They say you never forget your first. True enough, I remember the Harley-Davidson Sportster S fondly and vividly. She was my first—my first demo, that is. In February of 2022, I had just joined VISOR, and my motorcycle editor Andy Leuterio immediately put me to work testing the new Harley on the block.
She was a true bruiser cruiser. A feisty, bodacious little number with an attitude. Flick her into sport mode and she would make you feel the full extent of her wrath. She was in touch with her roots as a Harley-Davidson, but at the same time, she was sophisticated and modern. She had a bag of tricks filled to the brim with the latest tech.
Fast-forward a year later to February of 2023, and a poetic turn of events allowed me to close out my first year writing for this publication with the third and latest hog built on the Revolution Max platform: the Harley-Davidson Nightster.
This one is a bit different. Judging by looks alone, the Nightster is more conventionally styled and echoes much of the aesthetics you would see in the traditional Sportster line, namely, the Iron 883 and the Iron 1200. The round headlight coupled with the cowl is even reminiscent of the Low Rider S. The “tank” (more on why I’ve put this in quotation marks later) bears the silhouette of Harley’s traditional peanut or walnut tanks. Moreover, the rear features dual outboard shocks flanking a bob fender. The stance is completed by the again-classic 19- and 16-inch wheel combo.
The ergonomics are also exactly the same as the old Sportsters, so anyone who has ridden one will feel right at home here. The Nightster comes standard with mid controls, although non-Harley riders will notice that the pegs are further forward than on most other bikes. The handlebars are quite a ways forward, too, requiring a slight hunch from the rider. The whole setup takes a bit of getting used to, but does start to feel natural after a few days.
From here, however, things start to change. The Nightster moves away from the looped chassis of old, and uses the engine as a stressed member to connect the front and rear subframes. It also employs a healthy bit of magnesium and aluminum to shed over 36kg from the Iron 883.
The Revolution Max engine found on the Sportster S and the Pan America has been bored down to 975cc for this application, and now makes 89hp and 95Nm. Power delivery is just as intoxicating and torquey as the 1250, though you would probably wet your pants a little less on this one.
The bike has three riding modes: Rain, Road and Sport. And without sounding too much like I’m overcompensating for my small tinkle with a big ego, Sport mode is really where it’s at with this bike. Rain is way too dull. Road is better, but I find that the electronic throttle doesn’t react fast enough to quick blips making downshifts shakier than my grandmother trying to stand up from a rocking chair.
Sport mode is so sweet and perfectly tuned for almost any road condition. It’s easy to use in stop-and-go traffic, and perfect for aggressive riding. If anything could make the bike better, I’d love a shorter set of gears to get a bit more eagerness and pep from the engine.
But whatever the Nightster concedes in power, it more than makes up for in handling. The actual fuel tank has been moved from its traditional location to underneath the seat. What you see posing as the gas tank is actually a shroud for the intake manifold.
This has two benefits. First, with the intake sitting right below your face and in between your ears, you get a front-row seat to the Revolution Max 975T singing its song. The bike has this glorious, raspy intake noise that resonates through the metal shroud. It blends with the exhaust to create a truly unique sound absent in both the Pan America and the Sportster S.
The second benefit is the lower center of gravity. MotoGP bikes use the same gas tank layout for the exact same reason. The battery and the radiator—both heavy, liquid-containing boxes—are also mounted low behind the front wheel to pull the center of gravity further down.
The result of all this is very obvious. Even though it weighs as much as a Ducati Multistrada V4, the Nightster is easy to keep right side up. It’s always firmly planted on the ground, and the bike can shift its weight effortlessly.
The front end is very responsive to steering input, and switchbacks are a breeze on this one. It’s lively and agile—something you couldn’t say about a Harley-Davidson before this. The only limiting factor is the height of the bike. You don’t have to try hard to scrape the pegs on the asphalt. It just will.
There’s something to be said about this bike’s braking system. Brake fluid is pushed through a radial master cylinder up front, and the rear brake feel, as with all Harleys, is impeccable. Also noteworthy is the belt drive. It adds a layer of smoothness you just don’t get with a chain. The perfect complement to a cruiser, really.
Oddly enough, even though the Nightster has all the makings of a fast machine, I found it most rewarding to ride when I wasn’t trying to do so like a madman. It can cruise quite comfortably on the highway, and you can ride through canyon roads without having to wrestle the thing from side to side.
There is one thing that might be a little off-putting about the Nightster, and that is its price. At P990,000 for this all-black demo (and P1,010,000 for colored options), it’s not that far off from the Sportster S. And that one comes with a TFT dash, Bluetooth connectivity, fully adjustable suspension, and more power—things that the Nightster does not have. In comparison, the Nigtster is stripped so far back that the minuscule price difference doesn’t add up. And that price tag doesn’t even buy you a kickstand switch.
But then I would like to make a case for the Nightster being a completely different model, one that can stand as its own “person” and not just the bargain-bin version of the flagship model.
It has the classic look with modern handling and power. May be comparatively short on tech, but most neo-retros get away with limited tech anyway. Customization options are endless, too. Turn it into a bagger, a cruiser, or a sportster, whatever you want. At the end of the day, you have a competent Harley-Davidson that can do a little bit of everything. It has a unique set of skills, and is arguably the most well-rounded Harley money can buy. Think of it this way, and the price starts to make sense.