2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster Review: American Cruiser Redefined

  • 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster ($13,499-$13,899)
  • “The Nightster delivers in a way no previous Sportster can”—Cycle World
  • “The Nightster is a big step in the right direction for the Rev Max Sportster line”—RevZilla
  • Pro: The new entry-level liquid-cooled Harley-Davidson Sportster brings new technology and athleticism plus a rev-happy V-twin to the iconic cruiser family
  • Con: It’s not a bike for long-distance rides, and some parts need extra refinement

What is the Harley-Davidson Sportster? To many, it’s an American cruiser motorcycle archetype, if not the archetype. But it’s also a bike that can’t survive on heritage alone in an ever-changing world. At least, not without radically changing itself; anathema to many traditionalists. Yet as different as the 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster is from Sportsters past, it still carries on their mission. And after riding it for several weeks, I think it might help those traditionalists and other riders rethink what a Harley and an American cruiser can be.  

The 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster is not your traditional Sportster

The right-side view of a red-and-black 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster in front of a brown brick wall
2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster right side | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit
2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster
Engine975cc ‘Revolution Max 975T’ liquid-cooled V-twin
Horsepower90 hp
Torque70 lb-ft
TransmissionSix-speed manual with slipper-assist clutch
Front suspension and travel41mm Showa Dual Bending Valve fork; 4.5”
Rear suspension and travelTwin preload-adjustable shocks; 3.0”
Seat height27.8”
Curb weight481 lbs

Technically, ‘Nightster’ isn’t a new name for Harley-Davidson. It first appeared on a blacked-out, stripped-down version of the 2007 Sportster 1200. However, apart from the name, aesthetic, and general riding position, the 2022 Nightster doesn’t share anything with that bike. Nor does it share anything with the Iron 883 and Iron 1200. But it does share a lot with some of Harley’s newest machines, the Sportster S and Pan America.

Firstly, the 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster has the same center frame as those two motorcycles. And I mean that almost literally. It’s the same steel-trellis design with a liquid-cooled V-twin as a stressed member. As a result, the Nightster weighs 83 pounds less than the Iron 883, which has a smaller engine. Furthermore, the Nightster’s V-twin has the same external dimensions as the Sportster S’ and Pan America’s V-twins. Its smaller capacity comes instead from a shorter stroke, which, as I’ll detail shortly, has other riding-experience effects.

Secondly, being an entry-level bike, the 2022 Nightster doesn’t have all the Sportster S’ and Pan America’s gadgets. However, it has more than the air-cooled Sportsters, which it needs to pass Euro5 regulations. Besides standard ABS-equipped Brembo brakes, the Nightster has traction control, rear-wheel slip control, all-LED lighting, tire-pressure monitoring, and three riding modes (Rain, Road, Sport). Also, its singular gauge has a multi-function LCD. And its standard proximity security means you don’t need to twist a key or pull the clutch to start it.

How much does the 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster cost?

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Because it has more standard features than the remaining air-cooled Sportsters, the 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster understandably costs more. However, it’s not as expensive as the Sportster S.

In black, the 2022 Nightster starts at $13,499. Getting the steel tank—which isn’t a fuel tank—in red or gray adds $400. And no matter what color your tank is, the Nightster’s fenders and mini fairing stay black.

$13.5K might sound like a lot for an entry-level Harley-Davidson. But keep in mind that a black Iron 883 with ABS and proximity security starts at just under $12,500. And as noted earlier, it’s down a gear and lots of safety tech. Plus, while an ABS-equipped Softail Standard starts at roughly $14.8K and has more torque, it’s also over 170 pounds heavier.

Plus, like the air-cooled Sportsters, the Softail won’t handle or rev like the Nightster.

2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster ride: Starting a sportier American cruiser tradition

The front 3/4 view of a red-and-black 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster on a forest road
2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster front 3/4 | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit

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If you think ‘Harley-Davidson’ and ‘handling’ don’t belong in the same sentence, you haven’t been paying attention. The Sportster S I rode last year in the California canyons blew me away with how at home it felt on those twisty roads. And while I couldn’t ride the 2022 Nighster there, I firmly believe this lighter, revvier cruiser would be even more fun there.

Remember how I said the Nightster has the same center frame as the Sportster S? Well, it’s different in two significant ways. For one, it has a different rear subframe to accommodate the switch from monoshock to twin shocks. And two, Harley-Davidson changed the front-end geometry so it could give the 2022 Nightster a narrower, taller front wheel and tire. Also, compared to the Sportster S’ standard forward controls, the Nightster’s pegs and pedals are further back.

The result of these tweaks is a Sportster that feels genuinely, well, sporty, even more so than the Sportster S. It’s so easy to turn and lean the 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster into sweeping bends. And thanks to the stiff, responsive chassis and low center of gravity, it never feels heavy.

Plus, apart from the Bonneville Bobber and mid-control Sportster S, this is the first cruiser I’ve been on where I wouldn’t want to change the foot controls. Their position as well as the stiffer nature of the brake pedal were perfect for my 5’8” frame and its 32” inseam. And they make leaning and controlling the bike that much easier.

Although the 2022 Nightster’s suspension isn’t as adjustable as the Sportster S’ shocks, it strikes a good balance between handling and comfort. It’s on the firm side, and the rear shocks could use more travel, but the shocks themselves are well damped. So, the bike transmits a good amount of road feedback without feeling harsh or stiff. Just stay away from big bumps and potholes.

What’s the rest of the Nightster like?

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Getting back to the brakes, I’d like a little more initial bite. But I have no complaints about their strength or ease of modulation. Also, the shifter walks the line between slick action and mechanical heft perfectly. And the forgiving, easy-to-pull slipper-assist clutch smooths even non-rev-matched shifts.

On that note, let’s talk about the 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster’s engine. It’s torquey enough at low rpm to easily cruise in heavy traffic. That’s also when Rain and Road Mode, with their gentler power delivery and throttle response, are in their elements. And as someone with neighbors, I appreciate the somewhat subdued liquid sound; loud pipes don’t save lives, people.

But the Revolution Max 975T truly shines once you let it sing in Sport. Even more than the Sportster S’ version, this V-twin loves to rev and rewards you for climbing to redline. It pulls even harder, responds even faster, and its exhaust note takes on a brilliant hard edge. And while you will notice the exhaust heat on your right leg on a hot day, there’s no uncomfortable heat throw. Plus, in an even mix of highway and city riding, I saw just over 46 mpg.

The 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster, then, is definitely not an old-school Harley cruiser motorcycle. But it’s not that it can’t do cruiser things. It’s just that, like the Sportster S, it’s not limited to solely those things. It’s a thoroughly modern, multi-faceted cruiser.

What still needs work?

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As good as the 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster is, there are a few weak spots. Some are fairly minor. My tester’s bar-end mirrors, for example, started vibrating heavily above 4500-3000 rpm. Also, I needed to lean and sit slightly forward to use the handlebars without locking my arms. And the brake pedal is slightly too short—large bumps made my foot slip off.

However, you can easily fix the mirror and reach situation with Harley’s accessory mirrors, seat, and handlebars. And I have no doubt that Harley-Davidson and aftermarket suppliers will come up with different foot controls and shocks. The latter would be particularly appreciated around Chicagoland’s pockmarked roads.

Other issues, though, are a bit more prominent. Firstly, it appears that Harley-Davidson gave the 2022 Nightster a modified version of the Sportster S’ and Pan America’s switchgear. While that’s great for saving costs, like RevZilla, I found myself some of the switches a bit of a stretch. And while the mode-changing button responded quickly, the LCD multi-function one was noticeably slower.

In addition, compared to some of its rivals and fellow Harleys, some of the Nightster’s wiring appears more crudely covered. Also, the cables for my tester’s front brake weren’t even attached with clips to the forks. And the right side of the engine is a bit, um, aesthetically challenged. It just feels too cheap in some places.

Admittedly, Harley-Davidson didn’t design the 2022 Nightster as a highway bike. So, its fairing is fine for short freeway blasts. But if you do go on extended highway trips, you’ll want a comfier seat as well as a proper windshield. Also, around town, the under-seat 3.1-gallon fuel tank drains fairly quickly. Though to the Nightster’s credit, it’s easier to fill and has a longer city range than the Indian FTR.

Oh, and one more thing. You can’t rev the Nightster past 3000 rpm or so unless you’re moving in gear. Some might be annoyed, but again, I have neighbors.

MotorBiscuit gives the 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster an expert rating of 8.9 out of 10

The 2022 Harley-Davidson Nightster represents a new direction one of the company’s signature models. It needs some refining in a few areas, but it’s more athletic, modern, and capable than the motorcycle it effectively replaces. And though it’s not a bike for absolute beginners, it has something for riders with a little and a lot of experience.

The 2022 Nightster isn’t the cruiser motorcycle its namesake was—it couldn’t be. But like the Sportster S, it’s still a Harley-Davidson. Only now, it can define its own new tradition.

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