They’re young, they’re sexy, they’re uninhibited, and they just want to have fun. And this is their first visit to Daytona Bee-ach for Bike Week, where the intoxicating combination of sun, surf, and WFO partying offers the first opportunity for them to really cut loose and give us all an eyeful of their spunky attributes.
I’m referring, of course, to the two spanking new Sportsters, the XR1200 and Iron 883, that flashed onto the American motorcycle scene this winter bringing fresh faces to the Harley stable and the prospect of a rosy glow to Milwaukee’s bottom line come the spring.
Being ingénues to the busy Bike Week doings, these new models would naturally need seasoned escorts to show them around, and they don’t come much more seasoned (marinated?) than South Editor Robert Filla and myself, and we dutifully head on over to Harley headquarters at the Ocean Center to get acquainted with the models. After a brief introduction, I hook up with the XR1200 which is more my style of date—tall and racy with a lot of baggage. For his part, Robert fancies the Iron 883, a sassy dark looker with shaved suspension and a low-cut MSRP (he refers to the model as a “M.I.L.F.,” an unfamiliar acronym he explains as meaning “motorcycle I’d like to flog”), and off we go to log some beach time and then hit a few of our fave watering holes.
Down at the south end of the peninsula at the most remote beach access available, we head out onto the sand to snap some glamour shots without being disturbed by drooling spectators. Riding on the beach is a time-honored rite of passage at Daytona, and one the models are eager to participate in, but whereas the sand is well-packed and easily passable on the main promenade up north, down here it proves a different story. After paying the five buck fee and riding down the paved access, we immediately find ourselves in really deep loose sand. It’s a bear to maneuver in, but gives us an opportunity to assess the handling prowess of the machines in those conditions, and I can tell you unequivocally that they’re every bit as good at it as, say, a rototiller.
A long leisurely cruise on the beach is, thus, out of the question and the models are miffed. This is not their idea of fun, and in a sincere and selfless effort to mollify them, I blame the whole awkward exercise on Robert, and suggest that we ride out to the Ormond Strip where we can party on solid ground, at least. We stop off en route at the famously funky Buckie’s Ormond Seafood Company to gulp down some oysters, which seems the appropriate thing to do. (And also, as it happens, to pay our last respects to the famously eccentric Buckie, renowned for dispensing free beer, who’d passed away in December.) And it’s here that we discover, to the XR’s delight, that the place is teeming with Euro-types on Ducatis and Guzzis. They quickly encircle the XR, scoping out every intimate detail. The XR loves the attention, which figures. The model was born in Milwaukee, but was bred for a European audience, debuting over there last May and only brought stateside as a “popular demand” afterthought (or so we’re told, though it’s impossible to dismiss the possibility that cagey marketing was involved).
Naturally, the Iron 883’s getting irritated and antsy with all the attention the XR’s drawing, so to keep peace we beat a hasty up the Strip to the Broken Spoke Saloon for some authentic roll-in-the-dirt reveling, rolling into the grounds and over the dirt and past the properly parked bikes and right up to the bar. Which, we discover, is a no-no. And as soon as we stop and drop the stands, we’re descended upon by a phalanx of security, barking at us and gesticulating and informing us that we can’t park there. They’re surly and surely mean business, but change their tune abruptly once I’ve calmly informed them that we are, in fact, a film crew for the notorious “Sportsters Gone Wild,” and now they’re scrambling to accommodate the models, herding patrons out of the shots and suggesting suggestive poses. It’s the red carpet treatment for sure, and the models are having a blast. The Iron 883 is in its element here and basking in the attentions of the roots traditionalists all agog at the dipped-in-black cosmetic treatment, front fork gaiters and side-mounted license plate.
They could scarcely be more different, these two, even while technically belonging to the same family. They represent the extremes of Sportsterism in power, poise and price, and particularly in this instance where the XR1200 is fully outfitted with touring accessories. The tank bag, tail bag and saddlebags add $639.85 to the bike’s $10,799 sticker price for a grand total of $11,438.85. The black Iron 883 runs $7,895, making it the second lowest priced Harley-Davidson after the basic XL883L Sportster Low. In the power department the disparity is just as pronounced, with the performance-built XR pumping out roughly 90 horsepower and 74 foot/pounds of torque to the Iron’s laid-back 53hp and 55 ft/lbs. And the same goes for just about every other category of comparison, not the least of which is seat height with the Iron 883 having the lowest of any Harley at 25.3″, and the XR1200 the highest at 29.2″.
So different are they, in fact, that inevitably the dreaded question arises. It’s to the effect of, “If we’re siblings, how come we have different names? How come we’re XL and XR?” That’s a touchy one to address, and Robert attempts to brush it off, saying, “It doesn’t matter. We love you both the same,” but that’s weak and we all know it.
A pall ensues that threatens to ruin an otherwise splendid day, but fortune is smiling upon us. It comes as we pull into the parking lot of the Lighthouse Landing, the rustic riverside seafood joint in Ponce Inlet. This spot has long been a favorite hang of the vintage set, and greeting our arrival is the one machine that can answer all the models’ questions. It’s a rare K-series Harley, the original “gone wild” models of Daytona Bike Week, and the progenitors of all things Sportster. The KR750, (which begat the XR750, the XR1000, and now the XR1200) ruled the track in Daytona throughout most of the ’50s and ’60s—so much so that in 1960, the top 14 finishers in the Daytona 200 were all KRs. The KH and KHK models were the original 883s and begat in 1957 the first XL883 Sportster. The specimen in the parking lot is a bit of all of them. It’s a bobbed KHK with a number of KR components incorporated into it, and the family resemblance to both our new models is undeniable, and in the case of the Iron 883 it’s striking.
It proves a brilliant finish to the maiden Daytona outing of the XR and XL. We’ve given the models the grand tour of the affair and even managed to slip in a heady dose of personal history for their consideration, giving them some perspective on their place in a long and exciting history. We’ve shot a lot of photography, too, but most of it’s not suitable for publication. The XR keeps peeling off its tank bag.