Can the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S Compete With Rival Cruisers?

The 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S might bear a familiar name, but it’s significantly different from its fellow Sportsters. However, it’s also still a cruiser motorcycle, albeit a rather sporty one. Harley’s known for making excellent cruisers, from touring baggers to more urban-friendly bikes. So, how does the Sportster S stack up to the competition?

Which cruiser motorcycles directly rival the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S?

A maroon 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S on a city street
2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S | Harley-Davidson

Comparing the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S to other cruiser motorcycles first requires determining its closest rivals. And that means figuring out which bikes it doesn’t compete with.

For instance, the Royal Enfield Meteor 350 is a good entry-level cruiser. But as a single-cylinder $4399 bike, it’s not a competitor for the $14,999 V-twin Sportster S. On the other hand, the 2021 Suzuki Boulevard M109R B.O.S.S. offers a larger, more powerful V-twin for only an extra $300. However, it’s down a gear to the Harley and outweighs it by about 260 pounds. It’s a heavyweight performance cruiser, WebBikeWorld says, more in line with Harley-Davidson’s CVO models.

The 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 is also a solid cruiser motorcycle. And with its $9299 starting price, a fairly affordable one, too. Plus, unlike the Harley, it offers an optional dual-clutch automatic. However, in terms of performance and features, it’s not quite on the Sportster S’s level. More on that in a moment, though.

Going further, RevZilla muses that some potential owners might cross-shop the Sportster S with the 2022 Indian FTR. And to be fair, the bikes have several similarities. Both draw inspiration from flat track racing, for example. Their liquid-cooled V-twin engines also make roughly the same amount of power, though the Harley is slightly torquier. They also weigh about the same. Plus, the 2022 Indian FTR 1200 S has the same starting price as the Harley-Davidson Sportster S. However, the FTR is technically a standard, not a cruiser.

The rear 3/4 view of a black 2022 Indian Chief in a garage
2022 Indian Chief rear 3/4 | Indian

So, which cruiser motorcycles are worthy rivals to the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S? Looking through specs, features, and prices, several bikes stand out:

How does the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S compare to its cruiser motorcycle competition?

A black 2021 BMW R 18
2021 BMW R 18 | BMW
Spec2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S2021 BMW R 182022 Indian Chief2022 Ducati Diavel 12602022 Triumph Bonneville Speedmaster
Price$14,999$17,495$14,499$20,295$13,150
Engine1252cc liquid-cooled
V-twin
1802cc air/oil-cooled boxer-twin1811cc air-cooled
V-twin
1262cc liquid-cooled
L-twin
1200cc liquid-cooled
parallel-twin
Power121 hp91 hp76 hp (based on Cycle World dyno testing)157 hp77 hp
Torque94 lb-ft116 lb-ft108 lb-ft95 lb-ft78 lb-ft
TransmissionSix-speed with slip-assist clutchSix-speedSix-speed with slipper clutchSix-speedSix-speed with torque-assist clutch
Curb weight502 lb761 lb670 lb538 lb580 lb
Fuel tank capacity3.1 gal4.23 gal4 gal4.5 gal3.2 gal
Front suspension travel3.6″4.7″5.2″4.7″3.5″
Rear suspension travel2″3.5″3″5.1″2.9″
Lean angle34°25° (Vicarious)28.5°41°Unavailable
Front brakeSingle-disc Brembo with cornering ABSDual discs with ABSSingle disc (ABS optional)Dual-disc Brembos with cornering ABSDual-disc Brembos with ABS
Rear brakeSingle-disc Brembo with cornering ABSSingle disc with ABSSingle disc (ABS optional)Single-disc Brembo with cornering ABSSingle-disc Nissin with ABS
Seat height29.6″27.2″26″30.7″27.8″

Looking purely at the specs, the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S is the lightest among these five cruiser motorcycles. And while its torque figure is middle-of-the-road, the Sportster S is the second-most powerful bike listed here.

However, it also has the least amount of rear suspension travel and the smallest fuel tank. Plus, it has the second-highest seat. That being said, a 29.6”-tall seat is “very low and approachable,” Roadshow notes. And with a 34° lean angle, the Sportster S neatly splits the difference between the more ‘traditional’ cruisers and the sportbike-like Diavel.

Plus, the Harley is the second-cheapest cruiser motorcycle listed here. That’s important to remember where features are concerned.

How do the cruiser motorcycles compare in technology and standard features?

Spec2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S2021 BMW R 182022 Indian Chief2022 Ducati Diavel 12602022 Triumph Bonneville Speedmaster
LED lightingStandardStandardStandardStandardStandard
Fuel gaugeStandardUnavailableStandardStandardStandard
Keyless ignitionStandardStandardStandardStandardUnavailable
BluetoothStandardUnavailableUnavailableOptionalUnavailable
USB outletStandardUnavailable (12V instead)StandardUnavailableUnavailable (12V optional)
Traction controlStandardStandard (called ‘Stability Control’)UnavailableStandardStandard
Rear-wheel-slip controlStandardStandardUnavailableStandardUnavailable
Cruise controlStandardOptionalStandardStandardStandard
Engine-braking controlStandardUnavailableUnavailableStandardUnavailable
Stability controlUnavailableUnavailableUnavailableStandardUnavailable
Launch controlUnavailableUnavailableUnavailableStandardUnavailable
Wheelie controlUnavailableUnavailableUnavailableStandardUnavailable
Number of riding modes53332
Suspension adjustabilityFully-adjustable front and rearRear preload adjustmentRear preload adjustmentFully-adjustable front and rearRear preload adjustment
QuickshifterUnavailableUnavailableUnavailableOptionalUnavailable
Reverse gearUnavailableOptionalUnavailableUnavailableUnavailable
Tire-pressure monitoringStandardUnavailableUnavailableUnavailableUnavailable

The Ducati Diavel’s extra performance features over the other cruiser motorcycles are expected given its sportbike-like design. However, while it offers three additional ‘power modes,’ it still has fewer riding modes than the Harley-Davidson Sportster S. And the Sportster is the only one of the five to have standard TPMS.

It’s worth noting for potential BMW R 18 and Indian Chief buyers that these bikes’ higher trims do have additional features. The Chief Bobber Dark Horse and Super Chief Limited, for example, have Bluetooth and USB outlets, CW notes. And the new R 18 Transcontinental has a fuel gauge, Bluetooth, an audio system, and optional adaptive cruise control, RevZilla says. However, they’re all more expensive than the Sportster S.

Which one is worth buying?

Riding a maroon 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S on the Angeles Crest Highway
2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S riding side | Harley-Davidson

As with any motorcycle, try the cruiser you’re interested in before you think of buying it. The Harley-Davidson Sportster S and the Bonneville Speedmaster offer optional mid controls for those who don’t want forward ones. And if that doesn’t make you comfortable on the bike, try a different one.

Ultimately, picking between these five is a matter of preference and budget. The Indian Chief, BMW R 18, and Triumph Bonneville Speedmaster hew close to the ‘traditional’ cruiser formula. As noted earlier, the Ducati Diavel is significantly more like a sportbike. And the Sportster S is somewhere in the middle.

But regardless of which one you pick, it’s clear that the Sportster S is by no means an also-ran cruiser. It’s a true competitor.

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