The venerable Sportster goes high-tech!

New liquid-cooled Harley-Davidson Sportster S,
2021 Sportster S – Scotland Photo Shoot

As predicted in our May issue, it seems like air-cooled Sportsters will soon become a thing of the past. Harley-Davidson unveiled its all-new 1250 Sportster S, which is powered by a version of the liquid-cooled V-Twin from the hot new Pan America adventure bike. 

The Sportster S looks like the love child from a Fat Bob and a Pan Am, with a chunky front tire rolling through an inverted fork and capped by a rectangular LED headlight with elliptically shaped ends. It looks tuff. Stylistically, we like the XR750-inspired tailsection, even if the high-mount exhaust adds excessive visual weight. Meeting noise emissions standards requires big mufflers. 

“Every visual design element of the Sportster S model is an expression of the motorcycle’s raw power,” says Brad Richards, Harley-Davidson vice president of styling and design. “This is a wolf in wolf’s clothing.”

2021 Sportster S – Scotland Photo Shoot

Behind the radiator is the liquid-cooled Revolution Max 1252cc motor that proved to be exhilarating in the Pan America. In a bit of a surprise, the new Sportster’s RevMax produces less power than in Harley’s adventure bike, dropping from 150 hp to 121 horses, despite the retention of variable valve timing. Smaller valves and cylinder port dimensions appear to be the main cause, which have the benefit of boosting torque output by as much as 10% from 3,000 to 6,000 rpm, peaking at 6,000 rpm with 94 lb-ft. Hydraulic valve-lash adjustment reduces maintenance costs. 

Like the Pan America, the Sportster S doesn’t have a full frame, but instead uses the engine as a structural element, which reduces weight. H-D says the bike scales in at a tidy 502 pounds with its 3.1-gallon tank filled. 

Suspension components are high-quality Showa items that are adjustable for compression and rebound damping, as well as spring preload. The monoshock features hydraulic preload adjustment and works through a tubular steel trellis swingarm. On the downside, suspension travel is tight, with just 2.0 inches in back and 3.6 inches in the 43mm inverted fork. A Brembo 4-piston monoblock caliper and 320mm rotor up front is a fine combo, even if there’s just one brake set instead of a pair.

2021 Sportster S – Scotland Photo Shoot

Forward foot controls are standard, while mid-mount pegs are optional accessories. Harley says the Sportster S can lean over up to 34 degrees before dragging pegs. A 30-degree rake angle, 5.8 inches of trail, and 59.8-inch wheelbase promises steady, rather than agile, handling responses, especially with that fat 160/70-17 front tire. A 180/70-16 resides out back. 

As with the Pan Am, the Sportster S features modern electronics, including a six-axis inertial measurement unit that informs traction control, wheelie control, and cornering ABS. A 4-inch TFT instrument panel includes ride modes, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and Bluetooth compatibility that pairs with Harley’s navigation app. Cruise control is a nice standard feature, too. Passenger accommodations are optional.

2021 Sportster S – Scotland Photo Shoot

“The Sportster S is the next all-new motorcycle built on the Revolution Max platform and sets a new performance standard for the Sportster line,” said Jochen Zeitz, chairman, president and CEO, Harley-Davidson. 

“This is a next-generation Sportster defined by power, performance, technology and style. And it’s part of our commitment to introduce motorcycles that align with our strategy to increase desirability and to drive the legacy of Harley-Davidson.”

Vivid Black versions retail for $14,999, while Stone Washed White Pearl and a rich-looking Midnight Crimson color options are priced at $15,349. 

Yet to be announced are the other variants of this new platform, which are sure to come. A version like the Bronx streetfighter concept would appeal to sportier-minded riders, as would the flat-tracker concept.

Additionally, near the end of the launch video (below) are tight shots of a Sportster with twin shocks, a cafe-style headlight cowling and a conventional fork, so perhaps that will be a non-S Sportster that might have the 975cc engine teased in the Bronx.

“The future for the Sportster family looks incredibly bright based on this motorcycle, and we’ve got some really cool things up our sleeve,” Richards adds. “There will be future models that will definitely tap into some of the more classic form factor of Sportster.” 

2021 Sportster S – Scotland Photo Shoot

Now all we need to do is ride this new Sportster, which we’ll be testing later this month. Stay tuned!


  1. Get rid of the balloon tires and I’d be good with it. MAN imagine that motor in a drag bike. It makes 150hp in the Pan America stock with emissions etc. For the drag motor get rid of the balance shafts, the variable valve timing complexity, all the un needed covers, 15-1 compression, head work, cams etc. some cubic inch’s in a chassis for racing and that thing would be in the 8’s. maybe 7’s

  2. Looks a lot like the old Night Rod, and that should be a great motor. Harley is going modern, kicking and screaming but still going.


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