Harley-Davidson Sportster S: putting sport back in Sportster – review
In early 2021, Harley-Davidson announced it was phasing out the popular Sportster line much to the horror of fans.
As the marque’s longest continuously produced model line, the idea of the Sportster being discontinued was unfathomable.
Fortunately, the Sportster’s death was short-lived and Harley-Davidson announced the revival of the badge with a head-to-toe redesign resulting in the new Sportster S.
It is Harley-Davidson’s first water-cooled Sportster model and comes to market in a slightly different position than its air-cooled predecessors.
While the old bikes were as traditional as Harley-Davidson products – classic air-cooled cruisers – the new Sportster S is a thoroughly modern muscle bike thanks to its full suite of electronics and loud Revolution-Max T engine.
It’s a complete makeover in personality and performance, with local dealership Road and Sport even making an 11.22-second first trip down the Strip at Meremere.
The key stats are impressive: 90kW/127Nm and a wet weight of 228kg. While peak horsepower doesn’t reach the same heights as the Pan America the Sportster S shares the Revolution Max engine with, the new T variant of the engine is tuned for a more torque-focused personality.
This results in a highly entertaining drive that – with the full suite of driver aids disabled – will happily twist the throttle in the lower gears.
In a way, the new Sportster really does look like a big engine with a seat and wheels attached – which is exactly what happens…
The performance is such that it really shows how good Harley’s canceled Bronx Streetfighter could have been had Motor Co not shelved the project.
Like the Pan America, the Sportster S uses the engine as a stressed member of the chassis with the subframe and steering head bolted to the engine itself.
It’s a compact bike, with just a solo seat atop flat-track racer-inspired rear plastics and a high-mounted dual-outlet exhaust. The aesthetics aren’t for everyone, especially the fat tires inspired by the Forty-Eight Sportster, but it all comes together to give the Sportster S a unique look in a crowded market.
That’s not to say it’s a cramped bike, though. In fact, the Sportster S has one of the nicest rider wishbones on a Harley cruiser I’ve ridden recently. The foot controls are mounted forward but within easy reach, while the handlebars only put you in a slightly forward lean position.
This transformation comes at a cost, with the Sportster S priced at $28,750. An increase of about $8000 on older air-cooled Sportster models.
Practicality is not a strong point. The lack of a passenger seat means you won’t be ferrying anyone to the pub without paying for a passenger kit, while the sporty riding position and solo seat limit the touring range.
Highway comfort is also lacking compared to its predecessors, with the S featuring just 51mm of rear suspension travel. With the current state of our roads, hitting a pothole at speed is something you’d probably want to avoid on the Sportster S.
Power makes its way to the large 180/70 section rear tire through a smooth-shifting six-speed gearbox. Unlike older Sportster models, it doesn’t engage with a thud and shifts easily. I felt HD missed an opportunity by not including a quick switch to the bike, as it would make the already blistering acceleration even better.
But despite its shortcomings, the Sportster S is a smiling vehicle that the Sportsters of yore could only hope to be. With more accessories and more variations of the bike promised to come, the Sportster finally has some of that sporty character that the model has been missing for decades.
BREAK IT DOWN
HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER S
ENGINE: Revolution Max 1250 T
POWER: 90 kW at 7,500 rpm / 127 Nm at 6,000 rpm