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.
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.
Styling and Ergonomics
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.