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Harley Sportster 883 Low–good first bike?
October 14, 2009 at 1:21 am #3505
Has anyone here bought this model of Harley for their first bike? Did it wind up being a good choice overall? Let me know the pros and cons. Thanks in advance for your comments.October 14, 2009 at 2:14 am #22829eternal05Participant
I’m not sure if Elwood’s got the “low” version of the bike, but he currently rides a sporty. I’m sure he’ll have plenty to say about it.
In general, however, I think the consensus is that it’s not a particularly good beginner bike. While you may be able to learn on it, it will present a number of obstacles that will probably hamper your learning quite a bit, and make you rather uncomfortable.
The most obvious is weight. It’s hard enough to man up to tipping a Ninja 250 over at really slow speeds (I’m specifically talking tight U-turn type maneuvers) when you’re first starting out. You’re really worried that you’ll bone up the clutch or throttle input and either zoom off your trajectory too fast or lose power and let the bike fall inward. Now imagine that the bike you’re riding is 200 pounds heavier! Whereas I could usually man-handle my bike back upright in situations when I almost dropped it, you’d have no chance of stopping that (relative) behemoth once it started going down.
Given the longer wheelbase and greater rake/trail, it will also be less maneuverable than a more “standard”-type of bike, but that’s more or less true of cruisers in general, so if that’s your preference in bikes you might as well get used to it sooner rather than later.
The other thing is that the Sportsters pack a pretty good punch, so you’re probably going to run into more problems learning to smoothly apply and remove throttle than you would with a leaner, less frisky bike, BUT, as far as actual horsepower figures goes, it’s really not that unreasonable.October 14, 2009 at 2:21 am #22830
I was a little worried that Harley might be a bit fast for me at first. Generally, I have been thinking of a Kawasaki Vulcan 500, which I have read good reviews about from beginners. At the same time, I like Harley and was thinking that now might be a good time to “buy American,” and I understand that Harley makes quality bikes. You make several good points–thanks again.October 14, 2009 at 2:07 pm #22842JackTradeParticipant
Buy a used Vulcan or whathaveyou for your first bike, get your experience (and maybe drops) out of the way on a bike you don’t really care about, then upgrade to a shiny new Harley. I bought my bike (a used Buell Blast) with exactly that in mind.
Harley’s not going to stop making them any time soon, so you’ll be able to get one when you’re ready. I’m sure it won’t take long, and it never hurts to have had experience with other bikes…October 14, 2009 at 2:15 pm #22844WeaponZeroParticipant
Elwood, a forum regular, bought a Sportster 883 for his first bike. And I’ve seen him say many times he wouldn’t recommend that others do what he did.October 14, 2009 at 2:45 pm #22849
Thanks for the comments and advice. I hope Elwood will post and give me his comments, I would love to hear what he has to say. It appears to me that Kawasaki is not planning to continue making the 500 in 2010, I just discovered yesterday. Of course, I am guessing they will be available used for some time. The comments I have read on this bike have been positive from just about all the new riders, so I am feeling it might be the way to go.October 14, 2009 at 10:12 pm #22863WeaponZeroParticipant
Kawasaki is discontinuing both the Ninja 500R and Kawasaki Vulcan 500 (which are built on the same engine) for 2010. I don’t know what they plan on doing to replace the Vulcan in their lineup, but their logic for the 500R being discontinued is that theres no reason to produce both the 500R and 650R as the 650R is still plenty mild enough for a beginner.October 15, 2009 at 1:03 pm #22871samgoodyParticipant
I live in Saudi Arabia and don’t have the benefit of MSF or similar courses. The local Harley dealership offered some lessons, so I went there. The bike they used was a beat up 883 Sportster Custom with forward foot controls. I’m about 5’11″/6’0″-ish, about 160lb, and in reasonably good shape. The first thing I noticed was how heavy the steering felt at low speeds. At one point I made a left u-turn, turned my head and eyes to go straight, but the bike kept wanting to turn left because I hadn’t applied enough muscle to straighten the handlebars. You’ll really have to muscle the bike around at low speeds because it is a heavy bike.
Also because of the weight, you’ll have to give it slightly more throttle to keep it from tipping over while you do u-turns than a lighter bike. I eventually managed to string together some u-turns, but not before I dropped the bike several times because I was going just a tad too slow.
If you decide to get a cruiser with this kind of weight, I’d strongly advise fitting some highway bars to it. The bike will drop onto those bars, so they may give you more leverage to pick the bike back up, save a lot of chrome from being scratched, and perhaps prevent a leg from getting pinned underneath it. If the bike beings to drop, don’t try to fight it back up; just let go, and make sure your inside leg is clear of the bike.
The other thing I noticed was that I felt like I was hanging on to the bike by the handlebars, which will make it difficult to steer and control the throttle accurately. With the combination of my height, the low height of the tank, the position of the air cleaner, and the forward controls, I didn’t feel like I was able to grip the tank with my knees, which in turn made me tighten my grip on the bars. If I’m not mistaken, the Low has mid-mounted foot controls instead of the forward-mounted ones on the Custom, so depending on your height this may not be as much of an issue for you.
I couldn’t help but feel that if I’d been offered the same lessons on a smaller, lighter bike that I would have learned them much faster. Before this, I was also debating whether to get a Sportster as my first bike, but I knew then that that bike wasn’t meant for me. Keep in mind that I’d never ridden a motorcycle before trying to learn on that bike. You may have more luck than me, but the odds are that it will take you longer to learn on it than it would with a lighter and less grunty bike.
If I’m not mistaken, I think Munch started out on a Vulcan 500, so his insight on that bike may be helpful to you. There may be other forum members who started on this bike as well, so I hope they chime in with their insights.October 16, 2009 at 1:24 am #22879
Sam is correct I did get my start on the Vulcan 500.
The rake and trail on this bike in particular are not that long and especially does not make the bike hard to maneuver. Though it is heavier then the 250 and even some sport bikes it is very light and agile, at least for my time learning on it. Granted some members felt it top heavy, I never seemed to get that feeling. The V500 will turn on a dime with change once you get comfortable to do it. It has good low end torque to get you off the line in good spirit, however it is very controllable. The input you get is the result you expect. You have to lay into the bike to get her to her potential, and she has potential. Remember it is the same engine as the Ninja 500 just geared down for more torque on the low end and predictable power through out the throttle and gears.
For me in my limited opinion the Vulcan 500 is the best beginner bike out there that can offer you highway speeds, maneuverability and great cornering/tight turning capabilities.
There are other alternatives also such as the Vstar 650 and Honda 750. One thing you need to also think about that cruiser style bikes are different that of a sport in the cc range and abilities. Cruiser are topically set to …well…. cruise….not rocket off into the great white lined yonder.
Any specific questions on the V500 I would be happy to answer just ask. As far as the Sporty goes….. a little bit closer tuned to a sport bike type performance (hence the name) but still giving the cruiser aspect that some of us think is cool. It is quite a bit heavier and not for the feint of heart to learn on. It’s very do able as Elwood has pulled it off, but it will take a determined amount of dedication to basics before progressing through each step of the learning curve.October 16, 2009 at 11:33 pm #22899
Yesterday I went to sit on some Harleys (as well as some other brands). The sales staff essentially gave me the same advice: the Sportster is not the best bike to begin riding on. Also, they informed me that the Kawasaiki 500 is being discontinued. The salespeople recommended I try the Kawasaki 900 Vulcan and the Suzuki M50 as a first bike because their road “manners” are easier to master. I sat on and liked the Kawasaki 900 quite a bit and have also heard from some riders who had the Vulcan as their first bike recommend it strongly, the 900, although many have also recommended the 500 as well. I also tried the Suzuki M50 and it seemed like a nice bike too.
When I went to the store, I really wanted to hear that the Harley Sportster was going to be a great bike to start with. But even when I sat on both the 883 and the 1200, they were not quite as comfortable as I was hoping. The salespeople also mentioned that they would be more difficult to handle at slower speeds, etc.
Thank you guys for sharing your experience with me, I appreciate it.October 17, 2009 at 12:11 am #22900AtlAggieParticipant
Just because the Vulcan 500 is discontinued doesn’t mean you can’t find a good used one to practice on. I visited many forums before I bought my first bike, and there is one thing they almost ALL agreed on. Most say that your first bike is your learner bike, and you are almost sure to drop it at least a time or two. Besides being a good “learner” bike that you can develop skills on, it doesn’t hurt for it to be a little used so that it won’t break your heart when you drop it.
I bought a used Rebel 250 to learn on. I put 2,100 miles on it in 6 months, and then sold it for almost what I paid for it. I bought my Vulcan 500 new in January, and I just turned over 6,000 miles on it last week. I LOVE that bike. Amazingly quick for a 500, but almost as nimble has the Rebel. Together, my wife and I total well over 400 pounds, but we have ridden the Vulcan 2-up all over the north Georgia mountains, and I have no trouble keeping up with the couples we ride with on H-Ds, or V-Star 1100s, or C50s.
To be honest, the only reason I’m considering a move up to a Vulcan 900 in the spring is because my wife wants a bigger back seat, and NO ONE makes a custom seat for the 500. So if you want to wait until spring, I can tell you where you can find a well taken care of 500 that will probably have about 10,000 miles on it by then.October 17, 2009 at 12:16 am #22901
I really disagree passionately about the V900 being a beginners bike. I have one and I can promise you it is by no means a beginners ride. The torque on the low end is well more then the 500’s is and considerably heavier. You will need to get you some experience on a lighter bike before you tackle the 900’s slow speed maneuvering. The only reason I can think they would even think such is either A) they have forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner they are looking for the up sale. Does it honestly make sense to you that they would not recommend a 883 (Sportster) but they then try to turn you on to a 900?
If you have any questions about the Vulcan 900 I can give you heads up on that to as it is my current ride.October 17, 2009 at 1:29 am #22902
Several people now have told me the 900 Vulcan was their starter bike and they also had no previous experience riding (like me).
I think your A and B points are excellent. Naturally, “the up sale” this was my first suspicion. So I asked around today and got some surprising answers. Most of the current riders tell me that they are roughly the same size as I am (5’11” and 250 lbs) and they are also new riders with no previous experience. They say that the 900 is one of the more well balanced motorcycles, that in fact, some of the lighter bikes are “top heavy” and that this can be by itself unsafe. The Vulcan 900 is well balanced and well mannered on the road, good things for beginners. Their argument is that this would prove easier to manage than some of the smaller bikes. The guys at the dealership told me they would recommend either the Suzuki M50 or the Kawasaki Vulcan 900.
The reason the salespeople didn’t recommend the Sportster 883 is for two reasons. First, they said I would feel cramped on that bike, especially if riding for a long and would outgrow it quickly. The other issue is that the bike is more difficult to manage, i.e., top heavy, harder to steer in part because it has a wider turning radius, etc. In fact, I spoke to a policeman with years of riding experience who told me that he rides one now regularly because of his job and found it slightly uncomfortable, despite his experience.
The salespeople said the 900 would be easier to manage for a beginner for these reasons. Primarily, the weight is more balanced on a midsize bike than a small one.
But given that you also have this bike, I would also like to hear from you as well. I greatly respect hearing comments either pro or con.
I will still be considering picking up a used 500. Thank you for giving me your opinion, it has been very helpful. I will probably come up with some questions for you–thanks for your offer of help.October 17, 2009 at 1:50 am #22903
I will gladly give any feed back. You are only an inch taller then me. A V500 would be the perfect beginner for you. Especially used. Re sale is fairly quick to I got rid of mine 2 days after it went up for sale.
A V900 is a temperamental beast of sorts…oh and don’t worry about the cramping myth on a Sportster, Elwood is 6′ something and rides his comfortably.
OK Back to the 9…. first the low end torque…….when learning to downshift to match your speeds for say a light, it can be unforgiving, drop to low a gear and that bad boy will drag a rear tire quick and scare the bajeezus out of ya. At speed yes she is well balanced. Slow speeds not so much, you will need to have good muscle memory so you can focus on making her go where you want to and not where gravity pulls you. The Front brakes are really good for stopping….and pulling you down should you forget to use your rear brake at slow speeds instead. Make no mistake about it to that this bike needs both front and rear brakes to stop it at speeds above 55 mph also. The fronts are good but you have a lot of weight pushing you.
I am 5’10” and 175 give or take. I am also a mechanic and ex farmboy/bull rider. I came close to dropping her twice and was able to manage man handle her back up. If your not really strong in the upper body it will carry you with her unless you let her go. Another aspect of the 9 that I feel makes it harder for a beginner is the span of the handle bars. They have a wide wingspan and will no doubts endanger a beginner still having to keep in mind to relax your throttle hand , especially on full lock left turns.
Ummm for now thats all my distracted mind can think of….fire away with questions.October 17, 2009 at 2:10 am #22904
I like the 500, so I may be looking for a used one after going through the MSF, which I hope to do before summer in 2010.
Frankly, I have heard many positive stories about the capabilities of the 500, so honestlly, I am not sure why they plan to stop production, but obviously, their sales must not be what they want them to be.
As far as a biggers bike is concerned, speed is not my primary focus, although I have heard many stories like your that the 500 is plenty capable and fine on the freeway.
The only reason I feel reluctant sometimes to consider used is that I have been burned on used cars, etc., in the past. My new cars have always worked fine, my used cars, not so much. The good news is that I am more experienced and world wise today than I was 20-30 years ago. Besides, being burned a couple of times doesn’t mean that I will be this time. I need to figure out what to look for, naturally. But my goal until recently has been to get the 500. Thanks for your advice.
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