, so the aforementioned big-bore conversion is no longer possible. Sportsters are some of Harley’s best sellers in Not America, and tarting up a Sportster 1200 in Iron 883 guise can’t be all that difficult or costly for the company, so it may be an easy win.