NEW Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2021)


Harley-Davidson’s ‘Sportster’ label has been around since 1957 – longer in the automotive world than the likes of Camaro or 911 - but the latest machine to carry the badge is nothing like any of its predecessors. Just the name remains.

The Sportster S is the production version of the ‘High Performance Custom’ concept that Harley first revealed way back in 2018, at the same time as the firm showed the Pan America adventure bike. There was also the Bronx streetfighter but that’s been canned since.

Out goes the air-cooled, pushrod V-twin and twin-shock chassis to be replaced by the same Revolution Max 1250 unit that debuted in the Pan America adventure bike earlier this year, but… it’s been retuned for the Sportster with an emphasis on low-to-mid torque. Technically it is a 1252cc, DOHC, water-cooled, 60-degree V-twin with a vast increase in performance over anything to carry the Sportster name in the past. The motor also acts as a stress-member with the front sections bolting directly onto the cylinder head.

Visually, the styling cues clearly come with flat-track inspiration courtesy of those high twin pipes yet the overall look appears compact with little space to spare around that new engine.

It’s lighter, faster and more technologically-laden but with this modern engine and gizmos-a-plenty, has the newest member of the Milwaukee brand’s line-up got a little less ‘Harley’? And just how Sporty can a Sportster be? The UK riding launch took place in Manchester and the nearby Peak District, so off we went see.


For and against
  • Sturdy road presence
  • Distinctive look and feel
  • Smooth and strong low to mid-range pull
  • Refined finish
  • Tyre grip in the wet
  • Tiny tank / range
  • Overworked single front disc
  • Short rear mudguard
Walkaround and on-board the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S

Join Michael Mann as he details and reviews the all-new Sportster S including the Revolution Max 1250T V-Twin and then on the road at the UK riding launch.

Harley Davidson Sportster S 2021 Review Price Spec_001


Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2021) Price

How much is the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S? Starts from £13,999

While some might say it’s a Sportster and that’s traditionally the firm’s entry-level line so £14k is a big wedge of money, some may counter-argue with the larger price tags usually associated with high-powered Harleys. In the UK, the RRP is by no means ‘entry-level’, but given the Sportster S is set to be one of Harley’s highest-performance models with the electronics and Revolution Max motor - alongside the Pan America - it doesn’t seem excessive. For that, you get a choice of three colour options; ‘Vivid Black’, ‘Stonewashed White Pearl’ or ‘Midnight Crimson’ with the latter two requiring an extra £250.

The mid-mounted footpegs are an additional £680 + fitting, though speak to your dealer nicely and the fitting part might be thrown in, even though I preferred the mid-mounts others on the ride didn’t (mainly the shorter riders which is surprising because the mid-mounts are quite cramped for those six-foot plus) and if you can get a test ride on both layouts back-to-back then take your dealership up on the offer before choosing – seems a bit odd they aren’t a no-cost option. The bikes for the European market are on their way from Thailand imminently and due into UK dealerships around October, we’re told.

Of course, some buyers won’t be paying cash, so PCP options will also be available, like this example:

Cash Price


Customer Deposit

£3,184 (22%)


37 months

Monthly Payment




Annual miles


Optional final repayment


Total Amount Payable


Representative APR



Harley Davidson Sportster S 2021 Review Price Spec_111

Above: the original 1957 Sportster


Power and Torque

Peak power is down from the version of the Revolution Max 1250 engine used recently in the Pan America, from 150hp at 8750rpm to a still impressive 121hp, peaking at 7500rpm in the Sportster S although the engine still runs to a 9500rpm redline. Torque is also fractionally down at 92.2lbft @ 6000rpm instead of the Pan America’s 94lbft at 6750rpm… but that’s still Ducati Panigale V4 territory!

The ‘T’ at the end of the engine’s name stands for Torque and the remap plus revised internals contribute to boosting airflow through the engine giving 10% more grunt between 3000rpm and 6000rpm – the area where you’re likely to use most often.

Rider modes, Road and Sport, offer alternate throttle maps though the difference between them on the Sportster S isn’t as great than on the Pan America. ‘Road’ is of course a little more subtle and ideal for low-speed town riding in between sets of traffic lights. The light clutch lever feel plus minimum rev requirement offers a smooth transition from zero to feet up speed. But as soon as the road opens up get it into ‘Sport’ mode asap – changeable on the fly and depictable on the 4” display by a tiny, teeny ‘S’ - then run north of 5000rpm for your rewards. The fuelling feels sweet at the higher speeds with the ride-by-wire throttle offering excellent, direct feedback, though Rain mode did disappoint when back in town during a downpour. The low-speed surging led to a bigger handful of revs while readying the clutch lever to be let out. Yes, I even admit to stalling at one point.


Above: feet forward pegs from three angles


Engine, Gearbox and Exhaust

By pulling the horsepower down, the engine can offer more torque which is more relevant than out-and-out power on this model. So, the Sportster’s version of the Revolution Max 1250 is more than just a remap, it gets new cylinder heads with smaller valves and ports plus a redesigned combustion chamber shape, all aimed at boosting airflow and low and midrange torque. The engine still features variable valve timing, as on the Pan America, but its phasing is changed, as are the cam profiles, the intake stacks and the airbox volume.

The layout of the 60-degree V-twin (with 30-degree offset allowing for a more L-Twin firing order and feel) centralises the overall weight of the bike while allowing plenty of leg room for the rider. Not only does the engine provide the power but it acts as a structural component of the chassis so by eliminating a traditional frame allows the engineers to reduce overall weight but create a stiff chassis adding to the overall more athletic proposition of the Sportster.

Power delivery is smoother the further up the rev range you operate, and that range can be long and leisurely – there’s rarely an urgency to change gear. Afterall, peak power is some 2,000rpm shy of the redline. Smooth is a description not usually featured alongside Harley-Davidson’s engines but this Revolution Max 1250T is a gem, all things considered. Two balancers and an 8-plate assist clutch accentuate the silkiness of the motor and ease the gear change, I’ve already touched on the clutch lever feel but even the gear lever is very un-Harley and quite graceful with even the most delicate touch enough to engage. The gears are nicely spaced with 2nd and 3rd offering a wide and comfortable variety of speeds. 6th is your overdrive and on more than one occasion I looked down to find myself still in 5th.

Back to the engine and with CEO Jochen Zeitz’s words of “this is a Sportster that lives up to the Sport in its name” ringing in my ears, I couldn’t help but think about the lack of sportiness of the previous generations with the same badge but also how this 2021 incarnation also isn’t going to be found competing against Streetfighters or Tuono, nor shall it been seen on track. Mind you, the old XR1200’s did a fine job of entertaining us as a one-make BSB support series over a decade ago. What’s say we have a bit of that?!

Those high-mounted, over-and-under pipes look the part and draw the eye in though I suspect they’ll make way for aftermarket versions for some owners and will undoubtedly be an early target for bike builders. They still offer a burble on the overrun, but they don’t chug, bang and pulse your ear canals like Sportsters of old; potato, potato is now a no-no. In fact, one Harley technician told us the development team had to engineer some ‘feel’ back into the engine for fear of making it too smooth and removing all the character. Some traditionalists will say they should have worked harder.

Despite their proximity to the rider’s right leg, as well as that rear cylinder sitting within near-testicle range, the heat was not an issue on this test day with highs of 20-degrees C. Yes, I could feel a degree of warmth particularly during the mundane lights-to-lights sections through Manchester’s rush hour, but it failed to produce even a bead of sweat.


Assembling the Revolution Max
Here’s a Harley-Davidson film offering a brief look at the engine assembly line 


Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2021) Comfort and Economy

Alas, during my years of road testing, the cruisers, bobbers and anything with a feet forward position just doesn’t suit my six-foot frame. After 25-30 miles, numb bum sets in. I feared the same here but actually I switched from the forward-mounted peg bike to one with mid-mounted and reaped the comfort benefits. Early on, and with my feet out front, the gear change felt like a longer throw, those wide, tapered ‘bars are further away and the dynamics of the bike become a little more confusing. Was I supposed to be bundling into corners on an apex hunt or making the most of its laid-back vibe? With oodles of power and torque it seems wrong to be hustling. Then again, sometimes 2+2 doesn’t have to equal 4. After all, for many the entertainment value and visceral benefits of stretching a motorcycle’s own boundaries are part of why we ride.

Physically smaller than anticipated with a shorter wheelbase than I’d noticed when the model was announced, I find it hard to believe I look big on a bike powered by a 1252cc V-Twin. Seat to peg distance on the mid-mount bike is short but not uncomfortably so for these 41-year-old legs while you do feel perched. The fuel tank sits low, only just above that mighty engine, as there’s no frame in which to cradle it so you feel quite exposed, that and the fact it can only hold 11.8 litres of fuel which, with a claimed 43mpg, won’t get you too much further than 100 miles. Ah, so it is sporty!


Above: mid-mounted pegs


Handling, Suspension and Weight

The road handling for such a machine belies its stature. The eye is drawn not only to those high-slung pipes but also to the whopping great comedy tyres. 160-section, 17” front and 180, 16” at the rear which don’t like anything near as sporty as the name would incite. Look at the front tyre from the front and the smooth curve begins to tell the tale because in the dry conditions on the infamous Snake Pass and some of its faster bends the Sportster S’ ability contradicts the width and depth of its tyres. Harnessed by cornering ABS and Traction control, the bike feels poetic in its movement from side-to-side at speed elegantly rolling over that central compound and actually soaking up a lot of the road’s imperfections, though they feel a little more cumbersome around the tighter, often first-geared hairpin bends, when it really needed more of an arc than was available. Thankfully the lock-to-lock angles are decent, the ground clearance was on my side and the majority of the bike’s weight sits low enough to keep the whole thing well balanced.

Those round bits of rubber are known as Dunlop GT503 and were designed specifically for the new Harley’s 228kg wet weight coupled to those performance figures. That’s a whole 25kg saving over the outgoing 1200 Sportster by the way, most of which will be frame-realted. Be warned, the Dunlop’s are not designed for wet roads which becomes evident if you look at the tread pattern – even while completely upright on a motorway in Road mode, the rear lit up and got a little squirrely even though I was on my best behaviour.

It leans over a long way on the short side-stand which can be a pain if parking on an incline or loose surface, and the stand is tricky to locate and flick out with the mid-mounted peg options fitted because it sits directly underneath the left foot-peg.

At the first coffee stop on our ride I had to double check if there was any rear suspension because after a while my bum could tell how much paint had been used on the road markings and the game of ‘Avoid the Pothole’ became near critical. The rear Showa monoshock is adjustable and even has the remote preload adjuster just under the seat and within rear if you needed a quick click on the fly – though the minimal travel just accentuated any and every road blemish. The thin saddle didn’t exactly help, though aftermarket choices are available. The front Showa forks are a little plusher with more travel and the same amount of adjustability and perform well enough when guiding the front end around and soaking up more of the lumps which, considering the range of travel available, I was relatively impressed with the comfort but then I wouldn’t want a wallowy front on a sportier machine.


Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2021) Brakes

The familiar Brembo name is written on the spec sheet but follow your finger across a bit and it you’ll notice just a single disc at the front. Let’s just break down the elements here; 228kg + rider with 121bhp peak power and 92.2ftlbs peak torque. Yes the tyres, suspension and engine braking are all working in your favour plus the initial bite is good but to stop such a motorcycle more effectively and comfortably really requires an extra disc. Please.

The rear is fine, and I found myself using it more and more as the pace of the ride increased. With my feet out forward, it was a natural position as opposed to the shin-aches of the mid-mount position/rear brake useage.


Above: Count the buttons and functions then spot the indicator


Rider aids/Accessories

The 4” TFT screen up front and centre appears too small for the top yoke/handlebar risers which look like they could easily handle another couple of inches. Oo er. At least you get your money’s worth because it has to handle the instructions or feedback from about 29 button functions across the handlebars. It’s certainly smart, clear and easy enough to read the important stuff while on the move, though the mode options are instantly clear, and, like many models in Harley’s line-up, there’s no mpg gauge. Ask yourself if you’d miss one though.

Once familiar with the functionality of all those buttons, things become quite user-friendly. From creating bespoke modes, amending audio controls and checking your sat nav directions to looking at tyre pressures, managing traction settings or resetting the trip, most pieces of information are simple enough to find.

What is fiddly is the location of the indicator cube. You’re bound to end up beeping the horn and while the operation of flicking the switch right or left has a definitive click against a spring, to cancel the indicator using the traditional manner of pushing the centre of the switch feels spongey, requiring a look down to make sure it’s worked. That said, they do auto-reset if you’re particularly lazy.

One definite issue when riding in or just after rain is the lack of a standard-fit rear mudguard. A rear ‘fender’ extender (mainly for a ridiculous pillion seat) is available in the accessories catalogue and would prevent the back splash issues we all endured. Even the rear of our helmets were dripping after a puddle or two. It makes an almighty mess of the seat too.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a chance to test the ‘Daymaker’ LED headlight, though it does look the part. Among the official accessories, Harley offers mirrors, heated grips, pedals/pegs, covers and cases plus luggage-a-plenty and a screen among many others.



There are a couple of obvious choices as direct competitors to the new Sportster-S especially Indian’s FTR1200 range and riding it back-to-back with the new Harley would offer an interesting comparison though it’s classed as more of a street bike than a cruiser.

I’ve shoe-horned in the more extreme Diavel which will romp away from the Sportster but remains among the rivals because of its capacity, riding position, purpose and presence. I could easily make a case to list another half dozen machines such is the Harley’s diversity, including the R nineT.



Indian FTR1200

Indian Scout Bobber Twenty

Ducati Diavel

Triumph Speedmaster


1203cc, 2-cylinder

1133cc, 2-cylinder

1260cc, 2-cylinder

1200cc, 2-cylinder


125bhp (93kW) @ 8250rpm

100bhp (75kW)

162bhp (119kW) @ 9500rpm

77bhp (57.5kW) @ 6100rpm


88.5ft-lb (120Nm) @ 6000rpm

72ft-lb (98Nm) @ 5600rpm

95ft-lb (129Nm) @ 7500rpm

78.2ft-lb (106Nm) @ 4000rpm


233kg (wet)

259kg (wet)

249kg (wet)

263kg (wet)

Seat height





Fuel tank


12.5 litres

17 litres

12 litres








Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2021) Verdict

Is it sporty? Ish. Is it a cruiser? Ish. Is it comfortable over 30 miles? Ish. Does it ride like a Harley-Davidson? Ish. With those feet forward pegs, that come as standard, and a desire to be sporty, what is the model’s identity? It can’t be sporty with your feet out there… or can it? Look at the Diavel or Rocket 3. A cruiser with a sack full of clout.

On the open roads it glides gracefully around the faster corners and retains an admirable stability in the slower turns, the only hindrances for a big ride are the small tank range and unfriendly seat while riding in town and low-speed manoeuvring will have you craving protein shakes and downloading fitness apps. The mid-mouted pegs get my vote twice over, not only because of the less-Coccyx focussed riding position but also because it fits the bike’s style and personality though splays your legs out wide at standstill, feels a little cramped and makes the side-stand trickier to find. Though the position of the pegs surely has to be a no-cost option.

Styling motorcycles is an artform many won’t notice. Too often do we see one-word initial reactions to new machines from social media commentators. Are they trying to exude wit? If so, they fail with their sheeplike tendencies – if each and every model is indeed ‘fugly’ then got off your ar*e and become a designer, fool. Just look at the front three-quarter view of this bike, see the arc of the fuel tank flow into the seat and into the rear fairing. Look at just how narrow, neat and seductive that huge V-Twin nestles into its surroundings. The smart cast alloy wheels shrouded in large, purposeful tyres. The Daymaker LED headlight, bar-end mirrors, split swingarm and horizontal exhaust pipes, all syncing with the bike’s look. The belly pan frames it and despite the practical requirements of a rear mudguard, this stripped down, muscular, squat, beefy new Sportster has quite the allure.

The engine is almost too suave for the bike’s muscly appearance, though it’s easy to appreciate this key element in Harley’s new chapter. The rather radical, renegade escape is guided by the Revolution Max motor which hardly went unnoticed in the Pan America but it wasn’t the headline. In the Sportster it’s found a home, with enough urgency from zero rpm and a long range of revs with which to play. Couple that with the collection of clever electronics and this new, and less conventional, generation of Harley-Davidson may well entice a whole new crowd through its dealership doors.


Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2021) Technical Specification

New price




Bore x Stroke

105 x 72.3mm

Engine layout

Revolution Max 1250T

Engine details

Chain-driven, DOHC, hydraulic self-adjusting lifters, intake & exhaust VVT; four valves per cylinder


121bhp / 90kW @ 7500rpm


92.2ft-lbs / 125Nm @ 6000rpm

Top speed



6-speed with belt final drive

Average fuel consumption

43 mpg / 5.1 l per 100km (Claimed)

Tank size

11.8 litres

Max range to empty

THEORETICAL: 110 miles

Rider aids

3 riding modes (Sport, Road or Rain) plus 2 customisable modes, Cornering Enhanced Antilock Braking System (C-ABS) and Cornering Enhanced Traction Control System (C-TCS)


Engine as a stressed-member, high strength low alloy steel trellis frame; stamped, cast, and forged junctions; MIG welded; aluminium forged mid-structure

Front suspension

43 mm inverted fork. Aluminium fork triple clamps.

Front suspension adjustment

Compression, rebound and spring preload

Rear suspension

Linkage-mounted, piggyback monoshock

Rear suspension adjustment

Compression, rebound and hydraulic spring preload

Front brake

Radially mounted, monoblock, 4-piston calliper

Rear brake

Floating, single piston calliper

Front tyre

Dunlop GT503 - 160/70TR17 73V

Rear tyre

Dunlop GT503 - 180/70R16 77V

Rake / Trail

30° / 148mm



Seat height


Ground Clearance




MCIA Secured rating

4/5 (Steering Lock, Immobiliser, Alarm and Datatag Marking but no Tracker)


24 months (unlimited mileage)


First service: 1,000 miles then every 5,000 miles



To learn more about what the spec sheet means, click here for our glossary


Photos & Video: Harley-Davidson UK.

Video editing: Too Fast Media


Harley Davidson Sportster S 2021 Review Price Spec_mcia


What is MCIA Secured?

MCIA Secured gives bike buyers the chance to see just how much work a manufacturer has put into making their new investment as resistant to theft as possible.

As we all know, the more security you use, the less chance there is of your bike being stolen. In fact, based on research by Bennetts, using a disc lock makes your machine three times less likely to be stolen, while heavy duty kit can make it less likely to be stolen than a car. For reviews of the best security products, click here.

MCIA Secured gives motorcycles a rating out of five stars, based on the following being fitted to a new bike as standard:

  • A steering lock that meets the UNECE 62 standard
  • An ignition immobiliser system
  • A vehicle marking system
  • An alarm system
  • A vehicle tracking system with subscription

The higher the star rating, the better the security, so always ask your dealer what rating your bike has, and compare it to other machines on your shortlist.




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