2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster S Review [w/ Mid-Control Kit]

2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster S Review: Urban Sport Motorcycle

Without any doubt, I’m going to miss the Evolution-powered Sportsters. They represented the basics of motorcycles, being not much more than a simple two-valve air-cooled V-twin motor, a basic frame, and primitive suspension. Balance is always the magic that makes for a good motorcycle, and the now-discontinued Sportsters had it. The Irons, the Forty-Eight, and the Custom all spoke to me—don’t even get me started on the Seventy-Two. Regardless, time marches on, and we now have the 2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster S—a Sportster for the 21st century.

Because I was still testing the old Sportsters through their final year, I’m a bit late to the Revolution Max party. This is my introduction to the modern Harley-Davidson Sportster form factor, and I grabbed an example with a Mid-Control Kit ($694) installed. I wasn’t sold on the forward controls when I sat on the S—it’s close to the Forty-Eight—so when I had a chance to ride one with mid controls, I pounced on it.

To be sure, the 2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster S is an unusual motorcycle—not just a departure for Harley-Davidson. The liquid-cooled Revolution Max 1250T 60-degree V-twin cranks out 121 horsepower at a relatively lofty 7500 rpm, along with a muscular 94 ft-lbs of torque at an easily accessed 6000 rpm. Even the flat-track-inspired XR1200 from over a decade ago didn’t have cool up-pipes like the new S. While the Sportster name celebrated its 65th birthday in 2022, the S is a rebirth rather than an evolution. You either lead, keep up, or get left in the dust.

Sitting on the 2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster S is not a familiar feeling. The flat seat is an unusual platform from H-D. The mid controls are right for me, making for a compact rider triangle that gives a sense of dominance over the bike. The narrow handlebar is not unknown in the Sportster canon—the Roadster comes to mind—but the switchgear is extensive. There is a wide array of switches, buttons, and toggles where there used to be the bare minimum.

There’s no key—just a fob. You turn the power dial to the on position. The switch is virtually identical to the same item on my Nikon Z9 camera, rather than something I’m used to seeing on a motorcycle. That lights up the round dash—a TFT display with extensive readouts, including the smallest-font clock in the motorcycling world.

Inside the power-on/-off dial is the start button—again, it’s like the shutter release button on my Z9. Push it, and one of two things happen. If it’s in neutral, the Revolution Max 1250T springs to life, though not with the unbridled rubber-mounted enthusiasm that made me so enamored with the Evolution powerplant. If you’re in gear with the clutch pulled in, the motor is reluctant to spin up, and you start worrying about battery capacity. Suffice to say, when it’s time to fire the S up, make sure it’s not in one of its six gears.

With the 1250T running, it has a good sound. Although the exhaust sports the longest shields in the business, the tone is pleasant, and the pipes do not get in the way. With that DOHC motor, the response when blipping the throttle in Sport mode is satisfying. Let’s go riding—I’ll try the Road and Rain modes later.

As soon as you get going on the 2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster S, you’ll get captivated by its defining feature—the 160mm wide 17-inch Dunlop GT503 front tire, which is on display when you’re in the cockpit due to the bobbed fender.

I’m a fan of fat-tired motorcycles. They look cool and are great for cruising. However, plump tires are not sporting tires, and this is a Sportster, after all. Any dreams of darting through the canyons were extinguished as I exited the driveway of the Harley-Davidson Fleet Center.

Although the ergonomics and low seat gave me a feeling of dominance over the 500-pound motorcycle, it did not turn like I expected. The Dunlop is not just fat; it also has a very steep profile.

The tire runs on a thin strip of rubber when upright, and the 30 degrees of rake, nearly 60-inch wheelbase, and 180 rear Dunlop want it to keep going straight. Getting the tire off that centerline requires a bit of muscle and body English. Once accomplished, the tire flops into a turn with authority—over you! The steep profile and wide tire mean it’s slow to initiate the lean, but turns in quickly once it gets off the center strip.

Suddenly, the forward controls on the standard Sportster S made sense. This isn’t a sport bike, after all—it’s a modern power cruiser. I switch modes in my head, though leave the motor in Sport mode, and it’s time to rip around Los Angeles. Of course, that still means some urban twisty action on Mulholland Drive and its feeder canyons.

The Sportster S is great fun around town, and I love the seating position with the mid controls. Instead of relaxing my way down the city streets, I’m in a more attentive stance, waiting to do battle with whatever wheeled vehicle comes my way.

Without question, the short-stroke Revolution Max 1250T is great fun. It has the low-rpm power you want when traffic is heavy, and then spins up for a satisfying rush when there’s room to stretch its legs. The Sport mode is not the least bit abrupt—it’s just intuitive.

The Road mode relaxes throttle response, which can be helpful if you’re tooling along with no one around. I did switch into Rain mode when I was confronted with some rivers flowing over Mulholland Drive a day following heavy rains, and was glad to have it. The rider can set up two custom modes, which is always a good thing. However, during the test, I was happy in the Sport mode if the street was dry.

The six-speed transmission worked transparently, and I always welcome a clutch with assist and slipper functions. Long rides without a sore left hand attest to the success of the assist feature.

When riding across Mulholland Drive, the Dunlops revealed two personalities. Face with a smooth, linear radius curve, the tires feel great. They put plenty of rubber on the road, and the Sportster S has that ultra-secure on-rails feeling and lots of cornering clearance. Should the corner be rough or have a variable radius—and they are abundant on Mulholland Drive and the surrounding canyons—adjustments are a bit disconcerting. You find yourself wondering where that confident feeling went. You learn where to pick your fights on the Sportster S pretty quickly.

I mentioned rough roads because the suspension travel on the Sportster S is meager. There’s a mere two inches in the rear, and 3.6 inches of fork travel—that’s not plentiful. Action is good, but there’s only so much you can do with a stroke that limited.

When riding on urban streets, the suspension acquits itself decently. The Dunlops draw attention to themselves in two good ways. The fat tires are great at warding off potholes—and I encountered dozens of nasty ones after the LA rains. The tires also add a bit of cushion to help the suspension, so you never really get jolted, as the thick rubber knocks the edge off hits. I’ll also give a shout-out to the mid controls again, as they make it easy to lift my rear off the thin seat when I see a hit coming.

With the upright seating position and no protection, freeways might not seem like an ideal venue for the Sportster S. However, the fat Dunlops laugh at California freeway rain grooves, and that’s no small feat. They handle ridges well, and all the low-bidder irregularities, except for hard dips and lips. When the going gets rough, the suspension gets overwhelmed, and the rider bounced—ouch. Again, the high-profile tires do blunt the sharpness of the hit, which helps the rider retain control. The narrow handlebar stops the rider from becoming a sail, and it’s easy to get up to extra-legal speeds without realizing it—a side effect of the smoothly powerful Revolution Max 1250T.

In all situations, the brakes do a fine job. Sure, I would welcome a pair of discs in the front. Regardless, the single 320mm disc and the radially mounted four-piston Brembo caliper work with the fat tire to slow the Sportster S down as needed. The 260mm disc and plump rear tire team up to give the rider plenty of feel and good power. Cornering-aware ABS is on-hand should you need it.

As pretty as the full-color round TFT display is, I rarely consulted with it as I prefer to keep my eyes on my motorized adversaries. Most of the information is tiny and difficult to read while dealing with traffic. Only your speed is displayed prominently, which is all I really need to know.

There’s a scrollable line of info below the speed readout; above it is a pictogram telling you what mode you’re in, though the throttle response will tell you that. The gear position indicator is sorta readable, but I never needed it, except to make sure I was in 6th gear on the freeway. The time and fuel level readouts are tiny. Also, an analog-inspired tachometer surrounds everything, though it’s superfluous. If you want to distract yourself from the fun of riding the Sportster S, you can connect your smartphone to the dash via Bluetooth—no thanks.

I’ve finally had to let go of the Evo-powered Sportsters. Yeah, it’s painful, but I can buy one if it hurts bad enough. The Revolution Max 1250T-powered replacement does the Sportster name proud. It’s lighter, more powerful, and handles better than the air-cooled variety—all good things. The S lacks the visceral experience of the old Sportster, but that’s the nature of evolving vehicles. If you’re an old-school Sportster owner looking for a new motorcycle, give the 2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster S an honest chance—it might surprise you, even if it’s not a direct replacement. Go ahead, get the S, and keep your Evo, too!

Photography by Don Williams


2022 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 cam 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


  • Chassis: Stressed engine w/ three subframes
  • 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
  • Colors: Vivid Black; Mineral Green Metallic; White Sand Pearl

2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster S Price: $15,499 MSRP ($16,593, as tested

2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster S Review Photo Gallery