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2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S

It’s a better Harley in just about every important category

LISTEN 10:23

Harley-Davidson gives us a glimpse of the near future of the Sportster lineup with the release of its all-new Sportster S model. The MoCo breaks with 35 years of tradition by moving away from the powerplant and base design that first rolled back in ’86 in favor of a new, from-the-ground-up re-imagination that bears little resemblance to its predecessor. Modern chassis design and high-performance V-Twin power set the tone for the newest Sportster addition as the factory looks to become more competitive in its sub Big-Twin range.

  • 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S
  • Year:
    2021
  • Make:
  • Model:
    Sportster S
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    V-Twin
  • Displacement:
    1252 cc
  • Top Speed:
    121 mph (Est.)
  • Price:
    14999
  • Price:

2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S Design

  • All-LED lighting
  • Widespread blackout treatment
  • 4-inch full-color TFT display
  • V-Rod-inspired styling
2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S
- image 1009347
The “S” brings a blend of old and new to the table with ample blackout, fat tires, and cut-down fenders along with inverted forks, LED lighting and modern electronics.

It’s clear that the factory drew inspiration from its discontinued V-Rod lineup for the overall look of the new Sportster S, but that was a very general reference in that the mien remains similar though the engineers took two very different routes to arrive there. It’s probably worth mentioning that the Bronx was to use the same engine and was to be billed as a naked streetfighter of the Euro/Asian persuasion, but was killed instead. Now all of a sudden we have a proper sport-cruiser that is vying for a slightly different slice of the market though it may appeal to some of the same sort of buyers, or at least provide an alternative to the aforementioned areas.

The “S” brings an interesting blend of old and new to the table. Fat tires join with cut-down fenders and widespread blackout treatment for some of that old-school custom flavor that has long marked the breed, but the inverted forks and rounded-off rectangle of the LED headlight steer things in a decidedly modern direction. All of the lights are LED in fact, so you can count on effective two-way visibility with your surrounds.

Blackout paint covers the entirety of the front end up to and including the short-rise handlebar and bar-end mirrors, and that extends aft with very little in the way of bling on this early effort. The four-inch round instrument housing is also traditional in its shape, but in operation it’s entirely modern with a full-color TFT display that bundles the usual instrumentation with the higher electronics and ride-quality controls. While not equipped with a proper Infotainment system, you can use your Smartphone to pipe in your favorite tunes, field phone calls under way or get turn-by-turn navigation support. The Harley-Davidson app and a helmet that supports Bluetooth and a headset is required.

In profile, the fuel tank retains that classic teardrop shape so familiar to fans of the Sportster family, but the rear end quickly tapers off behind the solo seat in decidedly aerodynamic fashion. The rest of the gear in the rear all mounts to the sportbike-like hugger that leaves the tail looking clean and trim with more modern LED wizardry.

2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S Chassis

  • Fully adjustable front and rear Showa suspension
  • Stressed engine frame
  • More precise handling
  • Stability at speed
2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S
- image 1009357
The real star here is the Cornering-Enhanced Anti-lock Braking System that puts Harley on equal electronic footing with the preponderance of sporty rides on the market.

H-D finally made the jump to stressed-engine designs, and the Sportster S is a proper example. Tubular-steel front and rear frame sections bolt to the drivetrain and eliminate most of the tubing and reduces weight. The result is a very stiff chassis that contributes to more precise handling. It’s a frame that isn’t, as it were, but is a common feature in general even if it’s new to The MoCo.

Rake and trail are rather long at 30 degrees and 5.8 inches respectively, so the “S” will tend to be stable at speed, even in crosswinds and when negotiating pressure waves from the surrounding traffic. In this respect, H-D keeps a foot rooted in tradition by not shortening the steering geometry to improve agility. Nimble enough is nimble enough, it seems.

Seat height is about right at 28.9 inches off the deck, providing you weigh at least 180 pounds to get everything squatted down properly. Cast wheels mount Dunlop Harley-Davidson Series radials in a chunky 160/70-17 ahead of an even fatter 180/70-16 out back.

The swingarm is clearly something new for a Sportster as it uses tubular members for the structure and hides the fully-adjustable piggyback monoshock under the hood for a decidedly sportbike-ish finish. Up front, a set of 43 mm inverted forks float the front end on the full trinity of tweaks to finish out the suspension.

As for the brakes, a four-bore caliper bites a 320 mm front disc, followed by a 260 mm disc and single-piston anchor, but the real star here is the Cornering-Enhanced Anti-lock Braking System that comes stock and puts the famously stodgy Motor Company on equal electronic footing with the preponderance of sporty rides on the market.

Frame: Stressed-member, high strength low alloy steel trellis frame; stamped, cast, and forged junctions; MIG welded; aluminum forged mid-structure
Swingarm: High strength low alloy steel, tubular sections, stamped x-member, forged axle junctions; MIG welded
Front Suspension/ Travel: 43 mm inverted fork with compression, rebound and spring preload adjustability. Aluminum fork triple clamps/ 3.6 in. (92 mm)
Rear Suspension/ Travel: Linkage-mounted, piggyback monoshock with compression, rebound and hydraulic spring preload adjustability/ 2 in. (51 mm)
Rake (steering head): 30°
Fork Angle: 28°
Trail: 5.8 in. (148 mm)
Lean Angle (J1168), Right / Left: 34°/ 34°
Wheels: Aluminum cast, satin black
Wheel, Front: 4.5 in. (114 mm) x 17 in. (432 mm)
Wheel, Rear: 5 in. (127 mm) x 16 in. (406 mm)
Brakes, Front: 320 mm floating, tower- mounted disc, radially mounted, monoblock, 4-piston caliper
Brakes, Rear: 260 mm solid uniform expansion rotor, floating, single piston caliper
Tires: Dunlop® Harley-Davidson Series, radial
Tire, Front: GT503 160/70TR17 73V
Tire, Rear: GT503 180/70R16 77V
ABS: Standard

2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S Drivetrain

  • New Revolution Max 1250T engine
  • 121 hp and 94 lb-ft of torque
  • Cornering-enhanced traction control and four ride modes
  • Deeper torque well and broader powerband
2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S
- image 1009353
The new Revolution Max 1250T engine maintains the V-twin configuration in a wider angle than the usual 45-degree layout, for an immediate visual clue that this ain't your granddad's Sportster.

The fandanglery on the Sportster S continues well into the engine-control electronics with a Cornering Enhanced Traction Control System that intervenes based on the calculated available traction to make this, arguably, the safest and most technologically advanced Sportster ever to see the light of day. Additionally, it rocks a trio of pre-programmed power-deliver profiles plus a rider-programmable profile that lets you dial in the delivery to suit your individual needs.

Power comes from a Revolution Max 1250T engine that maintains the V-twin configuration, albeit at a wider angle than the usual 45-degree layout, for an immediate visual clue that this ain’t your grand-dad’s Sportster. Of course, the liquid-cooled mill doesn’t need any help standing out either visually or technologically. The 105 mm bore and 72.3 mm stroke is majorly oversquare in a reversal from the norm, but it’s this ratio that allows for the high revs and impressive performance the engine turns out.

Dual over-head cams are another departure from the norm, as is the Variable Valve Timing feature that deepens the torque well for a broad tractable powerband. H-D actually lists horsepower for this model, and who can blame them. At 121 horsepower, this engine has something to brag about, especially when you factor in the 94 pounds o’ grunt that tops out at 6,000 rpm but is largely available throughout the range.

A carbon-reinforced belt-and-pully makes up the final drive, and in another departure from the norm, it rides on the left side, the opposite side of Sportsters since forever. A six-speed transmission crunches the ratios for a top speed of 120.7 mph that should be plenty fast enough for public roads.

Engine: Revolution® Max 1250T (Chain-driven, DOHC, hydraulic self-adjusting lifters, intake & exhaust VVT; four valves per cylinder)
Displacement: 76.4 cu in (1,252 cc)
Bore x Stroke: 4.13 in. (105 mm) x 2.85 in. (72.3 mm)
Engine Torque (J1349): 94 ft-lb (127 Nm) @ 6,000 rpm
Power: 121 hp (90 kW) @ 7,500 rpm
Compression Ratio: 12.0:1
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Air Cleaner: Downdraft intake, tuned velocity stacks, washable filter media
Exhaust: 2-into-1-into-2; catalyst in muffler
Lubrication System: Semi-Dry Sump
Primary Drive: Gear, 49/89 ratio
Final Drive: Belt, 80/34 ratio
Clutch: Mechanical, 8 plate wet, assist & slip, 1090N
Transmission: 6-speed
Gear Ratios: 1st: 12.21, 2nd: 9.022, 3rd: 6.994, 4th: 5.641, 5th: 4.731, 6th: 4.131

2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S Price

2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S
- image 1009350
MSRP starts at $15k for Vivid Black.

Harley stuck to its practice of tying paint and price together. As usual, a Vivid Black package comes in at the bottom of the scale at $14,999 here in its inaugural showing. If Midnight Crimson or Stone Washed White Pearl is more your style, you can expect to shell out another $350 to get started.

Model ID: RH1250S
Warranty: 24 months (unlimited mileage)
Service Interval: First 1,000 miles (1,600 km), every 5,000 miles (8,000 km) thereafter
Color: Vivid Black, Midnight Crimson, Stone-Washed White Pearl
Price: $14,999, Color: $15,349

2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S Competitors

2022 Indian FTR
- image 988802
2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S
- image 1009335

After a long spell as the de facto motorcycle monopoly in the U.S., H-D’s traditional domestic foe Indian Motorcycle returned under the Polaris umbrella to once again challenge The MoCo, so it was to them I looked for my competitor. Enter the FTR.

Indian FTR

2022 Indian FTR
- image 988803

Hot off a record-setting year on the Flat Track Racing circuit, the FTR serves as a civilian version of the now-legendary race bike with much the same look and layout, just with a public-road panache. One major difference is found in the rider’s triangle, specifically the sportbike-style jockey footpegs that is the polar opposite of the foot-forward Sportster S, though the latter can be switched to a mid-mount though the accessory list if the windsock position doesn’t appeal.

Performance is similar with the Indian V-Twin turning out 120 ponies and 87 pound-feet of torque against 121/94 for a difference that’s negligible, certainly too small to use as a selling point. Fully-adjustable suspension is a constant across the board, though it looks like Indian’s ABS is of the vanilla variety, and there’s nothing in the way of higher electronics.

Part of this washes out at the till as Indian lets loose of its base FTR for $12,999 starting MSRP to leave a couple grand on the table, but if you like the fandanglery, H-D has the only game in town here.

Read our full review of the Indian FTR.

He Said

“Well I gotta’ say it; there isn’t anything specific that I don’t like, I just don’t like the new Sportster S. Sure, I will grant that it’s a better bike in just about every important category – and even that its the improved model that H-D needed to remain competitive – but it ain’t my Sportster. I know, what’s in a name right? Maybe if they’d called it just about anything else it would be different. I guess we’ll never know.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “The new Sportster S carries an electronics suite we’ve long wished for on a Harley and it’s finally on level ground to compete in the sporty-ride market. Styling is V-Rod-inspired, but performance-wise, the “S” is a whole-’nother animal. My husband doesn’t like it, but not because there’s anything wrong with the bike. In his eyes, it isn’t a ’Sportster’ and calling it a Sportster sets up a whole list of expectations that aren’t met. Me? I think if he lightens up, he’ll see that the “S” is a nice ride and it’s about time H-D joined the rest of the motorcycling world with electronics and performance.”

2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: Revolution® Max 1250T (Chain-driven, DOHC, hydraulic self-adjusting lifters, intake & exhaust VVT; four valves per cylinder)
Displacement: 76.4 cu in (1,252 cc)
Bore x Stroke: 4.13 in. (105 mm) x 2.85 in. (72.3 mm)
Engine Torque (J1349): 94 ft-lb (127 Nm) @ 6,000 rpm
Power: 121 hp (90 kW) @ 7,500 rpm
Compression Ratio: 12.0:1
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Air Cleaner: Downdraft intake, tuned velocity stacks, washable filter media
Exhaust: 2-into-1-into-2; catalyst in muffler
Lubrication System: Semi-Dry Sump
Primary Drive: Gear, 49/89 ratio
Final Drive: Belt, 80/34 ratio
Clutch: Mechanical, 8 plate wet, assist & slip, 1090N
Transmission: 6-speed
Gear Ratios: 1st: 12.21, 2nd: 9.022, 3rd: 6.994, 4th: 5.641, 5th: 4.731, 6th: 4.131
Chassis:
Frame: Stressed-member, high strength low alloy steel trellis frame; stamped, cast, and forged junctions; MIG welded; aluminum forged mid-structure
Swingarm: High strength low alloy steel, tubular sections, stamped x-member, forged axle junctions; MIG welded
Front Suspension/ Travel: 43 mm inverted fork with compression, rebound and spring preload adjustability. Aluminum fork triple clamps/ 3.6 in. (92 mm)
Rear Suspension/ Travel: Linkage-mounted, piggyback monoshock with compression, rebound and hydraulic spring preload adjustability/ 2 in. (51 mm)
Rake (steering head): 30°
Fork Angle: 28°
Trail: 5.8 in. (148 mm)
Lean Angle (J1168), Right / Left: 34°/ 34°
Wheels: Aluminum cast, satin black
Wheel, Front: 4.5 in. (114 mm) x 17 in. (432 mm)
Wheel, Rear: 5 in. (127 mm) x 16 in. (406 mm)
Brakes, Front: 320 mm floating, tower- mounted disc, radially mounted, monoblock, 4-piston caliper
Brakes, Rear: 260 mm solid uniform expansion rotor, floating, single piston caliper
Tires: Dunlop® Harley-Davidson Series, radial
Tire, Front: GT503 160/70TR17 73V
Tire, Rear: GT503 180/70R16 77V
ABS: Standard
Dimensions & Capacities:
Length: 89.2 in. (2,265 mm)
Overall Width: 33.2 in. (843 mm)
Overall Height: 42.9 in. (1,089 mm)
Seat Height, Laden: 28.9 in. (734 mm)
Seat Height, Unladen: 29.6 in. (753 mm)
Static Ground Clearance: 3.66 in. (93 mm)
Wheelbase: 59.8 in. (1,518 mm)
Fuel Capacity: 3.1 gal. with 0.8 gal. reserve (11.8 l with 3 l reserve)
Fuel Economy: 49 mpg (4.8 l/100 km)
Oil Capacity (w/filter): 4.75 qt. (4.5 l)
Coolant Capacity: 2.32 qt. (2.2 l)
Dry Weight: 486 lb. (220 kg)
Curb Weight: 502 lb. (228 kg)
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: 922 lb. (418 kg)
Gross Axle Weight Rating, Front/Rear: 359 lb. (163 kg)/595 lb. (270 kg)
Luggage Capacity -Volume: N/A
Electric:
Battery: Sealed, maintenance-free, absorbed glass mat (AGM) battery, 12V, 12Ah, 225 CCA at 0°F
Charging: Three-phase, 45 Amp system (300 Watts @13 Volts, 1200 rpm, 585 Watts max power @ 13 Volts, 2250 rpm)
Starting: 0.9 kW electric with direct drive starter motor engagement
Lights (as per country regulation):
└ Headlamp: All LED headlamp, low and high beam with signature position lighting
└ Tail/Stop: All LED Tail/Stop lamp with signature tail lighting
└ Front Signal Lights: LED Bullet Turn Signals
└ Lights, Rear Turn Signals: LED Bullet Turn Signals
Gauges: 4 inch viewable area TFT display with speedometer, gear, odometer, fuel level, clock, trip, ambient temp, low temp alert, side stand down alert, TIP over alert, cruise, range and tachometer indication BT capable - phone pairing to access phone calls, music, navigation (H-D App ONLY)
Auxiliary Lamps: N/A
Electric Power Outlet: USB C-Type , Output 5V at 2.4 Amp
Details:
Model ID: RH1250S
Warranty: 24 months (unlimited mileage)
Service Interval: First 1,000 miles (1,600 km), every 5,000 miles (8,000 km) thereafter
Color: Vivid Black, Midnight Crimson, Stone-Washed White Pearl
Price: $14,999, Color: $15,349

Further Reading

Harley-Davidson

ALLYN IMAGES: DO NOT DELETE
- image 809334

Read more Harley-Davidson news.

Source: From Evolution to Revolution - 2021 Sportster S

TJ Hinton
TJ Hinton
T.J got an early start from his father and other family members who owned and rode motorcycles, and by helping with various mechanical repairs throughout childhood. That planted a seed that grew into a well-rounded appreciation of all things mechanical, and eventually, into a formal education of same. Though primarily a Harley rider, he has an appreciation for all sorts of bikes and doesn't discriminate against any particular brand or region of origin. He currently holds an Associate's degree in applied mechanical science from his time at the M.M.I.  Read full bio
About the author

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: harley-davidson.com, indianmotorcycle.com

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