Harley-Davidson’s most powerful Sportster still has room to improve – Robb Report
Playing with a formula that delivered a large chunk of your bottom line is a big step into the unknown. Lately, Harley-Davidson has been doing just that with its very first Adventure motorcycle, the Pan America (released earlier this year), and now giving its iconic Sportster a top-to-bottom makeover.
The Sportster is holy ground for the Harley masses. An accessory on dealer floors for 64 years, the model has a cult of its own, even within the cult of Harley-Davidson itself. Meanwhile, the bike has only seen two major revisions, with the 2021 edition being the third – and most comprehensive – to date.
Starting at $ 14,999, the 2021 Sportster S ($ 350 more if you go for our tester’s Stone Washed White Pearl) shares the same 60-degree Revolution Max 1250T liquid-cooled V-twin engine that debuted in the Pan America, but with more displaced torque. low in the rev range and slightly reduced power to better match the aesthetics of the cruiser.
The Sportster S has a claimed power of 121 hp at 7,500 rpm (versus 150 hp on the Pan America), with peak torque at 94 ft-lbs at 6,000 rpm. It’s far from your typical Harley-Davidson engine, as it includes features like dual throttle bodies, variable valve timing, dual overhead cams, and self-adjusting hydraulic lifters closer to a Munich power station than Milwaukee. And the engine is now a fully loaded part of the steel trellis chassis, a factor that helps provide a stiffer, more educated ride than any Sportster of previous years.
With a fully adjustable 43mm Showa inverted fork, fully adjustable rear monoshock and four-piston caliper brake up front, the Sportster S is long and low with a seat height of just 29.6 inches. The riding position is generally relaxed, with the forward-mounted controls putting you in that sag so familiar not only with Sportsters but with many machines in the brand’s lineup as well.
Harley-Davidson is betting big on technology, with four variable ride modes, cornering ABS, cruise control, traction control, turn-by-turn navigation and Bluetooth connectivity, all standard. Everything is accessible through a circular four-inch instrument panel which is surprisingly easy to navigate and takes up very little space in the rider’s peripheral vision.
One concern, however, is the two-inch rear suspension travel. That doesn’t sound like a lot, and I can assure you it isn’t. Driving can be a bit uncomfortable when you’re slowly cruising through rough city roads, but take the Sportster S into canyons or your favorite open stretch and the machine comes to life. The low ride height, stable handling and sublime engine combine for a unique Harley-Davidson experience, complemented by the sound of scratching footrests as you quickly maximize the 34 degrees of lean angle available.
The Revolution engine is a revelation. Equipped with torque and adapted to the four driving modes, this is a giant leap into the future for the company. It sounds, looks and feels like a European twin, which will be music to the ears of some, while others. . . not really. One complaint is that the gearbox is not as smooth to shift as you would expect with a motorcycle of this price point. The gearshift is a bit jagged and not as positive when the lever is in the standard position, with neutral being found much more than I would have liked between first and second gear.
The design team managed to get its Sportster S-inspired flat-track-inspired high-rise exhaust, which looks great and isn’t too loud, but is very warm, especially when there is little to no air flow around you. When the bike is moving fast heat is really not an issue, but at low speeds it is rather annoying, to the point where it seems the choice of exhaust configuration was a design flaw compared to function.
The Sportster S also feels a bit too one-dimensional for my taste, but it will certainly appeal to riders who yearned for a Sportster that was more agile and muscular than what was offered before. We are hoping that Harley-Davidson will take this wonderful engine and put it in a bare motorcycle chassis similar to Yamaha’s MT-10 or pre-2021 Triumph Speed Triple line, so this would really be Harley-Davidson’s model. for the masses.