Harley-Davidson Nightster: The next-generation Sportster!

Photo: Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson just took the wraps off the Nightster, a new entry in the time-honoured Sportster line. And while the Motor Company isn’t saying anything about the older, air-cooled Sporties being canceled at this point, surely the Nightster is the sign towards a new future for this series.

A new engine

The new Revolution Max 975T engine is the highlight of the Nightster. We’ve seen this engine before, in the Bronx streetfighter prototype that H-D was showing off a couple of years back, but this is the first production bike that features this new powerplant.

It’s a liquid-cooled 60-degree 975cc V-twin that’s obviously closely related the Revolution Max 1250 motor, which powers the Pan America adventure bike and the Sportster S. The 975 comes with 97mm bore and 66mm stroke and compression ratio of 12:1. Add it all up, and the engine is rated for 90 hp at 7,500 rpm, and 70 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm.

That’s a fair bit down from the 1250’s 150 hp and 94 lb-ft of torque. With lower compression ration (the 1250 has a 13:1 compression ratio) and bore and stroke both shrunk (from the 1250’s 105mm bore and 72mm stroke), it is obviously no surprise.

Looking back at the classic 1200 and 883 air-cooled Sportster engines—the only difference between them was the bore, which meant many, many owners just stuck a set of 1200 jugs on their 883 engine and had an easy power-up. That won’t be an option with the Revolution Max engines, thanks to the longer stroke of the 1250. Add in complications like variable valve timing and airbox and exhaust carefully tuned for EFI optimization and minimal pollution, and these Sportsters are a big change-up from the old DIY-friendly EVO models.

Harley-Davidson says the new engine has “a torque curve that stays flat through the broad powerband – and engine performance designed to deliver strong acceleration and robust power through the mid-range.” Once again, this engine has hydraulic valve lash adjustment, which greatly reduces the need for top end servicing, and it’s counterbalanced to take the edge off vibration, but still provide some of the rumble that H-D owners want.

A slammed look for the new ’22 Nightster. Photo: Harley-Davidson

Electronic safety features

Of course, Harley-Davidson also programmed in plenty of electronic wizardry. The Nightster comes with Road, Sport and Rain ride modes which control the interference level of ABS and traction control, as well as engine delivery and engine braking characteristics. That’s right—the bike comes with H-D’S Drag-Torque Slip Control System, which prevents rear wheel lock-up on hard downshifts.

See Harley-Davidson’s explanation of the riding modes below:

  • Road Mode is intended for daily use and delivers balanced performance. This mode offers less-aggressive throttle response and less mid-range engine power than Sport Mode, with a higher level of ABS and TCS intervention.
  • Sport Mode delivers the full performance potential of the motorcycle in a direct and precise manner, with full power and the quickest throttle response. TCS is set to its lowest level of intervention, and engine braking is increased.
  • Rain Mode is designed to give the rider greater confidence when riding in the rain or when traction is otherwise limited. Throttle response and power output are programmed to significantly restrain the rate of acceleration, engine braking is limited, and the highest levels of ABS and TCS intervention are selected.

These settings can be changed on the fly; Harley-Davidson says “The rider may use the MODE button on the right-hand controller to change the active ride mode while riding the motorcycle or when stopped, with some exceptions.”

Harley-Davidson keeps the clocks simple, with a 4-inch analogue speedo with inset LCD display mounted on the handlebar riser. As it’s the 21st century, we get all-LED lighting.

Everything’s going up in price, and the Nightster is an example. It’ll cost more than the old air-cooled Sporty models. However, you’re also getting a lot more bike for your money, and it isn’t the entry-level model the Sportster series once was. Photo: Harley-Davidson

A sporty chassis

Harley-Davidson claims it’s put the “sport” in Sportster here: “The Nightster model pairs a nimble, lightweight chassis with a powerful engine tuned for strong mid-range performance, an ideal combination for navigating urban traffic and charging along curving backroads. Mid foot controls and a low-rise handlebar put the rider in a centered, comfortable posture on the bike.” But, you still get a butt-draggin’ 27.8-inch seat height, allowing almost any rider to flat-foot the bike at a stop.

The engine itself is a stressed member of the frame, and Harley-Davidson has taken the unusual step of putting the gas tank under the seat. There’s a 3.1-gallon fuel cell under the saddle, and forward of the rider, what looks like a gas tank is actually a steel cover for the airbox assembly. This design means the Nightster has more-centralized mass. To fill the fuel cell, riders must flip the seat up to expose the tank’s cap.

There’s a set of preload-adjustable dual shocks in back for that retro look, and up front, a conventional telescopic-style fork with Showa’s Dual Bending Valve system to smooth out the ride and improve front-end traction.

Flashy new looks

Finally, you get a visual design that’s obviously based on classic Sportster styling. Indeed, the Nightster name is itself recycled from Harley-Davidson history. The original Nightster was a murdered-out bobber-style Sportster in the lineup from 2007 through 2012. Although the 975 has a modern engine, Harley-Davidson styled that under-seat fuel cell to look like a classic Sportster oil tank. The steel airbox cover also recalls older Sportster fuel tanks.

The new Nightster will be mostly blacked-out, just like the original, but with some options for paint choices. Harley-Davidson says “The wheel finish is Satin Black. Paint color options include Vivid Black, Gunship Grey, and Redline Red. Gunship Grey and Redline Red color options will be applied only to the airbox cover; the front and rear fenders and speed screen are always finished in Vivid Black.” Don’t be surprised if the aftermarket starts ripping out its own take on that airbox cover, offering riders a chance to personalize their own machines.

Harley-Davidson’s press release says the Nightster will be at Canadian dealerships this month, with a base MSRP of $16,499, adding $500 for different colour options.

Final thoughts

Although Harley-Davidson built its V-twin empire on air-cooled engines, it’s getting harder and harder to pass these through emissions. Not to mention, the competition’s engines are more powerful, efficient and smooth thanks to increasing tech. Just as the previous Ironhead engine eventually disappeared from the Sportster lineup, so will the EVO engine. Now, we’ve got a good look at what is probably its future replacement. In recent days, online leaks have also tipped a new Pan America adventure bike based around this 975 engine, so it looks like it will be around for a while.


  1. Hard to believe they let that bike out with those pipes. Kudos for trying something(s) new, but that pipe is a huge fail.

  2. Why more street bikes don’t have hydraulic adjustment for valves is pathetic. Having to regularly disassemble a good portion of contemporary(crack or break) plastic, then fiddle with the top end of the engine to wiggle a feeler gauge is like picking fly shit out pepper in hell.

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