Reviewed: Harley-Davidson Iron 1200 – Carole Nash

harley davidson 1200 engine
harley davidson 1200 engine

Why Harley’s new 1200 version of its popular Sportster Iron 883 is a ‘no-brainer’…

When you’ve a proven, best-selling motorcycle it usually makes complete commercial sense to exploit that popularity to the full, by maybe doing spin-off models as BMW, for example, have done repeatedly with its successful R nineT retro.

And when you’ve also a proven, popular, different capacity engine ready-and-waiting to slot into that best-selling bike, the new variant that results in surely something of a ‘no-brainer’.

Which is exactly what Harley-Davidson’s new Iron 1200 is – except it’s more than that, as well.

Harley’s lightweight, ‘small-block’ Sportsters have been the most affordable, entry-level bikes into the famous ‘bar and shield’ brand’s line-up for decades.

But although the original dates way back to 1957, the modern incarnation began in 1986 when the new, alloy ‘Evolution’ V-twins debuted, first in 883 and 1100cc forms before the latter grew to 1202cc in 1988.

And it was with these two engines, not discounting a few updates and innovations over the years, that the template for Harley’s modern Sportsters was set, in a variety of models, many featuring both engines and ranging from the low-saddled Superlow to flattrack-styled XL-R and fat-tyred Forty-Eight.

Harley Davidson 1200 Iron Engine

The Iron is the latest example. Introduced as the Iron 883 in 2015 it was conceived as a simple, straight-forward, no frills entry-level bike and, by virtue of its single seat, lack of chrome and basic spec, was instantly the cheapest machine in Harley’s range, too. 

And although Harley’s Indian-built ‘Street’ models have since undercut it, the Iron is still regarded as the cheapest, ‘true’ Harley, one that’s accessible to and rideable by novices thanks to its low seat and (relatively) light weight and, due to its basic spec, eminently customizable. No wonder, then, it’s so popular.

No wonder then, too, that Harley have also now introduced this 1200 version. The base bike is identical to the 883, complete with 19/16” cast wheels, single seat and ‘peanut’ 12.5-litre tank (which, incidentally, has always been a bit on the small side).

Harley Davidson 1200 Iron Wheel

The 1200 engine, having virtually identical external dimensions, slots straight into its tubular steel, twin shock, frame but produces a healthy 65bhp compared to the 883’s 51 with an equally healthy jump in torque. These make the 1200 a noticeably livelier performer. The 1200 has long been almost universally regarded as the superior Sportster engine, after all.

And if that were the end of the changes all would be fine. The same low seat and nimble handling makes it just as easy to get on with; the controls and single dial are just as basic and novice-friendly and, at just a £400 premium over the 883, even that doesn’t feel excessive for the performance advantage the 1200 brings. As with all Harley-Davidsons, the 1200 has a full accessory brochure available for riders who love to modify their motorcycles. Indeed, very few H-Ds leave the dealership without some kind of customization using official Harley parts.

But we do have a couple of slight irritations. First, that fancy, 1970s paint, as inspired by the early ‘AMF’ Harleys, may be lovely but costs £250 extra – otherwise you get plain black. Second, that headlamp cowling doesn’t do anything. At all. And third, and most annoyingly, Harley have also chosen to fit the 1200 not with the 883’s mean, flat bars but with ‘mini ape hangers’ which, in my view, does nothing either for its looks or comfort as they place more weight through the rider’s backside.

Yes, they can be changed, relatively cheaply, for the 883’s flatter ones. Then the headlamp cowl might actually look right…

And then we’d probably have no complaints at all.


ENGINE TYPE 45-degree ‘Evolution’ V-twin, Two pushrod actuated valves per cylinder, air cooled
BORE X STROKE 88.9 x 96.8mm
MAXIMUM POWER 65 bhp (49 kW) @ 6000 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE 96Nm @ 3500rpm
FRONT SUSPENSION Telescopic fork
FUEL TANK 12.5 litres


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About Craig Ballantyne 22200 Articles
I love anything to do with Harley Davidson and have two beautiful children and a beautiful partner. In my spare time i like building websites and love anything to do with the internet.

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