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Harley-Davidson Sportster S: First Ride Review

Authors Image

Pratheek Kunder

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Introduction

Harley-Davidson Sportster S Front View

Why buy it?

- Fantastic road presence

- 1250cc engine has lots of performance

- Strong brand recall

Why avoid it?

- Stiff ride setup

- Single-seat model only

- Costs a lot of money

The Sportster brand from Harley-Davidson is possibly one of the strongest names and the most renowned name in the Indian premium motorcycle fraternity. And that’s because the brand sold quite a few in the country in the old avatars. So obviously, the brand recall would be the strongest and that’s why the American brand decided to give the same name to a motorcycle that we rode recently – the Sporster S – a bike that is a revolution.

This Harley-Davidson is more modern than you can imagine. The only thing that is old on this bike is its name. Rest everything is new and how! The folks at HD have given it everything they could to make it raw, aspirational, modern, and extremely fun to ride. And not to forget an engine that is seen on a big ADV – the Pan America.

We got an opportunity to ride it in and around NCR for a day and we made full use of our time with it.

The Visuals

Harley-Davidson Sportster S Left Side View

I’ve never been a fan of cruisers but my eyes lit up the moment I saw the Sportster S at HD’s Gurgaon showroom. The bike has an extremely strong presence, which I find a little weird because I always related this aspect of feel with ADV motorcycles while the Sportster S is a low-sitting motorcycle. The bike looks outstanding, especially from the side.

Harley-Davidson Sportster S Right Side View

The presence of really fat tyres, smooth fuel tank design, a big engine, and shotgun-type exhaust pipes make it look extremely jaw-dropping. Plus, the bare-minimum usage of styling components on the bike enhances its raw appeal. There are a few other aspects of the bike which are impressive. The fit and finish are top-class. And a lot of hard work and finesse can be seen in this CBU model. Even the paint finish is premium – something that you see in expensive cars.

The Package

Harley-Davidson Sportster S TFT / Instrument Cluster

Due to Harley’s new modern approach, the Sportster S gets lots of equipment and to be honest, I never thought I’ll see so much on an HD. Let’s start with the four-inch full-colour round TFT display. The design suits the motorcycle pretty well, but the features inside the cluster are mind-boggling. Firstly, I loved the overall font size, colours, and icons used to denote various aspects of the ride data. The attention to detail here is really good. Secondly, this data is easy to comprehend. Be it while riding slowly in the city or having that throttle far open on highways. Having said this, there are far too many buttons on the bike to operate. It does get overwhelming at first but then getting used to it is the only option.

Harley-Davidson Sportster S Left Side Multifunction Switchgear

The Sportster S is equipped with electronics and safety systems which make it a controlled motorcycle to ride. There are three riding modes – Sport, Road, and Rain and also two additional custom modes that can be adjusted according to the rider’s needs. These modes also alter the settings on engine braking, ABS, TCS, and power delivery. A motorcycle like the Sportster S should be used in the Sport mode only because that is when you realise how mad this motorcycle is. The Road mode works fairly well, but I felt the throttle response to be snatchy. And then, the Rain mode is a must in rains. Otherwise, the rear will keep sliding every time you open that throttle.

Harley-Davidson Sportster S Front Suspension Preload Adjuster

This Harley-Davidson also gets a fully-adjustable suspension. So, there are compression and rebound settings to be played with – both front and back. For preload at the back, the rider has the option to play with 40 settings to get that right feel. The brakes are from Brembo and that means they are top-class. The 320mm disc at the front and 260mm disc at the back do an excellent job of stopping this heavy cruiser.

The Ride

Harley-Davidson Sportster S Right Side View

The Sportster S is a cruiser, but its overall seating triangle makes it differ from that same genre. The pegs are at the place they need to be for a cruiser but that handlebar is wide and unlike a cruiser. The rider needs to reach for it and that brings out a little cool-looking and a bit aggressive riding stance. But this isn’t a problem while riding. I spent a few hours on open roads and also in Delhi’s infamous traffic and the back didn’t cry.

Harley-Davidson Sportster S Front View

The Sportster S gets the same engine that is seen on the Pan America. I’m talking about the new 1,250cc Revolution Max engine. The overall power figure (121bhp and 125Nm) is lesser than the ADV, but the brand claims that this bike provides 10 per cent more torque between 3,000rpm and 6,000rpm. While I didn’t have any equipment to test this out, I want to believe HD’s claim because this engine works brilliantly. The bike pulls so cleanly the moment you open that throttle. There’s lots of torque waiting for you to be explored and as and when that throttle is opened, the motorcycle comes alive and the feeling is addictive. I just loved the way the bike pulls from the bottom. The mid-range is strong too and I did some last-minute overtakes – the success rate here was 100 per cent. There are certain things on this engine that make me feel sad and happy at the same time. Firstly, the refinement level – well, it is super refined. It feels as if the engine was developed by a group of Japanese engineers. Secondly, the character is missing – something that was found in oodles on their old air-cooled engine. I wasn’t too happy with the six-speed gearbox. The throws are long and there was no quickshifter, which I feel is a must for a motorcycle that has this brilliant performing engine. However, the Brembo brakes did a fantastic job. And the bite and feel are just apt.

Harley-Davidson Sportster S Rear View

Like it or not, the Sportster S belongs to an American brand and that means the testing happens on one of the best roads on the planet. The Indian roads are not on the list and that’s where the rider may have a problem. The overall riding setup is on the stiffer side and that results in a tough riding experience. I mean, yes, there are various compression and rebound settings to play with but there are limitations when it comes to Indian roads. The Sportster S behaves fantastically on clean and smooth surfaces. But as soon as it encounters roads with bad patches or even unsettling spots, the rear kicks up quite bad and that’s not enjoyable.

Should you buy it?

Harley-Davidson Sportster S Front View

Harley-Davidson has done a fantastic job with the new Sportster S. It gets a motor that is all about fantastic performance. A 121bhp engine on a cruiser is bound to make things exciting and also a bit maddening. But then there are some top-spec brakes along with plenty of safety electronics that will keep the rider safe. And then there’s that styling – something that a lot of people are bound to fall for. Its exclusive and intimidating design will turn many heads and I’m sure a lot of buyers would want that experience. But there’s one thing that doesn’t work in the bike’s favour – and that is the ride quality. It is stiff and that could bother you a lot. If you live in a place where you have excellent roads throughout, then you should consider this motorcycle which is priced at around Rs 19 lakh (on-road, Mumbai). But if you live in an ADV bike territory, rather check out the Pan America which is just a few lakh more expensive.

Photography by Kaustubh Gandhi

Gallery

Harley-Davidson Sportster S Rear Suspension
Harley-Davidson Sportster S Left Side Handelbar Grip
Harley-Davidson Sportster S Front Wheel
Harley-Davidson Sportster S Engine From Left
Harley-Davidson Sportster S Rear Swing Arm
Harley-Davidson Sportster S Bike Seat
Harley-Davidson Sportster S Fuel Tank
Harley-Davidson Sportster S Front Disc Brake
Harley-Davidson Sportster S Front Disc Brake
Harley-Davidson Sportster S Fuel Tank

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