For decades, the Harley-Davidson Sportster dominated the American middleweight V-twin class, mostly by dint of being the only American middleweight V-twin. Without a top contender to challenge its reign, the Motor Company only issued modest upgrades since 1986. However, that all changed when the Indian Scout burst onto the scene in 2015.
Heavily based on the Victory Octane, the revived Scout paired Indian’s rich heritage with thoroughly modern equipment. The liquid-cooled, DOHC, 1,133cc V-twin was the antithesis of Harley’s ancient air-cooled Evo engine. Compared to the Sportster’s signature teardrop tank and engine cooling fins, the Scout’s low-slung stance and neo-bobber aesthetic presented a viable alternative to Harley’s aging platform.
Facing a formidable foe and new emissions regulations, the Bar and Shield telegraphed its counterpunch when it revealed the Custom 1250 in July, 2018. Nearly three years later, that haymaker finally landed when Harley officially announced the 2021 Sportster S.
Complete with a liquid-cooled, DOHC, 1,252cc V-twin, the new Sportster’s spec sheet now stands toe-to-toe with the Scout. Of course, we won’t know who wins the battle in the showroom until the Sportster S arrives at dealerships. For now, however, the tale of the tape tells a fascinating story.
|2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S||2021 Indian Scout|
|Engine:||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 1,252cc V-twin||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 1,133cc V-twin|
|Bore and Stroke:||105 x 72.3mm||99 mm x 73.6 mm|
|Performance:||121 hp/ 94 lb-ft||100 hp/ 72 lb-ft|
|Weight (wet):||502 pounds||561 pounds|
Featuring Harley’s shiny new Revolution Max 1250T, the 2021 Sportster now produces 121 horsepower and 94 lb-ft of torque. While the Scout previously set performance benchmarks for the category with 100 horsepower and 72 lb-ft of torque, Indian’s entry cruiser now looks outgunned. Of course, the Revolution Max V-twin touts a larger displacement, which helps the Sportster S steal that performance feather from Indian’s cap.
On top of that power deficit, the Scout lugs around 59 extra pounds, weighing in at 561 pounds compared to the Sportster’s 502-pound wet weight. Straightline acceleration and top speed define a motorcycle not, but agility goes to the Hog as well. With a 59.8-inch wheelbase, fully adjustable USD fork, and a linkage-equipped monoshock, the Sportster S outmaneuvers the Scout’s 62-inch wheelbase, conventional front end, and dual rear shocks.
Indian does outfit the Scout with a 16-inch wheelset shod in sticky Pirelli Night Dragon rubber while Harley opts for a 16-inch rear and 17-inch front. We could surmise that the smaller wheelset gives the Scout a handling edge if it weren’t for the Sportster’s specially-developed Dunlop GT503 tires. Thanks to an aggressive profile and sticky compound, the Dunlops compensate for the Sportster’s larger front wheel, helping to deliver a 34-degree lean angle compared to the Scout’s 29 degrees.
Though Indian no longer holds the performance edge, the Scout still has a fighting chance. At 29.6 inches, the 2021 Sportster's perch is a full four inches about the Scout’s 25.6-inch seat height. Most riders won’t have an issue with the Sporty’s seat height, which sags to 28.9-inches in the saddle, but even less will have problems with Indian’s low-slung seat. Of course, novice and inseam-challenged riders benefit most from a low seat height and the Scout is good option for that reason.
Conversely, Indian only offers optional ABS on the Scout while the Harley flaunts rider aids like traction control, cornering ABS, ride modes, and engine braking settings. On top of the full electronics suite, the Motor Company’s new round, four-inch TFT display also outshines the Scout’s analog speedometer and digital tachometer combo. Of course, you could reason the Scout’s spartan accommodations help beginners learn the ropes with a less cumbersome system, but it’s usually better to have rider aids and not need them as opposed to the other way around.
If we’re going to make any case for beginner-appropriate features, however, it should start with the brakes, and the Sportster delivers yet again. Championing a full Brembo braking system with a radially mounted four-piston front caliper, floating single-pot rear binder, and master cylinder, the Sportster S stops surprisingly well. On the other hand, the Scout’s single two-piston caliper up front and single-piston clamper in the rear don’t deliver as much stopping power as its counterpart.
The Final Decision:
Though the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S walks away with nearly every round in its pocket, we still have to consider one very important detail: price. At $14,999, the souped-up Sporty is $3,000 over the Scout’s MSRP. Coupled with a 121-horsepower V-twin, Harley’s asking price could easily put the Sportster S out of most beginner’s grasp. When price is taken into account, the two cruisers stack up much more evenly, and may even cater to different customers/budgets.
With that said, we can’t wait to see how the Sportster and Scout duke it out in the future. Will Indian fight back with an even punchier V-twin? Will Harley offer a cheaper Sportster option without diluting too much performance? The middleweight cruiser class is a much more competitive environment these days, and we can’t wait to see Sportster and Scout continue to battle it out in the future.