Not into lumpy American iron? Then you should know the new Nightster is nothing like the Harleys of old. This thing rips.
It can be difficult sometimes to get excited about a new-model release from Harley-Davidson. Major updates are relatively rare, the models in each range are mechanically quite similar and, compared to offerings from other brands, they are quite unique which makes assessing where they sit comparatively within the market a difficult task. That changed with the introduction of the Pan America and Sportster S, from a comparison point of view at least, and the more recent release of the 2022 Nightster has blown even more fresh air into the Harley range.
For fans of the American marque’s more traditional models, the water-cooled Nightster may seem like sacrilege but like the Sportster S, the Pan America and the Nightster are all major steps forward in technology and performance, and the 2022 Nightster may just be the most well-rounded cruiser the Motor Company has ever produced.
The 2022 Nightster doesn’t have the outright power of the larger-capacity Sportster S but it’s lighter and a far superior handler. At its heart is the Revolution Max T powerplant. The sleeved-down Revolution Max shares much with the larger 1252cc unit but, with a bore and stroke of 97mm x 66mm versus the 105mm x 72.3mm, gives the Revolution Max T a displacement of 975cc.
The engine punches out 67kW (90hp) of power at 7500rpm which doesn’t sound like much but let’s put that into perspective. The old, air-cooled Sportster 883 made 37kW, and the 114 cubic-inch Milwaukee-Eight in the brand’s top-selling Breakout puts out just 3kW more at 70kW. Also factor in that the Breakout weighs 87kg more than the Nightster’s claimed 218kg (wet) weight and the Nightster is very lively package when you roll the right grip.
The T in the engine’s moniker stands for torque and the 2022 Nightster has 95Nm of it that hits at 5000rpm. Again, for comparison purposes, the 1200 Sporty engine coughed up just one extra newton-metre of torque in a package that weighed in at a claimed 248kg.
Despite the T designation, the Nightster’s engine responds best to a rev-happy style of riding. There’s still plenty of low to mid-range punch, but by the time peak power kicks in, the 2022 Nightster is ripping along with vigour. It’s got enough squirt to pick up the front wheel in the first two gears – see, nothing like the Harleys of old – and there’s enough power to cover all your road-riding needs.
On the flip side, the engine is versatile enough to still be ridden like a classic Harley, loping along low in the rev range and using the torque, it’s just that you’ll need to get stuck into the gearbox if you want it to really fly.
The Revolution Max straddles the line between your tradition Harley twin and a Japanese V-twin so if you are entering the world of Harley ownership and coming from another brand you may feel more at home on the Nightster than you would on a motorcycle powered by the marque’s Milwaukee-Eights. It’s a lot smoother and has a more refined feel to it than an old, air-cooled mill. Some would argue that without the wobble, bounce, vibe and noise, it now lacks some of the character that Harleys are known for and I’d have to agree.
The Nighster lacks the IMU-controlled rider aids of the Sportster S but still features three ride modes – Sport, Road and Rain. Throttle response in Sport mode is abrupt off the bottom when you’re tooling around town, but when you’re being more aggressive it’s nice and responsive. Road mode tones down both the delivery and the power output which makes it smoother around town, but the power on tap is so engaging that I kept it the Nightster in Sport to get the full experience. The abrupt power delivery can make wet-weather riding challenging where smoothness is important, but the 2022 Nightster is loaded with an effective and switchable traction control system that’s good at keeping things from turning ugly. If things get really slick there also a Rain mode that really softens the power delivery and robs the engine of a solid chunk of grunt.
A six-speed gearbox finds a home on the Nightster rather than the five-speed ’box found in the old Sportsters and the clunky, long throw shift of the air-cooled models is also gone. The shift may be more direct and positive, but the effort required to shift left the top of my foot sore such is the resistance from the shifter. The bike was brand new with just a few hundred kilometres on the clock, so the action should improve as the odo rolls around.
Those of us who appreciate the effort H-D goes to make the engines on their air-cooled machines neat, tidy and free from clutter will appreciate the right-hand side of the engine and loathe the left. It’s like Harley decided that it couldn’t hide the pipes, wires and cables, so decided to put them all on the left and hope you just take in the neat appearance of the right-hand side.
On top of the messy-looking engine, the quality of finish of the whole bike lacks the premium feel of the rest of the range. There’s an abundance of cheap and uncheerful black plastic used from the switchblocks to the indicators – even the old Sportsters had metal switchblocks and indicators – and the paint just doesn’t punch like Harley paint tends to do. On the flip side it makes for a clean palette to customise which is cool, everyone loves to customise their Harley, but with a sticker price a smidgeon under $24,000 I expect a more premium feel out of the box.
The Revolution Max is held in an all-new frame that uses the engine as a stressed member, the frame helps reduce weight but it also feels far more rigid and precise and loses the limp noodle feel that could creep in when you pushed hard on the old cradle-framed model.
To keep the Nightster’s weight as low as possible, the 11.7 litre full tank sits under the seat and rather than extending back along the subframe, the tank drops down between the engine and swingarm which means the balance of the bike isn’t affected as much by fuel level.
What would normally be the tank is now the airbox cover shaped in a similar style to the old Sportsters. To retain a family resemblance, there’s a round plastic thing that mimics the air filter on the old Sportsters but I’m fairly sure it’s just an empty painted Tupperware container.
Gone is the fat rubber of the Sportster S, with Harley opting for a more traditional 100/90-19 and 150/80-16 setup and, as a consequence, the Nightster is a far sharper steerer. I’ll go so far as to say the 2022 Nightster is quite a good handling bike and with the exception of the Pan America, it’s the best handling Harley in the range and quite a bit of fun to chuck around.
The 2022 Nightster loses the inverted fork of the Sportster S, using a conventional 41mm Showa Dual Bending Valve non-adjustable fork gripped by stiff aluminium triple clamps. They may be low tech, but they are a mile ahead of the units on the old Sportster range and despite the lack of adjustment, offer a great blend of sport and comfort. However, if you weigh less than 80kg, you may find them a bit stiff.
There’s a Showa dual shock setup on the rear rather than the monoshock of the Sportster S and they offer preload adjustment only. Like the front though, they do the job well and offer a better ride than the Sportster S due to the decent 76.2mm of travel, which is 26.2mm more than the Sportster S.
Comfort is also increased via a well-shaped and generously padded seat that sits just 705mm off the deck, making the 2022 Nightster a reasonable proposition even for the shorties of the world. Six-footers may find the riding position a little cramped, mainly due to the short distance between the seat and the ’pegs, and those mid-mounted ’pegs always seem to be in the way of my foot when pulling up. Add to that rubber pegs that grip your boots on the way down and you could come unstuck if you’re not paying attention.
Some will decry the single-disc setup up front, but honestly it doesn’t need it. There’s plenty of power from the four-piston Brembo caliper and, compared to most Harleys, its very effective and loses the wooden feel common among Harley’s older designs. There’s a 260mm disc on the rear that’s also more than adequate for rear braking duties.
There’s no TFT display on the Nightster so you’ll have to make do with an analogue speedo with imbedded LCD display. It’s not flash, but it’s easy to read and suits the look of the bike. There’s the typical Harley keyless ignition but you’ll still need a key to get to the fuel tank and to lock the steering. And gone are the two seperate indicator switches on both of the switchblocks, thankfully, with H-D opting for a more conventional setup on the left-hand switchblock.
All up, the 2022 Nightster is a cracking motorcycle. It’ll leave all but the Pan America for dead in the Harley range if you like a spirited ride, but there’s a few gripes. First is the bar-end mirrors that make lane-splitting more difficult. They do however work well, you can see more than your arm and they can be changed easily enough. I’m not a fan of the abundance of plastic but with the list of options in the accessories catalogue that’s also something that’s easy enough to rectify. That leads me to the price. $23,995 (ride away) means that the Nightster has a premium price tag and I’m just not seeing the value in it. When compared to the Indian Scout which is the same price, it’s on the money, but there’s a lot of good metal out there around the same mark – think Triumph Bonnevilles, Honda’s CMX1100 and even Harley’s own Softail Standard.
If you have a love for the Harley brand but want something that is more modern and handles, stops and goes better than nearly every other Harley, you may love the Nightster, and I reckon you take one for a spin because I’m sure you’ll be surprised. But if you love the the thump, thump of big old-school Harleys though, I reckon the refined feel and budget looks might leave you cold. And there’s a chance that could be a common thing.
Because this is not the first time Harley has launched a more modern offering – think V-Rod, and look what happened to that! But like the V-Rod, the Nightster deserves to be a popular choice for Harley fans looking for more performance from their American iron, but only time will tell if Harley has hit the mark this time.
I get what Harley is trying to do with the 2022 Nightster, but for me it lacks the feel and character that Harleys are largely known for. But I am an old fart, Harley is trying to reach a new audience and in doing so has created a bike that’s closer to a Japanese bike than ever before. That’s cool, but that means that you must go head-to-head with offerings from mainstream brands, and often with those you get more for your money.
Indian Scout Rogue
$23,995 ride away
$18,459 plus on-road costs
Harley-Davidson Softail Standard
$22,995 ride away
Triumph Speed Twin
$21,250 ride away
Harley-Davidson Nightster Specs
Type: V-twin, DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Bore & stroke: 90 x 66mm
Compression ratio: 12.0:1
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Final drive: Belt
Power: 67kW @ 7500rpm (claimed)
Torque: 95Nm @ 5000rpm (claimed)
Top speed: 220km/h (est)
Fuel consumption: 5.7L/100km (measured)
Continental ABS, ride-by-wire
Rider aides: ABS, traction control, drag-torque slip control
Modes: Road, Sport, Rain
Frame material: Steel
Frame type: Trellis
Front: 41mm telescopic fork, non-adjustable, 114mm travel
Rear: Twin shock, adjustable preload, 76.2mm travel
Wheels & brakes
Wheels Cast aluminium
Front: 19 x 2.5
Rear: 16 x 4.25
Tyres: Dunlop D401
Brakes: Brembo, ABS
Front: Single 320mm disc, four-piston caliper
Rear: Single 260mm disc, single-piston caliper
Weight: 218kg (wet, claimed)
Seat height: 705mm
Ground clearance: Not given
Fuel capacity: 11.7L
Servicing & warranty
Servicing: First: 1600km
Warranty: Two years, unlimited km
Price: From $23,995 ride away
Colour options: Vivid Black, Gunship Gray, or Redline Red