2023 Harley-Davidson Sportster S review

Today, I went to pick up my first Harley-Davidson to review for this season. I was rather curious about this model which, when it was initially released, left me a little perplexed. I’m talking, of course, about the Harley-Davidson Sportster S.

The first time I saw the Sportster S model online, I was a little shocked. At first glance, it seems really different from the Sportsters family heritage. Is it the aggressive look, the color scheme, the headlight, or the engine?

The answer? A bit of all that after all…

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-4R 2023

Conception & Design

With the bike in front of me, I looked at it quietly, carefully observed the details and sit down to take in the feel as well.

When you take the time to look closely and analyze the Sportster S, you realize that, in the end, its origins are not that far away. To tell the truth, I recognized many attributes of my old Sportster ’48, such as the choice of front-rear tire ratio and its general silhouette for example.

Another thing for the look, the front radiator as well as the “belly plate” with the exhaust placed quite high, gives it a unique and distinctive appearance which is somewhat reminiscent of that of the XG750R, a competition motorcycle from H-D designed for Flat-Track racing.

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-4R 2023
Harley-Davidson has opted for mirrors at the end of the handlebars, which helps keep its beautiful line. I am certain that many will adopt the look of the 48 with inverted mirrors, which will be just as beautiful and in keeping with its look.

With a very minimalist flavor, a solo seat, and small fenders, know that there will still be a price to pay… at least when the road is wet or in the rain. I personally experienced it and a thorough washing of the beast and my clothes was necessary. There is nowhere to hide, you have been warned!

The TFT display, 4 inches in size, is simple and effective with a beautiful finish. On the handlebars, there are more buttons than I would like. You kinda got used to it, but it’s a bit odd, when everything else is on the minimalist side.

If there is one thing that I would change, personally, and which annoyed me a little, it is the size of the grips. I like the feeling of the usual big Harley-Davidson handles and I didn’t understand why the handlebars were reduced to accommodate smaller handles…

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-4R 2023
The elongated teardrop fuel tank holds almost 12 liters with bronze accents that blend well with the engine, as the opening hatch design is in harmony with the front headlight. All lights are LEDs. The rear license plate, brake light and turn signals are held in place by a simple, but aesthetically pleasing, side arm which adds to the overall look.

Many additions such as heated handles, Cruise-control, driving mode, traction control and active ABS make it an even more interesting machine.

Powertrain:

I was unfamiliar with the Revolution Max 1250T engine, and the Sportster S was the first H-D that I ride with this engine. It is significantly different from the EVO engine that we have been accustomed to seeing for many years.
We are talking about a 1247cc, liquid-cooled engine with a very different character from the old V-Twin. A dual overhead camshaft and variable valve engine produces over 120 hp and 127 lbs of torque compared to 60 hp and 73 lbs of torque from the previous 1200cc engine.

The Revolution Max engine is black with bronze accents and takes up a more prominent place in the frame. With the original fuel tank, it will be rather difficult to “show” the much-appreciated gap between the top of the engine and the frame.

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-4R 2023

The engine offers, in road mode, a nice and crisp response and rather decent power. But switching to Sport mode is the only way to truly appreciate the capabilities of this new engine, as well as the exhaust harmonies…

I was very surprised at the real power of the Revolution Max engine, and, coupled with a 6-speed transmission and a belt drive, I immediately had a smile on my face. To tell the truth, it’s a completely different experience compared to an older Sportster. I invite those who would like to critique the appearance of the engine to come and try it out!

It takes discipline not to deviate from traffic regulations… And I guess discipline will come with practice!

Big fun, it’s that simple. A full tank of gas brings happiness is a good motto for the Harley-Davidson Sportster S.

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-4R 2023

Comfort and Ergonomics:

Forward riding position and forward foot controls – a reminder of the V-rod in feel and performance but lighter and more manageable. Attributes which earn it a place of choice in the “toy” category for grown ups.

The suspension is rather firm, however, it should be noted that the suspension is adjustable at the front and rear, which is very appreciated. I always suggest doing an adjustment to your motorcycle’s suspension when adjustable. If you’ve never done it, you’ll be surprised how much it can change and improve your experience with your motorcycle.

The bike is not for the “soft” crowd either. You don’t ride the Sportster S for smoothness and comfort. Those who undertake long outings or trips with it will be among the tough guys on the road.

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-4R 2023

Final Thoughts:

If we are surprised not to see more Sportster S on our roads, I believe that the explanation would mainly be due to a poor and unfair association between a Sportster and an entry-level motorcycle or a “girl bike”.

Harley-Davidson has proven that the Sportster S is not just another motorcycle by presenting a motorcycle that is stunningly styled, has great performance, and has a badass attitude.

The price of the Harley-Davidson Sportster S is around $20,000, which could also get you a Street Bob 114 or a standard Softail. That said, they are completely different machines.

If you like to ride solo and have an outlaw side of you, the Sportster S will be a worthy companion!

Not convinced? Find a demo day, go try it and tell me about it!

Jean-Sebastien Mackay

Jean-Sebastien Mackay

Riding motorcycles since the 90's - Husband - Father - Army Veteran - Founder of KNUCKLE

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