Modern Retro Cruisers

Stylish retro motorcycles for under $9,000?

Indian Scout Sixty
Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883
Yamaha Bolt C-Spec

Money-saving tip for motorcyclists: fall in love with black paint instead of chrome.

Each of these cruisers is based on proven V-twin platforms, one of which happens to be pushing 1,000cc of displacement. We invited a new rider along to gauge what features he found most and least desirable in each of these so-called “beginner” bikes.

Polaris removed bits from the big-brother Indian Scout to create the slightly smaller Indian Scout Sixty. ­Those careful cost-cutting measures equate to a $2,000 lower sticker price on what is essentially the same bike.

In the case of the Yamaha Bolt C-spec, Yamaha mixed their successful Bolt cruiser platform with a distinctly retro café-racer styling to arrive at a Café-Cruiser that is six of one and a half-dozen of the other.

Harley-Davidson is always dipping into its heritage pool. Slap some retro cues, colors and a lot of flat black on a barebones sporty — Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 is the result.

Indian Scout Sixty
Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883
Yamaha Bolt C-Spec

Engines ­

The Indian Scout Sixty shares the chassis, suspension and brakes of the larger Indian Scout, but offers a smaller bore of 93mm and identical stroke of 73.6mm, which lowers engine displacement to 61ci and 999cc from the bigger Scout’s 69ci and 1133cc. ­ The Polaris-made, liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-twin is fed by closed-loop fuel injection into double overhead cams featuring four valves per cylinder, producing a powerful 57 lb.-ft. of torque and 66 hp at the rear wheel in our dyno testing.

We were impressed with the overall power delivery. The Indian Scout Sixty had the most responsive acceleration by far, though one rider mentioned the throttle response felt a bit loose, which he suggested was the control itself and not the EFI. Compared to the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 and the Yamaha Bolt C-spec, this engine was also the smoothest running, as well as the quietest, but we are certain a throatier sound is merely an aftermarket exhaust away.

Yamaha used its proven 942cc, 60-degree V-twin platform, with a nearly square bore and stroke of 85mm x 83mm, as found in the original Bolt and the R-spec, and simply wrapped it in café-racer packaging. ­The engine pushed a strong enough 48 hp and 55 lb.-ft. of torque in our dyno run. Sporting twin bore EFI, single overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, both fueling and throttle response are excellent from stopped to about 5,500 rpm, after which it tapers off quickly. ­ The hard-mounted engine is noisy and creates ample vibration in both hand and foot controls, while simultaneously rendering the mirrors almost entirely ineffective.

The Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 is, unsurprisingly, a repackaged Sportster. Harley-Davidson is in the “If it ain’t broke…” business, relying on words such as “heritage” and “tradition.” What you get here is the classic air-cooled, under-square (76.2mm x 96mm), two valves per cylinder, pushrod Evolution 45-degree V-twin they’ve been slinging with moderate changes and updates since 1986. ­

The Sportster Evo engine uses a single cam per overhead valve, which results in four individual, single-lobe, gear-driven camshafts—an anomaly among most modern engines. While the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 turned in the lowest dyno numbers of this triplet at 43 hp and 46 lb.-ft. of torque, the horsepower straight lines to its peak at redline while the torque remains relatively consistent from bottom to top. This makes for strong and predictable acceleration from any speed in any gear.

The traditional Harley-Davidson potato-potato sound is alive and well, and many buyers will budget for some straight pipes to let it loose on their neighbors. While you can feel the vibration in your bones at a standstill, it quickly gives way under motion to a smooth and enjoyable ride.

Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883


We don’t expect perfect transmissions at a bottom-shelf price point, and it was no surprise to have to fumble into gear every now and then. While all three bikes sport five-speed gearboxes, the Indian Scout Sixty is by far the most interesting. Whereas the nearly identical and larger Indian Scout is mated to a six-speed gearbox, the Indian Scout Sixty foregoes the fifth gear cog entirely, while maintaining the same sixth gear, resulting in a 5-speed transmission where fifth is the equivalent gear ratio of sixth.

In practice, the missing gear and larger ratio gap is all but unnoticeable at speed, and shifts from fourth to fifth were never a challenge. We did miss a shift or two from first into second, but just a touch more leverage due to the very forward control position is a simple remedy. The Indian Scout Sixty includes a digital tachometer with gear indicator selection on the very small LCD at the bottom of the speedometer. While nice to have, it’s virtually impossible to focus on while moving.

The Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 shifted smoothly and precisely, and combined with excellent control placement, resulted in the best transmission response of these bikes. The short gear ratios require rapid shifting through the lower gears to make any decent acceleration attempts. When you’ve created something that works cleanly and efficiently, clearly sticking with it is clever. The Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 also includes a digital tach plus gear readout on its small LCD, and it is just as useless in motion as the one on the Indian Scout Sixty.

The Yamaha Bolt C-Spec transmission sounds clunky and feels like a ratchet, which leads to regularly missed shifts. One rider commented on inability to get his boot into a comfortable shift position, which might also stem from the odd rearward placement of the footpegs. While we wouldn’t disqualify the bike on shifting alone, it is still one of the most important and frequently used primary controls, and something we’d review further before plunking down our hard-earned cash. Ironically, even though the dash is all-digital, the Yamaha Bolt C-Spec is the only bike in this cluster that includes neither a tachometer nor a gear indicator.

Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883


The Yamaha Bolt C-Spec is paired with the sportiest rear suspension of the three bikes; it handled straights with aplomb, but challenged us in corners. The shocks are stiff enough to inspire confidence, yet give poor road feedback, leading to a brief metal-to-asphalt fireworks grind mid-turn, and a subsequent widely missed exit over double yellows. While it begs to be ridden like the race bikes it emulates, the restricted lean angle quickly brings that notion to a halt and reminds us of its cruiser heritage.

The Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 is fitted with a meager 1.5 inches of preload-only adjustable rear travel, a very slight step up from a rigid. This suspension didn’t do our back or coccyx any favors, but it’s entirely preferable to prior models, or a hardtail. The Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 travels well on smooth surfaces, and we enjoyed the newer springs’ extra play; however, on less-than-ideal surfaces we’d suggest using legs as an extra set of absorbers. Fortunately, the seat was the best of the bunch and didn’t add insult to injury.

The Indian Scout Sixty is more of a conundrum in that bumps were more noticeable due to the feet-forward position that puts a lot more weight on a rider’s lower back. The bucket seat didn’t help us move around much to compensate. Once underway, the Indian Scout Sixty offers a very soft, smooth and comfortable ride that handles various road surface conditions with a well-balanced demeanor not often found in a 3-inch short travel suspension. One rider mentioned it rides like a Cadillac — plush, indeed. Coupled with a decent amount of lean angle for a cruiser, we were also able to enjoy the Indian Scout Sixty in the canyons.


The Yamaha Bolt C-spec has wave-type rotors that are designed to cool quicker by allowing more airflow, as commonly found on sportbikes. We question whether they improve stopping performance at all on a bike that barely breaks the 100-mph mark, and believe these are a styling and marketing exercise. A case of form over function. That said, fancy rotors did not seem to deter our stopping ability.

Logic defied us when it was discovered the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 was the most technologically advanced bike in this shootout, with respect to braking. Our test bike came with the ABS option, which is not even available on the other two models. As the industry shifts toward every bike coming standard with ABS, that it might save us from our own latent braking, we feel this is a strong pro for the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883. While it does require a bit of squeeze effort, the braking felt smooth and delivered exactly what we requested of it without being grabby or pulsating.

Polaris fitted a single disc both front and rear, which, combined with smooth lever response, created solid stops without fade. The bigger Scout and the Euro model Indian Scout Sixty both come with ABS options. Sadly, ABS isn’t offered on our stateside Scout this year, even though the indicator light is on the instrument cluster. Most importantly, the binders on all three are up to the task of slowing these cruisers as expected.

Indian Scout Sixty


When leaned forward on the Yamaha Bolt C-Spec, as if we were on a sportbike, we found it is quite fun to carve through the canyons, until metal starts dragging. The pegs are back and the bars are forward, creating a very sporty riding position that encouraged us to lead with our heads. The clip-ons set below the upper clamp of triple tree could be moved even lower, if desired. While we enjoyed leaning most on the Yamaha Bolt C-spec, we were continuously reminded that it’s still a cruiser in a racer wrapping.

The Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 acceleration and cornering are both marginal, but it’ll grunt along without much fuss. We found this bike easiest to maneuver at slow speeds, due to a fantastic ergonomic layout and the ease of counter-steering allowed by moving your body around a remarkably well-shaped seat. The lean angle afforded by the pegs was substantial, but the long feelers on the end are there to disguise the truth of the exhaust being the actual first point of contact with pavement.

The Indian Scout Sixty sports wide bars that exaggerate small inputs, making turns easy with noticeably light pressure. We found the low center of gravity combined with forward controls and a 27-inch seat height made it diffcult to use body movements to counter-balance. Controlling the mass at slow speeds simply felt more heavy and awkward than on the other bikes. Traction was good on all three bikes, but you won’t ever test the limits due to a lack of lean angle. Cornering is not a priority we’d expect from anyone buying a cruiser, anyway.

Yamaha Bolt C-Spec


The Yamaha Bolt C-spec is very much a love-it-or-hate-it affair. It had poor control placement, particularly the footpegs, which protrude right where your legs extend when stopped. While it was relatively easy to slightly modify our foot placement before, behind or beside the pegs, the pegs still whacked us right in the shins while duck-walking around parking areas. The seat is mostly comfortable; however, it tends toward the hard side, which puts some pressure on the inner thighs when attempting a more upright stance. Riding was remarkably more comfortable for those who favored the intended lean-forward posture.

Everything on the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 was exactly where you’d expect it to be, and adapting to both the controls and riding position was quick and easy. We really loved the dome-shaped seat on the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883, which eliminates pressure points and allowed us to reposition our bodies easily whenever needed.

Remarkably, for a bike with an advertised 25-inch seat height, Polaris chose to put forward controls on the Indian Scout Sixty, which means the reach to both the bars and the pegs could prove a stretch for anyone who would be so inseam-challenged as to shop based on this particular statistic. Regardless, the bike fit both average and taller riders. Our 6-foot test rider found the Indian Scout Sixty to have just the right amount of arm and leg room, though he was not a fan of the captivity of the bucket seat. Slightly more vertically restricted riders agreed this was the most comfortable of the three bikes.

Instruments and Controls

The Yamaha Bolt C-spec sports mostly standard controls, with the exception of a horn button placed directly above and in close proximity to the turn signal switch. We don’t care to share how many times we honked while changing lanes, but agreed it was far more than necessary. The mirrors look great standing still, but once you hit the starter they are rendered utterly useless by engine vibration, resulting in a blurry mess at any speed. In fact, that oscillation continues into the bars and pegs, which we all found tiresome before putting even 100 miles under our belts. One rider claimed the forward-riding position put more weight on his hands, after which the clip-on handlebars rattled them right to sleep. THe speedometer is, oddly, an LCD unit with large digits — a bit ironic given this bike’s retro café-racer look. There isn’t much more info at hand, as the secondary display offers only an odometer, clock and trip meters. We were not enthusiastic about the round brake light that protrudes up from the rear fender, though as a styling exercise we believe it may find fans elsewhere.

The Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 wears mirrors as a fashion statement, which may look cool, but the only things we saw were our own shoulders. As riders who use mirrors, we’d definitely budget for longer stalks. We marveled at the ridiculously long peg feelers on the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883, but after a day of riding we realized their purpose, as closer inspection indicated that we ground off most of one of the exhaust retaining bracket screws, as well as some of the exhaust itself. Note to aggressive leaners, the pegs are not the lean-limiting factor. The Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883’s self-cancelling signals are a welcome luxury that we are surprised isn’t more prevalent in the industry. The Motor Company also uses one switch on each bar for directional lights versus the far more standard single switch on the left bar for both turn indicators. One rider commented that the non-adjustable clutch doesn’t engage until it’s near fully released, which could be a benefit for upshifts as the clutch pull tended toward the hard side.

All of the Indian Scout Sixty’s standard controls are well positioned, with the exception of the LCD display select button, which is set out of sight near the left index finger, where you would normally find a flash-to-pass trigger. Other than the analog speedometer and indicator lights that are plainly visible and easily readable in any light, the cluster provides additional data including a gear indicator and tachometer on the small LCD screen, which is not easily read while riding. An ABS indicator light is an odd remnant from the full-size Scout, as ABS is not an option on the Indian Scout Sixty. None of these bikes has adjustable clutch or brake levers, and only the Yamaha Bolt C-spec had a readily adjustable clutch cable.

Yamaha Bolt C-Spec

Attention to Detail

The Indian Scout Sixty comes in Thunder Black or, for an additional $300, Pearl White (as tested) or Indian Motorcycle Red. As a cost-cutting measure, the Indian Scout Sixty sacrifices a few details from the larger Scout. For instance, the seat is vinyl instead of leather, and the plate covering the cables between the headlamp and the instrument cluster is curiously absent. Fortunately, because they are essentially the same bike, all the parts available for the Scout also fit on the Indian Scout Sixty. Both riders and reviewers have taken kindly to the Scout platform, and so has the aftermarket. Owners should find it relatively easy to acquire bolt-on bits and bobs. When seeking a ride that draws curiosity at the local hangout, we can attest that the Indian Scout Sixty will be very accommodating.

The Yamaha Bolt C-Spec is clearly a restyling effort on Yamaha’s Star Bolt platform. The aesthetic is mostly retro, even down to what we affectionately called “poop brown” paint, with gold racing stripes. However, the designers chose to mix it up a bit, by using modern accoutrements such as digital instruments and lighting. When it comes to detail, Yamaha paid less attention than either Harley-Davidson or Indian. Unlike the competition, the Yamaha Bolt C-spec doesn’t include a tachometer, the tank seams are not smooth, and there’s no manufacturer branding on the tires. None of those are deal-breakers, as the bike is enough of an enigma that more than one person asked us what it was. A few people stated it looks like a Harley-Davidson or Triumph clone, not necessarily in a flattering way.

Harley-Davidson proves once again that the more things change, the more they stay the same. You can choose to douse your Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 peanut tank in retro Gold Flake and flame paint for a $450 upcharge, but it is also available in a more subdued Black Denim, Charcoal Denim or Olive Gold, for no additional fee. We found plastic in places we would traditionally expect metal, including the gas and oil caps, but being the platform hasn’t changed in 30 years, finding aftermarket replacements is as easy as finding a store that sells Harley-Davidson parts.

The Yamaha Bolt C-spec has tiny pillion seat under the rear plastic race cowl, but the Indian Scout Sixty and Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 do not come with a place to seat a passenger. Regardless, none of these bikes comes with passenger footpegs, and with limited rear suspension and power, the only bike worth upgrading for a passenger would be the Indian Scout Sixty.

These bikes all hold roughly 3.3 gallons of fuel. Even in optimal conditions, we didn’t get much more than 150 miles on a tank. This is most disturbing on the Indian Scout Sixty, as we could envision spending long days in its saddle. A 5-gallon tank would have made the Indian Scout Sixty an even better bike.

Indian Scout Sixty


All three bikes are bargains, and even with some choice upgrades at the time of purchase they won’t break the $10,000 mark. At $8,690, the Yamaha Bolt C-Spec offers an interesting and different take on a cruiser. With the lowest entry price, it is one hell of a good deal.

However, for a pocket-change upcharge of $159, we highly preferred the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883. Starting at $8,849, the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 is a blank canvas ripe for easy customization. Add ABS to the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 for $795 and it will still be cheaper than the Indian Scout Sixty. A common Sportster mod is to bore the 883 out to a 1250, which would add a couple grand to the price and put it on par for performance with the bigger Scout. If you have money and like to tinker, the Harley-Davidson world is an ideal playground and the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 is a great entry point.

Polaris Industries hasn’t won bike of the year awards by simply buying and reintroducing a century-old brand. They’ve made good on respecting the heritage of the Indian badge while investing heavily in the creation of a thoroughly modern interpretation of a Made-in-America motorbike. In the process, for $8,999 they’ve introduced a stylish, powerful, easily customized and, most importantly, fun-to-ride motorcycle that we can’t recommend highly enough.

All three of our test riders picked the Indian Scout Sixty as their hands-down favorite, and chose the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 as runner up. The Yamaha Bolt C-Spec was simply unable to keep up with the big boys in the me-too game.

Published by David Hilgendorf

Nomadic Guide, Vivid Storyteller, Brand Champion — Alfresco.

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