There is no doubt the handsome new liquid-cooled Harley-Davidson Sportster S is a revolutionary model for the traditional heavy motorcycle company.
But it’s a Sportster in name only.
Harley had registered the name Bronx which was suspected to be the new family name, but they obviously want to keep the venerable 65-year-old Sportster moniker alive.
Sorry, but no Sportster fan will be fooled.
Where is the twin shock, iconic oval air-cooler and fore and aft header pipes of the old Evolution motor?
If anything they should have called it a V-Rod with its fat-tyred, low-slung look and water-cooled engine.
The new Revolution engine first appeared in the also revolutionary Pan America 1250 Special adventure bike, albeit downtuned from 112kW at 750 revs to just 90kW at 7500rpm.
At least that shows the engine is capable of being tuned up for drag work just like the V-Rod has been for years.
But the V-Rod, built in 1999 in collaboration with Porsche, was not a great success except in Australia where it had an enviable reputation on the drag strip.
Sportster has long been the entry model for Harley but this new model is their most expensive Sportster yet at $A26,495 ($NZ28,750) ride away.
There has never been a Sportster that cost more than $20,000.
The new Sportster S is an interesting styling exercise in keeping the bike low and mean with fat front and rear tyres highlighted by short fenders, low and flat bars with bar-end mirrors and a narrow horizontal headlight so it doesn’t show up above the bars when riding.
From the cockpit it almost feels like you are flying.
The bronze details and brown/black “Chocolate Satin” paintwork are very 1970s. It also comes in Stone Washed White Pearl and Midnight Crimson.
While styling is subjective, I reckon this bike will appeal to younger riders than the traditional over-50s Harley fans and to them the Sportster name probably means little.
One point of styling that may be polarising is the remote mudguard with rego plate, stop light and indicators.
Already American aftermarket company Corbin has released a $US455 tail tidy which relocates all this to the short rear fender.
It should be easy to replace as Harley has anchored this section with just three bolts, although there is a fair bit of wiring relocation to be done.
Before going ahead with this modification you should check with your transport department about whether this contravenes vehicle standards.
Corbin has also released a $US653 Gambler Smuggler dual-seat option to replace the solo seat. Harley also has an accessory passenger seat and backrest and a comfort rider seat although I found the standard seat surprisingly comfortable.
Queenslanders may prefer to retain the solo seat which attracts 50% registration fees.
The seat height is a low 752mm and the hand levers are adjustable, so it should suit shorter riders even with its slightly forward foot controls. However, a mid-mount conversion kit is also available.
Another divisive styling issue is the massive, high-mount, almost scrambler-esque dual muffler.
We suspect aftermarket pipes are also in the pipeline, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Other styling issues are more about the detail such as the abundance of matte back plastic and the radiator which seems to sit out far too wide.
The modern, digital single-dial 4.0-inch-diameter TFT instrument screen looks like it has been adapted from the electric Livewire.
It has comprehensive information, but the screen has bad glare in sunlight.
The instruments are compatible with smartphones so you can operate your phone navigation, music and calls from the switch block or via voice activation switch.
The Sportster S also features a handy cruise control, traction control, three engine modes plus two rider-customised modes, LED headlight, two power points for heated riding gear, a proximity-based security system and a USB-C port for charging a phone or other device as standard.
It also comes pre-wired for accessory heated hand grips.
Sportster S is powered by the same engine as in the Pan America 1250 Special which has 127Nm and 150hp/112kW at 8750.
It has the same torque output but less power at 121hp/90kW at 7500 revs, so it is more in tune with cruising.
Sportster fans will find it totally non-traditional in feel as it’s smoother, revs more and sounds more “brittle”, almost tinny.
While the engine generates the same amount of heat as the Pan America, the riding position means your legs are above the engine, so the only hot spot is on the back of your legs when riding in slow-moving summer traffic.
As you slip through the traffic snarl, you may find the bar-end mirrors a little too wide to fit between lanes of traffic.
A slick transmission makes gear changes easy and neutral easier to find than usual for a Harley, but the clutch pull is heavy and slow traffic could be tiresome.
Out on the highway, the Sportster S is a fine machine, rumbling along at a leisurely pace with plenty of grunt for overtaking without having to downshift.
But this is no tourer as it comes with a 12-litre fuel tank that is only good for about 160km before the reserve light comes on with about 60-70km of range left.
There is also nowhere to attach panniers or even tie down a rear bag and Harley only offers a small “mailbag” accessory option.
Harley also offers a detachable windscreen, but this hardly makes it a tourer.
It’s not a canyon carver, either.
Despite the fully adjustable Showa 43mm upside-down forks and Showa Piggyback reservoir rear shock with hydraulic hand-adjustable pre-load, it has short and unforgiving suspension and a lean angle of 34 degrees.
It doesn’t handle bumps well at all on back roads and will scrape the footpegs soon and suddenly on most corners.
But the biggest handling issue comes from the choice of Dunlop/Harley-Davidson GT503 tyres, 160mm up front and 180mm at the back.
The wide tyres make cornering difficult, requiring plenty of deliberate counter steering effort and handlebar force to the keep the bike turned.
As soon as you wind on throttle it wants to stand up and run straight.
It’s not so much the tyre width that is the problem, though.
The high 70% tyre profile cases the bike to bounce over high-frequency bumps which makes braking difficult as the wheels are skipping over the ground. It also makes the stand the bike up in corners when it hits a bump.
It could have been so much better with lower-profile skinnier tyres, but then the cornering clearance issue would also have been worse.
Stopping power is surprisingly good considering the 228kg bike has only one front disc.
But it’s a big 320mm disc with Brembo mono block four-piston calipers while the low ride and long wheelbase means the rear wheel stays on the ground under heavy braking and adds to the stopping power.
So it’s not great in traffic, as a tourer or a canyon career.
Perhaps its main claim is on the urban cafe route. Which means it may have been better named the Bronx, after all.
Sealed, maintenance-free, absorbed glass mat (AGM) battery, 12V, 12Ah, 225 CCA at 0°F
Three-phase, 45 Amp system (300 Watts @13 Volts, 1200 rpm, 585 Watts max power @ 13 Volts, 2250 rpm)
0.9 kW electric with direct drive starter motor engagement
Lights (as per country regulation), Headlamp
All LED headlamp, low and high beam with signature position lighting
Lights (as per country regulation), Tail/Stop
All LED Tail/Stop lamp with signature tail lighting
Lights (as per country regulation), Front Signal Lights
LED Bullet Turn Signals
Lights, Rear Turn Signals
LED Bullet Turn Signals
4 inch viewable area TFT display with speedometer, gear, odometer, fuel level, clock, trip, ambient temp, low temp alert, side stand down alert, TIP over alert, cruise, range and tachometer indication BT capable – phone pairing to access phone calls, music, navigation (H-D App ONLY)
Electric Power Outlet
USB C-Type , Output 5V at 2.4 Amp
Warranty And Service
24 months (unlimited mileage)
First 1,000 miles (1,600 km), every 5,000 miles (8,000 km) thereafter