Motorcycle Test by Wayne Vickers, Images by RbMotoLens
Let’s get the elephant in the room outta the way first for those not immersed in the Harley line-up like… well, me – and I’m guessing a bunch of the target market for this redesign, the Sportster is quite obviously not a sportsbike. Not in the modern sense of sportsbike equating to corner carvers. It’s definitely got the grunt side of the equation covered, however a quick peek at that 160 section FRONT tyre should give you a pretty clear indication of intent. But it’s more complicated than that. As I found out.
The Sportster is a bit of an Icon actually. It sits low and imposing, looking for all the world to be carved/poured/chiselled from a massive single lump of metal.
The redesign uses the same new Revolution Max 1250 engine that I quite liked in the Pan Am, although this one is surprisingly detuned down to 121 hp and 127 Nm of torque – that torque coming in slightly lower in the rev range. Like in the Pan Am, it doesn’t make the signature Harley exhaust note which I still think is a shame, but it’s not an unpleasant note. It revs freely, is well fuelled and puts on serious speed in short notice. More so when you note that despite it being quite stripped back, it’s still a fairly hefty bike tipping the scales at just under 230 kg.
First impressions are dominated by that stance. It’s scoochy. And the positively gargantuan twin mufflers and pipe that sweeps under your right leg. ‘That’ll get warm surely’ says me to myself on my first walk around. Spoiler alert. Yes, it does. I didn’t do much slow crawling in traffic, but it was warm. Not Ducati Panigale roasting my chestnuts hot, but I reckon it might have the potential to be…
You also can’t help but notice the headlight shape. As subjective as styling always is, I’m not sure it matches the rest of the bike personally. Mind you, I said the same thing about the Pan Am which is either a bizarre coincidence, a deliberate ploy, or the same guy designed them both…
Sitting on the bike, it’s certainly comfy enough. The seat is nicely shaped and plush under your butt. Bars are an easy reach. Then you look down to see the pegs waaay more forward than you might be used to, if you’re not a cruiser rider. Feet forward riding definitely takes a few kays to get used to, even for someone who rides quite the variety of bikes.
Ease away from a standstill and you are immediately struck by a couple of things. First, the clutch and whole driveline is bloody friendly for a big lump. It’s a lovely thing. Light clutch, good feel, smooth bottom end all combine to quickly put any reservations you might have about the odd riding position at ease.
Then you get to your first corner. Holy cat snot, it takes some physical effort to move it away from dead straight and initiate a turn. The stiffest steering bike I think I’ve ever ridden. As in you wonder if they did the head stem up over tight sort of stiff. Or a fat tyred mountain bike if you’ve ridden one of those. Turns out, after some time on the bike, that you can use the forward mounted pegs to help initiate change of direction quite effectively. A firm push on the peg in the direction you want to go helps tip it in and soon enough you no longer notice the effort. It’s odd at first, but once you get used to it, it’s low speed handling and manoeuvrability is surprisingly good.
In fact, it’s more than pleasant to corner once you get your head around it. You just have to take some time and find the rhythm of the bike. I was surprised to find that I managed to roll it right over to the edge of that fat front tyre quite comfortably. Your only limitation is the fact that you’ll start scraping metal at some point… as I found out mid-shoot. It was just the feeler bolts under the foot pegs, doing their job and telling me that that was enough lean angle thanks very much. It may or may not scare the crap out of you when it does it touch down, depending on how aware you are that you’re getting close. Let’s just say that I thought I still had a ways to go – which also shows how planted it feels on its side.
The engine and gearbox really are excellent for what is a first edition redesign. Shift is smooth, power is great, surprisingly grunty at times – I figured it had more than 121 hp until I rechecked the specs to be honest. It pulls hard. Maybe the ride position accentuates that feeling because you have to hang on. I found myself often mashing the throttle open just so I could be rewarded with a solid lunge at the horizon. It’d be interesting to line this up next to a Pan Am and see who takes the flag at 400m… Gearing might favour the Sportster, at least to begin with I reckon.
I didn’t mind the little dash. And the ride modes are controlled quite easily, with the push of one button on the right hand switchblock.
There are a lot of buttons on the bars though. Controls for everything from turning the TC off, push to talk, music, cruise control, main menu controls.
Too much for my liking, I’d have liked to see the stripped back theme continue through to the bars and switchgear but that could be just me.
Speaking of the TC button – it obviously works – push and hold for a bit and you’ll see the TC symbol appear on the dash. At which point you’re good for skids. That Harley-Davidson branded rear tyre held up pretty well too post burnout. So that’s a plus.
So it goes pretty good and steers surprisingly well once you get your head around it and tune yourself in. How is it on real Aussie roads then?
Well… I do see it having a couple of issues. First, its single front 300 mm brake is a bit of a case of form over function I reckon. Regardless of the fact that it’s being grabbed by a four-pot Brembo, it doesn’t deliver the braking performance that it probably should. This is a big heavy bike with serious grunt, and should come with braking ability to match. That clean wheel design from the right hand side does look nice, but that might not seem so important if you aren’t able to pull up in time to avoid something. As a result of the lack of braking performance, you end up leaving a bigger gap in front of you when riding, in order to accommodate.
The last issue for me was the rear suspension. While the front is actually pretty good, there’s only so much you can achieve with 51 mm of travel in that rear end. Combined with the upright, feet forward ride position, any serious bumps were genuinely painful as they were sent directly to my lower back.
Twice within a hundred metres I was ejected off the seat into the air in one admittedly not great stretch of tarmac North of Deans Marsh. On a smooth road you won’t notice it, but if you hit a pothole or rough patch, it’ll rattle your cage pretty hard.
Now depending on the type of rider you are, that may or may not be a big deal. Your local roads might be better than mine, indeed your back might be too – neither would surprise me. To be fair – I’m not sure I’d let either of the braking or short travel limitations stop me from buying the bike if I was that way inclined, though I do think it should come with a twin-disc set-up.
Time to wrap up. I enjoyed this much more than I thought I might initially. The more I rode it the more I liked it. And at 26 and a half big ones to ride away, it’s probably cheaper than I would have first guessed too. While I think it’s left wanting in a couple of areas, on a good smooth road it’s certainly a nice thing. There was even one on the floor at the Dealer that had an aftermarket pipe set-up on it that looked even better. I couldn’t imagine that stock set-up staying in place too long…
Why I like the 2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster S
That new 1250 engine and driveline is a ripper, even if it is detuned
Surprisingly nice in flowy bends
Feet up riding position feels pretty good once you’re dialled in
I’d like the 2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster S more if…
Needs another disc on the front
Does it come with an Osteopath? That rear suspension is brutal on harsh potholes/bumps
Harley-Davidson Sportster S Specifications
Revolution Max 1250T, chain-driven, DOHC, hydraulic self-adjusting lifters, intake & exhaust VVT; four valves per cylinder
Bore x stroke
105 mm x 72.3 mm
94 ft-lb (127 Nm) @ 6000 rpm
121 hp (90 kW) @ 7500 rpm
Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Downdraft intake, tuned velocity stacks, washable filter media
2-into-1-into-2; catalyst in muffler
Gear, 49/89 ratio
Belt, 80/34 ratio
Mechanical, 8 plate wet, assist & slip, 1090N
Stressed-member, high strength low alloy steel trellis frame; stamped, cast, and forged junctions; MIG welded; aluminum forged mid-structure
Wayne loves all things motorsport, but lives for two wheels. Mountain bikes, dirt bikes, adventure bikes, road bikes, race bikes, the lot.
An ex riding coach and road racer wannabe who simultaneously ran out of talent and money. Rides about a million kilometres a year and has been known to enjoy an occasional wheelie.
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