What's Next for the Harley-Davidson Sportster?

Dennis Chung
by Dennis Chung

Harley-Davidson teases second Revolution Max Sportster

With the official launch of the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S, we now have an understanding of where The Motor Company is taking the Sportster family. Powered by the liquid-cooled Revolution Max 1250T engine, the Sportster S offers a significant step forward, claiming 121 hp, or nearly twice the horsepower of the air-cooled Evolution engine.

With a $14,999 price tag, it’s also a good chunk of change more expensive than the $11,549 Forty-Eight, and the same price as the Street Bob 114 Softail. In this context, it’s clear the newest Sportster is no entry-level model like the previous bikes to bear that label. So, where does this leave the Forty-Eight, the Iron 1200 and the Iron 883?

Keen observers would have probably noticed that Harley-Davidson hasn’t been referring to these bikes as Sportsters for a while now. Up until the Sportster S announcement, Harley-Davidson’s official website has been categorizing them as “Street” models. Today, the former Sportsters are lumped together with the Softails as “Cruisers.” The three air-cooled Sportsters are still a part of Harley-Davidson’s 2021 lineup, but as we previously reported, they likely won’t be back for 2022. If that holds true, it would leave a gap in Harley-Davidson’s lineup for an accessible entry point to the brand.

Naturally, Harley-Davidson has something in the works. The “S” in “Sportster S” implies as much, as Harley-Davidson typically uses that letter to denote a higher-performance variant model. Harley-Davidson also dropped some hints about future additions to the new Sportster family near the end of the Sportster S launch video. In the closing moments, Bill Davidson, vice president of the Harley-Davidson Museum and great grandson of the company co-founder William Davidson, expressed his excitement for “what’s to come”. The video then briefly provided a sneak peak of the future of the Sportster family (at the 12:35 mark if you want to skip ahead).

“There will be future models that will definitely tap into some of the more classic form factors of Sportster,” says Brad Richards, Harley-Davidson vice president of styling and design. We are then presented with three shots of another new model.

From these brief glimpses, we get a sense of what Richards is talking about. With a telescopic fork, twin rear shocks, a different tail, a new peanut tank design, different exhaust routing and less forward foot control placement, it’s clear this new model is not the Sportster S. The right-side-up fork and rear shocks suggest a lower-spec model than the S, and the visible styling elements more closely resemble the Iron 1200 and Forty-Eight.

It’s not initially clear whether these images are of the same bike, but a portion of a Harley-Davidson survey posted by a member of HDForums.com appears to confirm they are indeed parts of one motorcycle. The survey shows six versions of this model, with different combinations of engine, exhaust and wheel colors.

The model in the survey offers more clues about the mystery Sportster, including what looks like a 19-inch front wheel, a larger front fender and a round air cleaner. The overall styling draws together elements of the Forty-Eight and the Iron models for a more traditional Sportster look.

There is no indication whether the engine remains the same 1252cc displacement as the Sportster S and Pan America 1250. When Harley-Davidson first announced the Revolution Max platform, it mentioned the engine being offered in four displacements from 500cc to 1250cc. Harley-Davidson hasn’t indicated whether that is still planned, but the engine was conceived from the start as a modular platform and a smaller displacement Sportster would make a lot of sense.

Two names come to mind as a potential name for this second Revolution Max Sportster. Earlier this year, Harley-Davidson filed trademark applications in the U.S. and Europe for “Nightster,” which could be a fit. Another option is “48X,” which Harley-Davidson filed for in December 2017, around the same time it filed its first trademark applications for the “Pan America” name. That would suggest 48X was also intended for a Revolution Max model. The name would also tie the new Sportster back to the outgoing Forty-Eight model.

Harley-Davidson hasn’t provided any indication of when a second new Sportster model will be announced, but a 2022 model launch sounds like a reasonable guess.

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Dennis Chung
Dennis Chung

Dennis has been a part of the Motorcycle.com team since 2008, and through his tenure, has developed a firm grasp of industry trends, and a solid sense of what's to come. A bloodhound when it comes to tracking information on new motorcycles, if there's a new model on the horizon, you'll probably hear about it from him first.

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2 of 20 comments
  • Mike White Mike White on Jul 16, 2021

    I assume belt drive? I don't care for the exhaust but otherwise I think this looks quite good.

  • Win Master Win Master on Jul 17, 2021

    Not bad, looks like a well-made cheeseburger of a motorcycle. Wait, does that make sense? Whatever... I think it satisfies the traditional Sportster look while still presumably giving the Scout, Rebel and Speedmaster a run for their money, but I was hoping for more monoshock shenanigans up front before they went full classic. People still miss the Dyna until they bend a few corners on a new Softail!