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'13 Sportster 883 Iron vs Star Bolt vs Bonneville

Monday, May 20, 2013

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2013 Sportster Iron 883 Comparison Video
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See the Iron 883 in action against two of its primary competitors in our 2013 Sportster Iron 883 Comparison video.
As soon as we saw the Bolt we knew it had to happen. There’s no disguising what bike Star Motorcycles had in its sights when the 2014 Bolt was released. And with good reason. The Sportster has been a best-selling model for Harley-Davidson for ages and has made it into the production line yearly since 1957. Currently Harley offers five variations, as one of the bike’s roles is as a gateway model to what The Motor Company hopes will be buyers investing in bigger and better Harleys somewhere down the road. Can’t blame Star for wanting to tap into that. The two cruisers also bear a striking resemblance, small tanks mounted high on backbones behind drag-style bars slinking back to a small solo seat, the tall pillars of a V-Twin nesting between the rails of dual downtubes. Pitting these two head-to-head was inevitable.

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2014 Star Bolt Comparison Video
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They call it the Bolt and its Star Motorcycles newest urban cruiser. See how it stacks up against Harley's Iron 883 and the Triumph Bonneville in our 2014 Star Bolt Comparison video.
But we decided to throw a wild card into the Urban Cruiser mix, the 2013 Triumph Bonneville. The Bonneville has been dueling with the Sportster on the sales floor for ages. First produced in 1959, the Bonneville has a history almost as tenured and venerable as the Sportster. Admittedly, Triumph’s standard motorcycle can’t quite match the Sportster’s record for continuous production, as there was a 13-year hiatus between the end of the Triumph Engineering Meriden models in 1988 and the Bonneville’s resurrection in 2001 by the Hinckley-based Triumph Motorcycles. And its use of a Parallel Twin as opposed to a V-Twin does make it the outlier in this shootout, but the motorcycle caters to primarily the same demographic (first bike buyers, urban commuters, new riders) and serves many of the same purposes. They share other bonds as well. Sportster conversions are a hot commodity right now. Just look at what Roland Sands is doing with them or check out the Burly Brand Café Racer we recently featured. And doing the ton-up on the Bonnie has been en vogue since the ‘60s and it’s hard to mention the café racer movement without mentioning Triumph. We’ve recognized the same potential with the Bolt and are hoping to give it the café treatment ourselves as a future project bike.

So for two weeks, we flogged these bikes, using them the same way most buyers would. They became our commuters, our about-town bikes, we opened them up on the highway and even took them out on a lengthy run through
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2013 Triumph Bonneville Comparison Video
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The Bonneville has a long and storied history. See how the most current version fares against the competition from Harley and Star in our 2013 Triumph Bonneville Comparison video.
our local curvalicious mountain roads to see how well sorted the chassis’ on each were and to find out which won the battle for best fuel economy. We also took them out to Chuckwalla Raceway to see which bike could boogie down the quarter-mile fastest and to log 0-60mph times.

After 1651 cumulative miles on all three bikes, the motorcycle with the biggest engine actually got the best gas mileage, the 2014 Star Bolt leading the pack with a 45.72 mpg average. Contrarily, the lowest displaced bike, the 865cc 2013 Triumph Bonneville, logged the lowest average at 42.82 mpg. The 2013 Sportster Iron 883 placed in the middle with a respectable median of 44.26 mpg. The bikes were ridden the same, WFO in some occasions, stoplight-to-stoplight in others, to ensure consistency.

A clear champion of acceleration emerged during our road test and the trip to the track. The 2013 Bonneville smoked ‘em on the quarter-mile, tripping the clock at 13.87 seconds at a speed of 97mph. Seeing how the Bonneville is the lightest bike of the bunch with a curb weight of 488 pounds on our scales, this makes sense. But it also has the smallest mill of the three, a testament to the liveliness of Triumph’s Parallel Twin. There was no contest in the 0 -60mph test either, the Bonneville hitting freeway speeds in 5.25 seconds while the other two didn’t come close to breaking the six-second barrier.

2013 Triumph Bonneville vs 2013 Harley Sportster Iron 883 vs 2014 Star Bolt torque dyno chart
2013 Sportster Iron 883 vs 2014 Star Bolt vs 2013 Triumph Bonneville Horsepower and Torque Dyno Charts
2013 Sportster Iron 883 vs 2014 Star Bolt vs 2013 Triumph Bonneville Horsepower Dyno Chart
Which bike comes out on top in our Urban Cruiser Shootout? Read on to find out.
It was a battle royale between urban cruisers as the 2013 Triumph Bonneville waged war between the 2014 Star Bolt R-Spec and the 2013 Sportster Iron 883 in this comparison.
The Star Bolt finished second in our acceleration tests, making the quarter-mile dash in 15.02 seconds at a speed of 87mph. The newest Star went from 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds while tipping the scales as the second-heaviest motorcycle as well, weighing in with a curb weight of 543 pounds. With a 59cc advantage over the Sportster, the Bolt was expected to beat the Harley down the strip.

The Iron 883 Sportster chugged down the quarter-mile the slowest of the bunch with a time of 15.69 seconds at 85mph. In the 0-60 test, it also placed last at a time of 6.99 seconds. Even though the Sportster feels like the smallest bike of the bunch, it actually is the heaviest, with a curb weight of 564 pounds. It’s hard to blame its performance solely on displacement differences because the smallest engine of the three actually put up the best times. But there’s no denying it takes more effort to get that mass in motion which we believe is a likely culprit in its less-than-stellar showing.

A look at the dyno numbers gives clues to why the 2013 Bonneville tore it up on the drag strip. Turns out the Bonneville is the horsepower king of the trio, its peak 63.35 horsepower coming on much later than the other two at 7100 rpm. The difference in peak horsepower between the Bolt and Sportster was surprisingly close, the Bolt’s 47.72 hp @ 5300 rpm not much more than the Iron 883’s 45.17 hp @ 5900 rpm. On the other hand, the Bolt put out the most torque, explaining why it launches so well off the line. The V-Twins topped the chart in this category, the Bolt leading the charge with peak numbers of 53.94 lb-ft coming on the earliest of the bunch at 3400 rpm. The Iron 883 Sportster was good for 48.39 lb-ft of torque at 3900 rpm, while the 2013 Bonneville’s higher revving Parallel Twin pulled up the rear with 46.24 lb-ft coming on at 5600 rpm.

Now that we’ve got numbers out of the way, we’ll take a look at how each motorcycle makes that power and scrutinize other factors like handling, suspension, brakes, as well as discussing character and appearance to determine a winner of our 2013 Urban Cruiser Shootout.

2013 Sportster Iron 883 Photo Gallery
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2013 Triumph Bonneville  Photo Gallery
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2014 Star Bolt Photo Gallery
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2013 Urban Cruiser Shootout 0-60mph
 2013 Iron 883 vs '14 Star Bolt vs '13 Bonneville
2013 Urban Cruiser Shootout 1/4-Mile
 2013 Iron 883 vs '14 Star Bolt vs '13 Bonneville

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Tobybear   July 4, 2013 04:57 PM
I don't get Japanese manufactures. For the same price as the Bolt, you can get Yamahas new FZ09 with a little more torque, double the horsepower and 120lbs lighter. At least Triumph knows they don't have to build a 520lb+ machine to look like a classic bike. At least Yamaha had the sense to go with a belt drive and rear disk brake, unlike the Shadow RS chain drive and drum brake. Japan, build a light weight great handling cruiser already, you have the technology and expertise. Instead of trying to build a dependable Harley, you've already done that. Take a cue from Harley and build the XL11200R and XR1200 they couldn't build, you know a classic standard or roadster that isn't a 550lb slow crappy handling fat pig. Hell Triumph has managed to do it with their classic lines, and they have much less dealer support and had to rebuild their reputation.
weitzman   May 23, 2013 10:42 AM
the Force in a=F/m is not torque as in foot-pounds. The force in Newton's formula is kg meters per second squared. That is not torque which in European terms is described as newton meters. Americans describe torque in pound feet or foot pounds. for torque to have meaning in describing the work accomplished or the level of work an engine can do is described over time and distance, when you do, then you have a real measure of word which then gets identified as hp. Quarter mile times are described over time and distance as a measure of performance. And that is horsepower. as the formula says hp=torquexrpm/5252. rpm describes the time and distance. the 5252 is the weight or mass lifted (weight and mass are basically the same at sea level or one g). Torque by itself is just a force or a pressure if you will. until it has time and distance (rpm) it means nothing and does nothing. Torque does not overcome inertia by itself. It is horse power that does the work and measures how much work is done. don't confuse Force as used by Newton as force in the term torque. Going back to my original point, the harley makes the most power at peak hp and because the hp curve rises from 4,200 to 5,900 from 3,200 to 4,200 rpm, the harley makes more power as the rpms climb, not between 3,200 and 4,200 as Bryan wrote. Going back to feel, however, i think that because of vibration the harley may "feel" better between the lower rpm range Bryan referred to. If you guys think torque is more important than hp, when are we going to have a torque war between mfgs. No there are only hp wars, because hp means the performance of a vehicle, not torque. when you have equal weight, gearing and drag, it is the vehicle with the most hp that wins, not the vehicle with the most torque. Even in this test, the vehicle with the most hp won the performance war, and the m/c with the second most hp came in second. The vehicle with the largest engine and most torque didn't come in first, the vehicle with the least amount of torque came in first. The reason the most torque m/c is easier to launch is that it makes more hp at rpms below 5,500 rpm. But it doesn't make the Bolt quicker because the Triumph quickly gets above 5,500 rpm and stays there through its acceleration runs so it is making much more power. That's what gearing allows. Go back to the Cad engine with 400 pounds of torque compared to the corvette engine with 400 pounds of torque, both two valve push rod (ohv) v-8s. which engine makes more power? The corvette, which makes 400 hp compared to the caddy's 190 hp. What is more important, torque or hp? Understand the formula hp=torqueXrpm/5252. when you do you will understand that torque without rpm is meaningless.
Piglet2010   May 22, 2013 05:21 PM
@ weitzman:"...as hp requirements increase with the square of the speed." No, the force of aerodynamic drag increases with the square of speed, but the power requirement to overcome that drag increases with the cube of speed (i.e. force x speed = power). "It is hp that determines the work you can do and the acceleration you feel, not torque." Well, of course the rider only feels acceleration, and not torque about the rear axle. But while power determines how fast one can go, acceleration depends on force (i.e. torque) not power - or do you claim Newtonian mechanics is invalid? The scientific world will be astounded to learn that F=m*dv/dt is wrong.
Kropotkin   May 22, 2013 04:42 AM
None of that tells you how a motorcycle feels. Torque overcomes inertia (weight). Horsepower pushes the air out of the way. And gearing puts both where you need them. You just ride the bike. Until you get to about 110 mph, the air resistance is relatively easy to overcome.

Unless you're on a racetrack, it's all that nonsense that magazines love to talk about but they never understand, or at least never convey, why some bikes are twice as enjoyable to ride as others, on the street.
woodco100   May 21, 2013 08:33 PM
Einstein said pi R square but he was wrong. I checked, pi R round. Cornbread R square.
weitzman   May 21, 2013 07:18 PM
no problem, but torque is only a force and does not measure the ability to do work. What you feel is not scientific. 80 pound of torque at 12,000 rpm is near 185 hp, 80 pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm is about 70 hp. It is the horse power that determines the "work" an engine can do, not torque. Remember hp equals torqueXrpm divided by 5,252. When torque starts falling at the approximate rate of 20% per thousand rpm, then horsepower does not increase with rpm. In other words if torque is 100 foot pounds at 5,000 rpm, hp is about 100, if it falls to 50 pounds at 10,000 rpm it is still making about 100 hp which is a 20% drop per 1,000 rpm. If torque fell at a greater rate, it would lose hp. Torque (force) over time and distance (rpm) you get work performed and horsepower. The number 5,252 in the hp formula is derived by dividing 33,000 by 6.28 feet the distance traveled in one rpm (torque is measured in FOOT pounds so one rotation is 6.28 feet (2 pi). A 8.2L caddy V-8 made 400 pounds of torque as did a 6.0L 400 hp corvette from 2005-2007. But while the caddy made peak torque at a low 2,000 rpm, it fell off so rapidly that it made only 190hp at about 3,600 rpm while the corvette made 400 hp at about 6,000 rpm. The smaller Corvette engine was more than twice as powerful regardless of torque. Its quickest acceleration came in first gear between 5k and 6.5k rpm in first gear even though it was past peak torque of 4,400 rpm. And that was true for any gear up to fifth when wind resistance became a factor as hp requirements increase with the square of the speed. As to gearing, all bikes (gas) have gears for "torque multiplication." But it doesn't make the engine make more hp, it only allows the engine get to peak hp quicker as gearing decreases the work load (like a pully system makes it easier to lift a fixed amount of weight, but you have to make more pulls to accomplish the job), but limits max speed as you run out of rpm. What you "feel" in a big inch low speed engine like a V twin is a rising torque curve as torque increases at such a rate as rpms fall off it still feels powerful, sometimes more powerful than when it was at a higher rpm. One hp is the ability to lift 33,000 pounds one foot in one minute. If you had 10 hp it could do it in six seconds. Torque is not a consideration except as to computing hp. It is hp that determines the work you can do and the acceleration you feel, not torque. In other way of describing peak torque is cylinder peak volumetric efficiency, so the better the "air pump" design the faster it can get air in and out, the more powerful the engine of similar displacements. While the new liter motogp bikes have 25% larger engines that make more torque because of their larger displacements, the rules have lowered the rpms they can pull to limit hp.
12345   May 21, 2013 05:38 PM
@ weitzman What they are referring to is where the engine feels the strongest. An engine will feel most "powerful" at the meat of its torque curve, even if peak hp is a ways up in the rev range. As a rider you can feel the torque taper off, so by comparison the engine feels like its loosing "power." If you were going for peak acceleration, you would hold that gear until you passed peak hp, but as a rider you feel the torque taper off, so you instinctively want to grab for a higher gear. I do understand the pet-peeve though, as you are technically correct, I just don't think its because the guys don't understand horsepower.
Piglet2010   May 21, 2013 04:54 PM
@ weitzman = Remember Sir Issac determined a=F/m, so acceleration depends solely on torque (and resisting forces). But of course, the torque curves MotoUSA and others publish are not measured torque at the rear wheel, but rather measured torque normalized to the gearing reduction, which is then used to calculate actual power at the rear wheel. Where higher rpm operation comes into play is that lower gearing can be used as an effective torque multiplier, e.g. a superbike that has a reported 80 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel and a power peak at 12,000 rpm may have twice the gearing reduction as a cruiser that has the same reported 80 lb-ft at the rear wheel but develops peak power at 4,500 rpm, so the superbike has twice the accelerating force of the cruiser.
weitzman   May 21, 2013 04:12 PM
Bryan, When are you guys going to understand horsepower and torque. The Harley, for instance makes the most power between 4,000 and 5,900 rpm, not between 3,200 and 4,200 rpm. Horsepower describes the engine's ability to do work and that power is describe by horsepower, not torque. Torque means nothing without rpm. F1 engines only make about 200 pounds of torque, but they make about 800 hp. That is the reason they are not only quick, but extremely fast. With the harley as you say hp is linear and therefore keeps climbing until redline. more hp and you get more power. Look at the Triumph, which makes the least amount of torque until about 5,500 rpm, but blows away the other two bikes because it makes more hp, a lot more hp and that is because it has the broadest torque curve and makes good torque to a much higher rpm. You should look at the torque curves of a speed triple or a ZX-14 or a "Busa, they make good torque all the way to 10k rpm. 100 pounds of torque at 5,252 rpm equals 100 hp, 100 pounds of torque at 10504 rpm equates to 200 hp. 50 pounds of torque at 10504 rpm also equals 100 hp. so lets say you "only" make 75 pounds of torque at 10504 rpm, you get 150 hp, 50 more hp that a 100 pound torque engine that is all done at 5,252. Torque can usually be measure a one pound per cubic inch, hp has no such limitation except for rpm. If it can breath at higher rpms, it will make lots of power.
Kropotkin   May 21, 2013 07:02 AM
The bonneville is a standard. The other two are cruisers. Not too dissimilar, but I agree with some of the other comments that the America would have been a better choice for comparison. Also, one thing about the Sportster is that it turns into a 1200 for a few dollars more, either a kit (cheaper) or from the manufacturer. Also, let's face it, it's a Harley, with all that implies. The resale is better.
Piglet2010   May 21, 2013 02:12 AM
If I was buying a middle-weight cruiser based on looks, it would be this one: http://images.motorcycle-usa.com/PhotoGallerys/xlarge/12_Triumph_America-10.jpg . I think naked parallel twins look better than V-twins (HERESY!) due to the symmetry of the exhaust system, as well as the headers visually filling in the gap between the frame and forks.
dirtcheap   May 20, 2013 08:15 PM
Hey guys, nice review of the bolt, but why choose the Bonnie and not the Honda Shadow RS? I have been looking at the RS vs the Iron as the look is 80's dirt track-ish and Honda has good reliability as an everyday commuter. Would have been a way better comparison I would think. Oh well.
Piglet2010   May 20, 2013 05:17 PM
Why the Triumph Bonnie, when either the America or in particular the Speedmaster would have been better comparison bikes?
Brian1   May 20, 2013 12:40 PM
Why not include the Honda Shadow Phantom or Shadow RS in this test??