New Motorcycle Review: 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S

Putting the SPORT back in the Sportster

By Erin Sills, WRN Co-Chairwoman

Having recently returned from the launch of the Harley-Davidson Pan America, I’ve been eager to see how Harley would integrate that bike’s Revolution Max 1250T motor into its iconic Sportster line. Well, I’m very pleased to report the Sportster S is an incredible bike, full of pep and power. It also retains the nimbleness that Sportster fans have come to love from the platform. But don’t be fooled—this isn’t your mother’s Sportster. It is a revolutionary powerhouse of a motorcycle. By integrating the 121 horsepower motor with the tiny-feeling 502-pound bike, the Motor Company has launched a city-street-munching machine.

Erin Sills riding the Harley-Davidson Sportster S
Testing the new Sportster S, I clocked about 100 miles of canyon-carving asphalt just outside Los Angeles. I’ll confess much of the day was a smiling gigglefest inside my helmet.

First Impressions

When I initially saw the Sportster S, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Indian Motorcycle FTR 1200 S and the Ducati Diavel in terms of styling. Even the Harley executives say those two bikes are in the competitive mix for the Sportster S shopper. They also call it “a mash-up” of styling influences. For example, they mention the classic “Bobber-like” front end and a high-mount exhaust like Harley's XR750 flat tracker. Personally, I love the classic lines of the exhaust. I also like the straight-up seating position and the “city tripping” nature of the bare bones handlebar and bar end mirrors.

Erin Sills riding the 2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster S
There’s no mistaking this bike was built to have a tough, no-nonsense profile. Heading toward you down the road, you notice the unique shape of the Daymaker Signature LED headlight and the fat 17 inch front and 16 inch rear tires.
Erin Sills and Jess HerTwoWheels with the Harley-Davidson Sportster S
Launched originally in 1957, the Harley-Davidson Sportster has been a consistent favorite among female riders. We think the Sportster S will be no exception. Here I enjoy a break and a laugh with motovlogger Jess (on the right), also known as HerTwoWheels.

Styling and Ergonomics

2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster S colors
The 2021 Sportster S starts at $14,999 and is available in three color options: Midnight Crimson, Stone Washed White Pearl, and Vivid Black.
Harley-Davidson Sportster S engine
All three color options pair beautifully with the bronze highlights of the Revolution Max 1250T motor.

I find the upright nature of the Sportster S’ riding position quite comfortable and reaching all the controls is easy. I also love how lightweight and nimble the bike feels, something that will inspire confidence even in relatively inexperienced riders.

Erin Sills Co-Chair riding the Sportster S
At 5 feet 7 inches tall with a 30.5 inch inseam, the stock forward controls are quite comfortable and easy to reach.
Lauren Swanson short woman on Harley-Davidson Sportster S
Lauren Swanson, Harley-Davidson Project Manager of Marketing and Events, is 5 feet 2 inches and can reach the ground and stock controls easily.
Harley-Davidson Sportster S mid and forward controls
Harley offers a mid-control conversion kit (shown on the right) for $659.95 which provides a more “athletic feel” to the ride. It also brings the foot controls back 3 to 4 inches, reducing the reach for shorter riders.
Harley-Davidson Sportster S stock seat
The stock solo seat looks cool but is fairly firm and small, so we recommend investing in Harley’s Sundowner seat ($274.95) if you intend to take longer rides.
Harley-Davidson Sportster S passenger pillion seat and backrest
An optional pillion seat ($159.95) and backrest ($199.95) are available to match the stock seat for those desiring a two-up experience or for a place to bungee a bag. Note that the passenger seat addition requires purchasing and installing the optional passenger footpeg kit ($219.95).
Harley-Davidson Sportster S left hand controls
The left side hand controls includes a single turn signal switch that controls both signals, toggle buttons for the display, as well as cruise control which is standard equipment on the Sportster S, and more.
Harley-Davidson Sportster S right hand controls
The right control housing includes a new kind of starter button for Harley, a ride mode button, hazards, traction control, and controls for the H-D smartphone infotainment app.
woman reaching for the brake lever on Harley-Davidson Sportster S
The Sportster S clutch and brake levers are adjustable to five reach positions, a feature women with smaller hands will definitely appreciate.
Harley-Davidson Sportster S TFT display
The 4 inch round TFT display on the Sportster S is stylish and minimalistic, yet provides every bit of information riders need.

While the design of the Sportster S’ display is minimalistic, it is packed with information and functionality. The navigation system is one of my favorite functions, displaying a turn-by-turn map and providing audio instructions to my helmet’s headset. When the map is displayed, the speedometer, turn signals, and other key information is displayed above the map. The rider can also use the hand controls to pan and zoom the map for more detail.

Sportster S TFT display music
The ability to listen to music, make and receive phone calls, and use turn-by-turn navigation while riding is a definite perk to this feature-rich Sportster model. Riders need to download and use the Harley-Davidson app on a Bluetooth-enabled mobile device and helmet headset to take advantage of these enhanced features.
Sportster S Tire Pressure Monitoring System TPMS
The Sportster S comes with TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) which means you can easily keep track of your tire pressure without getting dirty.


I had an absolute blast on the Sportster S! It is definitely a powerhouse of a motorcycle with tons of horsepower and torque in a lightweight, small and nimble bike. Incorporating a host of technology, the Sportster S offers multiple ride modes which adjust throttle response, ABS, traction control, and suspension (Road, Rain, Sport, and two customizable modes.) Most riders will find Road mode to be plenty powerful, with the switch to Sport mode giving enough of a boost to literally toss an unsuspecting rider back an inch or two in the saddle.

Sportster S TFT ride modes Sport Road Rain
Sport mode on the Sportster S gives riders immediate power response. It can take you by surprise the first time you enable this mode, so hang on when you twist the throttle! Similarly, there are two custom ride modes that allow riders to combine their preference for engine torque delivery, engine braking, throttle response, and C-TCS and C-ABS intervention, within specific ranges.

The Sporter S is equipped with Harley-Davidson’s Cornering Rider Safety Enhancements, a collection of technologies designed to assist the rider in adverse conditions. These technologies automatically adjust the chassis, brakes, and powertrain based on the bike’s lean angle, taking into account the grip (or lack thereof) in a turn or under heavy acceleration, for example. 

The Sportster S comes with an antilock braking system (ABS) which operates independently on the front and rear brakes preventing the wheels from locking under heavy braking. It also has a traction control system (TCS) which mitigates the power to the real wheel under heavy acceleration. Both ABS and TCS are electronically controlled by the Cornering Safety Enhancements based on lean angle.

Sportster S belt drive rear suspension preload adjuster
The Sporter S comes with fully adjustable passive front and rear suspension from Showa. This helps offset the otherwise very rigid ride of the bike. The hydraulic preload is adjusted with a convenient knob located on the left side of the motorcycle. Erin Sills riding the Harley-Davidson 2022 Sportster S
I love the responsiveness of the throttle which provides ample torque when ripping through a corner along canyon roads.

As with the Pan America, Harley chose to use the Revolution Max 1250T motor as a structural element of the Sportster S, bolting the front frame, mid frame, and tail frame section directly to the motor to provide the bike’s structure. While this lowers the overall weight of the motorcycle (502 pounds), the downside is that it results in a stiff chassis that transfers a lot of vibration and feel of the road.

2022 Harley-Davidson Revolution Enging Sportster S Pan America
Harley’s all new liquid-cooled Revolution Max 1250T engine provides a lot of power and a distinctive "Harley feel" (a.k.a. vibration) to the ride.
Harley-Davidson Sportster S Sport Cruiser
One of my favorite styling elements of the Sportster S is the high mount 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust system. While it never felt particularly hot under my legs while underway, the pipe did give off a lot of heat when idling despite the heat shield.
2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster S accessories windshield chrome billet
Harley-Davidson offers a Wild One Collection of gloss black and bright machined aluminum accessories for the Sportster S. This package includes handgrips, rider and passenger footpegs, shifter, rear brake lever, mirrors, and numerous HDMC medallions. In addition, Harley offers a stylish compact windshield option and more comfortable seat options. I wish I’d had both of these for the 70+ mph highway miles and the 100-mile ride day.

Specs At A Glance: 2021 Harley Davidson Sportster S
Engine size: 1250cc
Horsepower: 121 hp
Seat height: 29.6 inches
Fuel capacity: 3.1 gallons
Wet weight: 502 pounds
MSRP: $14,999

WRN Recommendation
This is not your mother’s Sportster! The Sportster S is a small but mighty powerhouse of a bike with great torque and a nimble feel for ripping around town or carving corners on the weekends. For longer rides you will want to add a windscreen, upgrade to the Sundowner seat, and add a passenger seat in order to accommodate luggage. Ride modes allow riders to “grow into” and customize the power this bike can produce—starting off with the mellow Rain mode, moving up to manageable Road mode, and finally hitting Sport mode to feel the thrust this powerful engine is capable of. The Sportster S is packed with safety, performance, and technology to offer riders options that will enhance the ride.

Scroll to Top