Harley-Dav… | Old-school charm, new-school performance
WITH the launch of the Sportster S, the Harley-Davidson manager turned a generation of Harley-Davidson riders upside down in one fell swoop. For those who wanted more modernity and style, they got it. And for those who asked for more performance, they got it too. By bucket load.
Thing is, neither side was too happy with the bike. Although 90% of armchair reviewers never even swing a leg on 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 unpleasant global motorcycling community.
Seconds, first lap…
What is the Harley-Davidson Nightster and who is it designed for?
The new Nightster is a modern take on the iconic Harley-Davidson Sportster. It really is the bike that HD fans cried the most about when it left the line a short time ago. It wasn’t the biggest, baddest or fastest bike Harley had ever built, but its lineup positioning, low cost and archaic simplicity won it a veritable army of fans.
While the new Nightster takes inspiration from classic V-twins of old, under the skin it’s all new and looking to battle it out in the modern middleweight naked market. It’s a V-twin cruiser for those who like to take care of themselves and the planet.
Price, PCP and colors Harley-Davidson Nightster
The new Nightster fits into the HD range as an entry point for many riders. The bike’s affordability comes not just from its ease of riding, but also from its starting price of £12,995. Three colors are available in the UK, the base model Vivid Black, Gunship Gray and Redline Red – the latter both attracting a premium of £375 on top of the RRP.
A representative PCP example would see you pay a down payment of £3,188.44, with 36 monthly payments of £125.00. This is based on an annual mileage of 3,000 miles. For more information, contact your nearest Harley-Davidson dealer.
Engine, range and MPG Harley-Davidson Nightster
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 up to date and features VVT, power modes, a tuned airbox, and more. It develops 88 hp at 7,500 rpm and 70 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm.
The overall character of the 975T is that of a quick and impatient little unit. It looks so much more like a European-built V-twin than any of the other V-twin cruisers in the line. The low-end grunt is still there, it’s just not as heart-rending as with bikes like the Softail Standard for example. The new Nightster is much happier basking in a wide range of mid-range torque, which is much more at home on real roads, doing real passing.
The Nightster also revs like no other V-twin cruiser before, and instead of slamming into the rev limiter at 4,500-5,000 rpm, revs up and only really gasps just before redline hits. is reached. I’d say on the road it’s a more attractive prospect than the larger, more powerful Sportster S. The Sportster S is a very fast bike 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 better-handling of the two units.
The bike’s controls are nice and light, with the throttle, clutch and shift all feeling tight with no play to be felt anywhere in the systems.
The Nightster’s fuel tank is a genuine 11.7-litre unit, although it might not be where you think. The neat looking ‘peanut’ tank that sits between your legs is a red herring and basically just covers the tuned airbox and its variable length inlet trumpets – they play a nice tune by the way! The actual fuel cell resides under your back and behind the new 975T engine. Harley quotes 55 mpg from the unit, giving a theoretical range of 150 miles. My actual MPG at launch was slightly lower, at around 49 mpg. That said, the ride was very fast, with lots of stop-and-go, hairpin turns and steep hills. The bikes were also barely broken in, which made the 55 mpg sound reasonable.
Harley-Davidson Nightster chassis suspension and brakes
Like its big brother the Sportster S, the new Nightster features an innovative new type of frame that uses the engine as the stressed member to which the chassis components all bolt. The design helps keep the weight down to 221kg ready to ride and most importantly centralizes the mass of the bike.
Suspension at both ends is provided by Showa, with non-adjustable dual-flex valve forks that allow for preload adjustment. On the road, the Nightster feels well dialed in, and while the suspension isn’t the most premium kit on the market, it’s set up well for the size and weight of the machine and only feels choppy when you ask him to do things outside of his skills.
Braking at both ends is provided by Brembo, and as with the suspension; it’s a mid-range kit from a high-end manufacturer. Bite and feel at both ends is good, and for the most part, one or two fingers operating the front brake is sufficient. ABS is a fairly clunky 2-way system which sometimes causes audible noise to babble of the front tire, but that should be enough to avoid any spills if you need to call on him.
Handling of the Harley-Davidson Nightster
The biggest surprise to come from the Nightster launch was the way this entry-level bike rolls down the road – it’s a really fun thing to ride. It feels light and direct, changing direction more like a naked European middleweight than anything else across the pond. Quick left-to-right turns are dispatched with telling efficiency, and thanks to the well-tuned suspension, everything feels very composed and well-behaved.
Most of the fast turns you encounter will be accompanied by a sea of sparks as the pegs meet the road, and if you’re a rider who likes a more spirited pace, you might want to invest in some spares!
Overall, the bike’s handling and ability on a twisty road is a bit of a revelation, truly elevating the bike night show pony machine to a genuinely entertaining and capable B-road machine.
Technology and electronics Harley-Davidson Nightster
The new Nightster has a handful of electronics that put it above the current crop of Sir-cooled HD V-twins and below the Sportster S.
On the safety front, you get 2-channel ABS which is non-adjustable and cannot be turned off. As mentioned above, it’s not the most sophisticated system, although it does get the job done. On top of that, there’s a traction control system that’s not tilt-sensitive and can be disabled in any drive mode. You don’t need to scroll through menus to do this, just hold the TC button on the right handlebar down until the TC light is solid on.
The bike also has a Drag-Torque slipper control system—it’s a slipper clutch for you and me—and it does a pretty admirable job of smoothing out downshifts.
The bike also offers selectable riding modes, Road, Sport and Rain. Each has its own settings for engine power, engine braking, ABS and TC.
- Road mode has a fairly smooth throttle map and less mid-range growl 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 intervention level and engine braking is increased.
- Rain mode offers the smoothest throttle response and power output, while ABS and TC are pushed up to eleven.
The verdict of the Harley-Davidson Nightster
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 used prices) since the model was phased out a few years ago. And while the market is clamoring for a return to the days of air cooling, makers are making life harder and harder for all manufacturers.
So Harley does what it has to do, and that’s innovate. This latest innovation lands at our feet in the form of the new Nightster, which can only be described as one of the best Harley-Davidson V-twin cruisers I’ve ridden. It’s well-rounded, has great performance, performs well on corners and on the highway, and looks like an old-school HD model. It’s also more than up to the task of battling the competition on the handling front, but will it be enough to win over the fickle audience who can’t make up their minds on what they want? of America’s most famous motorcycle manufacturer?
I think it’s possible, but only if they get off their back and try one – until then you really have to keep your opinion of this model to yourself.
For more information on the new Nightster, visit: www.harley-davidson.com