NEW Harley-Davidson Nightster Review 2022

Harley-Davidson Nightster 975 Review Price Spec_069

 

Price: £12,995 | Power: 89bhp | Weight: 221kg | Overall BikeSocial Rating: 3.5/5

Technical Review: Ben Purvis

Road Test Review: Adam ‘Chad’ Child

 

When Harley-Davidson dropped the air-cooled Sportster 1200 and 883 models from its range last year it left a yawning chasm in the company’s traditional line-up. Now that’s being plugged with a machine that combines conventional Sportster styling cues with the company’s latest engine and chassis technology in the form of the Nightster.

The 1252cc, 121hp Sportster S, launched last year, showed the direction that the Sportster range was taking, adopting the Revolution Max engine from the Pan America adventure bike for a level of performance far beyond that of its air-cooled predecessors. But its monoshock rear suspension, upside-down forks and modern, single-seat design made it a substantial leap from the traditional Sportsters of old in terms of appearance as well as performance. With the new Nightster – a name that’s been dragged from Harley’s past, previously appearing on the 2007-2012 XL1200N Nightster, a bobbed version of the Sportster 1200 that set the pattern for successors including the Iron ,Forty-Eight and Seventy-Two models – Harley is targeting buyers who want a more recognisably H-D look but with the company’s latest technology.

As a new entry point to Harley-Davidson’s range, the Nightster offers noticeably more power than the old Sportster 883 and 1200 models that it effectively replaces but doesn’t go to the extremes of the Sportster S. It debuts the smaller 975cc version of the Revolution Max engine, originally intended to be used on the now-cancelled Bronx streetfighter, with major changes alongside the capacity reduction to drop power to 89hp. That figure importantly slides below the 94hp limit for bikes that can be legally restricted to the 47hp maximum of the A2 licence class, but it’s still a third more than the old Sportster 1200 could muster and around 80% more than the old 883’s maximum.

 

For and against
  • Revolution Max engine brings modern technology and performance to Harley-Davidson’s entry-level range
  • Styling manages to be traditional without slavishly copying earlier models
  • Rider aids including traction control are a boon, particularly as the Nightster is an entry-level model
  • Much improved handling, with greater ground clearance and less weight
  • Water-cooled engine might be off-putting for lovers of old-school Harleys – and there’s no Bonneville-style attempt to hide the radiator or add faux finning.
  • Numberplate looks like an afterthought and sits strangely high
  • Fuelling in Sports mode is snatchy, and even in Standard mode is a little harsh
  • Some of the finish, exposed wiring, clips, and bolts used are not what you’d expect from a £13k bike
Harley-Davidson Nightster 975 Review Price Spec_02
Video Review: Harley-Davidson Nightster (2022)
We packed regular BikeSocial road test contributor, Adam 'Chad' Child off to not-so-sunny Spain to give the new 975cc machine a whirl.

 

Harley-Davidson Nightster Price

How much is the 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster? £12,995 (Black) or £13,370 (other colours)

Initially, Harley is offering the Nightster in black – a hue that clearly suits its name – for £12,995, while two other colour options, red or grey, are available for £375 more. Surprisingly, that means the 975cc machine is only £1300 less expensive than the more lavishly equipped, 1252cc, 121hp Sportster S, while lovers of the more traditional H-D look can get an air-cooled, 1745cc Softail Standard for only £800 more than the base Nightster.

Whichever colour Nightster you pick, you get a black cowl around the headlight and black front an drear fenders, while there’s a distinct lack of chromework to be seen. The engine is finished in a graphite grey while the alloy wheels and exhaust are blacked out. No doubt future Sportster variants will follow, adding more traditional chrome-finished components and wire wheels to the mix.

The dummy fuel tank (fuel is stored under the seat) is actually an air-box that allows easy customisation. You can simply swap the dummy fuel tank for another colour, or opt for something bespoke.

Considering the £13k price tag, the Thai-built (though like all HD's, the design, engineering and development is in the US) Harley does lack a little bling. There’s no Bluetooth connectivity with the dash, for example, the electronic rider aids are not lean-angle responsive, and some of the exposed wiring and fasteners are not up to the standard you might expect on a premium bike. Air-cooled fans won’t like the fully on-view radiator either.

The Nightster is expected to reach the dealers in May 2022.

 

Power and torque

With 89hp at 7500rpm and 70lbft of torque at 5750rpm, the Nightster’s lost cubes compared to the 1252cc Sportster S make a substantial impact on performance, slashing 32hp from the peak output. When compared to the more potent, 148hp Pan America that also uses the 1252cc Revolution Max engine, the drop is an even larger 51hp.

However, out-and-out power has never been a selling point for the Harley Sportster range – the old, air-cooled Sportster 1200 models only managed around 66hp – and the Nightster’s 89hp is enough to beat the 86hp peak of the ‘107’ (1745cc) air-cooled Milwaukee-Eight engine that’s used in the current Softail range. 

 For A2 licence holders, it’s a much more attractive offer than previous smaller capacity Harleys. Now, once you’ve successfully upgraded your licence, you can simply de-restrict it and enjoy the full power experience rather than trading in your personalised 883 for something bigger. 

 

 

Engine, gearbox, and exhaust

While the capacity drop compared to the Sportster S is the clearest change to the Nightster’s Revolution Max engine – achieved via a smaller 97mm bore and shorter 66mm stroke, down from 105mm and 72.3mm –  it’s actually only one of a host of revisions to make it a simpler proposition than the more powerful version.

Visually, the 60-degree motor seems largely similar, with a different intake cover and the lower-slung, two-into-one exhaust the clearest changes, but under the skin the ‘975T’ version of the engine swaps the twin-spark cylinder heads of the ‘1250T’ version. The reduced bore means the second plug isn’t needed to ensure an efficient burn.

There’s also a change to the variable valve timing system. On the larger engine, both the intake and exhaust camshafts are phased to change their timing depending on revs, but the smaller version only has variable intake timing.

As on other versions of the engine, the valves have car-style hydraulic tappets to eliminate the need for valve clearance adjustments – often an expensive, time-consuming job on DOHC engines – and there are balancers to smooth the throb introduced by the narrow, 60-degree V angle.

The engine drives through exactly the same six-speed transmission used on the Sportster S, with identical ratios.

There are three riding modes to choose from: Sport, Road and Rain. Each mode changes the rider aids, while Rain mode reduces peak power by around 15%. In standard Road mode there’s a rev limiter that won’t allow you to blip the throttle passed 2500rpm in neutral. I wanted to hear the new motor rev, and listen to the water-cooled tone, but it’s impossible to rev the engine unless you select a gear and hold in the clutch.

Leaving our test base, I immediately feel at home. The gearbox is fluid, not like the clunky transmission of old, and both levers are span adjustable, not the previous huge chrome levers. The fuel injection, however, is a little sharp and snatchy for low-speed riding. Several miles and a thoroughly warmed motor later don’t improve things much and, while the Nightster’s fuelling can’t be described as bad, it’s not in the same league as that on KTM’s and Ducati’s big V-twins. I would give it 8 out of 10, and that is being generous, while in Sport mode it scores even lower as the throttle response is intrusively snatchy. Admittedly, you’re unlikely to spend much time in Sport mode at town speeds – and the throttle is soft and forgiving in Rain mode – so I gave up with Sport mode.

Fuelling aside, the 975cc V-twin impressed throughout our test day. On one hand, you can ride the Nightster like a traditional Harley, short shifting through that easy gearbox, enjoying the torque and riding progressively and relatively briskly. Or, if you’ve come from a sports background then hold onto a gear and let it rev. Peak power is at 7500rpm, max torque at 5000rpm, but the Nightster will over-rev to 9500rpm – and it appears to enjoy it. The kick of power between 6000rpm and 8000rpm is a welcome addition for sports fans; yes, the Nightster is sporty in a way that the Sportster never managed. And while 89hp from a water-cooled V-twin isn’t going to win the Top Trumps battle, I wasn’t expecting this kind of eagerness and willingness to rev from a Harley either. It makes it far more fun than the old air-cooled 1200, and kicks sand in the face of the underpowered 883.

Accelerating out of slow corners or roundabouts is now great fun. Turn off the TC and there is enough torque to light up the rear tyre, just, and it will continue accelerating past a displayed road legal speed with a degree of nonchalance. What’s more, there’s handling to match.

 

 

Handling, suspension, and weight

As on the Sportster S and Pan America, the Revolution Max engine has opened the door to a completely new chassis design for Harley-Davidson.

In short, the engine is the chassis. Front and rear subframe sections are attached to it to mount the steering head and seat, but the motor provides all the structural strength in the centre. On the Nightster, the swingarm is a simpler design than the Sportster S’s, featuring dual shocks for a more traditional look. While there’s preload adjustment via threaded collars, there’s no scope to tweak the damping at the back.

Up front there are 41mm Showa forks, again offering preload adjustment only. Front suspension travel is 114mm, while the rear wheel has 76mm of movement.

The frameless design is clearly a boon when it comes to saving weight. At 221kg wet the Nightster is 7kg lighter than the Sportster S and a massive 76kg less than a Softail Standard.

Harley has saved weight and, interestingly, moved the centre of gravity with the fuel tank now under the seat and the traditional tank shape a dummy for the airbox. H-D has also listened to criticism and improved ground clearance. The old, discontinued Sportster could never objectively be described as sporty as handling limitations, especially the lack of ground clearance, were all too easy to find. Now, those limitations have been attended to, and while the pegs and eventually the exhaust will touch down it takes some determination to do so.

Certainly, this is no track bike but the combination of 19-inch front and 16-inch rear wheels and 221kg somehow works. It’s slow steering, especially during fast direction changes at speed, but this is only noticeable when riding outside the bike’s design window. For a spirited ride, it’s hard to fault – its new-found agility and easy to achieve lean both attributes most Harleys can only dream about. Add this much-improved handling to the now fun motor, and the result is a truly sporting entry-level Harley.  

While the Harley-Davidson badged tyres will last forever, they’re on the hard side. Grip wasn’t an issue in the dry at least, but when you’re riding sportily, the rubber does lack outright feel. But TC and ABS come as standard should you get a little carried away.

 

 

Harley-Davidson Nightster (2022) Comfort and economy

When it comes to ergonomics, the Nightster takes a safe middle ground for its riding position. Mid-mounted foot controls and ‘low-rise’ bars combine with a low 705mm seat height to make for a machine that most riders will be able to get comfortable on. Of course, this is Harley-Davidson, so the options catalogue is stuffed with alternative parts, including both higher and lower bars and forward-mount foot controls. You’ll also have to dip into the options list to get a pillion seat and passenger pegs.

Economy is rated at a strong 55.4mpg, enough for a potential range of 142 miles from the 11.7-litre fuel tank, which isn’t actually housed in the ‘walnut’ shaped dummy ‘tank’ between your legs. That’s really a cover for the airbox, although it’s still made of steel, which is good news for magnetic tank bags. The real fuel tank is under the seat, which means lifting the cushion to reach the filler.

We didn’t get to measure the range of that new under-seat 11.7-litre fuel tank. When I hopped on the bike ahead of the test ride, I assumed the fuel tank was full, but without a fuel gauge and only a fuel light, that’s impossible to confirm. The fuel light illuminated just shy of 56 miles, which then showed a range of 34 miles. By lunch I had ridden 63 miles with 27 miles remaining, therefore I’m assuming the tank wasn’t full. According to Harley’s representatives, most of the bikes on the test were hitting 120 miles before requiring fuel, and some riders completed the 65 mile ride to the lunch stopover with 37-43 miles of petrol remaining – but I can’t confirm if the fuel tank was brimmed.

Despite the lack of sag in the short-travel rear suspension, comfort is impressive. And the Nightster appeared to accommodate most of the human shapes and sizes riding on test, though a screen would be needed for serious touring.

 

Brakes

A single front brake disc and axially-mounted four-piston caliper, allied to a single piston rear caliper, definitely appear to be on the skimpy side for a bike with this much power and weight. The even more powerful Sportster S also makes do with a single front disc, albeit with a beefier radial caliper, and we found it could really do with a second one.

The single Brembo stopper is just about up to the job, and there’s a nice, progressive feel to the brakes. The back brake is strong, and don’t forget the Drag-Torque Slip Control System (DSCS), or engine brake assist to me and you. Most of the test was on tight twists and turns meaning I didn’t get the opportunity to brake from high speeds, so across a variety of riding conditions, especially with added weight such as a pillion or luggage.

The ABS is not lean-sensitive and is relatively basic. Although at times I could feel the actuation of the ABS, it wasn’t alarming and new riders will feel the benefit of riding with ABS.

 

 

Rider aids, extra equipment, and accessories

As well as the ABS, the Nightster’s rider aids include a switchable traction control system and an engine braking control system to prevent rear-wheel lock up on downshifts, but there’s none of the lean-sensitive, IMU-assisted gear that’s becoming increasingly common elsewhere. For a bike starting at £13k, that might seem a spec cut too far. I was expecting lean sensitive ABS, as this now comes as standard on smaller and lower capacity bikes, especially when you consider the Nightster can be de-tuned for A2 licence holders and will attract new and inexperienced riders.

You do get a selection of switchable riding modes for your money, though, with ‘Road’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Rain’ options that all alter throttle response, power delivery, traction control and ABS settings to suit. The simple, circular speedo houses a small LCD display to reveal your choices, with none of the flashy colour TFT stuff that you’ll find on many other modern bikes, but there is no Bluetooth connectivity, which younger riders may want, and expect.

Accessory-wise, there’s plenty to choose from. ‘Style Collections’ include the ‘Adversary Collection’ and ’66 Collection’ with various engine dress up parts, hand grips, foot pegs and mirrors. There are also optional lower and higher bars, chrome exhaust covers, a ‘Heavy Breather’ intake, forward foot controls, a pillion seat, luggage rack and sissy bar as well as detachable saddlebags and two optional screens.

 

Rivals

In the past, Harley-Davidson has been one of those companies that doesn’t really have ‘rivals’ – others might make bikes with similar specs, styling and performance, but buyers wanting a Harley want a Harley, not something that just looks like one.

With the advent of the water-cooled Revolution Max-powered machines, however, that might change. It’s too early to be certain of that, but these bikes are more clearly aligned with direct competitors, so the Nightster has to beat its rivals on merit rather than just badge. Alternatives include Triumph’s Bonneville Bobber and Speedmaster models, while Indian’s water-cooled Scout range are also clearly directly up against the Nightster.

Harley-Davidson Nightster

  • Engine: 975cc V-twin, water-cooled
  • Power: 89hp @ 7500rpm
  • Torque: 95Nm @5750rpm
  • Weight: 221kg (wet)
  • Seat Height: 705mm
  • Price: £12,995

Triumph Bonneville Bobber

  • Engine: 1200cc parallel twin, water-cooled
  • Power: 76.9bhp @6100rpm
  • Torque:106Nm @4000rpm
  • Weight: 251kg (wet)
  • Seat Height: 690-700mm
  • Price: £12,195

Indian Scout Rogue

  • Engine: 1133cc V-twin, water cooled
  • Power: 94hp @8000rpm
  • Torque:97Nm @5600rpm
  • Weight: 250kg (wet)
  • Seat Height: 649mm
  • Price: £13,295

 

Harley-Davidson Nightster 975 Review Price Spec_15

 

Harley-Davidson Nightster (2022) Verdict

We haven’t touched on the all-important Nightster look. Traditionalists may disagree but I like the overall style and how easy it will be for owners to customise, but it’s a shame about the low quality of one or two fasteners.

Looks aside, I can vouch that this is a big step for Harley, particularly the fun and versatile motor which is happy to play the easy-going role one minute and be a rev-happy sporty bike the next. It’s the same verdict for the handling, which is much improved over the old Sportster, and one of the best handling Harleys I’ve ridden.  The fuelling is average compared to the best V-twins on the market, and certainly don’t opt for the Sports mode at slow speeds. The rider aids are a welcome addition, but should they be lean sensitive?

The new Nightster kicks sand in the face of the old, air-cooled Sportster range and should be a hit with new Harley customers, but at close to £13k it’s not a cheap way into this historic and iconic brand. And I’m unsure if the air-cooled Harley fans will warm to it?

 

Harley-Davidson Nightster (2022) Technical Specification

New price

£12,995 (black) £13,370 (colours)

Capacity

975cc

Bore x Stroke

97 x 66mm

Engine layout

60-degree V-twin

Engine details

Water-cooled, DOHC, VVT

Power

66kW/ 89bhp @ 7500rpm

Torque

95Nm / 70ft lbs @ 5750rpm

Top speed

112 mph

Transmission

Six-speed

Average fuel consumption

Claimed: 55.4mpg / 5.1l/100km

Tested: TBA mpg / TBA l/100km

Tank size

11.7 litres

Max range to empty

Claimed: 148 miles

Tested: TBA miles

Rider aids

Riding modes (rain, road, sport), ABS, Traction Control, engine braking control

Frame

Engine as structural member, front and rear subframes

Front suspension

Showa 41mm forks

Front suspension adjustment

Preload only

Rear suspension

Dual shocks

Rear suspension adjustment

Preload only

Front brake

Axial-mount 4-piston caliper, single disc

Rear brake

One-piston caliper, single disc

Front wheel / tyre

19in alloy, 100/90-19

Rear wheel / tyre

16in alloy, 150/80-16

Dimensions

(2250mm x 840mm x 1105mm)

Wheelbase

1545mm

Seat height

705mm

Ground clearance

TBA mm

Weight

221kg (wet)

MCIA Secured rating

TBA

Warranty

24 months (unlimited mileage)

Servicing

First service: 1,000 miles then every 5,000 miles

Website

www.harley-davidson.com/gb

 

Harley-Davidson Nightster 975 Review Price Spec_16

 

What is MCIA Secured?

MCIA Secured gives bike buyers the chance to see just how much work a manufacturer has put into making their new investment as resistant to theft as possible.

As we all know, the more security you use, the less chance there is of your bike being stolen. In fact, based on research by Bennetts, using a disc lock makes your machine three times less likely to be stolen, while heavy duty kit can make it less likely to be stolen than a car. For reviews of the best security products, click here.

MCIA Secured gives motorcycles a rating out of five stars (three stars for bikes of 125cc or less), based on the following being fitted to a new bike as standard:

  • A steering lock that meets the UNECE 62 standard
  • An ignition immobiliser system
  • A vehicle marking system
  • An alarm system
  • A vehicle tracking system with subscription

The higher the star rating, the better the security, so always ask your dealer what rating your bike has and compare it to other machines on your shortlist.