Motorcycle Review: Harley-Davidson’s New Sportster S Re-Sets The Bar

Motorcycle Review: Harley-Davidson’s New Sportster S Re-Sets The Bar

The brand new Sportster S takes its cues from the Pan American and FXDR

When Harley-Davidson entered the ADV realm with the groundbreaking Pan America a few months back, the reaction was pretty much unanimous: The bike is fantastic. Everyone, from skeptics to purists, was impressed.

Harley’s not finished. This week, Harley-Davidson turned even more heads by announcing a new street bike that’s as innovative and eye-catching as the Pan America. The all-new street bike, with its low profile and high pipes, is called the Sportster S and it’s unlike anything Harley has ever done.

Harley-Davidson Sportster S

Hold up: That’s not entirely true. Stylistically, the new Sporter S—a “Sportster” in name only—is reminiscent of the super-popular FXDR that H-D released a few years ago, albeit with a smaller, liquid-cooled v-twin that makes an impressive 121 horsepower at an eye-popping 7500 rpm, thanks to the liquid coolant that runs through its veins. Even air-cooled aficionados will be hard-pressed to argue with that redline.

The new Sportster S features higher side pipes and fatter tires than the FXDR, and a far shorter, sportier rake. It definitely leans more toward the street-tracker side of things than the drag-inspired FXDR. Both utilize a sporty rectangular LED headlamp, bronzed engine flourishes rather than chrome, and a forward-facing, aggressive countenance that looks ready to pounce.

Harley-Davidson's Sportster S

Surely designed to compete with Indian Motorcycle’s hugely successful Scout (the back-and-forth between the two v-twin behemoths is nearly as entertaining as an Ali/Frazier bout) the Sportster S starts at $14,999 and comes in white, crimson, and black.

The Sportster S is powered by the same powerplant that drives the Pan America. Harley’s first 100 percent liquid-cooled v-twin was one of the most impressive features of the Pan America, and a street-tuned, 121-horsepower version of the Revolution Max 1250T also powers the Sportster S. 

Of all the features and characteristics that raised the eyebrows of purists and skeptics alike, the one that impressed us the most was the remarkable Revolution Max 1250 engine. The liquid-cooled v-twin was a brave departure for Harley—and the MoCo nailed it. This new Sportster S looks like a blast to ride, whether in the twisties or around town.

Harley-Davidson's Sportster S

Harley took a gamble calling this bike a “Sportster,” as it departs about as sharply from the Sportster line as a bike could. As Harley says, the Sportster has evolved “from Evolution [a nod to the Evo motor] to Revolution.” That’s a clever tagline, but Sportster fans shouldn’t worry. We’ve seen no indication Harley will put the new motor into the entire Sportster Line—although we can think of a few Sportsters that would benefit massively from it!

“Every visual design element of the Sportster S model is an expression of the motorcycle’s raw power,” said Brad Richards, Harley-Davidson vice president of styling and design. “This is a wolf in wolf’s clothing.”

Harley-Davidson's Sportster S

From the official Harley-Davidson Sportster S press release:
“This new version of the latest Harley-Davidson liquid-cooled V-Twin engine is tuned to make tremendous torque at low RPM, with a curve that stays flat through the powerband for strong acceleration from a start with robust power through the mid-range. To minimize overall weight, the engine is integrated into the bike as the central member of the chassis. A welded tubular steel trellis swingarm features a braced design and stamped X-member to further stiffen the chassis, while its shape adds distinctive style. The use of lightweight materials helps achieve a desirable power-to-weight ratio. Ready to ride with the 3.1-gallon fuel tank topped off, the Sportster S model weighs just 502 pounds. 

Three pre-programmed, selectable Ride Modes (Sport, Road and Rain) electronically control the performance characteristics and level of technology intervention. Two Custom modes may be crreated by the rider for personalized performance characteristics. Cornering Rider Safety Enhancements by Harley-Davidson, a collection of technologies intended to enhance rider confidence during unexpected situations or adverse road conditions, are designed to match motorcycle performance to available traction during acceleration, deceleration, and braking

Harley-Davidson's Sportster S

A round, 4.0-inch-diameter TFT screen displays all instrumentation and supports infotainment generated by the rider’s Bluetooth-equipped mobile device and/or helmet headset, including music, incoming and outgoing calls, and navigation supplied by the Harley-Davidson App. 

The Sportster S model is equipped with fully adjustable front and rear suspension, with Showa 43mm inverted cartridge forks and a Showa Piggyback reservoir rear shock. Rear suspension features hydraulic pre-load adjustment. Lightweight cast-aluminum wheels with a staggered, five-spoke design are shod with wide Dunlop/Harley-Davidson Series GT503 tires. Premium Brembo braking components produce outstanding braking feel and performance. The single front brake features a radial monoblock four-piston caliper and a 320mm diameter disc. The rear brake is a two-piston Brembo caliper and a 260mm diameter disc.

Harley-Davidson's Sportster S

Forward foot controls and a low handlebar put the Sportster S rider in an aggressive posture on the bike. Unladen seat height is 29.6 inches, low enough for most riders to get feet down at a stop. Brake and clutch hand levers are adjustable for reach, to best match rider hand size or preference. The Sportster S model is pre-wired for accessory heated hand grips for added comfort in cool weather, and is equipped with two dedicated power points for heated riding gear (heated hand grips and heated riding gear/apparel each sold separately), plus a USB-C port for charging a phone or other device. An external ambient temperature sensor and a low-temp warning on the display screen alert the rider to changing conditions. Cruise control and a proximity-based security system are standard equipment. 

Sportster S model accessories available through Harley-Davidson Genuine Motor Accessories include these key items:

Mid-Control Conversion Kit
Relocates the left and right rider footpegs and foot controls from the Original Equipment forward position to a mid-position on the bike. This may place the rider in a more athletic position and may also provide an improved fit for riders who cannot comfortably reach the forward controls. 

Passenger Accommodations
A Pillion Kit, Passenger Footpeg Kit, and Passenger Backrest Kit (sold separately) may be installed. The pillion and backrest feature upholstery styled to match the rider seat.

Sundowner Solo Seat
This seat offers an enhanced bucket design and spherical-void foam construction for improved long-haul comfort and shaping for more aggressive riding. Seam-sealed stitch lines prevent water from soaking into the foam and leaving the rider with a damp bum. Details in the top seat cover enhance overall style.

Compact Detachable Windshield
Black mounting hardware and support brackets, and the dark tint of the windshield, are a style match for the motorcycle. The windshield mounts to the forks with quick-release clamps, and can be installed or removed quickly and easily. 

Sportster S Tailbag
This tailbag is designed specifically to fit and look great on the Sportster S, and gives the rider a convenient luggage option for ride essentials. It is recommended that the Tailbag be installed over the accessory pillion (purchased separately). Luggage capacity is 5 pounds. The main compartment volume is expandable from 8.2 liters to 11.5 liters.” RC

The all-new Harley Sportster S starts at $14,999. To schedule a test ride, visit the Harley-Davidson website (www.harley-davidson.com) and sign-up.