Harley-Davidson Sportster S test (from 2021)



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Next step: Driving and brakes

4 out of 5 (4/5)

The 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S represents a seismic overhaul of a long-standing motorcycle family dating back to the 1950s. The previous bike – the Sportster 1200 – could trace its heritage back to the Model K, with the most recent version having received a constant stream of updates since the introduction of the Evolution engine in 1986. But who cares? It’s ancient history now.

What Harley-Davidson has presented to us now is a whole new bike, if not a whole new concept, that throws everything but the Sportster name in the trash. After the Pan America, the Sportster S eschews air cooling, nonexistent electronics and the “feeling of overperformance” in favor of modern engineering, less show and more action.

If it was a competitive product, like a Honda Rebel, I would praise its ride while complaining that it doesn’t quite have the Harley-Davidson. I do not know whatbut the Sportster S doesn’t have it either.

There is no doubt that the new bike is a step ahead of the old model in every area that can be measured and would be more than capable of keeping up with the current crop of retro nudes.

But in designing such a solid motorcycle, Harley has designed some of what, to me at least, makes Harleys great.

Ride quality and brakes

Next step: engine

3 out of 5 (3/5)

Like Harley’s recent Pan America, the Sportster’s Revolution engine is a stressed element in the chassis, helping to significantly reduce weight, which is felt on the road.

The Sportster S changes direction much better than the old machine, but the bulging front tire holds up a bit. The first 20 degrees of incline is okay, but after that you really need to give the bars a big push to get it going further.

Corner changes halfway through, especially if things are tightening, can be just as difficult. The Fat Bob has the same problem, so all fingers are pointing to that giant front tire. Ground clearance is also much improved with the old skrrrrtt on every long-forgotten roundabout.

Elsewhere in the chassis is a new suspension which, unlike the old one, is fully adjustable, while Brembo now provides the brakes.

A front view of the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S

Both work quite well considering they are crippled from the start. The suspension, for example, is only 92mm at the front and 37mm at the rear – the ride is good, considering how little work Showa had to work with, but you just can’t get over it. keep from feeling that another inch at each end would do wonders. There’s also a remote preload adjuster, with huge 40 clicks, which is tucked under the left side of the seat.

The same goes for the brakes – the four-piston Brembo up front does enough to stop 228kg of metal plus another rider god knows what, but another disc / caliper wouldn’t hurt.


Next step: reliability

4 out of 5 (4/5)

The Sportster S is powered by a 1252cc V-twin engine dubbed the Revolution Max 1250T. Much like the Revolution Max fitted to the Pan America 1250, the engine is a water-cooled 60 degree V-twin with DOHC and a VVT system, but it has a few changes.

The overall displacement, including bore and stroke, is the same, but there’s a new top end with smaller valves, different speed stacks, and changed cam profiles.

The result is less peak horsepower and torque (claimed 120 hp rather than the Pan’s 150 hp and 92 lb-ft instead of 95 lb-ft) but an increase in torque elsewhere in the rev range with 10%. of torque in excess of 3000 to 6000 rpm. The results on the road are delicious.

Left turn on the Sportster S

The engine pulls straight from the bottom without quivering or puffing, just providing shovels of usable torque. Unlike the old bike, which shook like crazy from the mid-range, the Sportster S pulls cleanly all the way to the red line, rewarding riders with a good kick of power at the top.

It’s also well-suited with second gear which distributes most of the work around town and third gear which comfortably ranges from your 30s to “how are you going to be an officer?” “.

The only complaint about the motor is that it just doesn’t have that drama you expect from a Harley – the bike doesn’t shake while waiting for the lights, it doesn’t roar with the induction noise. It also desperately needs a noisier hose, but that’s not Harley’s fault – it’s a Euro5 regulation product that everyone must follow.

Harley-Davidson Sportster S V-Twin Engine

Sure, there’s a bit of a snap on the pass, but it doesn’t sound like 1200cc of American muscle sniffing. On the Pan America, where refinement is the key word, you don’t notice it, but on a cruiser, where you want the sense of the occasion, it leaves you a bit flat.

Reliability and build quality

Next step: value

4 out of 5 (4/5)

The Harley-Davidson Sportster S may come from a long line of Sportster models, but this version is completely different from previous generations. The 1250T engine has just been released and it’s too early to draw any conclusions about long-term reliability. The standard warranty is two years, but it can be extended for another three.

The fit and finish of the parts are generally good, but we did spot a few empty wires on the frame that were rusty.

Harley-Davidson Sportster S Clock

Value vs rivals

Next step: equipment

3 out of 5 (3/5)

Harley says the new Sportster S is the “pinnacle” of the model line-up, with cheaper options to come.

This means that for now it’s trying to compete with everything from an Indian Scout Bobber to a Ducati Diavel and everything in between.

As a replacement for a Sportster, it is so different that it is almost incomparable but as an alternative to a BMW R nine T, Indian FTR or Triumph Bobber Black, it is a convincing proposition.

Leaning in a corner on the Harley Sportster S


5 out of 5 (5/5)

As with the rest of the bike, the Sportster’s electronics have also seen a huge improvement over the old model with three ride modes (Road, Sport and Rain) plus two custom modes as well as cornering ABS. and the tilt sensitive traction control, which this tester found to work remarkably well in a particularly slippery corner.

All of this is controlled via the round 4-inch TFT display, which also houses other Harley-Davidson app functions such as navigation.

Single front disc provides stopping power

Along with the new instrument panel, many other new features including LED lighting, cruise control, new multi-function switchgear as well as the full mandatory restyling with top level flat track inspired exhaust.

Like every Harley, there are plenty of options, including mid-mounted footpegs in case you find the fronts a bit over the top. We tried them out and found them a bit cramped and they also made the sidestand more difficult to deploy. Unless you really hate the look of the forwards, at over £ 600 overall (plus the fit) we’d give them a fail.

It is also possible to install a passenger seat, pegs and a backrest, which comes with a rear fender extension to protect the backs of your passengers.

Model history and versions

Model history

Sportster models have been around since the 1950s and include the most recent Iron 883, Iron 1200, forty-eight and Roadster.

In 2020, Harley-Davidson announced that the Sportster family will no longer be available in European markets before unveiling this latest edition for the 2021 model year.

Other versions

The S will eventually become the top model in the new Sportster bike family, but it’s the first to come out.

Find out more about the complete HARLEY-DAVIDSON sportster range


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