Test Drive: 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster

Our time atop the retro-futuristic second model in the motorcycle brand's new Sportster line

Walking up to the new Harley-Davidson 2022 Nightster, the second model in the motorcycle brand’s new Sportster line, presents a different kind of curb appeal—one in opposition to the big baggers from the iconic Milwaukee-based motoring company. It’s a small, sporty style that clearly aims for a wider audience, including people that might not yet ride or may not have previously considered a model from the iconic brand.

The Nightster draws inspiration from the original Sportster bikes of the late 1950s and ’60s back when Harley was associated with motorcycle racing. If it wasn’t made clear that Harley was looking to shift perception and break into new markets with the release of the Pan America in 2020 and new Sportster in 2021, then the Nightster certainly makes their point. It’s not as avant-garde as the Sportster, but definitely retains some of the eye-catching retro-futuristic design elements of that bike, the most obvious being the 60 degree liquid cooled RevMax V-Twin engine, which comes in at 975ccs—deliverying 90hp and 70 lb-ft of torque.

Given the 481 pound curb weight and 9,500 rpm redline, the Nightster feels peppy whether you’re looking to make quick work of straightaways between corners or cruising on the highway. Like the Pan America and Sportster, the modular “Revolution Max” platform creates the basis of a bike that’s stable and comfortable by bolting the trellis front frame, mid-frame and tail-section directly to the engine. Not only does that make it a key structural element of the bike, but also the visual centerpiece of the futuristic side of the retro-futuristic equation.

As for the retro side of things, the Nightster has an airbox cover shaped like a peanut tank, a round air cleaner cover on the right side of the engine and dual exposed rear shocks, all classic design elements of Sportster models past. It has a reasonably comfortable solo seat (classic Harley indeed), chopped fenders like those on the Iron 883, a small speed screen like the Iron 1200 and a side cover over the underseat fuel tank that’s reminiscent of a Sportster oil tank.

The Nightster name is borrowed from the XL1200N, part of Harley’s Dark Custom lineup from 2007-2012 with a design has aged quite well. Beside the name and aesthetics, the other link between the new Nightster and the old one is how it feels when you place yourself in the saddle. The low-rise handlebar, mid-mount foot controls (forward controls are available as an option) and low 27.8-inch seat combine for a spiritual link to the previous Nightster and other Sportster models too. It makes for a comfortable rider triangle and gives the bike a classic Sportster profile, which is ultimately all that should matter. We physically felt good on it throughout a full day of riding.

The Nightster casts a wide net with its appeal, and that’s definitely good news for Harley. It’s perfectly happy to hustle in the canyons or cruise down city blocks, and we imagine a range of riders will be attracted to it for those reasons. Its dark and moody aesthetic also appeals.

For those looking for a bike that’s future-facing, honors the past and is accessible in both price and practice, the Nightster is a solid choice. It’s a wonderfully traditional companion for the more radical Sportster S and we look forward to further expansion of the Sportster model lineup because, as evidenced with the Nightster, Harley is quite capable of pulling the future forward by taking inspiration from the past.

The all new 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster starts at $13,499 in the US.

Images courtesy of Harley-Davidson