Harley-Davidson Nightster review | Old school charm, new school performance


With a new 975cc V-twin engine, top-spec electronics, and classic H-D charm, the new Harley-Davidson Nightster shatters into 2022

WITH the launch of the Sportster S, Harley-Davidson manager to flummox a generation of Harley-Davidson riders in one fail swoop. To those that wanted more modernity and style, they got it. And for those that called for more performance, they got that too. By the bucket load.

The thing is, neither camp was overly happy with the bike. Despite 90% of armchair critics never even swinging a leg over the thing – but that’s another story.

So, that brings us to today, and a flight to Girona in Spain to see if Harley can settle this bunfight between the seemingly unpleasable global motorcycle community.

Seconds out, round one…

What is the Harley-Davidson Nightster and who is it built for?

The new Nightster is a modern take on the iconic Harley-Davidson Sportster. That really is the bike that H-D fans cried about the most when it departed the range a short while back. It wasn’t the biggest, baddest, or fastest bike Harley has ever built, but its positioning in the range, low cost, and archaic simplicity won it a literal army of fans.

While the new Nightster draws its inspiration from the classic V-twins of old, beneath the skin it’s all-new, and looking to take the fight to the modern middleweight naked market. It’s a V-twin cruiser for those that like to look after themselves and the planet.

Harley-Davidson Nightster price, PCP, and colours

The new Nightster slots into the H-D range as the entry point for many riders. The accessibility of the bike comes not just because of how easy it is to ride, but also because of its £12,995 starting price. Three colours are available in the UK, the base model Vivid Black, Gunship Gray, and Redline Red – the latter both incur a £375 premium on top of the RRP.

A representative PCP example would see you paying a £3,188.44 deposit, with 36 monthly payments of £125.00. That is based upon a 3,000-mile annual mileage. For more information speak to your nearest Harley-Davidson dealership.

Harley-Davidson Nightster engine, range, and MPG

At the heart of the new Harley is the new Revolution Max 975T engine. Like the Pan America (which uses the Revolution Max 1250), the new 975cc liquid-cooled V-twin is bang up to date and features VVT, power modes, a tuned airbox, and more. It pumps out 88bhp at @7,500rpm and 70lb-ft of torque at 5,000rpm.

The overall character of the 975T is that of a quick revving and eager little unit. It feels so much more like a European-built V-twin than any of the other V-twin cruisers in range. The low-end grunt is still there, it’s just not quite as arm-wrenching as with bikes like the Softail Standard for instance. The new Nightster is much happier to bask in an expansive mid-range spread of torque, which is much more at home on real roads, making real overtaking moves.

The Nightster also revs like no other V-twin cruiser has before, and instead of slamming into the rev-limiter at 4,500 to 5,000rpm, powers on and only really runs out of steam just before the red-line is hit. I’d say on the road it’s a more appealing prospect to ride this than the larger and more powerful Sportster S. The Sportster S is a properly quick bike off the line and accelerates with brutal efficiency. But even with all the VVT and tech the engines share, the 975T still feels like the more rounded, easier to ride, and tractable of the two units.

The controls of the bike are nice and light, with the throttle, clutch, and gearchange all feeling tight with no slack to be felt anywhere in the systems.

The fuel tank on the Nightster is an authentic 11.7-litre item, although it might not be where you think it is. The neat-looking ‘peanut’ tank that sits between your legs is a red herring, and basically only covers up the tuned airbox and its variable-length inlet trumpets – they play a nice tune by the way! The actual fuel cell resides under your backside and behind the new 975T engine. Harley is quoting 55mpg from the unit which gives a theoretical 150-mile range. My actual MPG on the launch was slightly lower, at around 49mpg. That said, the riding was very brisk, with lots of stop-start riding, hairpin bends, and steep inclines. The bikes were also barely run-in, making 55mpg sound reasonable.

Harley-Davidson Nightster chassis suspension and brakes

Like its larger sibling the Sportster S, the new Nightster features an innovative new type of frame that uses the engine as a stressed member that the chassis components all bolt on to. The design helps to keep weight down to 221kg ready to ride and importantly centralises the mass of the bike.

The suspension at both ends is provided by Showa, with non-adjustable dual bending valve forks that feature preload adjustability. On the road, the Nightster feels nicely composed, and while the suspension isn’t the most premium kit on the market, it’s well set up for the size and weight of the machine and only feels flustered when you ask it to do things outside of its skillset.

Braking at both ends is provided by Brembo, and as with the suspension; it’s mid-spec kit from a top-spec manufacturer. Bite and feel at both ends is good, and for the most part, just one or two fingers working the front brake is all you’ll need. The ABS is a fairly clumsy 2-channel system that sometimes causes an audible chirp from the front tyre, but it should be enough to prevent any spills should you need to call upon it.

Harley-Davidson Nightster handling

The biggest surprise to come from the Nightster launch was in the way this entry-level bike gets down the road – it’s a genuinely entertaining thing to ride. It feels light and direct, changing direction more like a European middleweight naked than anything else from across the pond. Fast left to right corners are dispatched with eye-opening efficiency, and thanks to the nicely set-up suspension it all feels very composed and well behaved.

Most fast corners you come up against will be accompanied by a sea of sparks as the pegs meet the road, and if you are a rider that enjoys a more spirited pace, you might want to invest in some spares!

Overall the handling and ability of the bike on a twisty road is a bit of a revelation, really elevating the machine from bike night show pony to genuinely entertaining and capable B-road machine.

Harley-Davidson Nightster tech and electronics

The new Nightster features a smattering of electronics that place it above the current crop of sir-cooled H-D V-twins and below the Sportster S.

On the safety front, you get 2-channel ABS that is non-adjustable and can’t be turned off. As mentioned above, it’s not the most sophisticated system, although it does the job. On top of that, there is a traction control system that is not lean-sensitive and can be disabled in any of the riding modes. To do this you don’t need to scroll through the menus, just hold down the TC button on the right handlebar until the TC light is solidly illuminated.

The bike also comes equipped with a Drag-Torque Slip Control System – that’s a slipper clutch to you and me – and it does a fairly admirable job of smoothing out the downshifts from speed.

The bike also features selectable riding modes, Road, Sport, and Rain. Each features its own settings for the engine power delivery, engine braking, ABS, and TC.

  • Road Mode features a fairly soft throttle map and less mid-range grunt than Sport Mode. TC and ABS with a higher level of ABS and TCS intervention.
  • Sport Mode delivers the full power of the bike with full power and the quickest throttle response. TCS is set to its lowest level of intervention, and engine braking is increased.
  • Rain Mode features the softest throttle response and power output, while the ABS and TC are cranked up to eleven.

Harley-Davidson Nightster verdict

Let’s face it, trying to fill the shoes of the 883 Sportster is a big ask, huge in fact. It’s a cult bike, and that status has only grown (along with second-hand prices) since the model was axed a couple of years ago. And while the market is crying out for a return to the air-cooled days, the rule makers are making life harder and harder for all manufacturers.

So, Harley is doing what it must do, it’s innovating. That latest innovation lands at our feet in the shape of the new Nightster, what can only be described as one of the best Harley-Davidson V-twin cruisers I’ve ridden. It’s well rounded, has excellent performance, works well on twisties and on the motorway, and looks like an old-school H-D model. It’s also more than up to the task of taking the fight to the competition on the handling front, but will it be enough to win over the fickle public who can’t seem to make up their minds about what they want from America’s most famous motorcycle maker?

I think it can, but only if they get off their backside and try one out – until then you’ve really got to keep your opinion of this model to yourself.

For more information on the new Nightster, head to: www.harley-davidson.com

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