2017 Harley-Davidson Iron 883 vs. Yamaha Star Bolt | Two Takes On Cruising
Comparing the 2017 Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 and the Yamaha Star Bolt is more of an exercise in philosophy than motorcycle reviewing.The approaches from Milwaukee and Hamamatsu are unambiguously dissimilar and can’t be fairly reconciled. We are fans of both the Iron 883 and the Bolt, and that’s as good a reason as any to take them out and match them up.
Both bikes arrive with air-cooled V-twins, but that’s where the likeness ends. The Iron 883’s two valves in each cylinder are actuated by pushrods, while the Bolt has four-valve heads and an overhead cam atop each jug. Yamaha goes with a nearly square bore/stroke ratio, while the H-D motor is predictably undersquare.Experience would suggest that the Iron 883’s configuration is torquier, but 59 additional cubic centimeters and four-valve heads overwhelm the long-stroke design. The Bolt puts out more torque than the Iron 883 across the rev range, as well as having the expected overrev advantage.From a practical standpoint, that means a bit more push from the Star Bolt when the stoplight turns green, if you want it, as well as a stronger pull out of corners than the Iron 883. In non-aggressive riding, you won’t notice it much, though it definitely is there. In any case, both motors have fairly flat torque curves with no surprises—twist and go.What that ignores, of course, is the inimitable rumble and feel of the Sportster’s Evolution motor. While the Yamaha powerplant purrs along flawlessly, the Evolution motor feels as if it’s a living organism. Even starting the Iron 883 is exciting; it challenges the ability of its battery to revive it from sleep before springing to life. There’s no drama from the Bolt—push the button and it quietly starts running.The Harley-Davidson Iron 883 and Yamaha Star Bolt have similar ergonomics. The seats are low (though the Star is an inch lower), the pegs are mid-mounted, and the narrow bars are only briefly swept back.It’s easy to comfortably slip into both motorcycles, though the Iron 883 is definitely more compact than the comparatively roomy Bolt. Relative to the seat, the Iron 883 pegs are higher and grips lower than they are on the Bolt. The pentagonal stainless steel air filter holder on the Bolt is more intrusive to the right knee than the Iron 883’s classic round design.Speaking of the seat, the Bolt has the superior seat. While the Iron 883 saddle has nice tuck-and-roll upholstery, it is actually a fairly hard place to sit. Shorter rides are fine on the Iron 883, but if you find yourself trying to empty the 3.3-gallon tank, your shorts will notice its shortcomings. With almost an identical tank capacity and range, the Star Bolt is better for longer non-stop excursions with the extra room and more agreeable perch.Suspension also comes into play when it comes to a comfortable ride, and the Star Bolt has a clear edge over the Iron 883.When Harley-Davidson upgraded the Iron 883’s rear shocks with the emulsion design, it was definitely an improvement. However, the rear wheel travel remains a paltry 1.6 inches. The 39mm forks are skinny, don’t inspire much confidence on rough roads, and the 3.6 inches of travel is stingy.With over an inch extra wheel travel at each end, Yamaha had more to work with and the Star Bolt does a superior job of absorbing road irregularities. The Bolt’s 41mm forks transmit much less nastiness to the rider’s arms, while giving good road feedback. Less than three inches of rear wheel travel is still a limiting factor for the Star Bolt, but the shocks usually take the edge off. For another $400 you can get the Bolt R-Spec, which has incrementally better piggyback reservoir shocks.The high-profile tires on each bike help the suspension a bit. Harley-Davidson and Yamaha use the same tire-size combinations—100/90-19 and 150/80-16—with the Iron 883 getting Michelin Scorcher 31 rubber and the Bolt running Bridgestone Exedra tires. While World Champions Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi may argue the merits of Bridgestone vs. Michelin, both sets of tires far exceed any requirements issued by the chassis or engine in this application.Whether riding around town or in the canyons, the Iron 883 feels more agile than the Star Bolt. Although the Iron 883 is a negligible 20 pounds heavier than the Bolt, it has a wheelbase more than two inches shorter, along with those compact ergonomics. Counteracting that slightly is an extra degree of rake on the Iron 883, but it feels easier to throw around than the comparatively stately Bolt.The roles are expectedly reversed on urban freeways. The Bolt feels more planted at high speed, due to the longer wheelbase and more compliant suspension. You are bounced around less on the Bolt, especially on older freeways with nasty expansion joints and deteriorating concrete.Power-wise, the Iron 883 and Star Bolt have the beans to get onto the freeway and hang with traffic. Both motorcycles have five-speed transmissions, with fifth gear acting as an effective overdrive to keep the revs in check at highway speeds.Braking is about even on the two motorcycles, with engine compression doing the donkey work. If you’re riding hard enough that the front 300mm disc (give or take a millimeter) isn’t adequate, then it’s time for you to step up to another motorcycle. The rear disc on both bikes is also usable in any non-emergency situation. ABS is a $795 option on the Iron 883, and completely unavailable for the Bolt—a bit of a surprise.When you hit traffic, both bikes are ready to lane-split, where legal. The narrow bars and overall slender chassis make it easy. Keeping tabs on what’s behind you is tricky, as the mirrors on both motorcycles get the shakes and are stylishly small.The speedometer on each motorcycle reinforces the overall styling choices by the manufacturers. The Yamaha Star Bolt has an ultra-clean and modern digital LCD display, while the Harley-Davidson Iron 883’s speedo is old-school analog, with a small switchable LCD panel at the bottom. The Bolt gets attractive round lighting fixtures that mimic the headlight, while the big styling cue on the Iron 883 is the cool side-mounting for the license plate.Going against type, the Bolt has traditional wire wheels, while the Iron 883 uses black nine-spoke cast aluminum wheels with machined highlights. If it were up to us, we’d switch them.Editor Don Williams had no problem with the foot and hand controls, but he did not like the Iron 883’s small footpegs. He noted that his boots were vibrating off the pegs and had to be repositioned constantly.Associate Editor Kelly Callan—who has smaller (but not small) hands and feet—wasn’t quite so satisfied with the controls. She noted that the Yamaha’s clutch lever is farther from the grip than she’d like, and it’s not adjustable. On the Iron 883, she complained of hitting neutral unexpectedly when upshifting from 1st gear, and that the footbrake arm interfered with her boot getting to the pad.Extensive testing of the 2017 Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 and Yamaha Star Bolt tells us that the Bolt works better as a motorcycle, from a purely objective standpoint.At the same time, riding motorcycles recreationally is highly personal and the experience is visceral. From that standpoint, the Iron 883 has an edge. It has a rugged look and feel that is in stark contrast to the cleaner, more modern styling of the Bolt. The rougher ride is also an experience many prefer, as evidenced by hardtail customs. Both bikes have extensive customizing options, if that is on your to-do list.We can narrow things down a bit, if we like. Larger riders will feel more comfortable on the Bolt, and smaller riders will be less intimidated by the Iron 883. If agility is more important to you, the Iron 883 is your bike; freeway riders will like the Bolt’s stability. Those interested in brute force will take the lighter, more powerful Bolt.Going strictly by price is easy. The Bolt is a significant $950 softer on the wallet than the Iron 883. For many, that’s a quick deal-breaker, though not for us.Whenever we do comparisons, we always discuss among ourselves which bike we’d rather own. Even for our staff members, with our variety of preferences, picking one over the other is a matter of deciding exactly where our priorities lie—it is not an easy choice.Run our data through your personal database, and it should get you pretty close. Fortunately, whether you choose the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 or the Yamaha Bolt, you’ll be getting a motorcycle that is a heckuva lot of fun to ride.Riding StyleDon Williams
2023 Yamaha XSR700 plus Steve Rapp, Daytona 200 Winner
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In this week’s first segment, Associate Editor Teejay Adams and I discuss the new Yamaha XSR700. That’s the retro-styled version of the MT-07 that comes in any color you like—as long as it’s black. Actually, it looks really good with the gold accents on the gas tank and the matching gold wheels. Teejay tells us whether there’s a decent bike lurking under all that flash.
In our second segment, I chat with Steve Rapp. An ex-factory Suzuki and Ducati rider in the Moto America race series, Steve, among many other accomplishments won the prestigious Daytona 200. He also competed with real credibility in a couple of MotoGP races for Richard Stanboli of Attack Performance.
After retiring from professional road racing Steve became a commercial pilot, flying A320s out of LAX for Alaska Airlines. I suspect he’s the only Airline Captain that’s also an ex-professional motorcycle racer. Steve’s calm, matter-of-fact delivery when talking about his high-speed escapades was interesting to say the least. Very impressive guy indeed.
So, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode.