Motorcycles are different things to different people. Cruisers remain a mystery to some motorcyclists—even veteran riders—who can’t quite understand the appeal of something that isn’t the newest, fastest, and best handling. Fortunately, Harley-Davidson continues to build motorcycles that are part of our lives, rather than simply a highly efficient extractor of adrenaline—not that there’s anything wrong with that. This brings us to the 2020 Harley-Davidson Iron 1200, back for its third year in production.
Just looking at the Iron 1200 puts me in a good mood, appealing to my sense of motorcycle riding on a wide variety of levels.
The classic pushrod-actuated two-valve motor is welcoming simplicity. Air cooling keeps things real, while the touch-of-modern EFI system is tastefully hidden by a round air filter holder. How much horsepower does the 73 ci V-twin put out? I couldn’t possibly care. The critical numbers are 73 ft-pounds of torque at 3500 rpm. From idle, I have all the linear power I need to do battle in traffic, cruise the boulevards, or take on the urban canyons. The rubber-mounted Evolution motor sounds good, and feels right in the chassis.
Above the engine sits a fuel tank that brings back the 1970s. Without a doubt, the 1970s AMF-era-inspired styling has been controversial. For some, it recalls dark days for The Motor Company, and I can understand that. I was taken aback by the graphics when they debuted three years ago, but I can say that I’m glad Harley-Davidson has stuck to the styling guns with the 2020 Iron 1200.
It has been nearly 40 years since AMF bowed out, so I think we can let bygones be bygones. Oh, and the tank holds a usable 3.3 gallons thanks to a claimed 48 mpg, so you won’t be hitting the gas station every few minutes as you would with an actual peanut tank.
Other period-perfect styling touches include the fork gaiters, bikini fairing, bobbed fenders, minimalist speedometer, and side-mounted license plate. I would like to see wire-spoke wheels to bring it all together.
Ergonomics on the 2020 Harley-Davidson Iron 1200 recall a Schwinn Stingray with the mid-position foot controls, Mini-Apes, and a solo seat. The seat/peg ratio is best suited to smaller riders, though the raised handlebar gives needed knee-room to taller riders. Although my 32-inch inseam could have used more room, it didn’t stop me from enjoying day-rides in the city and the hinterlands.
The seat has sparse padding, as Harley-Davidson wants to keep the seat height as low as possible. For me, a more posh seat would be fine, as my knees are still bent when flat-footing it at stops. I do appreciate the stop at the back of the seat when I twist the throttle hard. My butt settles right in with the proper support, and we’re off to have a great time.
Throwing the 564-pound Iron 1200 around is great fun. On crowded urban excursions, the motorcycle is more than happy to work through traffic as needed, while still having plenty of stability thanks to the chassis’ 30 degrees of rake.
The Michelin Scorcher 31 tires have all the grip you need, and they aren’t taxed by the smooth power or the limited 28 degrees of lean angle on the left, and one fewer degree on the right. I never got the advertised lean angle because my boot heels touch down sooner than anything else. Cornering clearance isn’t an issue for me on the 2020 Harley-Davidson 1200. If I want a more sporting Sportster, I’ll ride the Roadster model.
When you hear the call of the canyon, make sure it is a road that has good pavement. The twin shocks allow us 1.6 inches of wheel travel, and the fork gives up 3.6 inches of travel, though they do get a touch of help from the high-profile Michelins. On smooth roads, the suspension is quite good, but things quickly get rough when the pavement has maintenance issues. The short travel also gets eaten up quickly in-town on dips, potholes, and other assorted booby traps ignored by city hall. Having said that, Harley-Davidson does get a decent ride out of the short travel shocks thanks to the emulsion shock technology.
Braking on the 2020 Harley-Davidson Iron 1200 is modestly adequate. You get a single 300mm rotor in the front with a dual-piston caliper, and a 260mm disc in the rear. While you can use the front brake exclusively, that big rear disc and 150mm rear tire will do their parts in deceleration, along with a significant contribution of engine compression braking. ABS is an overpriced $795 option, and arguably not absolutely essential if you never ride in the rain. Your call!
The winning nature of the Iron 1200 is two-fold. Most importantly, as a motorcycle enthusiast, it is an enjoyable ride. The smooth, ample power is always there, and can make for an exciting city ride with just a twist of the wrist. The low-slung chassis is nicely responsive, and the natural ergonomics don’t wear you out.
Beyond that, a big part of motorcycle riding is being cool. When you’re on the Harley-Davidson Iron 1200, you always get admiring glances (or stares) and frequent approving comments. To the non-motorcycling crowd, the Iron 1200 is what a motorcycle is supposed to look like, and that shows that Harley-Davidson got the styling down perfect. You can’t help but feel good for yourself when you are on the Iron 1200—it’s the embodiment of the old saying, “You never see a motorcycle parked outside a psychiatric’s office.” Riding the 2020 Harley-Davidson Iron 1200 is the perfect inoculation protecting you from a bad mood.
Photography by Kelly Callan
- Helmet: Scorpion Exo-R1 Air
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Sprint TT
- Gloves: Joe Rocket Classic
- Jeans: Joe Rocket Accelerator
- Shoes: Harley-Davidson Tremont Performance
2020 Harley-Davidson Iron 1200 Specs
- Type: Air-cooled Evolution V-twin
- Displacement: 73.4ci (1202cc)
- Bore x stroke: 3.5 x 3.8”
- Maximum torque: 73 ft-lbs @ 3500 rpm
- Compression ratio: 10:1
- Valvetrain: Pushrods, 2vpc
- Cooling: Air
- Lubrication: Dry sump
- Transmission: 5-speed
- Primary drive: Chain
- Final drive: Belt
- Frame: Tubular mild steel
- Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable 39mm cartridge-style fork; 3.6 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Adjustable-preload variable rate spring w/ nitrogen-charged emulsion-style shock; 1.6 inches
- Wheels: Black 9-spoke
- Front wheel: 19 x 2.15
- Rear wheel: 16 x 3.00
- Tires: Michelin Scorcher 31
- Front tire: 100/90 x 19
- Rear tire: 150/80 x 16
- Front brake: 300mm disc w/ dual-piston caliper
- Rear brake: 260mm disc w/ dual-piston caliper
- ABS: Optional ($795)
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 59.6 inches
- Rake: 30 degrees
- Trail: 4.6 inches
- Lean angle (r/l): 27/28 degrees
- Seat height: 28.9 inches
- Fuel capacity: 3.3 gallons
- Estimated fuel economy: 48 mpg
- Curb weight: 564 pounds