Harley-Davidson rip it up and start again with all new Sportster S for 2021 | review


  • Completely new entry-level Harley-Davidson
  • Revolution Max 1250T V-twin engine
  • Lacks a little the character we expect from Harley-Davidson

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Annual servicing cost: £250
Power: 120 bhp
Seat height: Low (29.6 in / 753 mm)
Weight: Medium (503 lbs / 228 kg)


New £13,995
Used £10,800 - £14,000

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
4 out of 5 (4/5)

The 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S cruiser motorcycle represents a seismic overhaul of a long-lived family of bikes reaching all the way back to the ‘50s.

The previous bike - the Sportster 1200 - could trace its heritage all the way back to the Model K, with the most recent version having received a steady stream of updates since the introduction of the Evolution engine in 1986. But who cares? That’s ancient history now.

What Harley-Davidson have presented us with now is a brand new bike, nay a brand new concept, that chucks all but the Harley Sportster name in the bin. Following on from the Harley-Davidson Pan America, the Sportster S eschews air-cooling, non-existent electronics and 'feel over performance' in favour of modern engineering, less show and more go.

If this was a competitor product, like a Honda Rebel 1100, I’d be heaping praise on how it rides while whinging about how it doesn’t quite have the Harley-Davidson je ne sais quoi­ but the Sportster S doesn’t have it either.

There’s no doubting that the new bike is leaps and bounds ahead of the old Harley Sportster in every area that can be measured and would be more than capable of keeping up with the current crop of naked retros.

But in engineering such a solid bike, Harley have engineered out some of what, to me at least, makes Harleys great.

Watch: Harley-Davidson Sportster S video review

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
3 out of 5 (3/5)

Like the Pan America, the Harley Sportster's Revolution motor is a stressed member in the chassis, helping to reduce weight considerably, which is felt on the road.

The Sportster S changes direction much better than the old machine but the bulbous front tyre puts up a bit of a fight. The first 20 or so degrees of lean are fine but after that you have to really give the bars a good push to get it to go further.

Mid corner changes, especially if things tighten up, can be equally challenging. The Fat Bob has the same issue, so all fingers are pointing at that giant front tyre. Ground clearance too is much improved with the old skrrrrtt on every roundabout long forgotten.

Ground clearance is improved for the Harley Sportster S

Elsewhere in the chassis is new suspension that, unlike the old stuff, is fully adjustable, while Brembo now provide the brakes.

A front view of the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S

Both work reasonably well considering they’re hamstrung from the outset. The suspension for instance is just 92mm at the front and a paltry 37mm at the rear – the ride is good, considering how little Showa had to work with, but you can’t help but feel another inch at either end would work wonders. There's also a remote preload adjuster, with a whopping 40 clicks to muck about with, which is tucked under the left hand side of the seat.

The same goes for the brakes – the four pot Brembo up front does an ample job of stopping 228kg of metal plus another god knows what of rider but another disc/caliper wouldn’t hurt.


Next up: Reliability
4 out of 5 (4/5)

The Harley-Davidson Sportster S is powered by a 1252cc V-twin engine dubbed the Revolution Max 1250T. Just like the Revolution Max fitted to the Pan America 1250, the engine is a water-cooled 60-degree V-twin with DOHC and a VVT system but it’s got a few changes.

Overall displacement, including the bore and stroke are the same, but there’s a new top end with smaller valves, different velocity stacks and altered cam profiles.

The result is less peak power and torque (120bhp claimed rather than the 150bhp of the Pan and 92lb.ft instead of 95lb.ft) but an increase in torque elsewhere in the rev range with 10% more torque from 3000 to 6000rpm. The results on the road are delightful.

Cornering left on the Sportster S

The Harley Sportster's motor pulls right from the bottom without shuddering or chugging, just delivering spades of usable torque. Unlike the old bike, which just shook like crazy from the midrange onwards, the Sportster S pulls cleanly all the way to the redline, rewarding riders with a decent kick of power right at the top.

It’s geared well too with second gear dispatching most town duties and third comfortably stretching right from low-30s right through to ‘how are you doing officer?’.

The only complaint about the engine is that it just doesn’t have that drama you expect from a Harley – the bike doesn’t shudder waiting at the lights, it doesn’t roar with induction noise. It's also desperately in need of a louder pipe but this isn't Harley's fault - it's a product of Euro5 regulations that everyone has to meet.

Harley-Davidson Sportster S V-twin engine

Sure, there’s a bit of popping on the overrun but it doesn’t feel like 1200cc of rip-snorting American muscle. On the Pan America, where refinement is the name of the game, you don’t notice it but on a cruiser, where you want a sense of occasion, it leaves you feeling a little flat.

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
4 out of 5 (4/5)

The Sportster S may come from a long line of Harley Sportster models but this version is a complete departure from previous generations. The 1250T engine has only just been released and it's too soon to draw any conclusions about long-term reliability - particularly because we don't have any owners' reviews at this point. Standard warranty is two years but it can be extended by a further three.

Fit and finish of the parts is generally good but we did spy a few empty threads on the frame that had gone rusty.

Our Harley Sportster owners' reviews show nothing concerning at this point. It's early days, though, and the Pan America doesn't appear to be faring particularly well in this respect.

Harley-Davidson Sportster S clock

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
3 out of 5 (3/5)

Harley launched the Sportster S is the ‘pinnacle’ of the model line, with cheaper options to come. It was joined in 2022 by the Harley-Davidson Nightster, which replaced the old entry-level Sportster 883.

But sticking with the flagship 1250, its position at the top of the range (and its price) mean it competes with with everything from Indian’s Scout Bobber to the muscular Italian Ducati Diavel V4 and everything else in between.

As a replacement for a Harley Sportster it’s so different it’s almost incomparable. Rather than attracting previous Sportster model owners, it's more likely to tempt BMW R nine T riders to the brand.

Leaning into a corner on the Harley Sportster S

It would also be worth considering a Sportster S if you're in the market for an Indian FTR although the Harley might struggle to live with the road handling of the sportier 17"-wheeled FTRs in the range.


5 out of 5 (5/5)

As with the rest of the bike, the Harley Sportster's electronics too have had a huge uplift compared to the old model with three riding modes (Road, Sport and Rain) plus two custom modes as well as cornering ABS and lean-sensitive traction control, which this tester found worked remarkably well on one particularly slippery corner.

All of this is controlled through the 4" round TFT screen, which also houses other functions from the Harley-Davidson app such as navigation.

A single front disc provides stopping power

Along with the new dash are heaps of other new features including LED lighting, cruise control, new multifunction switchgear plus the obligatory restyle complete with high-level flat track inspired exhaust.

Like every Harley there are loads of options including mid-mounted footpegs in case you find the forwards a bit of a stretch. We gave them a try and found them a little cramped and they also made the sidestand trickier to deploy. Unless you really hate the look of the forwards, at over £600 a set (plus fitting) we'd give them a miss.

It's also possible to fit a pillion seat, pegs and backrest, which comes with a rear mudguard extender to protect your passengers backside.


Engine size 1252cc
Engine type Revolution Max 1250T water-cooled 60-degree V-twin with DOHC and a VVT
Frame type Stressed-member, high strength low alloy steel trellis frame; stamped, cast, and forged junctions; MIG welded; aluminum forged mid-structure
Fuel capacity 11.8 litres
Seat height 753mm
Bike weight 228kg
Front suspension 43 mm inverted fork with compression, rebound and spring preload adjustability
Rear suspension Linkage-mounted, piggyback monoshock with compression, rebound and hydraulic spring preload adjustability
Front brake 320mm radially mounted, monoblock, 4-piston single caliper
Rear brake 260mm floating, single piston caliper
Front tyre size 160/70 x 17
Rear tyre size 180/70 x 16

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption 49 mpg
Annual road tax £117
Annual service cost £250
New price £13,995
Used price £10,800 - £14,000
Insurance group -
How much to insure?
Warranty term Two years

Top speed & performance

Max power 120 bhp
Max torque 94 ft-lb
Top speed -
1/4 mile acceleration -
Tank range -

Model history & versions

Model history

Harley Sportster models have been around since the '50s and include the more recent Harley Iron 883,  Harley Iron 1200Harley Forty-Eight and  Harley Roadster.

In 2020 Harley-Davidson announced that the Sportster family would no longer be available in European markets before unveiling this latest edition for the 2021 model year.

Other versions

The Harley Sportster S will eventually become the top spec model in the new Harley Sportster family of bikes but it is the first to be released.

Owners' reviews for the HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER S 1250 (2021 - on)

5 owners have reviewed their HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER S 1250 (2021 - on) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

Review your HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER S 1250 (2021 - on)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 4.8 out of 5 (4.8/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 4.8 out of 5 (4.8/5)
Engine: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Reliability & build quality: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Value vs rivals: 4.2 out of 5 (4.2/5)
Equipment: 4.4 out of 5 (4.4/5)
Annual servicing cost: £250
5 out of 5 Love it for what it is: Perfectly Imperfect.
29 February 2024 by olafschelezki@gmail.com

Year: 2023

Annual servicing cost: £250

There is not much value in comparing the Sportster S to other more comfortable cruisers or pure bread sportsbikes, because it has never aspired to be either of those. The Sportster S is different, and that's why it stands out. It looks mean and beautifully designed, with lots of attention to detail. Yes of course the design plays a leading role with this bike, making it lack in characteristics a GS1300, Panigale or Road Glides have. But that is exactly the point of it. The engine is fantastic, a pure beast packing a punch that certainly will not make you miss any more torque or HP. The seating position suits the style of the bike, and is comfortable enough to tackle most situations. particularly with cruise control. One doesn't need a Goldwing when doing a 1000km weekend every two months. The suspension is firm but incredibly stable and responsive, giving plenty of confidence around corners. And there is the fat front tyre. It seems that the entire youtube community sided against the 160 front tyre given the perceived disadvantages in handling. I'd argue again that it never aspired to become an S1000rr, and this front tyre makes the bike feel very planted and a joy to ride in my opinion, and keeps it in a straight line even with those severe cross winds we get in New Zealand. Having owned a Forty-Eight I think Harley Davidson has done a great job in bringing this platform into the 21st century. So, for what this bike is and wants to be, it is just excellent.BUT, then there are those small niggles.... - the design of the fuel cap housing lets water sit around the frame after rain or wash, and water is likely to drop into your tank upon opening the cap. - the infotainment system is rather clumsy. App synchronisation and navigation work better after the latest updates, but lazy re-routing and bugs in the graphics should not be a worry anymore these days...Harley please up your digital game here, particularly at this price point - the radiator sits so low to the ground and close to the front wheel that after only a couple of thousand km's on the clock it'll look like Verdun in 1917. Installing a radiator guard should be one of the first upgrades you should do. But really, HD should have one installed from factory. -the Dunlop GT503 tyres look great, and work very well in the dry, with so far minimal wear. But come rain, and you will be grateful for the rain mode as the traction will go out the window.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

As I mentioned above, I rate the bike for what it is. The throttle response is precise, and the three riding modes are really usable. As a daily commuter is tackles all situations just fine, and is just a joy to ride. The breaks work very well. The single front disc might require some firmer grips with your right hand, but they make the bike stop with confidence in emergencies. The ABS and traction control work great and unintrusive.

Engine 5 out of 5

This engine pulls like a train and keeps pulling thanks to the generous rev range. It is smooth, and allows for both, lazy cruising and spirited riding. Indeed muted due to the exhaust, it sounds really nice. Another set of cans will surely make it an ear-turner.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

After almost 5000 km no issued to report. No corrosion, and all materials still look like new. The wear on the tyres has also been very good so far, with plenty of thread left still.

Value vs rivals 4 out of 5

Servicing costs are certainly higher than for your low capacity Honda's etc. but that is to be expected. Over the long run I expect cheaper servicing in comparison to Supersport bikes, since no valve checks are required and major service prices should be lower.

Equipment 3 out of 5

While heated grips buttons are pre-installed, they need to be purchased in addition. At this price point they should be included. Cruise control, ABS and traction control are all fantastic, but the clumsiness of the infotainment system is a let-down. Hopefully this are only software issues and will be fixed over time

Buying experience: It is my first new Harley Davidson, and the purchase experience was by far the best I've had in comparison to all other bike brands I've owned (BMW, KTM, Motoguzzi, Ducati). A lot of effort went into making the experience special and personal.

4 out of 5 The (Almost) Perfect Harley Davidson Sportster
14 March 2023 by Elon

Year: 2022

I've been using this bike to commute to work everyday for 3 and a half months now and its been phenomenal. Plenty power and torque, surprisingly comfortable seat, great for lane splitting traffic, and I really do enjoy the "infotainment" system. The only issues I've had so far is the exhaust, it doesn't look good and sounds even worse, the forward controls being standard instead of the mid controls and, not having a lot of after market customization options. Fortunately with time...... aaand lots of money these features will be "fixed".

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 3 out of 5

Tires and brakes are very expensive.

Equipment 4 out of 5

Buying experience: New from Harley dealership and I traded my 2017 Breakout. The sticker price was $18,999

5 out of 5 Needs new exhaust
05 December 2022 by Lee

Year: 2022

Beautiful bike , only let down is the exhaust system due to eu regulations.. however I have just fitted a new cobra exhaust and it’s transferred my love of the bike . Perfect now

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 5 out of 5
5 out of 5 Stealth
16 May 2022 by Paul

Year: 2022

Brilliant to look at and great ride suspension slightly hard but it’s a Harley

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

After about 50 miles you need a break

Engine 5 out of 5

Sport mode best lots of low down torque

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

It’s built well but to soon to tell about reliability

Value vs rivals 4 out of 5

120 miles from a full tank shame they did not make a larger tank

Equipment 5 out of 5

Speedo got Bluetooth to connect phone for gps & stream music

5 out of 5 Took a test ride in December, awesome even on wet roads!
12 January 2022 by Rob Harley

Year: 2021

Unbelievable that Harley can finally publish their horsepower specs with no shame! A very stable powerband, very quick acceleration, great cornering! Despite the big fat front tire, I found this bike to be fun on the twisty roads.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

Having tried with a pillion yet.

Engine 5 out of 5

Tremendous powerband, from low revs right on up to red with no hiccups! Just needs an aftermarket exhaust!

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

Too soon to tell!

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 5 out of 5

Pillion seat, License plate holder, Exhaust!

Buying experience: Local dealer

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