2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S First Look (14 Fast Facts)

The Harley-Davidson Revolution Max motor gets its second iteration in its debut year with the unveiling of the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S. It is a fascinating take on the Sportster oeuvre, so without further ado, let’s take a closer look.

2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S First Look: Price

  1. Overnight, Harley-Davidson has recategorized many of its motorcycles. The H-D website no longer has a Sportster category under Bikes. The Iron 883, Iron 1200, and Forty-Eight move from the Sportster range to the Cruiser grouping, where the Softails reside. This transfer expands Harley-Davidson’s 2021 Cruiser line to 11 motorcycles. The Sportster S stands alone in the new Sport designation. Also, Harley-Davidson’s previous Touring models are now in the Grand American Touring line to differentiate the big-inch V-twins from the Adventure Touring faction of Pan America models. It is undoubted a sea change under new Harley-Davidson Chairman, President, and CEO Jochen Zeitz.
  1. While 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S’s liquid-cooled motor has the same architecture as the counterbalanced Revolution Max 1250 in the Pan America, this 1250T version has different internals. The valves and ports are smaller, and there’s a different combustion chamber and piston shape. Variable valve timing is carried over, but unique cam profiles are used in the DOHC 1250T powerplant.
  1. The Revolution Max 1250T is also its own motor for intake and exhaust. The airbox volume, plus the shape and length of the intake tubes, are unique to the 1250T. The 2-1-2 exhaust is unique to the Sportster S.

2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S: MSRP

  1. The 1250T has a six-speed transmission, and the clutch is of the assist-and-slipper variety. Downshifts will be less likely to skid the rear wheel, and the clutch pull will be lighter. Sorry, no quickshifter—not even as an option.
  1. The focus of power production on the 1250T is moved down the rev range. Output on the 1250T peaks at 121 horsepower at 7500 rpm. Compare this to 150 horses at 9000 rpm on the Pan America’s 1250. Peak torque of 94 ft-lbs is identical on both the Pan America and the Sportster S, with the Sportster hitting it at 6000 rpm compared to 6750 rpm on the Pan America. The 1250T is all about hitting its peaks sooner rather than later.
  1. The 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S has three preset riding modes, plus two customizable modes. You get the expected Sport, Road, and Rain modes, plus the ability to set up your favorites for, say, urban and canyon rides. The rider can adjust the torque delivery, throttle response, and engine braking, as well as traction control and ABS intervention.

  1. There are some sophisticated adjustable electronic rider aids on the Sportster S, thanks to an IMU. The ABS is cornering aware, as is the traction control. The traction control also integrates wheelie control, and the ABS takes care of rear wheel lift during hard braking with the action of Brembo calipers at both ends. Harley-Davidson calls the package Cornering Rider Safety Enhancements—no, that doesn’t roll off the tongue smoothly, and H-D doesn’t even try calling it CRSE.
  1. A round four-inch diameter TFT display keeps track of it all. In addition to all the info you expect to see in a display, the TFT has infotainment capabilities when interacting with the Harley-Davidson App on your Bluetooth-equipped iOS or Android device. You can monitor the music you’re playing or be alerted to a phone call with caller ID—maybe someone selling an extended warranty for your car or a refi deal. There is a GPS display from your phone and turn-by-turn navigation—the motorcycle has no GPS capability of its own.
  1. The frame is a three-section design with the engine as a stressed member. All three frame sections bolt directly to the motor, making it an integral part of the chassis.

  1. Although Harley-Davidson is anxious to position the Sportster S as a performance-oriented “sport custom” motorcycle, the numbers and seating position are unmistakably cruiser-biased. The forward pegs are cruiser-like (mid-controls optional), as is the 30 degrees of rake (the fork angle is a still-relaxed 28 degrees), lengthy 5.8 inches of trail, and spacious 59.8-inch wheelbase. The tires are high profile, with a non-sporting 17-/16-inch rim combo. The rear suspension travel is a paltry two inches, and the claimed cornering clearance 35 degrees. The curb weight of 502 pounds is light for a 1250-class cruiser, though not for a sportbike. While it may be sporting in a traditional Sportster context, and we will have to ride it to make a final judgment, everything points to the Sportster S being a cruiser with some sporting credentials.
  1. These numbers put the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S on an unlikely collision course with the Ducati Diavel 1260—at least on paper. Right off the bat, the Sportster S is about 40 pounds lighter than the Diavel—unexpected. The fork angle of the Ducati is just a degree steeper than the H-D. The wheelbase of the Diavel is over three inches longer than the Sportster S, though the S has considerably more trail. The Diavel boasts a huge horsepower advantage—157 to 121. However, the Sportster counters with nearly the same peak torque, but coming 1500 rpm sooner—urban riders take note. The Ducati’s suspension is higher-spec, and the wheels are sport-standard 17-inches for a broader choice of tires. Plus, there are twin disc brakes in the front. The Sportster S’s big edge is price—it is a massive $5296 less expensive than the Diavel 1260.

  1. The styling is unmistakably new, with some classic cues. You can’t miss the twin up-pipes that are XR750 inspired, as are the tail section and fuel tank shape. The fat tires and tiny front fender are bobber-inspired, while the bar-end mirrors add a café touch. The chin fairing, inverted fork, linkage-assisted shock, and irregular quadrilateral asymmetrical swingarm (with a license plate and taillight mount) provide a sporting visual feel in contrast to the cruiser touches.
  2. For those of you who like model numbers and letters, this is an RH1250S. We’re surprised it’s a ’21 model, coming so late in the year and disrupting the final year of the traditional air-cooled Sportster line.
  3. The 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S will be on dealer showroom floors this fall. We will be riding it much sooner than that, so watch for a full report. We look forward to the end of speculation!

Photography by Mike Van Cleven, Josh Kurpius, and Clutch Studios

2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S Specs


  • Type: Revolution Max 1250T 60-degree V-twin
  • Displacement: 1252cc
  • Bore x stroke: 105 x 72.3mm
  • Maximum power: 121 horsepower @ 7500 rpm
  • Maximum torque: 94 ft-lbs @ 6000 rpm
  • Compression ratio: 12.0:1
  • Valvetrain: DOHC w/ hydraulic self-adjusting lifters, variable intake and exhaust timing; 4vpc
  • Cooling: Liquid
  • Lubrication: Semi-dry sump
  • Exhaust: 2-1-2 w/ in-muffler catalyst
  • Transmission: 6-speed
  • Clutch: Wet multiplate w/ assist and slipper functions
  • Final drive: Chain


  • Frame: Alloy steel trellis w/ forged aluminum mid-structure
  • Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable 43mm inverted fork; 3.6 inches
  • Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted fully adjustable shock; 2 inches
  • Wheels: Cast aluminum
  • Front wheel: 17 x 4.5
  • Rear wheel: 16 x 5
  • Tires: Dunlop Harley-Davidson Series GT503
  • Front tire: 160/70 x 17
  • Rear tire: 180/70 x 16
  • Front brakes: 320mm floating disc w/ radially mounted 4-piston Brembo caliper
  • Rear brake: 260mm disc w/ single-piston Brembo floating caliper
  • ABS: Cornering aware


  • Wheelbase: 59.8 inches
  • Rake: 30 degrees
  • Fork angle: 28 degrees
  • Trail: 5.8 inches
  • Seat height: 29.6 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 3.1 gallons
  • Estimated fuel consumption: 49 mpg
  • Curb weight: 502 pounds


  • Vivid Black
  • Stone Washed White Pearl (+$350)
  • Midnight Crimson (+$350)

2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S Price: $14,999 MSRP