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Harley-Davidson debuts its super rowdy 2021 Sportster S

This isn't your dad's old Sportster, thanks to the use of H-D's awesome 121 hp Revolution Max engine.

Harley's Sportster S is a real rowdy-looking customer.

Harley-Davidson

I spent some time recently with Harley-Davidson's first-ever adventure motorcycle, the Pan America (keep an eye out on Roadshow for that review). Among the many positive attributes of that motorcycle, the Revolution Max 1250 engine was a standout.

It was a standout because of how un-traditionally Harley-like it felt. It's a motor that makes prodigious power and that loves to rev. The experience left me wondering what the next motorcycle to get that engine would be, and now we know. Harley debuted its 2021 Sportster S on Tuesday, and to borrow a phrase from my colleague Andrew Krok, "It's a banger." (He was talking about Radiohead at the time, but it applies here.)

The Sportster line has ridden a bit of a sine wave since its introduction in the late 1950s. It was the company's sportiest and most versatile platform at launch, and in the intervening years, it became the cheap and cheerful, small-engine entry point for the brand. 

The Sportster S definitely leans towards the model's roots; in that short of the Pan America, it's the most powerful bike Harley makes, and it's got plenty of other sporting credentials that should make it a genuine rival to Indian's excellent FTR1200.

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It's kind of like Harley's old VRod, but like, not exclusively for dads.

Harley-Davidson

The Revolution Max 1250 gets a bit of a retune for its duty in the Sportster S. This is done to move the peak torque down in the rpm range and flatten the curve. The result is markedly less power than the Pan Am, but 121 horsepower is more than adequate, and the 94 pound-feet of torque is nothing to sneeze at either. The engine also sports a 9,500rpm redline, which should make it an absolute screamer in the canyons.

The next real key to the puzzle when it comes to making the Sportster S actually sporty is its suspension. This comes from Showa and features 43mm inverted forks and a piggyback reservoir rear shock with remote preload adjustment.

Things start to get a little weird in the braking department, though. There is only a single front brake disc, which is a bizarre choice on a bike this powerful and which sports a 500-pound curb weight. Thankfully, Harley went with a large single brake from Brembo, at least, and who knows, maybe it'll be fine. I'll let you know when I ride one next week.

The electronics package on the Sportster S is also worth talking about. Things start with a lean-sensitive antilock braking system, which is paired with lean-sensitive traction control. These are made possible by a six-axis inertial measurement unit. 

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The 4-inch TFT display keeps the cockpit nice and tidy while providing tons of information.

Harley-Davidson

Harley also added its Drag Torque Slip Control, which works to mitigate rear wheel lock-up from engine braking (very helpful on a big, high-compression engine like the Revolution Max) and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Harley also gave the bike a 4-inch color TFT display, which is a nice, modern touch. The S also features several rider modes, including two user-programmable modes.

From a styling standpoint, the Sportster S is a real statement of intent. It's got the highly aggressive front light from the Fat Bob; it's also got chunky tires on lightweight alloy rims, which should provide ample contact patch to manage the engine's output. The high-mounted exhaust harkens back to the company's legendary XR750 flat-track bike, as does the thin single seat -- no passengers here.

 The only thing I don't love about the styling is Harley's decision to stick with feet-forward controls. I get it, though -- that's been a Sportster thing forever, but thankfully, since Harley as a brand is so accessory-crazy, it's offering a factory accessory mid-control conversion kit. This would be mandatory for me. Other accessories include a flyscreen, a passenger seat and a tail bag.

The Sportster S will start at $14,999 before any dealer fees and is slated to hit showrooms in the fall of 2021.

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