Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Iron vs. Moto Guzzi V7 Stone vs. Triumph Bonneville | The Hipster’s Ride

MC Comparo

By Marc Cook, Photography by Kevin Wing

Triumph had an icon in the original Bonneville and is working toward a repeat with the current bike. The re-imagined Bonnie debuted in 2001 and has undergone relatively few changes since then. Faux carburetors hiding fuel injection replaced real carburetors in 2009, two years after the original 360-degree-crank parallel twin was bumped from 790cc to 865cc. Along with injection came a new fuel tank. The current base Bonnie is Triumph’s least expensive motorcycle—a mere $7699 in single colors that include a matte-treatment Phantom Black, and $7999 in two-tone like our controversial Imperial Purple/Fusion White example.

Those are three remarkably inexpensive motorcycles by today’s economics, yet none of them looks ravaged by the accounting department. All have very nice paint, shiny chrome, and a reasonable collection of features. Sure, each gets along with a single disc brake up front, and the suspension on each offers no more adjustment than rear spring preload. Each of these urban profilers has a standard-ish riding position with a no-joke tubular handlebar and mid-mount footpegs. Although there are measurable differences in ergonomics, they’re more alike than dissimilar.

But, boy, these three couldn’t be more different in personality. In terms the Triumph would understand, like chalk and cheese. Start with the Hog. It rattles to life with all the subtlety of a pyro charge in a fishbowl. Even rubber mounted, the 45-degree V-twin rattles and rumbles in the frame, never really settling down. It bangs into first gear like dropping a sledgehammer on a welding plate. Images in the mirrors “look like an action scene from a Japanese cartoon,” says our new guy, Zack Courts. (We’re moving him up slowly from the V-Star 250.) It’s an intensely mechanical experience: The four gear-driven cams jink and jitter, the chain primary drive jingles, and you swear you can hear the rings sizzle up and down that 96.8mm bore.

Count those elements as character to camouflage the bike’s actual polish. Harley has given the 883 a slick, low-effort clutch (though the hand controls are still unaccountably large), so much flywheel that stalling is almost impossible, and the best throttle response of the three. And while the 883’s 45.9-horsepower peak is nothing special, it’s the torque curve that matters. At either end of a 47.3 lb.-ft. peak, the 883 pounds out more than 43 lb.-ft. of torque from 2100 to 5400 rpm, 400 rpm short of the rev limiter.

The Sporty’s easy to live with in an urban setting, jetting away from stoplights and maneuvering through traffic with ease. It begins to struggle elsewhere. Highway riding uncovers the bike’s awkward riding position—the handlebar is fine, but the pegs are too far forward and widely placed, a common complaint of a mid-mount setup—and buzzy nature that the rubber mounts don’t completely conceal. Short hops, fine; longer distances, forget it.

Speaking of short hops your ass will be doing plenty of those unless you live where the pavement is perfect. To achieve “the look” and a low seat height (2.2 inches lower than the next most subterranean), the Iron gets short-travel suspension that’s quickly overwhelmed by sharp-edged pavement patches, Bott’s dots, discarded bathmats, and even thick coins left on the road. Harley knows it and the aftermarket knows it: The stock Iron suspension is seriously compromised for appearances, but at least there are solutions available.

Jumping from the Harley to the Moto Guzzi requires a full recalibration of your senses. The new V7 engine promises much, but struggles to deliver. Making the least power of the three—and, yes, we recognize it is the smallest—the Guzzi’s troubles aren’t pure thrust but delivery. Slightly unpredictable, the new injection system causes the V7 to be terribly cold blooded, stall frequently, and surge at highway speeds. After a few miles you learn how much to balance the throttle and grabby clutch to keep from looking like a newbie at every stop sign. But it’s hard work.

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We own both a Bonnie and a Sportster and your assessment is right on.  The Sporty is all about the image, sound and feel.  It's pure hell to live with and that's both the point & the price of being badass.  The Bonnie is superior in nearly every way that counts.  Power, handling, brakes and character that embodies both heritage and uniqueness.  Although I disagree with Ari's emphasis on the cornering clearance.  My older Bonneville rarely grinds anything, even with my aggressive riding style.  I also would like to point out that Hipsters suck...
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