Imagine the howl of a liquid-cooled V-twin filling your helmet as you wind down Hwy 33 outside Santa Barbara, CA. The road opens up into a short straight while your tach crosses 7,000 rpm—still 2,500 rpm under the redline. You’re riding fast, and fast is the defining word here. This is what you can expect when taking Harley-Davidson’s new 975cc Nightster to a writhing, sun-baked California highway.
The 2022 Nightster is the third H-D bike to be built around the Revolution Max platform. Even though it’s been sleeved down from the Sportster S and Pan America’s 1250cc displacement, it has achieved a goal many people once thought lost—an actual sporting Sportster. Say what you will about the old Roadsters and the Buell-era XR1200R, the new Nightster—the second entry in H-D’s new Sport category—will leave them all in the dust. At least on a straight road.
Tipping into the countless corners on California’s Hwy 33, the Nightster needs all three inches of rear suspension travel to keep the pegs off the tarmac at speed. But the ride quality and cornering capabilities are still a notable improvement over the Sportsters from any model year—save the XR1200R’s run—and the Nightster puts out almost a dozen more horsepower than the best of the old 1200’s air/oil-cooled mills.
The 481-pound Nightster feels light and fast. It’s already over 100 pounds lighter than the XR1200R and you can couple that with an under-seat gas tank that both lowers the center of gravity and frees up the “gas tank” to act as a giant airbox. You may notice that the pegs touch down when breezing through sweepers and tight corners, but only occasionally. And if you feed some preload into the dual real emulsion shocks on the bike, it’s suddenly even harder to get the pegs to greet concrete—you can just fly down the road.
But every highway eventually runs out of corners and you have to transition to straighter stretches of connecting highways. As you draw closer to town, it’s time to slip the Nightster into the Road mode. The RevMax twin ticks over at just under 3,000 rpm at 70 mph in sixth gear, and only a smidge of vibration comes through the bars or pegs as the Nightster loafs down the highway.
The gearbox lever feels a bit vague, but shifts are fast and low-effort compared to the Forty-Eight and Big Inch transmissions. The stock exhaust emits a pleasant if unremarkable beat with no hint of potatoes. It’s the sound of the Motor Company’s future, or at least a big part of it. Lighter, faster, and more fun, the new Nightster has the Sportster back in fine form. The MSRP for the 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster starts at $13,499.