Harley-Davidson – First test of the Sportster S
The American manufacturer Harley-Davidson has been experimenting with its motorcycles for almost 10 years. The company moved away from the traditional chrome-clad cruisers of the past and produced more modern, state-of-the-art types of motorcycles. Let’s go back to 2013 when Harley-Davidson came out with the LiveWire Electric which took the world by surprise. It’s now a spin-off brand in its own right. A year later, HD released the 750, the street bike few people really liked. A few years later, Harley introduced the Pan America 1250, the big adventure bike, which honestly no old-school Harley aficionado really saw coming in their wildest dreams, or even nightmares. And now here we have the brand’s next step in its evolution – the Sportster S. Now that’s a far cry from the previous generation Sportsters that Harley has released before. It’s beefy, it’s a lot more technically heavy, it’s a lot more powerful and it’s a lot less of a cruiser. Although Harley says this is the next step in its evolution, is this new bike a revelation here in India? Well, it’s time to find out.
Starting with the looks of this motorcycle, it is unlike any other Sportster machine Harley-Davidson has ever released. It’s much more compact, much bigger, muscular and it looks attractive. Starting at the front, you have that fat 160/70-17-inch tire in front of you that could easily be swapped out for a rear tire on other cruisers. This adds a lot of volume to the front. Go higher, you get a nice solid 43mm telescopic fork, but not a whole lot of travel space once you factor in the bikes compact dimensions. Then you have the LED headlight assembly with turn signal bulbs. Once again it seems to stray away from the simplicity the Harley Sportster was known for. As for the bars, which are kind of a nice, flat, flat-tracker style that’s a bit forward. Then you have the 4-inch round TFT digital display which once again breaks away from the older Harley-Davidson motorcycles you’ve grown accustomed to seeing over time. Lots of technology and driving aids are thrown into it. Going back to the – you get a 12-litre unit which should give you good range on the highway, allowing you to cover a good amount of ground.
Below the tank you have Harley-Davidson’s big Revolution Max 1200cc engine, which is the real highlight of this bike. It’s almost identical to the unit that powers the great Pan America. You’ll also notice the T suffix to the engine name – and that stands for torque. Whereas on the Pan America you’ll need to downshift to tackle tough terrain, with the SPortster S, well, it’s built to tear up city streets, so peak torque is more accessible in the midrange of the power band. As with the ADV fat bike, the motor here is a stressed component in the frame that helps keep weight down. Harley has done a really good job of stuffing that big motor in there and it still looks so neat and so gorgeous.
You have this massive and shiny 2-1-2 exhaust unit, which catches your eye as soon as you look towards the bikes. Simply exceptional. Then you get a one-piece seat on top. You also have the option of adding an extension for a passenger seat with a backrest, but honestly there are better bikes to cater for that if you want to ride with a passenger. Also, in the rear you have an even bigger 180/70-16 inch tire. Overall the bike looks fantastic, but it has its flaws.
Engine, performance and features:
The Sportster S is powered by the 1250cc Revolution Max engine, this is the same engine found in the Big Pan America ADV bike, there is enough torque and plenty of power too around 120PS which is around 30PS less than the Pan America, but it produces almost the same amount of torque at 128 Nm and reaches peak power sooner (at 6,000 rpm).
The power delivery is simply enormous. At the bottom of the powerband, dropping to about 2000 rpm, the engine gets a little clunky, but when the needle rises north of that, man this thing takes off. It just wants to hit the 9,000 rpm redline every time. Boy! This engine is a hoot. The engine is very refined, unlike any other Harley-Davidson I’ve ridden before. That’s a far cry from the older Milwaukee Eight Cruiser engines in its other motorcycles. This bike is in a class of its own. The engine screams for revs, and overall it feels comfortable at higher speeds.
The Sportster S comes with a host of technologies and driving aids that include riding modes like Rain and Sport and even comes with customizable modes that let you set engine maps, engine braking, traction control, cornering abs, etc., as per your preference. You even have Bluetooth connectivity and cruise control. But the drive modes are my favorite. In sport mode this bike is just ballistic and you will have to really hang on to stay on the bike which is exhilarating and unlike any other Harley Davidson I have ever ridden before. Even the slightest twist of a throttle propels you forward with great gusto. See a nice, long, flat stretch of the opening and you feel compelled to open the throttle and roar all the way. The only performance downside has to be the brakes on this bike. The single disc up front feels inadequate when you’re going fast and need to stop in a heartbeat. I think having a dual-disc setup up front, like the Pan Am, would have made all the difference, although it could dramatically improve the overall aesthetics of the bike.
Ride and handling:
With the ergonomics of this bike, you will have your legs in a forward, very cruiser position. The handlebars will have you leaning forward a bit if you’re as tall as me, at 5’9, and it can get a bit bulky over longer distances, you have the option of casting on mid-mounted footpegs , but this will obviously be extra cost.
Harley tried something very different with this bike. It’s sporty, it’s big, it’s heavy (at 230kg), and given its wheel size alone, this one was never going to be the best of handlers. Throw him into a corner, he doesn’t feel very comfortable and it will take a bit of effort to keep the line as he just wants to stay straight all the time. When you release the gas and lean into a corner, you feel uncomfortable. You will always have to be on the gas with this machine. With 90mm of ground clearance – which is painfully low – speed breakers will often be a problem. And of course you have to deal with the stiff suspension setup. Looking at both ends, there isn’t much room to play and it will hurt your back when you hit a bump. Given Indian conditions, this is pretty much unavoidable. Although the suspension settings are adjustable – up front you can adjust preload rebound and compression – there’s not much you can really work with and after a few days of riding you want to see a chiropractor.
In a place like Delhi, a bike like the Sportster S will cost you around Rs 16.5 lakh which is the standard black colored variant. This alternative bike in white color will cost you an additional Rs 15,000. Is this bike a real revelation in a country like India? In all honesty, no it’s not. It looks fantastic, with lots of visual appeal. It’s nice to ride short distances but long distances, not so much. Given the state of the road in our country, swing a leg over it and you’re guaranteed a hell of a bumpy ride. You will land damaging the bike or your back. So in the end it doesn’t really make much sense. Although if you are a Harley enthusiast you will want to get your hands on this one as it is unlike any other bike the company has released before, period. It’s unique, it’s sporty, it really breaks the mould.
Starts at Rs 15,51,000
Maximum power (ps)