A legacy born in 1957, continued today with a modern take - this Harley-Davidson Sportster S (first launched in 2021) is a whole new generation of Sportster, one that Harley-D says combines aggressive riding with sport bike agility – it’s a bike that makes a statement, gets noticed everywhere you go, and is unmistakably a modern Harley in multiple respects.
But, is it any good, and will it draw attention from riders who wouldn’t typically think of opting for some all-American metal?
What’s new with the Harley-Davidson Sportster S?
Stylistically, the Sportster S makes a statement. If looking at what’s new, you can effectively look at the entire package. Sportsters have, for the most part, seen relatively little in the way of drastic updates and changes over the years – in fact, some would say this is no longer a Sportster at all, and is a step away from the old with new style and direction for the name. Quotes from the Harley-Davidson themselves would agree, stating in 2021 that this is ‘just the tip of the iceberg’.
So, looking at this latest edition of Sportster S, as it sits low to the ground with an aggressive posture, your gaze is first drawn to the overall size of everything – for better or worse. Huge Sportster-specific Dunlop GT503 wheels front and rear, the plus-size exhaust wrapped high around the off-side of the bike, then to that massive Revolution Max 1250T V-Twin.
It’s a bike that excels in minimal details with excess proportions. Like the fuel tank: relatively small at 11.8 litres yet seems to stretch out and occupy the entire length of the bike. You have a svart and old-school-looking circular dash, that is actually a full TFT with smartphone & headset connectivity, there are the full rider modes with custom A & B modes, advanced rider aids, and generally, a good mix of classic style & heritage, plus modern rider essentials & style - and that oh-so-important ability to put a stupidly big smile on your face with trademark V-Twin pulls through the rev range.
In short, there’s a lot new on the Sportster S. It takes the iconic name and builds on it with modern tech – but doesn’t lose the character that all Harley Davidsons seem to thrive on.
Pros and Cons of the Harley-Davidson Sportster S
- Engine is brilliant.
- It’s stylish, makes you feel like a villain.
- Unique riding character.
- Stiff suspension.
- Cornering takes a minute to get accustomed to.
- Faffery on the switchgear and HD app.
Harley-Davidson Sportster S | Price and Availability
Though initially introduced as an entry-level option for Harley-Davidson fans in 2021, the 2023 Sportster S is no longer the cheapest in the current line-up with prices starting at £15,895 – the cheapest option is now the Nightster starting at £14,195 (currently, and should the X440 single-cylinder from collaboration with Hero MotoCorp ever see the UK shores, it’ll no doubt be ready to take that entry-level accolade). The launch price was £13,995 in 2021, at that price I’d say it is a hell of a lot more appealing.
You have 4 colour options for the 2023 Sportster S, we had it in Vivid Black, plus options of White, Grey or Blue for an extra +£375 to the price tag. In all honesty I think the Black looks stunning for this bike.
Worth noting that this bike also came with the Weekender Package kit fitted, an additional extra which gives the Sportster pillion capability with pillion seat, back rest, pillion pegs – though the accessories can add a huge premium on top.
Example monthly costs: £500 deposit, £296 monthly, £8,585 at the end (PCP). Or look at a £3,000 deposit, it becomes £216 monthly, then £8,585 at the end.
On the topic of finances, try Lexham direct for an insurance quote on a Harley-Davidson Sportster S, and see if one of the many specialist schemes works for you.
Harley-Davidson Sportster S | Revolution Max 1250T Engine
Housed as a stressed member to maximise weight savings (it’s 228 kg wet) plus sharpening ride feel, the liquid-cooled 1250T Revolution Max V-twin provides a meaty & torque-rich 121 bhp at 7500 rpm, 125 nm (92 lb-ft) at 6000 rpm with DOHC and VVT. Though the same engine as found in the Pan America, on paper it is comparatively down on power and torque, but when jumping between the two it feels quicker on its (admittedly huge) feet, and more responsive to your inputs.
The engine is quite possibly the crowning glory of this bike. Using it daily from commutes to weekend jaunts, it was ultimately a stupid amount of fun to head out for rides on the regular – mornings, evenings, weekends, I just wanted to always go for one more spin. That’s ultimately how riding should be.
Torque is delivered by the shovel-load, all from low down, and whilst gears did feel a tad short and it took a minute to get used to the intricacies of working that power through the belt drive to huge hoops, once it all clicks it’s a beautiful place to be. When you open the throttle and get into the higher rev range, it all just clicks, and you’re screaming along in utter bliss.
One of the main takeaways from this bike was how you had to ride it so very differently due to the large-scale wheels. I’d imagine cruising on pristine sweeping roads across a sunset-lit Los Angeles sky is where this bike wants to be, so taking it to the Norfolk countryside and bouncing around a sharpening bend with an almost desperate heave on the inside of the bar leaves quite the devilish grin on your face when you get away with it.
I did notice that it would struggle to stay awake when firing up in the cold, the first few metres often meeting with the bike cutting out if you were too cautious with the throttle, once it was warm, awake and singing, it was brilliant fun.
You have 6 gears to work with, and you have to be quite forceful at times with the shifter, otherwise noted as positive in your shifts. 2nd is a happy place to be for direct access to torque and responsive lower-speed riding 3rd allows you really satisfying pulls through from 25ish to 60 mph – though, along with the 11.8-litre tank, regularly sitting high in the revs will land you with an estimated range below 100 miles per fill up. It’s not quite frugal to ride hard!
And finally, rider modes are aplenty, with Sports, Road, and Rain as the default three. You also have the Custom A & B modes which will let you set a custom variable depending on throttle response, engine braking etc – curiously with ‘Flat Track’ option. Just close the throttle whilst riding, tap the mode button with your right index finger, and it’ll change on the fly (but set custom modes whilst stationary).
A Standing Beauty – Harley Davidson Sportster S
At a standstill, the muscle cruiser aesthetic is on full show. It sits mean and low to the ground, with a wide bar (with good bar end mirrors) and low 753mm seat, you have 34 degrees of lean either side, and the wheelbase is 1518 mm.
Riding position is certainly interesting, you feel extremely low to the ground yet still on top of the bike. When moving with your feet stretched out in front of you, everything collectively supplies that characteristic aggressive Harley riding position – particularly when you’re pushing on and rocketing towards triple digits. One interesting accessory would be the swap to standard pegs below your seat, as opposed to the feet-forward set up. That would really alter the ride-feel and perhaps give it a more ‘flat-track’ style where you have a tad more control when leaning those big wheels over.
Seeing as that crouched position with foot-forward controls you find yourself in takes a bit of getting used to, you must be mindful of cornering and being incredibly positive with the gears – I certainly came away from each ride having learnt a thing or two about throwing my weight about!
I’d be very interested in trying out a Sportster S with the alternative mid-footpeg positioning, from other rider reviews it seems to be a big winner, one that could well be argued as an option from new for free, as opposed to £717 out of the book. But overall, the chassis with a stressed engine works well when riding on good roads. Other accessory options can get typically Harley in cost (the official cleaning bucket is £55) but give you the chance to seriously spec up a monster of a bike, both in the spec and price department.
One thing that takes a bit of getting used to is the tyres and the subsequent riding dynamic. A 17-inch front (160/70 R17) and 16-inch rear (180/70 R16) prove fine at low speed, but once at high speed, you have to really push the bike into tighter corners.
An odd one with a circular TFT display. Fairly non-obtrusive and keeping in the classic style, but is it sacrificing usability? Where the Pan America screen would be more user-friendly in how it displays information across a larger area, that iPad-sized screen could look a bit obtuse here, and a small circular dash isn’t ideal for turn-by-turn navigation. But ultimately it doesn’t make a huge difference to the ride!
Moving a slight side-step from the style, the noise from the huge exhaust (an aftermarket one would be nice) is not quite as raucous as I first thought it would be, particularly at idle – but it’s decently loud. It’s a common trend amongst brand-new bikes and getting through the regulations. I did notice a soft rev limiter in neutral, too – you’d have to clutch in and click into first to let it sing.
Suspension, Chassis, Brakes
Suspension comes in the form of fully adjustable from Showa front (43 mm inverted fork with compression, rebound and spring preload adjustability. Aluminum fork triple clamps) and rear (Linkage-mounted, piggyback monoshock with compression, rebound and hydraulic spring preload adjustability). It’s top spec, but feels rock-solid as it has such little room to play with: just 92mm at the front, and 37mm rear, plus 90mm ground clearance.
The feeling can be akin to a Ryanair landing, which for the uninitiated is often slamming the plane on the ground and hoping it sticks. You certainly feel one with the road, and the Sportster S makes sure you feel exactly that - when the going gets tough you definitely know about it. Though responsive and sporty, being what the Bar & Shield brand were aiming for, it feels like a trade-off is made between sleek stance on the road and rider comfort.
Adjustments can be made, and there is more theoretical travel when combined with the XL wheels, which as mentioned take a bit of getting used to, and it just feels like one small bump can be exacerbated into an ‘out-of-seat’ problem if you have neglected to twist the 40-step rear preload the right direction.
For a quick pillion test my girlfriend hopped on, as we had the Weekender Package kit on adding the pillion seat and rear backrest (not pillion friendly as standard), and her only negatives were the ever-present feeling of bouncing out of the saddle on any bump, with the back rest a fair distance from her back with nothing but me to grab onto (I didn’t mind). Other than that, she was happily cruising along living the H-D life, and the chassis and V-Twin motor had no problems for me riding with that (small) added weight!
Braking power from the Brembo system is overall great, alongside top-spec rider safety electronics like cornering traction control and abs, but it’s a single 320mm disc up front with radially mounted monobloc 4 pot caliper, as opposed to a twin disc, an odd omission in my mind – though it performs well alongside the 260mm disc + 2 piston floating caliper at the rear – it just pulls to one side a touch under heavy braking from the front. Span adjustable levers are always a welcome addition, as seen here.
Modern Classic Cruiser Features
Moving to the use of this as a daily rider, and it made every ride in to work enjoyable. You feel close to the road, can filter through traffic nicely, and feel seriously cool whilst doing it. Admittedly it was only over two weeks, and though my commute is fairly small, often the long way home was taken every time activating ‘Custom A’ mode which I set to be full sports with +1 to the throttle response. Happy days.
Full rider aids and tech includes cornering-specific ABS, Traction Control with dedicated button, Drag-Torque Slip Control, Enhanced wheel lift mitigation, TPMS, cruise control, and those configurable rider modes to really get what you want from the bike.
On the display, it doesn’t show your live consumption figures, just a fairly accurate range remaining if you drive consistently and sensibly. It can be a pain to get your phone and intercom connected to the bike, but it’ll do it once you suss it out, with dedicated buttons for music control on the right switchgear.
Speaking of, navigating the TFT display feels a tad overly complicated, with some buttons that seemingly do little over using the direction arrows on the left hand side – it just feels a bit cluttered. A home button is a nice feature, mind, particularly if using the turn-by-turn navigations via the phone app, and you can view things like current time, a gear indicator, odometer, and a few options to have a look through, and an accessory USB-C plug.
The turn signal was a weird one, you couldn’t ever really feel when you activated it, and rather than clicking in to cancel, you flick it the same way to deactivate it. Pushing it in has no click, and would often trigger the opposite turn signal. Bizarre.
Parking up is surprisingly easy, the kickstand allows a good lean and the 218 kg wet weight is manoeuvrable in close spaces. It’s a keyless system that works well, but the jury is out on whether a keyless system is worthwhile at all - as you find the key in your jacket to click on the steering lock found at the headstock, and open the tank when filling up. If moving the bike without the key nearby, it’ll also activate ‘Harley-Davidson Disco Mode’ with the LED indicators going off in alternative bursts and having a panic with the onboard alarm system (but it didn’t make a noise).
When it comes to replacing the tyres, you’ll be happy to find out that the front is £330, and the rear is £344 (if bought direct from Harley-Davidson).
It’s a cruiser, but not a long-distance weapon – you’d get away with a daily commute on this, certainly enjoy a weekend café hop, and you’ll definitely see these at swanky venues like the Bike Shed in London, but that 100 miles range limit is seriously limiting – my first jaunt was 20 miles and took about half a tank of petrol (yes I was enjoying myself).
Harley-Davidson Sportster S | Verdict
Harley-Davidson released the Sportster S as a look into a modern cruiser world with the stunning Revolution Max 1250T motor stuck into a low-slung cruiser package. It’s tech-heavy, providing a fast and hard ride, but does come a tad unstuck if you really delve into the finite details of what ‘a motorcycle should be’.
Ultimately, a motorcycle can be whatever it wants to be – and this cruiser does have a sporty edge that performs well on the road, fulfilling everything you’d want for it. I wouldn’t say it’s a sporty bike, more of a cruiser with that modern sporty edge, but given the feet forward riding and huge tyres, it’ll never be a sporty bike in this format. I’ll just have to hold out hope that the 2020-teased ‘Bronx’ with regular tyre size and streetfighter style makes a comeback…
The price tag (at £15,895) isn’t quite ‘entry level’, but for a 1252cc V-Twin from the American Giant, it is certainly palatable. Particularly with the level of electronics on offer here, and comes together to form a seriously good all-American cruiser.
Does this Sportster S tempt new riders into the fold, riders who may never have considered a Harley-Davidson before? I’d say so, though for the same price point (factoring in accessories, too) you’d be looking at one hell of an alternative option – so you’d certainly have to be sure you want this bike over anything else, especially so if you factor in how you need to adjust your expectations accordingly.
Is it any good, and would I buy this bike? Definitely a good machine. I’d love it to be cheaper, and if I had the money, and if this was just to add to a collection of other rides – sure! Though a bigger tank, longer travel suspension, perhaps a reworked switchgear & TFT display would be nice… though I can't help but feel it would then almost lose what makes it a Harley-Davidson, that ability to flip the proverbial bird and do its own thing. That’s something we’re almost losing in the industry, so it’s a delight to get to ride something that (with a few minor flaws) is a proper good bike.
Thanks to Harley-Davidson for giving us a couple of weeks to try the Sportster S out, you can configure one online on their website.
Try Lexham Insurance for a motorcycle insurance quote on a Harley-Davidson, too.
Harley-Davidson Sportster S Specs
|Engine||1252cc Revolution MAx 1250T V-Twin. 121 bhp @ 6000 rpm, 125 Nm @ 6000 rpm|
|Fuel tank||11.8 L|
|Brakes||(F) Radially mounted monobloc, 4-piston caliper, 320mm disc (R) 2-piston floating caliper, 260mm disc|
|Seat height||753 mm|
|Suspension||(F) 43mm USD forks adjustable for compression, rebound, spring preload (R) mono-shock adjustable for compression, rebound, spring preload|