New Harley Davidson Sportster S Launched - story fullscreen Fullscreen

New Harley Davidson Sportster S Launched

The Sportster Leaps Into The 21st Century

After three years of being teased, the new Harley Davidson Sportster S has been officially launched. Looking exactly like the concept, it is powered by a detuned 1250 Revolution Max engine, which now acts as a stressed member of the chassis. Strong Harley Davidson DNA in the looks but a huge advance in electronic sophistication over the old Sportster. Available from Fall 2021

The Next Step In Harley Davidson’s Regeneration

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Definite H-D Sportster DNA
Visually similar but completely new from front to back, top to bottom and inside out

After months of speculation, Harley Davidson has finally launched the model that was labelled ‘Custom’ for so long but which can now be revealed as the Harley Davidson Sportster S.

The name is significant as it provides a link to the original Sportster which has been in production since 1957 and which has been a mainstay of the H-D line-up ever since. The had been speculation that a new name would be used - Nightster was a strong favourite - but Harley has seen fit to trust the nostalgia for the old name.

Revolution Max Engine

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The Sportster S is the second bike from Milwaukee to use the Revolution Max engine, first seen in the Pan America adventure bike. The water-cooled 60-degree, DOHC v-twin retains the same 1252cc capacity and variable valve timing but power has been reduced from 150bhp to 120bhp and torque has also gone down to 92 lb.ft. from 95 lb.ft. While this might seem a significant drop, it is still a huge boost over the outgoing Sportster. The engine is a stressed member of the chassis which will help to reduce weight.

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The different power and torque characteristics of the engine over that fitted to the Pan America are achieved not by just turning the volume down in the ECU. Smaller valves and port dimensions in the cylinder head and a different combustion chamber shape add more torque in the lower rev range and flatten the torque curve throughout the rev range. Intake velocity stack length and shape and airbox volume, along with a different camshaft profile and variable valve timing phasing also contribute to the different characteristics.

New From The Ground Up

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The new Sportster S really is new from the ground up; new chassis, new engine and now it comes with electronics! The old Sportster was the most analogue motorcycle still on sale - it’s surprising it even had electric start…! - but the new Sportster S has made up for that, with three riding modes (suggesting ride-by-wire throttle) - Road, Sport or Rain, plus two rider-customisable modes, cornering ABS and lean-sensitive traction control.

Strong Visual DNA

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Significant Upgrades
Ride-by-wire throttle gives access to three riding modes, cornering ABS and lean-sensitive traction control

Visually, there is definitely Sportster DNA in there; in fact, there’s a lot of Harley DNA there. Best of all is that it looks pretty much exactly as the concept ‘Custom’ bike looked when it was revealed three years ago. It’s low and chunky, with fat tyres reminiscent of the Sportster 48. The high exhaust pipes and flat tank/seat line top remind us of the XR750 flat track bike.

There’s a round TFT dash (4 inches in diameter), LED lighting and all-new switchgear. The rider will be able to pair their phone with the TFT dash, offering turn-by-turn navigation and Bluetooth capability.

Is It Sporty?

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It was hoped in some quarters that the model might herald a sportier direction for the Sportster but, if the images are to be believed, there is still a fairly foot-forward/low handlebar riding position which isn’t necessarily conducive to back-lane scratching. Wheel and tyre sizes reflect this, being 16 in. at the rear and 17 in. at the front, shod with fat and tall tyres. Expect different versions of the model to be introduced in the future, however, which will address this issue.

While suspension travel is limited, it is fully adjustable. Weight is stated as 502 lbs and the tank remains small at 3.1 gallons which will have an impact on touring range. However, in this guise at least, touring is not the focus of the Sportster S.

Not As Customisable as the Outgoing Sportster

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The chassis architecture of the new model will not be as customisable as the outgoing Sportster, which was a blank canvas catered for not only by Harley’s own parts catalogue, but by countless outside suppliers. This seems to be a deliberate ploy on the part of H-D, with the H-D Museum Collections’ Bill Rodencal stating; “We’re really not adding the next chapter to that story, but we’re adding the first chapter to the next book.”

At $14,999, it’s not the bargain that the outgoing Sportster was but, then again, it’s not the motorcycle the old Sportster was, either. The Sportster S is a thoroughly modern motorcycle which has lost none of the Harley -Davidson DNA and appeal. We can’t wait to get our hands on one!

Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher
Motorcycling Contributor
Born and raised in England, he has lived in South Africa with his family since 2002. Harry has owned examples of Triumph, Norton, BSA, MV Agusta, Honda, BMW, Ducati, Harley Davidson, Kawasaki and Moto Morini motorcycles. He regrets selling all of them.  Read full bio
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