Home On the Cover Wild Child! Harley-Davidson Sportster S

Wild Child! Harley-Davidson Sportster S

by editor

Fast and furious, Harley’s Sportster S more than fulfilled the promise it made on our first ride.

We had a short blast on the new Sportster S last issue and came away very impressed. The bike looked like something out of a Batman movie, had muscle to match the looks and, a little surprisingly we admit, performance to match the muscle and the look.

It was a short, supervised ride through inner-city Sydney and we were left with the impression the bike was a very strong marker of a new era for H-D, and an exciting, bloodpumper to ride.

The ride was too short. We wanted more.

“You want it?” said Harley. “Take it.” And life was good.

Just to recap a few important points…

There’s been a Sportser in the Harley- Davidson line up since the late 1950s, and it was always considered by the hardcore Harley set to be ‘not quite’ a real Harley. Spor tsters packed 883cc and 1200cc motors where real Harleys lumped around 1700cc power plants, and where a previous-generation Sporty weighed in at around 220kg, a ‘proper’ Harley – like a Wide Glide – would roll off the showroom floor at around 310kg.

In the later years of last century many diehard Harley owners referred to the Sportsters as ‘Skirtsers’, meaning they were good for female owners because they were light and didn’t have a lot of grunt. In general, the bikes weren’t taken too seriously.

It was a generalisation that wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny, of course. The lighter, leaner Sportsters made good platforms for those chasing performance, and outfits like H-D’s performance arm, Screamin’ Eagle, offered plenty of wild upgrades.

There would be very few companies which value history like Harley, and the new Sportser S hasn’t abandoned its heritage. It’s certainly not a budget-priced bike, nor is it a lightweight. But still, there’s little things here and there that that will have a knowledgeable rider raising an eyebrow in appreciation of a subtle nod to ancestry.

With all that in mind we gazed in appreciation as the pristine White Sand Pearl bike sat like a wildcat ready to pounce on the WTW driveway.

We honestly wonder if we’ve ever seen a stock, street-legal bike look so bloody intimidating and threatening.

Unfortunately, NSW was in the middle of the dreaded East Coast Low that decimated the state for some time, and a great deal of riding was done in bucketing rain and near darkness.

The weather highlighted a few things about the bike we wouldn’t normally have noticed, us being more inclined to wait for a sunny day and warm weather.

The first thing which hit us hard was the very short mudguards, fundamental to the bike’s striking looks, not being very effective on a wet road. Water sprays up from both front and rear wheels like that fountain in the middle of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra. Helping deal with that is some very extraordinary lighting. That little LED headlight punches out serious lumens and vision at night, even in ‘normal’ rain, was excellent. Those huge tyres, unfortunately, didn’t lend themselves to good handling in the wet. The editor’s still trying to get the stains out of his undies from the first aquaplaning episode.

But those were very exceptional and unusual circumstances, and it’s important to remember the electronics on the Sportster are quite advanced. Because it rained for so frigging long we were able to tune the throttle response, traction control and various other parameters to end up with a wellbehaved, manageable chunk of shredding performance machinery that could be ridden with real enjoyment.

It was a bit like an angry grizzly bear that’d been hit with a tranquiliser dart.

When things dried out we set the beast loose. We selected Sport mode with the whole 120- odd horsepower on tap, some ABS to keep things safe, and cracked open the throttle.

Doesn’t this bike have some snort!

As we found on the first ride, the bike’s performance and handling is a bit of a surprise. The chopped look would have a casual observer assuming it probably wouldn’t handle too well, but that casual observer would be wrong. The Sportster S is a joy to push hard on a twisting mountain road, and with the traction control off rear tyres can be shredded without a great deal of effort.

The very low seat height and short ground clearance is a limiting factor for cornering. Things will start scraping early in the cornerentry phase, and if the rider insists on hitting an apex at speed it sounds and feels as though the whole bottom of the bike is dragging on the asphalt.

Maybe it is! We weren’t game to check. It sure was fun, though. What a hoot of a bike to ride.

Our rider certainly seemed to enjoy himself on the private road made available for the photo session. He was grinning like a loon as he handed back the bike and wandered off, a strong smell of burning rubber wafting in the air behind him.

Harley’s new Revolution Max 1250T V-twin motor is the heart of the Sportser S, and it’s one sensational motor. There’s none of the lumpiness of ‘old-fashioned’ Harley motors, and we reckon it’ll hold its own in any match up with similar machinery. It’s smooth, torquey and has oodles of usable power. The suspension and ground clearance will cause a few potential owners to stop and think. Lots of bikes will scrape ’pegs in turns, but the Sportser S is really short on ground clearance. We even found a couple of speed humps that needed to be taken at an angle to avoid brushing the bellypan.

The suspension works well in an urban environment, but when we hit country backroads, admittedly not the Sportster’s normal stomping ground, it lacked a little comfort. Choppy bitumen rippled by subsidence or tree roots, or worse, accidentally slamming into a pothole, made things very uncomfortable for the rider. More generously sprung bikes would’ve glided over some of those hazards unnoticed.

But no bike will do it all, and we reckon for those wanting a tough-looking, highperformance bike to commute, cruise the highways and urban landscapes, and occasionally deal out a whipping to unsuspecting sportsbike riders, the Sportster S could well be the weapon of choice. Especially those riders who want to look…well…awesome. The Sportster S would be nearly unbeatable among stock bikes for snarling, threatening and intimidating good looks.

Girls were swooning every time they saw us on the bike (we reckoned).

The electronics and rider modes allow an incredible amount of tuning and personalisation, Harley has a big swag of accessories like screen, pillion seat, mid controls, luggage and lord knows what else available, starting ride-away price is $26,495 and there’s bikes on dealer floors now.

And of course, it’s a Harley.
There’s not much more needs to be said.

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