A Little Bit Retro, A Little Bit Cafè, And a Little Bit Gangster

Harley-Davidson expands the Sportster family with the new-for-2018 Iron 1200. Retro is in, so the ’70s-esque paint and custom touches draw from that era to give the Iron 1200 plenty of nostalgic value. Power comes from the venerable Evolution engine to the tune of 73 pound-feet of torque to give this ride modern performance that belies the dated veneer. A classic dish with custom spices, the new Iron 1200 stands poised to raise the Iron family’s displacement ceiling in order to try and draw new customers from a market that has been in decline for over a decade. Join me while I take a look at the rest of the package, and let’s see what else it has going for it.

Continue reading for my review of the Harley-Davidson Iron 1200.

Design

2018 Harley-Davidson Iron 1200
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The Iron 1200 toes the family line that started out back in 1952 with the venerable K-model with a definite '70s kick that suits it well.

The 1200 follows the path laid by its little brother, the Iron 883, which is rather raw and unrefined with a homegrown air about it, but continues along the path right into the next level. Right away the front fender veers into custom country with a cut-down profile and braces that sport lightening holes. It comes nestled between blackout lower-leg sliders that are topped with bellow gaiters below a similarly-achromatic tripletree, flyscreen and handlebar. The bullet-shaped speed screen comes right off the Street range to add a certain cafè flavor to the mix, and that impression gets reinforced by the way the diamond-tufted saddle drops off in the back. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

What isn’t so subtle is the mini-ape handlebar that puts the hands somewhere around just below shoulder height for a bit of a gangster vibe that pairs nicely with the 3.3-gallon “peanut” fuel tank and seventies-tastic tank graphics. Harley must have gotten some black paint on sale, ’cause the darkness continues down onto the V-Twin engine to include rockerboxes, heads, jugs and cases; only the pushrod tubes remain bright as a nice accent with the expected parallel valvetrain geometry.

Pipes and mufflers join in the fun as they sweep back past the blackened shocks, struts and turn-signal housings. A bobbed rear fender finishes off the rear end with little in the way of excess weight as it’s cut back to within a few inches of the fender struts with a compact LED taillight slung under the trailing edge. You pay for that ultra-clean rear end with a side-mount tag, but personally, I think it’s worth it though I wish they’d have mounted it vertically. Whatever, it’s still worth it in my book.

In profile it displays the classic Sportster lines with a bit of squat at the hind end that adds even more to the overall custom vibe, but head on, it’s as narrow as ever. As usual, you can forget about dragging your elbow on this ride, but you can count on a 28-degree lean angle to the left, minus one degree for the exhaust for a total of 27 degrees to the right. Lean and agile, the Iron 1200 toes the family line that started out back in 1952 with the venerable K-model with a definite ’70s kick that suits it well, I think.

Chassis

2018 Harley-Davidson Iron 1200
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This newest Sportster has a slightly more relaxed riding experience with a bit more stability than you might expect from this family.

The narrow frame, swingarm and front end are hallmarks of the XL line that come properly represented on the newest Iron Sporty. Tubular-steel members make up the double-downtube/double-cradle frame with a steel swingarm that rocks a rectangular cross section and two-sided construction for strength and stiffness.

Cast wheels round out the rolling chassis with a 100/90-19 hoop up front and 150/80-16 out back that provide a nice offset, a break to the symmetry if you will, that furthers the custom attitude. A 30-degree rake pushes the front wheel out for a 59.6-inch wheelbase with 4.6 inches of trail; numbers that point to a slightly more relaxed riding experience with a bit more stability than you might expect from this family.

Unfortunately, the suspension is exactly what you’d expect with fixed-value, right-way-up forks and low rear shocks that offer only the obligatory preload adjustment as the only ride-quality control. Oh well, at least the shocks have one redeeming quality; they pull the laden seat height down to 25.7-inches high, just a skosh taller than the Sporty SuperLow. Low seat heights lend confidence at lights and in parking lots, so the relaxed attitude is a constant across the usage spectrum.

Drivetrain

2018 Harley-Davidson Iron 1200
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Power comes from an engine that comes with quite a long service record. The Evolution Sportster first greeted the world back in 1986, and sure, you could just call it outdated, but the MoCo has had 32 years to perfect this engine that has seen the birth and demise of entire generations of Big-Twin plants.

At 1,202 cc (73.4 cubic-feet), this mill would have been considered large within the context of the time frame from which it draws its inspiration with an 88.8 mm bore and 96.5 mm stroke in the classic, 45-degree Vee. Air cooling dissipates the waste heat generated by the 10-to-1 compression ratio, ’cause yeah, we can’t be having a radiator on the front of a Sporty; just wouldn’t be right.

Engine control comes down to cables and electronic fuel injection, but little else in the wizardry department. No, still no traction control or rider modes to be found, just the reliable low-end torque that makes Sporties so much fun. It cranks out 73 pounds o’ stump-pulling grunt at 3,500 rpm to move its 564-pound wet bulk, and if you don’t think that’s enough, you haven’t felt one hit the powerband yet.

Riders can expect something around 48 mpg, though as with everything else, individual results may vary depending on riding style, terrain, load etc. A five-speed transmixxer crunches the ratios and sends power to the rear wheel via a reinforced belt drive.

Engine: Air-cooled, Evolution®
Bore x Stroke: 3.5 in. x 3.8 in.
Displacement: 1,202 cc (73.4 cu in)
Compression Ratio: 10:01
Engine Torque (J1349): 73 ft-lb @ 3,000 rpm
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Exhaust: Black, staggered exhaust and headers with black slash-cut mufflers
Primary Drive: Chain, 38/57 ratio

Price

2018 Harley-Davidson Iron 1200
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MSRP puts the new Iron 1200 in the middle of the Sportster price range.

As usual, color choice has an effect on price. The Vivid Black model rolls for $9,999 with a sharp, seventies-tastic graphic that runs from blue-to-white. At $10,349, the optional packages get you Twisted Cherry with a subdued tank graphic or Billiard White with a purple-to-blue graphic. ABS is a $795 option and security will set you back another four Benjamins. California riders? Yeah, you can look forward to a $100 emission package as well.

Colors: Vivid Black, Twisted Cherry, Billiard White
Price: $9,999, Color: $10,349
ABS Option: $795
Security System Option: $395

Competitor

2016 - 2018 Yamaha Bolt R-Spec / Bolt C-Spec
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2018 Harley-Davidson Iron 1200
- image 771066
The look is spot-on, though the price tag will lean buyers with no existing brand loyalty toward Yamaha.

Hands-down, the most Sportster-like, non-Sportster bike out there has got to be the Bolt R-Spec from Yamaha’s in-house Star cruiser line. It has the looks, the stance and the sporty attitude for the job, and of course, the V-twin powerplant really closes the deal aesthetically.

The Bolt’s visage hits all the high points quite nicely, and while I still prefer the H-D’s genuine looks, I have to admit that Yamaha really did a nice job with the Bolt. It’s probably fair to say that the Bolt is certainly a threat to Harley, at least with the younger buyers are concerned, because of the comparable looks and friendlier price tag. At $8,399, the R-Spec enjoys a significant advantage at the checkout, but price was never H-D’s strongest selling point. Still, the $1,600 difference will probably draw those with no particular interest in owning a Harley, just perhaps wanting to borrow the look.

Yamaha takes a hit in the engine department with a smaller, 942 cc powerplant that predictably leaves some grunt on the table with only 59 pound-feet versus the 73 pounds-feet from the Sporty. Suspension and brakes are pretty equal across the board unless you want ABS, then Harley has the only game in town.

He Said

“While the Bolt is a great-looking little ride, it just isn’t quite the same as having the genuine article. I’ve always been a fan of the Sportster line, and I gotta’ say this new model has my stamp of approval. Party on, Wayne.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “You know, I do like the Milwaukee-Eight engine, but honestly, the Evolution engine is so bullet-proof, how can you go wrong? I like this cafè look with the little bikini fairing and the cafe solo seat, which is right out of the parts and accessories catalog for the Sporties. The Iron 883 is more bobber-oriented and this Iron 1200 definitely has a cafè flavor going on. It’s not just an Iron 883 with a bigger engine.”

Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: Air-cooled, Evolution®
Bore x Stroke: 3.5 in. x 3.8 in.
Displacement: 1,202 cc (73.4 cu in)
Compression Ratio: 10:01
Engine Torque (J1349): 73 ft-lb @ 3,000 rpm
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Exhaust: Black, staggered exhaust and headers with black slash-cut mufflers
Primary Drive: Chain, 38/57 ratio
Gear Ratios (overall) 1st: 9.315
Gear Ratios (overall) 2nd: 6.653
Gear Ratios (overall) 3rd: 4.948
Gear Ratios (overall) 4th: 4.102
Gear Ratios (overall) 5th: 3.517
Chassis:
Lean Angle, Right (deg.): 27
Lean Angle, Left (deg.): 28
Rake (steering head) (deg): 30
Trail: 4.6 in.
Wheels, Front Type: Black, 9-spoke
Wheels, Rear Type: Black, 9-spoke
Tires, Front Specification: 100/90B19 57H
Tires, Rear Specification: 150/80B16 77H
Brakes, Caliper Type: Dual-piston front, Dual-piston rear
Dimensions & Capacities:
Length: 86.6 in.
Seat Height, Laden: 7 25.7 in.
Seat Height, Unladen: 28.9 in.
Ground Clearance: 5.5 in.
Wheelbase : 59.6 in.
Fuel Capacity: 3.3 gal.
Oil Capacity (w/filter): 2.8 qt.
Fuel Economy: Estimated City/Hwy: 48 mpg
Weight, As Shipped: 547 lb.
Weight, In Running Order: 564 lb.
Electric:
Lights (as per country regulation), Indicator Lamps: High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low fuel warning, low battery, security system (if equipped), ABS (if equipped)
Gauges: Handlebar-mounted electronic speedometer with odometer, time-of-day clock, dual tripmeter, low fuel warning light, low oil pressure light, engine diagnostics readout, LED indicator lights
Details:
Colors: Vivid Black, Twisted Cherry, Billiard White
Price: $9,999, Color: $10,349

References

2016 - 2018 Yamaha Bolt R-Spec / Bolt C-Spec
- image 716534

See our review of the Yamaha Star Bolt R-Spec.

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: harley-davidson.com, yamaha-motor.com

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