HEY, BIG S SPORTSTER!
After decades of chronic underachievement, Harley-Davidson has finally put the ‘sport’ back in Sportster
By Tim McIntyre. Images courtesy of Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company
Posted on 4 May 2022.
It has been said that Americans don’t get irony. Even though it’s mostly the Brits who say so, that observation could nonetheless help shed light on a mystery. Consider the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company, for instance. What induces a company to produce a 1200-cc motorcycle that can only generate 60 horsepower, weigh over 250 kilograms, painfully slow, not especially surefooted around corners, and—while maintaining a straight face—call it a ‘sportster’?
But seriously. At some point very early in its production cycle, the Sportster actually was sporty—relative to the competition. The years passed, the competition moved on, and so did the Sportster, just a little less rapidly. That moniker seems a misnomer today. Fraudulent even.
That does not alter the fact that at its essence, the Sportster remains a simple, unintimidating, visceral motorcycle—one that was (and still is) fun at street legal speeds and well up to the task of taking loved ones on joy rides. That it was not completely hopeless as a daily commuter even gave it a modicum of practicality. Over 60 years since the first Sportster rolled off the production line in 1957, legions of motorcyclists continue to adore and buy Sportsters.
Not for much longer though. Alas that lumbering, archaic, under-braked, under-powered motorcycle is gone. Discontinued from the Harley line-up in 2022. In its place, we have the Sportster S. About the only thing the new sportster shares with the old one is the name. But that big ‘S’ makes all the difference.
ALL ABOUT THE ENGINE
The new bike takes styling cues from Harley-Davidson’s illustrious racing and cultural legacy—high swept pipes of a dirt tracker, wide front wheel of a bobber, low, muscular stance of a quarter-mile dragster—and fuses everything into a two-wheeled equivalent of Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Aesthetically, Harley-Davidson’s have always been about the engine. A large, thundering, air-cooled V-twin taking centre-stage while incidentals like the frame exist only to attach wheels, handlebar and seat to. Harley’s air-cooled heads and cylinders, some have argued, are works of art. Liquid-cooled engines, on the other hand, introduce an aesthetic that is comparatively flat and featureless. That’s the price to pay for power.
Yet whatever it gives up in presence, the Sportster S’ Revolution Max 1250T power plant makes up for in performance. At the heart of the new bike is a liquid-cooled, 1250cc, 60-degree V-twin that makes 121 hp at 7,500 rpm, and 127 N/m of torque at 6,000 rpm. Not exactly earth-shattering where modern engines go but a seismic shift next to the old Sportster 1200’s 68 hp, 99 N/m, and 256 kg. Put in context, the new bike makes about 80 percent more power while being 10 percent lighter.
What is it like to ride? Initial observations from a 20-minute jaunt along the Singapore’s KPE and a mix of major arterial roads are:
One, the low seat height of 753mm inspires confidence in slow, tight confines. The flip-side of a low seat is that foot-pegs must shift forward to compensate. This results in a leg-stretching posture that, personally-speaking, while feeling somewhat comfortable on a leisurely cruise can rapidly morph the rider into a human spinnaker anytime that throttle is twisted in anger.
Second, the upswept pipes look magnificent but are routed close to the rider. Ample insulation prevents third-degree burns every time you put your right leg down. But that design, along with a 12:1 compression ratio, could lead to things becoming muy caliente in less-than-ideal conditions.
Third, despite the stylistic cues, the Sportster S feels and rides like a modern, high-performance motorcycle. Suspension is fully adjustable with a Showa 43-mm inverted cartridge fork up front while the piggyback reservoir rear shock even has a side-mounted knob for hydraulic pre-load adjustment. Braking is handled by a single front Brembo monoblock and 320-mm disc while out rear, there is a two-piston Brembo unit mated to a 260-mm disc.
DRIPPING WITH TECH
Unusual for a Harley, the Sportster S is dripping with tech. There is a six-axis IMU, preset and programmable ride modes, cornering ABS, traction control, TFT display, slipper clutch, and even a tyre pressure monitoring system. Lest we forget this is a still a Sportster, even if only in name, the bike gets a fuel tank good for 11.8 L.
On the go, the Sportster S turns neutrally and tracks predictably. Suspension is firm but pliant. There is plenty of power and it is delivered seamlessly and linearly. Fuelling at low speeds and small throttle openings seems glitch-free.
Downsides? First gear seems to be particularly high and this Sportster seems to have lost its rumble. In doing so, it has also become way too refined, too powerful, too handsome for liking. American irony, it appears, is extremely contagious.
The Harley Davidson Sportster S is on sale now in Singapore at a price of SGD$39,900, excluding COE.
LONG LIVE THE STREET BOB
The Sportster may be no more but for laggards (yours truly included) who just want the good vibrations of a low-tech, air-cooled V-twin, Harley Davidson offers the Street Bob 114.
It is priced identical to the Sportster S but promises a vastly different riding experience thanks to a torquier, lower-revving 1868cc power plant, lazier geometry, and different rider ergonomics.