2007 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883R Review: 10 Years Later
In 2007, Harley-Davidson marked the 50th Anniversary of the Sportster model. Half a century is a long time for anything to last in the marketplace, but in the hyper-competitive world of motorcycles, for any model to be in continuous production that long is epic.
Now, in 2017, the Sportster has reached its 60th year in continuous production. The 2007 XL 883R that occupies a spot in my garage is now 10 years old, and to mark both occasions, we thought it might be worth having a look at how well this Sportster is doing a decade later.
To gather the necessary data, the first couple of day-long rides of the 2017 riding season were made with intent to treat them as first-ride road tests.
The Harley-Davidson Sportster was first offered in 1957 as an 883cc overhead valve replacement for the outdated 55 cubic inch side-valve KH and KHK models that simply could not compete on performance with the overhead valve British competition.
By 1972, the Sportster’s displacement was increased to 1,000cc, but in 1986, the 883cc displacement was returned to the Sportster line and the 1,000cc model was bumped up to 1,100cc. In 1988 the 1,100cc model was bumped up again to 1,200cc. In 2007, the XR1200 was added—and so was the XL883R.
Ironically, when I acquired this 883R in 2011, the dealer had a new 2010 XR1200 in the showroom, as well. I had read several road tests on the XR1200 and, in general, they were very positive. Handling, brakes, power all seemed to please the reviewers. Still, when I rode both the XR1200 and the 883R on that same day, there were some important differences that made the 883R appeal to me more.
First was the ride quality; the XR1200 had too harsh a ride for my all-day-in-the-saddle type of riding and the seat was just not as comfy as the contoured one on the 883R. The 883R had smoother ride, and for my money, handled every bit as well as the XR1200 on twisty country roads at cruising speeds.
I realize the real difference in handling would have been appreciable in favor of the XR1200 had I been pushing it hard on the back roads or on a track day, but a track bike wasn’t what I was looking for. My typical ride is at a take-your-time-and-enjoy-the-view loafing speed.
Of course, the harshness of the XR’s ride also may have been mitigated with adjustment, but saddle differences would not. With double disc brakes up front, each seemed to have abundant stopping power available.
Another major disqualifier for the XR1200 in my wish list were the up-swept pipes that limited the available space for saddlebags. When I looked over the factory spec saddle bags, I felt they were just too small, even if a tail bag were to be added. A tank bag on an XR1200 would be like putting a roof rack on a Corvette. I don’t need huge bags, but I do like to have room for my camera, tools, occasionally rain gear, and other stuff as well as room for any odd items I may acquire along the way.
Throw in the fact that the 883R included a quick-detach shorty windshield, a back rest and was substantially less expensive than the XR, and 883R was an easy choice. None of this suggests the XR1200 isn’t a terrific machine—rather, it wasn’t the right motorcycle for me at the time.
So, how has the 2007 XL883R held up over the past 10 years? On the whole, very well, based on the best objective evidence I have. When purchased, the bike had 6,107 miles on it; as of this writing it has 20,871. Not high mileage, to be sure, but lower mileage over long intervals can cause problems of its own.
Maintenance costs have been pretty much in line with expectation—normal maintenance, oil and filter changes, air filter, a set of plugs, primary drive chain lube and adjustment and so on is all that has been required, at more-or-less the prescribed intervals. The belt final drive has proven trouble-free with only attention to keeping it clean and checking the tension.
The 883R came with electronic sequential port fuel injection (ESPFI). When new, combined fuel economy was claimed to be an average of 45 mpg. In my riding, which is primarily state highways and secondary roads with very infrequent Interstate travel, the average is 50 to 52 mpg.
The ESPFI combined with electronic ignition makes the Sportster a sure starter, even in cold (talking sub-freezing) temperatures. I am fortunate enough to have another Sportster for comparison on this point; a 1999 883 with a carburetor and Stage II kit. Suffice it to say, in my non-heated garage, if it is below 32 degrees F, I don’t abuse the starter on that one by even trying. I just leave it on the battery tender and hope for an early spring.
The old adage about Harleys dripping oil “to mark their territory” don’t apply anymore—and haven’t for quite some time. The XL883R hasn’t leaked a drop of oil in the six years I’ve had it—assuming you don’t count the mess created by changing the oil filter. For that matter, same goes for the 1999 Sportster, as well.
Paint, chrome and all other exterior finish elements have stood up well over the years. Paint fade, if any is imperceptible, chrome surfaces show no pitting or discoloration and other plastic/synthetic parts have not faded or cracked. Fittings and fasteners have stayed put—nothing has vibrated loose and parted company with the bike.
The controls, instruments, lights and all other accessory gear it came with (quick-detach windshield and short backrest) have also been trouble-free. Since the 883R only came with a speedometer and idiot lights that may seem to be a small thing, but the speedometer also includes an LCD odometer, dual trip meter and digital clock.
The clutch and five-speed transmission has been smooth and consistent year after year. A redesign of the clutch and transmission for the 2006 model year led to smoother, quieter shifting and less handlever effort that was carried on in the 2007 models.
In 2004, the Sportster underwent one of the most significant changes that is visually almost undetectable: the change from rigid-mount engine to rubber isolation mount. Comparing the vibration level between my two bikes makes the difference that change made easy to see.
The 1999 Sporty is a shaker, but primarily at idle; at highway speed even the older Sportster is surprisingly smooth. The 883R isolates engine vibration pretty well and transmits very little vibration to the bars and pegs.
Engine performance has been ramped up over the years and, while the 883R is not in the sportbike league for horsepower, claimed hp was 68 at 4,400 RPM compared to the ’99 883 model that had a claimed output of 53 hp. The difference is real and apparent at the seat of the pants.
With its blacked-out engine and XR750-inspired competition orange/black/white livery, the 883R is an impressive looking machine backed up with solid performance and reliability that still brings smiles a decade on.
For some great reading on the history of the Sportster on its 60th anniversary, see Harley-Davidson: Sixty Years.