The unmistakable roar of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is enough to send shivers down any enthusiast’s spine. And when it comes to iconic models, the Harley-Davidson Sportster has always held a special place in the hearts of riders. This year, the legendary motorcycle manufacturer is set to unveil the highly anticipated 2023 Harley-Davidson Sportster S, a bike that promises to take the Sportster legacy to new heights. In this article, we will dive into the design, performance, comfort, features, and ride experience of this awe-inspiring machine. So buckle up and join us as we explore what sets the 2023 Harley-Davidson Sportster S apart from the rest of the pack.
2023 Harley-Davidson Sportster S – A modern, revamped entry-level machine
Introduced in 2021, the Sportster S is Harley reaffirming the brand’s commitment to a revamped and fully modern lineup and to utilizing a clean-sheet approach to new models. Updating the air-cooled, Evolution-based platform wouldn’t suffice even if it was able to appease Sportster loyalists and extend a legacy that started in the 50s.
While the Sportster may be one of Harley’s biggest successes and one of the longest continually produced bikes in history, it is important to recognize that the Sportster S had to be different to leave a mark. Don’t worry, by the time you’re done reading this review, you will realize just how different the Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2023) is.
The company has taken a unique approach to the Sportster S design. There are design elements from the bobber world while also having design cues from the XR-750 flat-tracker. The Sportster S will remind you of an American muscle car, with the wide tires and stocky stance giving it presence. However, the star of the show is definitely the Revolution Max 1250T engine.
Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2023) Review
If you are in the market for an inexpensive and elemental cruiser intended for quick rips through town, you are looking in the wrong direction if you’re looking toward Sportster S. Harley-Davidson could have built this bike but the brand chose not to. While the Sportster S will shuttle you from stoplight to stoplight, and then home again, Harley-Davidson has always intended for this motorcycle to be something more than that.
Who is the Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2023) for and where does it work best? If you’re interested in going for the bike that is displayed in the “Sport” section of the Harley-Davidson website, you will first want to know about this performance-oriented cruiser. In this in-depth review, you will get to know what Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2023) is all about.
Engine and power
The 1252cc Revolution Max 1250 engine is the major focus of the Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2023). Dubbed the Revolution Max 1250T, this version of Harley-Davidson’s liquid-cooled 60-degree V-twin utilizes smaller valves and ports and a different combustion chamber shape compared to the Pan America 1250 to deliver added torque at low and midrange RPM.
Variable Valve Timing or VVT remains on intake and exhaust cams while maintenance-free hydraulic lash valve adjusters are also used. Harley-Davidson states that torque is up by 10% between 3000 and 6000 RPM in comparison to the Revolution Max 1250 engine in Pan America.
The engine does a great job in its role as a structural element of the chassis, which is to say that the motorcycle handles surprisingly well as you work your way up a winding mountain road. The motorcycle remains planted and balanced, allowing you to easily drive through corners in a way that earlier Sportsters could not unless you’d thrown 1000s of dollars at an aftermarket catalog. However, the 160/70-17 front tire and narrow handlebar, make it heavy to steer, which can limit how fast you’re able to attack a set of turns. Even gently adding front brake pressure in a corner could make the bike stand up while making small line adjustments mid-corner will require effort.
The engine pulls double duty and acts as a stressed member of the chassis, removing the need for a traditional frame. In its place will be a front frame, mid frame, and swingarm-mounted directly to the engine, which is designed to be rigid such that it can act as a chassis component. This may limit how much the at-home builder can customize the Sportster S 2023, but there are benefits to this design, with the most prominent one being reduced weight and a comparatively stiff “chassis” that is better suited for spirited riding.
|1252 cc (76.4 ci)
|Revolution® Max V Twin
|121 bhp @ 7500 RPM
|127 Nm @ 6000 RPM
|487 lbs (221 kg)
|502 lbs (228 kg)
|89.4 in (2270 mm)
|59.8 in (1520 mm)
|3.5 in (88.9 mm)
|3.1 gallons (11.8 liters)
|49 US MPG (4.8 L/100km)
|30.1 in (765 mm)
|Number Of Speeds
|Primary Drive (Rear Wheel)
|Front Suspension Type
|Rear Suspension Type
|Twin Sided Swing Arm
|Front Brake Type
|Rear Brake Type
|Number Of Seats
Brakes and cornering
More hints at Harley-Davidson’s performance-first approach will come in the form of Brembo brakes and Showa suspension, the Sportster S rolls on a fully adjustable 43mm inverted cartridge fork as well as fully adjustable piggyback reservoir shocks featuring hydraulic preload adjustment. There is one front brake disc but it is paired to a Monoblock caliper. More unfortunate is that its rear suspension has 2.0-inches of travel, contributing to the bike’s low, stocky stance but it doesn’t help at anything other than a standstill. Old habits die hard and Harley has acknowledged that stance still matters.
To produce a sportier Sportster and not outfit it with the newest electronic rider aids would defeat the purpose, hence Harley-Davidson has thrown everything it had at the 2023 Sportster S. There are multiple pre-programmed ride modes available alongside two Custom modes that the rider can build according to their liking, with options for engine braking, engine map, traction control, and throttle response. Not only will Custom Modes increase the versatility of the Sportster S but they also help in distinguishing the more expensive Sportster S from the entry-level Nightster, which comes with Harley’s three pre-programmed ride modes.
The Cornering Rider Safety Enhancements (RDRS) rider-aid suite will add an additional layer of safety. The Sportster S comes standard with technology as lean-sensitive traction control with Road, Rain, and Sport settings. All the settings are managed through a 4-inch-diameter TFT screen and Harley’s newest switch gear. I was able to connect the display to my Bluetooth device and headset, allowing me to listen to music, take calls, and get navigation directions when using the Harley-Davidson app.
However, I did find other limitations, with the biggest one being the rear suspension. Two inches of travel is not enough to smooth out even the moderately bumpy roads and it wasn’t long before my back started hurting. There is essentially no suspension change that you can use to get around the limited travel. Fortunately, the Showa fork offers significantly more in the way of bump absorption and road holding and it is easy enough to adjust the clickers with a flat blade, for more support during spirited riding.
Performance and riding impressions
The best way to approach the Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2023) is to not think of this bike as a Sportster or to allow yourself to be boxed in by what you feel this motorcycle is supposed to do.
Even simply throwing a leg over the bike, I was able to notice its flexibility. A rather accommodating rider triangle allowed me to sit back in a relaxed position, at the middle of the seat in a much more upright and commanding position, which is perfect for spirited canyon riding. You won’t be locked in place or be limited by traditional cruiser ergos, which would otherwise make the motorcycle feel out of place as the scenery changes.
If you are not satisfied with the standard forward controls, there are upgrades available. Harley-Davidson also offers a mid-control conversion kit that moves the footpegs to just under the seat. It delivers a sportier riding position and accommodates shorter riders. It would be great to have options but for anyone over 6 feet tall, the forward controls will feel more accommodating. The maximum stated cornering lean angle will be 34 degrees on both sides and this was more than enough to keep me from dragging pegs in most situations.
It may feel strange reading about “tackling the canyons” and “going farther” on the Sportster S but this is what happens when you’ve got an engine that is as capable and fun as the Revolution Max 1250T, which is, in some ways, the best part of the bike.
VVT makes the difference here, allowing the engine to be smooth and controllable off idle but opens up as the digital rev counter sweeps past the 4000RPM mark. This is an extremely free-revving powerplant that is not limited in any situation, with a usable spread of power and ample over-rev past 7000RPM to keep you from shifting constantly. There is little heat from the engine or high-mount exhaust. The only real component that you might not like is the clutch, which has a light pull but limited feel through the lever travel. This may make it tough to launch the Sportster S when leaving a spotlight, especially if you are using one of the less responsive riding modes.
The modes add to the motorcycle’s versatile nature, although the only pre-programmed mode that I was drawn to was Sport, with its direct throttle response and linear power delivery. The Road Mode is decent when trudging through afternoon traffic but in every other situation, the tempered throttle response and limited clutch feel make it hard to get going in ways that resemble good, smooth riding. This is a bit ironic as I’d have otherwise argued that Road Mode helps new riders get comfortable on the Sportster S before tapping into its full potential. If anything, it is an indication that Harley-Davidson is still getting comfortable with what electronic control would be best for a platform like the Sportster.
There are also more options, and ultimately I preferred a Custom Ride Mode with Bas Engine-Braking, Sport Engine Map, +1 Throttle Response, and Sport Traction Control. I noticed little difference between engine-brake settings. Another thing worth mentioning is that the bike has an Off-Road Engine Map, which is a clear indication that the system’s roots lie in Pan America. Seeing as how unlikely it is that the Sportster S 2023 will go off-road, you can argue that Harley-Davidson should have taken the time and relabeled or removed this. If nothing else, you can also see how quickly Harley-Davidson is working to bring these systems to new models.
The performance that the company has pumped into this package will make you wonder about the Bronx naked bike that Harley-Davidson teased back in 2018. However, the company decided to shelve the plans and focus on the Rewire strategy proposed by the new CEO Jochen Zeitz instead. The company is limited by what it can do with the Harley-Davidson Sportster S while maintaining a traditional cruiser stance but this wouldn’t be the case with the true streetfighter. Harley-Davidson reps state that “they have not officially ever said if it was coming to market or not” but riding the Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2023) will strengthen the desire for this bike, especially because of how great the engine is.
Price and availability
The best compliment that can be given to the Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2023) is that I didn’t walk away from the ride missing the old Sportster. There will be comparisons to that platform but Harley-Davidson has made efforts to ensure that the Sportster S (2023) excels in ways the old bike never could. This Sportster has the potential to work for more people of different riding skills and experience, as the performance potential is much higher than any Sportster that came before it.
The Harley-Davidson Sportster S (2023) comes at a starting price of $16,399, which is a $2,900 premium over the entry-level Nightster, which is priced at $13,499. You cannot help but feel like Harley is ignoring potential new riders with the high barrier to entry. If you’re a rider willing to sacrifice a little comfort for a traditional cruiser stance will be rewarded with a modern motorcycle that offers a balance between style and performance. However, you must place more value on power and technology as this is what defines the modern Sportster.