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Common Tread

Corrective perspective: Riding a Sportster S for 24 hours straight

Feb 21, 2022

I'm calling this one "Jen versus the Indians." (Note: This titling has not been approved by Jen Dunstan.)

At issue here is the Harley-Davidson Sportster S. Last week, we published a "one tank of gas" review by Jen about the entirely new, more powerful, liquid-cooled Sportster S that now carries on the nameplate that dates back to 1957. Our "one tank" reviews are basically quick, second opinions by one of our riders about a motorcycle we've already reviewed previously. As such, the writers are encouraged to share their subjective opinions, since the basics have been covered before. Jen found a lot to like about the Sportster S, from its striking (if polarizing) looks to its easy-to-use interface and its powerful, straight-line, drag-bike-like performance.

One thing she didn't like was the ergonomics. The forward controls, reach to the handlebar and meager 1.5 inches of rear suspension travel made for a ride that soon turned painful. Fine for a short cruise, but like the similar Indian Scout Bobber Jen also reviewed recently, not the sort of bike you'd want to spend all day on. Based on the comments, most readers seemed to agree.

Meanwhile, in India...

Funny how going halfway around the world provides a different perspective.

In India, legions of small-displacement motorcycles swarm the roads. Hero MotoCorp, the largest motorcycle manufacturer in India, sells far more of its sub-125 cc Splendor models per year in India than Harley-Davidson sells all of its models of motorcycles combined in the entire world. Hero is also the exclusive distributor for Harley-Davidson in India, and their creative types have been dreaming up interesting ways to showcase new H-D models, such as a recent video of a trip to the top of the world on Pan Americas.

So what to do to showcase the Sportster S? Take it for a long ride. Non-stop, even.

That's what a team of five riders did at Hero's banked oval test track, riding 3,141 kilometers (1,952 miles) in 24 hours to set a new record for India.

To be fair, the Indian experiment didn't exactly refute the local view that the Sportster S is less than ideal for long-distance duties. Five riders shared time on the bike, doing very manageable 100-kilometer (60-mile) stints. And the distance traveled would have certainly been greater if not for the need for a whopping 31 pit stops in 24 hours. That stylish 3.1-gallon fuel tank on the Sportster S only carries you so far before it gets thirsty yet again.

So this is not quite as simple as a case of us soft, whiny Americans and our first-world problems in contrast to "five tough-as-nails riders and a Harley-Davidson Sportster S," to borrow Harley-Davidson India's phrasing. In the end, I still believe some of the same things I believed before. I still stand with Jen that the Sportster S ranks well down the list of motorcycles I'd choose for an Iron Butt ride (even lower than the older Sportster). I also still firmly believe that you can ride long distances or ride off-road or ride two-up or whatever on a lot of motorcycles despite many people telling you that "you can't do that." And finally, it's still also true that no matter how popular it is, you're not going to ride nearly 2,000 miles in 24 hours on a Splendor.