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The side view of a maroon-and-black 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S in a European city

The 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S Is a Brand Revolution

Harley's new global bike has finally been unveiled as the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S. But while it uses a familiar name, the new cruiser is distinct and noticeably upgraded from its air-cooled namesake. Indeed, the 2021 Sportster S could be the new face and shape of the Sportster line.

After teasers, rumors, and much speculation, Harley-Davidson has finally revealed its new global motorcycle. We’ve known that Harley-Davidson would bring its Custom 1250 concept to production, but some details remained unclear. Now, though, the wraps are off. And underneath them is a brand-new bike with a familiar name: the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S.

2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S: what’s in a name?

The side view of a maroon-and-black 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S in a European city
2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S side | Harley-Davidson

Yup, the new Harley-Davidson motorcycle bears the Sportster name. But besides a V-twin, that’s about the only thing the 2021 Sportster S shares with something like the Iron 883. And even that V-twin has little in common with the current Evolution engine.

Firstly, rather than an air-cooled Evolution, the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S uses a tweaked version of the Pan America’s liquid-cooled ‘Revolution’ 1250cc V-twin. The S’s version, ‘Revolution 1250T,’ is slightly less powerful. Rather than 150 hp and 95 lb-ft of torque, the 1250T makes 121 hp and 94 lb-ft of torque.

A close-up look at a maroon-and-black 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S's engine
2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S engine closeup | Harley-Davidson

However, the 1250T’s peak torque arrives at lower RPM for improved low-speed acceleration. And the V-twin still redlines at 9500 RPM and uses adjustment-free hydraulic valve lifters. Plus, instead of a five-speed transmission, the Sportster S has a six-speed one with a slipper clutch.

Plus, unlike in the current Harley-Davidson Sportster models, the 2021 S’s engine acts as a stressed member of the frame. As a result, Harley-Davidson claims the liquid-cooled bike’s chassis is stiffer than the air-cooled one. And despite having a larger engine, the S is 62 pounds lighter than the 2021 Iron 1200.

Also, the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S has more standard tech than the current Sportster models. The liquid-cooled bike has three riding modes as well as cornering ABS, traction control, wheelie control, and wheel-slip control. Also, tire-pressure monitoring, LED lighting, Brembo brakes, fully-adjustable Showa suspension, and a 4” TFT display with Bluetooth and app-based navigation.

Is the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S replacing the current Sportster line?

A close-up look at a maroon-and-black 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S's TFT dash and handlebars
2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S dash close-up | Harley-Davidson

Considering how different the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S is from the other Sportsters, some might wonder why the new bike uses the name. Earlier rumors suggested it would be called Nightster, but that bike was also a Sportster-derived model. With this new liquid-cooled cruiser on the scene, where does that leave the air-cooled models?

In all likelihood, not long for this world. The Harley press release says the new bike “will redefine the Sportster series.” And the company’s website calls the 2021 Sportster S “the first chapter of a whole new book of the Sportster saga.” Also, European emissions regulations forced Harley-Davidson to cancel its entry-level air-cooled bikes. Taken altogether, it seems like the Sportster S is the new face of the Sportster line.

And it appears Harley-Davidson will be making more models based on the 2021 Sportster S, Cycle World muses. Considering this bike is called ‘S,’ there’s likely a lower-spec, non-S version in the works. This hypothetical bike could use a smaller-capacity version of the Revolution 1250T V-twin, making it the Iron 883 to the S’s Iron 1200.

On that last point, Harley-Davidson may already have such an engine in the works. In 2019, the company announced it was developing 1250cc and 975cc Revolution V-twins for the Pan America adventure bike and Bronx streetfighter. Originally, the Bronx was supposed to debut in late 2020. But while it’s been put on hold, Harley never officially canceled it, Cycle World points out. And considering this new bike costs noticeably more than the Softail Standard in Europe, MCN says, there’s a reason for Harley-Davidson to make a smaller-capacity, cheaper version.

How much does it cost?

Speaking of cost, the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S starts at $14,999 before fees and optional extras. For comparison, the 2021 Iron 1200 starts at $10,249.

Those extra features include two non-black colors, a tail bag, a detachable windshield, passenger accommodations, as well as several seat options. Plus, buyers can order the bike with mid-controls instead of forward ones. But you’ll have to wait until fall 2021 before the first examples arrive in dealers.

The 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S brings a lot of changes to the brand’s iconic model line. But they also let the bike keep riding into new adventures.

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