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22 Mar 2022

What We Dislike
Exhaust location is not ergonomically ideal

The new Sportster S delivers greater performance, digitalisation and approachability, which will do well to win new buyers to the brand.

The Harley-Davidson Sportster has a history that dates back all the way to 1957. And while there have many changes over the years, the core of the bike is more than half a century old. Some would argue that the heritage and dedication to a classic formula is part of the brand's charm. Others will complain that it's fundamentally old-fashioned.

Now, there's a brand new Sportster available, one that's certainly about to herald in a whole new era for the brand. Plenty for both sides to argue about...

Charming heart

The new Revolution Max 1250T V-Twin engine delivers up plenty of torque, while also being refined and smooth on the trot
At the heart of the brand new Sportster S is the Revolution Max V-Twin engine first introduced on the Pan-America.

This is a big deal. Obviously, the engine was developed with emissions standards in mind, but it does change the overall characteristic of the bike. This engine is the 1250T, and has been tuned for more low-end torque. I personally find it more engaging to use compared to the Pan-America, including the way the exhaust still occasionally pops when you close the throttle.

Chiefly, it makes the bike a lot more approachable. The engine is plenty powerful, smooth, quiet and easy to use. At 90km/h, the bike cruises along at an inconspicuous 3,000rpm. Vibrations are also significantly reduced, which adds to the overall refinement of the bike.

The Sportster S is approachable and easy to ride daily
Some people will certainly enjoy that. I know I do. I think it also opens up the bike to more potential riders. Admittedly, long-time fans of the brand may miss the characteristics of the previous engine.

From the rideability perspective, the Sportster S is quite generous. The seat height is low, the handlebars comfortably positioned, and the riding stance forgiving. The fat front tyre means that negotiating sharp low speed turns needs extra effort, but beyond that it's a very easy bike to ride.

There are also several riding modes available. Sport mode really ramps up the excitement, allowing you to decisively deploy the 121bhp and 125Nm of torque. A healthy dose of throttle delivers rapid acceleration.

Digital front

The longer and lower design grants the new Sportster a sleek and aggressive look
The design of the Sportster S is new. It's still retro-inspired, but sits lower, while also having a longer and more modern look. The overall aesthetic is mean and aggressive, and I think it looks really good.

However, the location of the exhaust system is not entirely ideal, as you can never really fully extend your right leg down. As it is, when you come to a stop, you're better off 'clutch in, left foot down' (the way we were taught) than you are 'neutral, right foot down' (the way most of us probably do it).

The Sportster S has also undergone a digital upgrade. You now get full LED lights, a fully digital instrument cluster, as well as a whole bunch of controls on the handlebar that's very un-typical of Harley.

The fully digital instrument cluster is one of many modern technological improvements on this bike
Yes, a lot of these new equipment first debuted in the Pan-America. The carryover is obvious (there are even sub-menus for functions on the Pan-America that this particular bike doesn't even have). But, it's certainly helpful to have access to key information like your bike diagnostics. 

Features like Bluetooth connectivity are good-to-have, though not essential. But, I like the digital promise - this is a model that looks ahead rather than backwards.

New found

The big question with a bike like this, especially a Harley, is about character. Does this still exemplify the Harley spirit?

The new Sportster S is a big jump forward for the model, with the requisite capabilities to win over new customers
I'm inclined to think so. While perhaps not quite as raw as before, the Sportster S still captures that cruising spirit. I really like how it looks, I think the digital enhancements improve the daily quality of life, and the new engine makes the bike more refined and approachable, yet also more powerful.

As the new entry-model in the Harley range, I think the Sportster S is poised for success. While it perhaps won't appeal to the legacy fans, it has the requisite capability and personality to win over new customers. 65 years on from the original Sportster, it's high time to do just that.

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