Harley-Davidson Nightster review: A new breed

    The Harley-Davidson Nightster is modern and fun to ride motorcycle but more importantly it is a new breed of Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

    Published on Aug 20, 2022 07:00:00 AM

    23,252 Views

    We Like
    • Design
    • Refined Engine
    • Handling
    We Don't Like
    • Priced on the higher side

    At the outset, I have to admit that I admire Harley-Davidson for their new approach to motorcycles. For a manufacturer that’s steeped in history with big, air-cooled V-twin powered bikes dominating their portfolio, and to some extent their identity, the new line of Harley-Davidson motorcycles represent their efforts of moving with the times. 

    While the radical-looking Pan America adventure tourer and the stunning Sportster S are a clear departure from ‘traditional’ Harley-Davidson bikes, the new Nightster seems to be more in touch with its roots. Allow me to explain.

    CONTEXT SETTING

    The Nightster is the third, new-age Harley-Davidson and it is tasked with carrying forward the company’s rich Sportster lineage.

    The motorcycle is based on a completely new platform that debuts the Revolution Max 975T liquid-cooled, V-twin engine that makes 89hp and 95Nm. Yes, Harley-Davidson publishes peak power figures these days!

    We were among a select few in the Asia Pacific region to get an invitation to Thailand to experience the new Nightster. Although we only got to spend a brief time with the bike, the experience was enough to suggest that the company is on to something with this bike.

    THREADS OF TRADITION

    11.7-litre fuel tank is located under the seat.

    The first thing that strikes you about the Nightster is the way it looks, and pictures don’t do justice to its clean, simple yet captivating design. 

    The new V-twin occupies pride of place, with the motorcycle literally being built around it. Acting as a load-bearing member of the chassis, the main frame and subframe are attached to the front and back of the engine. The bodywork, consisting of a few panels, is then wrapped around this skeleton. 

    To elaborate, you have a round headlight inside a neat, plastic cowl. Though, the really unique thing is that the fuel tank isn’t actually the fuel tank. What looks like a normal fuel tank is actually the airbox, with the metal cover shaped to resemble the fuel tank of previous Sportsters, like the Iron 883. 

    The reasons why Harley-Davidson chose to place the airbox in such a way are both functional and aesthetic. It allows them to maintain the slim form factor of the motorcycle, whilst ensuring that there’s a large and efficient enough intake system to feed the big V-twin. 

    So, where is the fuel tank? It is a 11.7-litre, rectangular cell that sits behind the engine, underneath the seat, with its bottom extending beyond the swingarm pivot point. To access the fuel lid, one needs to get off the bike and open the seat; like you would on some scooters.

    The advantages of placing the fuel tank in such a manner are seen not only in the efficient packaging, but also in a lower centre of gravity. This, in turn, affects handling in a positive way. More on that a little later.

    The other design bits that catch your eye are the chopped fenders, the 19-inch front, 16-inch rear alloy wheels and the lovely attention to detail on the engine casings. 

    Lastly, with a wheelbase that stretches over 1,500mm and a 110mm ground clearance, the low-slung stance of the motorcycle is what makes it even more attractive. It is a modern-looking motorcycle, with threads of tradition sewn into the design and that makes it quite appealing to my eyes.

    FEATURE STORY 

    The Nightster has a basic, circular analogue dial with an inset LCD readout for trip, odo, engine revs and what have you. There is no fancy Bluetooth connectivity here, which is a bit of a missed  opportunity given the demands of today’s generation. Barring that, there’s nothing to complain about, be it the equipment or the quality of materials and the finishing. 

    A STAR IS BORN

    The 60-degree, 975T V-twin is the star of the show here, for it is absolutely impressive. It features variable valve timing on the intake side and unlike the Sportster S’ 1250 V-twin, it gets one instead of two spark plugs per cylinder.

    Fire up the counterbalanced engine and you notice that there are barely any vibrations at idle, unlike the throb of old air-cooled Sportster V-twins. The exhaust note is distinct as well, but not too loud, even when you rev the engine. 

    Pull in the light clutch, begin rolling and you can feel the effortless rise in speeds, as a wave of torque flows in. At slow speeds, the engine is super tractable, while the strong midrange ensures steady progress with minimal gear shifts. On Thailand’s mostly arrow-straight motorways, this translated to a relaxed cruise, as the bike sat at 100-110kph in sixth, with no need to downshift for overtaking manoeuvres. That’s expected of a Harley-Davidson, right? What’s not is that when you are in the mood to wring the throttle and unleash all the power, the engine happily complies.

    Out of the three ride modes – Rain, Road and Sport – the engine is expectedly most alive in the last. The acceleration was pretty entertaining for a 89hp, 221kg motorcycle and you can easily land on the wrong side of the speed limit law, if you don’t restrain your right wrist. Speaking of, the throttle response in Sport felt a tad jerky and took a little getting used to. This isn’t the case in Road and Rain modes, which offer a notably smoother power delivery. The TCS, engine braking and ABS, however, are also quite alert in these modes, which will help beginners to safely familiarise themselves with the bike.

    RIDE TIME

    Twin rear shocks are preload adjustable.

    All the effort of developing a chassis with the engine as a stressed member and mass centralisation have paid dividends in the ease with which one can ride this bike. Firstly, the riding position with the low 705mm seat height, the mid-mounted pegs and the wide handlebar put you in a neutral position. 

    Then, when you pick the Nightster off the stand, you barely notice the 221kg kerb weight. It feels beautifully balanced.While riding at low speeds, the Nightster is nimble and flickable, unlike old Harley Sportsters that required some muscling around. That should make it easy to weave the bike past city traffic, the long wheelbase notwithstanding.

    Turn the wick up and the bike feels stable in a straight line, as well as around a fast sweeping corner. We would have liked to have experienced tighter and technical corners to exploit the potential of the chassis and the 32 degrees of cornering clearance that the bike offers. Sadly, our route was devoid of them.

    As for ride quality over Thailand’s largely smooth roads, the Showa Dual Bending Valve fork and the twin shocks at the back did a good job of absorbing a few bumps that we encountered on the way. That said, the suspension is firm overall, and with only preload adjustability at the shock absorbers, it will be interesting to see how the bike copes with our potholed roads.

    When it comes to braking, there is no unusual drama as the bike comes to a stop. My only wish is for a sharper initial bite. 

    NEW LIFE

    The Harley-Davidson Nightster is a motorcycle that turned out to be more impressive than I’d initially expected. It offers a properly modern and fun riding experience. And yet, it retains that quintessential Harley-Davidson charm. 

    In fact, I’m eager to ride the bike in our country and see what it is like. Can it win over Harley riders like the old Sportsters did? Will it bring new customers to the Harley-Davidson fold, and give them a taste of one of the most celebrated motorcycle brands in the world? As a motorcycle, the Nightster might just have what it takes, although the Rs. 14 lakh (ex-showroom) price tag isn’t going to make it an affordable purchase like the old Sportsters. For now, all I can say is that the Nightster is a step taken by Harley-Davidson in the right direction. 

    Tech Specs

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