The motorcycle world is teeming with iconic names and brands, but arguably none have the Harley-Davidson punch – at least here in the United States. other surface crushing machines.
And while times have indeed started to change – recent years have seen HD deliver its first electric motorcycle, its first ADV, and a new line of e-bikes – it’s not giving up on the rides that made it famous. For 2021, the brand is rolling out a brand new version of the Sportster; to find out what it is, we headed west to try it out for a test ride.
What is that?
The Harley-Davidson Sportster S is a motorcycle out of class. The “-ster” part of the equation dates back to 1957, when the first Sportster debuted. Long and low was the principle back then, as was a V-twin engine, and this all-new Sportster is still a V-twin, and still sleek and low, but absolutely nothing is the same. Harley-Davidson says it’s revolutionary, and it’s not hype at all.
Is the Harley-Davidson Sportster S new?
Entirely. The only thing in common with the outgoing Sportster is the name. You can sign up to order yours now, and it should arrive in dealerships shortly.
What makes this Harley-Davidson special?
Damn close to everything, but I’ll start with the guts. This 1250cc twin is a powertrain similar to that of the Pan America, but while this bike produces 150 horsepower, the Revolution Max T for the Sportster produces “only” 121 horsepower. Uh, that’s a lot, trust me. Because rather than the Pan-Am’s flatter torque curve, Harley’s emphasis here is on takeoff. So what you lose in full propulsion you gain in a bike that wants to pull the line, all the way down to its redline of 9,500 rpm.
Also, this is a thoroughly modern powerhouse, with variable valve timing that makes for a really smooth and easy revving up, so you’re lazy and not downshifting from fourth to third. speed to 40 mph and you just take more throttle, or pass aggressively and keep it. boiling, it will make you move from a little over 2000 rpm. The sweet spot hits around 3,500 rpm, where horsepower seems like a deep black hole, but you also get great engine braking from the high-compression V-twin.
Harley has a long history in its engines, but the “lungs” can be exhausting and too loud. How to preserve the legend without letting it anchor you in your past? One way was to make sure that this bike still makes noise, and it does, but the Revolution Max T anthem isn’t the tympanic brain scream of yesteryear. It’s a pleasant throaty churning, cheeky, but a little less conspicuous. (Unless you did WOT and really wanted to shake the neighbor’s windows at 2 a.m.) In developing the Revolution Max T, engineers made sure to move the airbox forward into the chassis. , so that when the motor blows air, you do not hear it; you only get the pleasant roar of the two-pipe exhaust.
One final point about the engine – it’s not just the engine. You see, this bike is adjustable by the rider; while you wouldn’t think of a Harley by default as you think of a tech-laden BMW, that is finally starting to change. The Sportster S engine has several power modes that you can select via a four-way controller on the handlebars. You see them reflected in a fully digital full color TFT display which, incidentally, can also be paired with your phone, for step-by-step instructions via the HD app, or for playing music on bluetooth headphones or a computer. – helmet system like a Cardo or a Sena. Applications? Bluetooth? Driving modes? Son, that’s not the Harley-Davidson leather vest your cool uncle wore.
And I think it is in a good way. Even though, for example, there is an absurd couple, Harley has also included a suite of safety technologies, including the two systems to prevent you from wheeling when you may not have planned it, to measure the grip available in the corners and cut off the throttle or add ABS, or both, all to make sure you stay on the intended line.
How it all translates to driving, I’ll get to that for a moment, but in the preset engine modes it goes from immediate throttle spike for sport (as in the cattle pushed pit bull); à Road, which offers an excellent balance of predictability with an easy-to-apply throttle; as well as Rain, where you really want that heavy hand of pampering to keep your Harley upright. And there are two custom modes, if you want a mix of more power but maybe better traction control, for example.
How does the Sportster S ride?
For this test ride, we bombed downtown LA and made our way to Angeles Crest. It is the ideal solution for owners of fast cars or fast bikes who want to get rid of SoCal traffic and test their machines. that the Sportster S.
I wasn’t on a lesser bike, however; I was on a new school Harley with a maximum bank angle of 34 degrees, a stiff Showa inverted fork that provides an exceptionally linear steering feel and massive tires developed by Dunlop (160 / 70TR17 73V up front ; 180 / 70R16 77V at the rear). Oh, and while it looks incredibly long, the 59.8-inch wheelbase tells you something else. Combine that shorter-than-expected footprint and a seat height of just 29.6 inches, and the Sportster S is very agile when the going gets tough, yet seems to lengthen as you pick up the pace. It’s grippy when you need it, and friendly to the point of being a bit bonkers when you start to crack your wrist and go crazy. It’s not a crotchless rocket, but it is perhaps the sportiest and most inspiring Harley in decades.
But here’s the weird part: turn off the gas and the tool and your face will be stuck on a CBD-type perma-grin, as that motor is tuned to allow for a super kitten-friendly putter as well. He won’t scold; and the handling is so placid and predictable that you could shop every day in the Sportster S and have a clear, cheerful head, and never ask that Harley to roar.
Something else stands out?
Yes, two drawbacks – and a great pro.
First drawback: This one is serviceable, but the Sportster S defaults to forward controls, with its feet outstretched. Because there is only two inches of travel on the rear wheels, what you want to make descending through potholes easier is the ability to stand up to absorb the pavement biting back.
Fortunately, Harley is going to sell an intermediate control option. After testing both versions … get the intermediate configuration. It puts you in a much more athletic position to steer the corners, and it just gives you more confidence in anything that may need a reaction.
Second disadvantage: The upswing tailpipes are a nod to Harley’s flat track racing history – and they definitely set the vibe for this bike. But they also direct a ton of heat where you don’t want it, inside your right leg.
Yes, these pipes are shielded, but if you switch from a red light to a 90 degree red light, you will feel that hibachi burn. It’s not a dealbreaker, but I’m guessing Harley is going to come up with mods to overcome those meaty challenges.
A big pro: It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of this motorcycle to Harley-Davidson. Yes, Pan America is opening up a new space for the brand, but as VP of Styling and Design Brad Richards said, “We’re really looking for white space with Sportster.”
What it means: They’ll riff far beyond Sportster. The engine can be reduced in displacement and the chassis is excellent; it is rigid and offers gobs of agility. You can imagine a more upright position with a little more suspension travel, to chase the smaller ADV class; you can imagine attacking the Ducati Scrambler. Basically, if you can dream about where Harley is going from here, with that changeable engine and great chassis design, you can bet they already have plans. And that’s great news if you’re a fan of great bikes made in the USA.
The 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S
Base price: $ 14,999
Motor: 1250cc liquid-cooled V-twin
Gearbox: 6-speed slip clutch
Powerful : 121
Couple: 94 lb-ft
EPA Estimated Fuel Economy: 49 mpg