Harley-Davidson Sportster S review | news.com.au — Australia’s leading news site
The new bike aimed at a younger generation of riders promises a serious punch to match its eye-catching retro-inspired look.
For all the Harley-Davidson fanfare surrounding the new Sportster S, the bike itself is surprisingly quiet.
The usual “potato-potato” beat of a Harley has been replaced with a deliberate thrum that smacks more of Munich than Milwaukee, the result of a push to make the Sporty meaner and greener than before.
This machine is the third part of a careful strategy to attract new customers.
The electric LiveWire grabbed global headlines for innovation – if not sales – while the top-of-the-line off-road Pan America took aim at the meteoric popularity of BMW’s GS range and Ducati Multistrada.
While these are big-ticket bikes north of $30,000, the new Sportster replaces the more affordable rides in Harley showrooms.
Not that the Sportster is particularly cheap.
Priced at $26,495, it’s not a budget machine, especially considering that the outgoing Sportster could be had with a change of $20,000.
But the new model does a lot to justify its premium.
Just as the price has increased by around 30%, so has the performance of its V-twin engine.
The Revolution Max 1250 engine tweaked Pan America ditch tappets and simple air-cooled architecture in favor of a radiator, dual overhead camshafts and a new thirst for speed.
We’ve been here before, with the Porsche-equipped Harley-Davidson V-Rod, which was a cult favorite in Australia.
Which suggests the new Sportster S should be a winner.
Harley says the new engine is good for 90kW and 125Nm, numbers that surpass the mighty V-Rod muscle bike while redefining the Sportster’s place in showrooms.
The sophisticated engine sits at the heart of a package dripping with street appeal and premium components like Brembo brakes and adjustable Showa suspension.
Technology includes cruise control, customizable drive modes, plus traction control and anti-lock brakes that take into account lean angle. A sophisticated digital display is able to connect to your phone to offer satellite navigation and entertainment applications accessible via new buttons near the handles.
Conventional indicator switches on the left side replace Harley’s preference for separate turn signal buttons for each hand, welcoming riders new to the brand while asking rusty fans to compromise for the future.
It’s easy to see where designers have defeated engineers in battles between balance and practicality.
The bike looks useful when parked, leaned up dramatically on a short kickstand providing jaw-dropping moments on a mild summer hot mix. You will watch the bike to admire it and make sure it is not about to tip over into the sea.
The recumbent, recumbent riding position is more suited to short trips than long days in the saddle.
The muscular rear proportions feel sturdy while still providing a precious little suspension travel on the road, which makes you wince every time there’s a decent bump in the road. And see bright lights if you don’t miss a pothole.
High-mounted exhausts inspired by flat oval dirt track racing slowly roast your right thigh.
And the fat front tire selected by the styling department can’t approach the feel, precision or initial steering response of sportier rivals.
Riders new to the cruiser class will be surprised by the Sportster’s physics, as you really need to muscle the bike in to lean it side to side.
The long shifter of its front foot controls requires deliberate action and its brakes require more effort than high-end alternatives.
Forget automatic trigger quick shifters. Riding the Sportster hard is like rocking out with a drum solo, two hands and two feet working in unison to do great things.
Improved ground clearance lets you push harder through corners, and the Rev Max engine does what it says on the tin, pushing forward with a thirst for engine speed rarely found on stretch cruisers.
You have to work to get the most out of the Sportster.
Peak torque comes in at 6,000 rpm, about double that of the brand’s big twins.
And you have to take into account the high ratio of its six-speed transmission, choosing a lower gear to allow the engine to do its best job.
You are busy, but there is no doubt that you really ride a motorcycle.
And it rewards passionate cyclists with stunning performance.
It’s a shame that modern environmental regulations regarding noise and emissions pollution have prevented Harley from giving this Sportster a raucous soundtrack to match its style and speed.
There is an occasional rumble on overshoot, but nothing like the pop and crunch people might expect from such an aggressive bike.
Then again, it’s not your father’s Harley-Davidson.
There’s not even chrome to reflect on what the brand has achieved with the new Sportster.
Harley Davidson Sportster S
Price: From $26,495
Motor: V-twin 1252cc, 90kW and 125Nm
Security: cornering ABS, traction control, several driving modes
The thirst: 5.1L/100km