Review / Harley’s revolution picks up speed with the fast new Sportster “Nightster”

Hit the start button on Harley-Davidson’s new 2022 Sportster variant, the $13,499 Nightster, and things don’t go as planned. The Revolution Max 975T engine revs with no drama, chatter or much sound at all from the stock 2-into-1 exhaust. The handlebars don’t throb in your hands at idle and the shifter doesn’t clack when put into gear, it just clicks. There are no potatoes to hear.

The one thing the new Revolution Max motor has in common with older V-Rod motors is that they are both 60-degree V-Twins. That’s all. Photo: Kevin Aile

The short-sleeved 60-degree V-twin patiently pulls away beneath you, and as I clutched the clutch with a group of cycling journalists during a switch on the winding Southern California Highway 33, it seemed that the Nightster was… waiting. Waiting for to go, do not show. I’m waiting to see if my riding skills are up to the challenge of this route, a favorite of local sports bikers. Waiting to load into turn after turn, not cross town to another club.

It may carry the somewhat sinister moniker “Nightster,” but Harley’s latest motorcycle built around the new Revolution Max modular powertrain is perhaps the Motor Company’s most mixed message to date: slow ego. It’s a middleweight ripper, just like the Sportster was meant to be when it was introduced in 1957 as a lighter, slimmer alternative to fat bikes. Now the Sportster is back in truly sporty form.

Our clutch of about a dozen riders seemed to fall into two groups: those who were content to take advantage of the seemingly endless supply of curves on the 33 at a fast but conservative clip, and those who scrambled to keep the taillight Prominent Harley’s Paul James as Director of Motorcycle Product Planning pushed his Nightster down the two-lane mountain highway at speeds that seemed to increase with altitude.

I rode a bit with the slower group as we started on the 33rd, but as I got a better feel for the Nightster it pushed me, and before Team James disappeared into the hills, I put it in Sport mode, shot the 90 horsepower mill towards its 9,500 rpm redline and clicked into the six-speed gearbox to catch up, an almost Ducati-esque howl rising in the mill inlet horn.

Despite the single front Brembo rotor, the front brake has solid power and feedback. Photo: Kevin Aile

Mile after mile, we increased cornering speed until I was lightly touching the center-mounted pegs on both sides of the bike to keep pace. Nothing major, except once I had the bike leaned over and the curb subsided slightly, compressing the suspension and sending a shower of sparks down the path of a rider behind me. But the Nightster stayed in line and even pushed hard, it rides with calm neutrality and to be honest, unexpected comfort thanks to the firm, well-shaped solo seat.

This all might sound like heroic riding on my part, but the truth is that besides the semi-mythical Buell XR1200 Sportster of over a decade ago, this is the fastest, lightest Harley motorcycle , the most agile and inspiring. Davidson has built in many moons. It has more horsepower than the XR while weighing 481 pounds wet, more than 100 pounds less than the old, air-oil-cooled, pushrod-operated five-speed machine.

Track day experience and decades of road riding certainly helped me explore the limits of the new Nightster, but suffice to say I had to push hard to grind those ankles and I never been close to finding its top speed, despite the fact that I saw triple digits staring at me. on the speedo more than once. This bike is going to put shame any Air-cooled Sportster – Roadsters included – as well as the majority of 1000cc class V-Twin competition except the Indian Scout machines it directly competes with. And it’s all according to plan.

No shiny bits, wet look paint or hang. The Nightster looks simple. This is not the case. Photo: Kevin Aile

To get the Sportster Nightster back into fighting shape, Harley reverted to the Revolution Max’s basic architecture of using the engine as a stressed member like on the Sportster S and Pan America, then bolted on the front and rear subframes. of Nightster-spec to hold the forks, a 19-inch front rim and a 16-inch on the swingarm. As noted, this engine is now 975cc, but it is still the same physical size and uses the same crankcases and gears as the Sportster S. However, it has lost one spark plug per head as well as variable engine timing. exhaust side valves while retaining it. the intake cam, which saves a little weight, reduces complexity and also saves a little cost. Otherwise, it runs and acts the same as the larger S, but with 90 ponies instead of 121 and 70 pound-feet of torque spread across the wide rev range.

You can get revs to display on the LCD as numbers, but an actual or digital dial style tachometer would be better. Photo: Kevin Aile

It also includes much of the same technology from the S model: three riding modes (rain, road, sport), constant hydraulic valve clearance adjustment, variable traction control, ABS, slipper clutch and a tidy LCD display in the round speedometer with throttle. gauge, GPI and data bits like RPM and idle range and a clock. This “platform” strategy saves Harley time in design and production, and it’s a safe bet we’ll see many more variations on the RevMax theme over time.

Harley may be offended by this statement, but they shouldn’t: the Nightster is not a pretty motorcycle. There isn’t a speck of chrome on it, and the stock exhaust looks and is probably heavy. You get three tank color options from the factory: base black is stock, or choose racy red or new gray (both +$350) as I call it, which I first dismissed as “shiny primer,” but it kind of grew on me overtime. The rest of the bike – the fenders, the frame, the round but largely ceremonial “air filter” – is black, except for the engine, which stands out in light gray. Up front, there’s a radiator, coolant reservoir, hoses and even the battery, all largely protected by plastic covers.

You can dress it up from the parts catalog, but the Nightster looks better left unadorned – or even more streamlined. Picture: Harley Davidson

The black seven-spoke wheels carry single Brembo disc brake rotors, and the “gas tank” doesn’t hold a drop of fuel, which is now contained in a 3.1-gallon tank under the seat. The fake tank, formed from metal, is actually a big airbox so the engine can breathe deeply, and moving the gas and battery down on the Nightster makes it even lighter than it already is. . A small glossy black bug screen reminiscent of the Low Rider S rises above the headlight. Dual emulsion shocks with preload in the rear, instead of a monoshock like on the Sportster S. Standard-style front forks are non-adjustable.

It may sound a bit complicated, but the fact is that it works. The “style” of the Nightster is that of a bicycle with goal, and it looks fast, not flashy. If buyers still want an air-cooled Sporty, the 883 Iron and 1200cc Forty-Eight models remain in the Cruiser class lineup. The Nightster sits with its Sportster S sibling in the new Sport category, which is definitely where it should be. I imagine he’ll get a little more company before long. Do you still want to meet him? HD offers a forward control package, leather saddlebags, styling cues, wind shields, passenger seat cushion, backrest, riser bars and even reinforced dirt bike style bars, but in my mind, if you go for those options, you’re kind of missing the point of the bike.

The Nightster has better ground clearance than older Sportsters, but could use a little more. Photo: Kevin Aile

The Nightster isn’t perfect. The shifter goes through an oddly shaped linkage that made shifting a bit vague for me, but I never ran out of gear or had a false dead spot, and it’s a great shifting experience smoother and lighter than the old five-speed. Rear shock travel is now three inches, down from two; a little more would be better with a little adjustment for the forks. And while the unique clock keeps the handlebars clean and includes a digital tachometer in the informative LCD screen, the Nightster deserves a proper rev display, digital or otherwise. Cruise control would also be a nice addition.

In remarks ahead of our release, James and VP of Style and Design Brad Richards had a very clear message about the Nightster’s target audience: new riders. Young riders. Women riders. Speed ​​merchants. What if the Harley Faithful cried “sacrilege!” About the new Nightster, James and Richards made it clear once again: we don’t care. It’s not for them. It is time to move on. Like the LiveWire e-bike, the Pan America adventure machine and the Sportster S, the Nightster again points to Harley’s dual-personality future: cool classic cruisers for those who love them, and modern, competitive high-performance bikes. for riders like me who want American-made options for twisty, dirt-covered roads.

Ninety horsepower goes to the rear wheel through a carbon belt drive. Photo: Kevin Aile

I think Harley-Davidson, under CEO and turnaround specialist Jochen Zeitz, has a really realistic overview of the motorcycle market in the United States and overseas, and they know the competition is fierce. outside of the cruise/tourism bubble where the brand thrived and then found itself imprisoned. Any true “new” Harley will have to match or exceed the expectations of riders outside of the loyalty crowd, even if few experts (myself included) initially thought it was going to be.

But it’s definitely doable. The Pan America is certainly capable and a hot seller. The fat-tire Sportster S is more of a niche power cruiser, but the Nightster shows that Harley can also build a powerful and maneuverable middleweight at a decent price. New bikes with even more sport capabilities built around the Revolution Max are likely in the works. Is the Bronx beefy naked bike really dead? Hard to say. How about a new VR1000, or a VR1250 or even a new V4 Nova to take on Ducati, Aprilia, Honda and the rest? With this new Revolution Max architecture and bolder bikes like the Nightster and Pan America, it seems like everything once thought impossible is now on the cards at the MoCo.

Do it that way, Jochen.

At a relaxed pace, the Nightster will cruise smoothly in sixth all day. Good seat too. Photo: Kevin Aile

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