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Reviewed: Harley-Davidson Nightster

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The latest 975cc Nightster, along with the 1250cc Sportster S and upspecced Nightster Special, represent iconic US brand Harley-Davidson’s all-new offering in the entry-level cruiser category.

It comes following the demise, forced by Euro5 regulations in 2021, of its traditional air-cooled Sportster 883 and 1200, one of the most famous engine designs of all time.

As such, although fulfilling the same role, they’re very different from the old Sportsters which had virtually prehistoric – but characterful and traditional – pushrod V-twins which dated back to the mid 1980s. This new Sportster range features modern liquid-cooled engines with variable valve timing, electronic riding modes and more. It’s a big departure from Harley’s simple iron horses of old, although it remains the most accessible range offered by the legendary Motor Company.

 

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The plain Nightster is the most basic and affordable model in the three bike Sportster range. It costs £13,295 for the grey version, with black paint a £400 option. It’s the cheapest bike in the Harley-Davidson range, but still a fair chunk more than the old Sportster 883 it replaces, and which cost around £8k before its demise. The 975cc version of the new liquid-cooled ‘Revolution’ V-twin is the 883 replacement (the Sportster S’s 1250cc unit being the successor to the old 1200 Sportster). The Nightster’s blacked-out style and spec is the most basic, with the low-slung stance, titchy 705mm seat height and straightforward manners making it the most novice-friendly model in the whole range. As such it’s a highly credible introduction to both biking and the Harley-Davidson lifestyle.

But while the Nightster is far pricier than the Sportsters it replaces, it is more potent, too, and its modern, liquid-cooled engine, TFT dash and so on haven’t diminished the classic Harley charisma and traditional style usual Harley buyers love – at least too much.

 

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The new, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 8v 60-degree V-twin produces 89bhp and 70.1ft-lbs (95Nm) of torque, which, if not earth-shattering is more than respectable. It’s also a huge step up on the old air-cooled 883, which produced 52bhp, and also more than Triumph’s 900cc version of its Bonneville twin, the T100, which puts out 64bhp. There are also three riding modes with different power delivery characteristics. It all adds up to perky manners around town and strong acceleration. If you can hang on, a top speed of around 120mph is claimed. The braking set-up is similar to the old 883, with a Brembo front caliper biting onto a single disc, assisted by the obligatory ABS. It’s not brutally fierce, but is enough, especially when combined with the rear.

Handling-wise, the Nightster is a low-slung, hot rod style cruiser, so was never going to be a sports bike. But, considering how most will be ridden, it’s reasonable fun and easy to get on with. The low seat and short-travel twin rear shocks make it low and manageable, but as a result it can also jar and bottom out over potholes. At the front, the conventional 41mm Showa forks may be a little basic and lack adjustment, but do feature the latest ‘Dual Bending Valve’ technology, which is claimed to deliver a plusher ride. With the weight carried low, the riding position upright and the handlebars wide, it’s nimble enough and easy to throw around but, although it’s a ‘Sportster’, is no sports bike…

 

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As a bare bones, ‘sporty’ Sportster you shouldn’t expect much by way of luxury or creature comfort, and the reality bears that out. The low, 705mm, seat means virtually anyone can get on board. The overall gait to the flat-ish, straight bars is upright, neutral, unintimidating and fine for blasting around town. But that’s about as good as it gets. There’s no pillion seat (along with pegs it’s an optional extra, although they do come standard on the Nightster Special), the headlamp cowling doesn’t do much and the bar end mirrors look cool but get in the way when filtering through traffic.

Overall, bikes like the Nightster are more about posing than practicality. It can’t take a pillion, is uncomfortable over distance, there’s zero luggage capacity, little weather protection, not much by way of practical accessories like heated grips, and nor is the sort of bike you’d want to ride year-round. That said, it’s comfortable enough over short hops, perky and easy to ride and mostly a joy around town. Grab yourself a hipster-style satchel and it’s a more than capable round town commuter – but it does have its limitations.

 

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What’s it got and should I buy?

The ‘entry-level’, hot rod, pared-back style of the Nightster means equipment is deliberately basic. Although there are three riding modes (Rain, Road and Sport), ABS and traction control, that’s pretty much it on the tech front. A pillion seat is a £180 extra, the tank takes just 11.7 litres of unleaded and there’s just one instrument dial. Even the new switchgear (which has a conventional indicator toggle instead of Harley’s old separate system with separate switches for left and right hand turns) is a little crude and awkward. That said, the single clock contains an LCD digital panel which can be set up to show everything you need, and quality is pretty good. That said, for £13k+, it’s quite a basic package, although it must be said that the stripped down approach has always been a big part of the Sportster charm. Less definitely is more with these machines, although for some traditionalists the addition of rider aids and a radiator may already be a step too much…

The old 883 and 1200 Sportsters were much loved and, being accessible in both size and price, were effective introductions to Harley’s V-twins. Sadly, their air-cooled, push-rod engines were not just obsolete environmentally but in terms of performance, too, so they had to go. The new Revolution 975 (and 1250) will probably not completely convince the purists but it is effective, efficient and still has a Harley vibe while, in this Nightster form, retains much of the old style and pleasure. Our main niggle is that it’s so much more expensive than the machine it replaces, without adding the extra equipment and quality cycle parts that might have made up for it.

That said, the Harley-Davidson 975 Nightster still provides a pure riding experience. If a traditional ‘steel horse’ is your thing, there’s still not much to touch it.

 

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Harley-Davidson 975 Nightster specification

Price:                                            £13,295

Engine:                                      975cc V-twin, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, liquid cooled

Power:                                          89bhp (66kW) @ 7500rpm

Torque:                                        95Nm (70.1lb-ft) @ 5750rpm

Transmission:                        Six-speed, belt final drive

Frame:                                          Tubular steel trellis frame

Suspension:                                 (F) Showa non-adjustable 41mm fork, (R) preload-adjustable twin Showa rear shocks.

Wheels:                                    Cast aluminium, 19”/16”

Tyres:                                     (F) 100/90 x 19, (R) 150/80 x 16

Brakes:                                         (F) 1 x 320mm floating discs, four-piston Brembo caliper, (R) 260mm disc, single-piston caliper. Bosch cornering ABS as standard equipment

Weight:                                     218kg (kerb)

Wheelbase:                               1545mm

Seat height:                               705mm

Fuel tank:                                 11.7 litres

Fuel consumption:                     51.6mpg (claimed)

Service intervals:                       5000 miles/12 months

Warranty:                                 24 months unlimited mileage

Contact:                                     www.harley-davidson.com

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