Hang on to your hats, folks, this is going to get complicated. It’s going to get a whole lot more complicated in the next issue but I’m trying to get this out reasonably quickly.
Following hot on the heels of the Pan America launch about a month ago, and having overtaken the Bronx Streetfighter that was scheduled to be released first, Harley-Davidson’s new Performance Custom – which we now know to be called the Sportster S – was revealed yesterday.
What looks like a low-slung power cruiser has little in common with the bike it replaces – with the exception that the Sportster in 1957 gave a good account of itself against with sporting bikes of its time – it resembles the Scout that Indian introduced in 2015 more than the V-Rod that is its more obvious descendent … at least it is until you go through the numbers, which was my task this morning trying to establish a context.
I’m going to come clean here and wish that Harley had retained the Sportster name for their recently patented air-cooled OHV motor with variable valve timing and come up with something new for what is more a replacement for the VR than an XL … although maybe not resurrecting the V-Rod name itself, because it needs to put clear blue water between the two.
There is so much that we are yet to learn about the new bike, most notably the frame and how the rear suspension is set-up but we will hopefully discover before we go to press. In running through a specification comparison with comparable models, though, we will suggest that it’s going to be closer to a classic Harley-Davidson riding experience than you might suspect as a result of the geometry, tyre fitments and suspension travel.
It is going to be firmly sprung unless Harley have raised their game on the suspension front thanks to short travel suspension and the gyroscopic effect of those fat tyres front and back, which will have a greater effect on the relatively light bike than they do on, say, a Fat Bob. Indeed, that might account for the 2° of trail adjustment that will aid stability at the cost of nimble handling but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it should give the Sportster S that presence on the road that existing fans have bought into, and it will still be a lot more agile than most V-Rods. The interesting thing will be to see how its light weight – it’s about 25% lighter than a Night Rod Special – copes with the big tyres.
Also, we know that it is taller in the saddle than its stretched-out stance suggests, which is good news for the likes of me at six foot plus, but not for someone expecting something like a Scout which is a full three inches lower, despite what looks like a minimally padded seat. The small 2.6 gallon (imperial) tank will prevent that from being too big an issue, although converting the fuel consumption figures into imperial suggests that a 150 mile range will be possible, if brave. I think we are looking at something more like a Forty-Eight than an XL1200C in terms of range and function.
All of which might explaining why they’ve retuned the Revolution Max motor for the model.
While the new RH1250S Sportster Sport shares the 60-degree Revolution Max 1250 V-twin motor used by the RA1250 Pan America, it isn’t just in a very different state of tune, it is a different configuration. And it won’t just feel different, it should sound quite different thanks to a 30° offset in the crankpins that makes the 150hp Pan America’s motor fire like a 90° V-twin.
With decent suspension, ground clearance and sensible types – which we may yet see in the Bronx – that would make for a good naked sports bike to take on Indian’s FTR, but the Sportster S is more custom and powered by a 121hp Revolution Max 1250T.
The difference is said to be in smaller valves and port dimensions, a revised combustion chamber shape and pistons that are shaped to match the combustion chamber dimensions – but not as closely as those in the Pan America, as these drop the compression ratio down from 13:1 down to 12:1. The length and shape of the intake velocity stacks and the airbox volume have also been tuned to maximise engine performance across the rev range, and along with cam profiles and Variable Valve Timing will “match the performance expectations of this engine”. Basically, they are to improve the torque delivery between 3,000 and 6,000rpm.
No, the same peak 94 ft lbs but at lower revs – 6000rpm as opposed to 6750rpm – and it’s worth mentioning that it delivers its 121hp at a relatively modest 7500rpm compared to the Pan America’s 9000rpm.
So, it’s going to be quick. A proper sportster – with a small ‘s’ – but hardly a natural successor to the Sportster with a capital one.
The obvious hope is that it will bring in new punters – assuming that Harley can make such prospective new owners reconsider any misgivings about a brand they’ve ignored to date – and hopefully not at the expense of alienating those who have ignored everything else, because they like the style and power characteristic of a Harley-Davidson.
The trick is to not scare off mainstream riders with the massive tyres and classic stance, and not offending the existing market with an engine that has been aesthetically sculpted on the traditional ‘beauty side’ but seems cluttered and much more mechanical on the drive side.
Running alongside a true Sportster replacement, I think it would establish itself quicker – a real alternative rather than a fait accompli – but I sincerely hope it works for Harley-Davidson, especially having spent two decades pointing out that the CG125 didn’t make Honda any less capable of making a Fireblade – but at first glance this looks like Harley attempting to diversify their model range by replacement rather than addition.
|2021 Harley-Davidson RH1250S Sportster S|
|Seat Height, Laden||734mm (28.9 inches)|
|Seat Height, Unladen||753mm (29.6-inches)|
|Rake / Trail||30° / 148mm|
|Tyres||Front||160/70TR17 73V H-D Dunlop GT503|
|Rear||180/70R16 77V H-D Dunlop GT503|
|Oil Capacity (w/filter)||4.5l|
|Dry Weight (Wet)||486lb / 220kg (502lb / 228kg)|
|Type||Revolution Max 1250T 60° V-Twin|
|Valves||Chain-driven, DOHC 4-valve, hydraulic self-adjusting lifters, intake & exhaust VVT|
|Bore x Stroke||105×72.3mm|
|Fuel System||Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)|
|Exhaust||2-into-1-into-2; catalyst in muffler|
|Oil System||Semi-Dry Sump|
|Clutch||Mechanical, 8 plate wet, Assist & Slip, 1090N|
|Gear Ratios (overall)||1||12.21|
|Frame||High strength, low alloy steel MIG welded trellis frame with stamped, cast, and forged junctions and forged aluminium mid-structure, using the engine as a stressed member|
|Swingarm||High strength low alloy steel MIG welded tubular sections, stamped cross-member, forged axle junctions|
|Front Fork||43mm inverted fork, adjustable for compression, rebound and spring preload. 92mm travel|
|Rear Shocks||Linkage-mounted, piggyback monoshock, adjustable for compression and rebound and hydraulic spring preload. 51mm travel|
|Wheels||Front||17x 4-inch cast, satin black|
|Rear||16 x 5-inch cast, satin black|
|Brakes||Front:||4-piston caliper radial monoblock / 320mm floating rotor|
|Rear:||single piston floating caliper /260mm rotor|
|Peak Torque||94 ftlb (127Nm) @ 6000 rpm|
|Peak Power||121hp (90 kW) @ 7500 rpm|
|Lean Angle||L / R||34° / 34°|
|Fuel Economy||58.8mpg (imperial)|
|Warranty And Service|
|Warranty||24 months (unlimited mileage)|
|Service Interval||First||1,000 miles|