Harley-Davidson Nightster Review: Quick & Agile Cruiser

To say that the Harley-Davidson Nightster has been a long time coming is an understatement. Ever since I got to try the bike on a quick run in Thailand in June last year and consequently got released locally the following month, I’ve been itching to get my hands on one. Not because I’m a whore for a Harley or anything, but I’ve been wanting to test it out on local thoroughfares because back then, I believed that it’s something that’s more livable than the bigger (and heavier) Sportster S.

And boy, it did not disappoint. The Nightster was a quick and agile two-wheeler by HD standards. The week-long lendout felt short-lived but those were enough for me to add this cruiser to my shortlist of bikes to have in the near future. Then again, it wasn’t without faults, which I’m here to discuss.


Round LED headlights, a relatively small tank, and a single seat – the HD Nightster fits the Sportster design lineage and that’s good news to old-school Sportster fans.

Don’t let that fool you, though. The Nightster has shed much of its traditional bits for a modern take. The engine is now a stressed member of the chassis, plus that “tank” is actually just a cover for the airbox; the actual fuel tank is found under the seats for a lower center of gravity. More on this later. The 19-inch aluminum cast wheels up front and 16 inchers at the back support the cruiser aesthetic, though these things don’t hinder the bike’s ability to carve corners. Again, more on this later.

I love the whole design package and I also like the fact that the lights were bright enough for night rides while wearing smoked visors. If there’s anything I’d change, I’d probably replace that huge rear fender with a smaller one or something a little less “in your face.” I’d remove the small cowling as well.

And oh, I prefer the Gunship Grey Nightster that I rode in Thailand over this Redline Red media tester or the Vivid Black one that screams badass.

Seating & Comfort

The Nightster’s seat cushion is soft and wide enough to support my baby-bearing hips and buttocks (I’m a guy, by the way), but there’s something about this bike’s proportions tells me it’s longing for a taller rider.

Though the seat height’s relatively low at 705mm, I stand at 5 foot 6 inches and I had to lean in a bit forward to reach the handlebar. My knees were also positioned too low to grip the tank. The foot pegs are in a somewhat forward position though not as forefront as the Sportster S.

Despite this, riding the Nightster on a non-stop 100-km test didn’t hurt my back at all. The 41mm front Showa suspension and rear twin shocks (both with preload adjustments) worked well in absorbing road impurities, even on surfaces as unforgiving as EDSA. Vibrations were muted to great road feedback, which I highly appreciated.

That said, something had to be mentioned about how hot the Nightster went throughout the long trip. On highways and open roads, the heat of the engine wasn’t an issue, but it became bothersome amid Metro Manila traffic. If you’ll be getting one yourself, I highly recommend that you wear a thicker pair of riding jeans or avoid hellish traffic as much as possible.

The Nightster comes default with a single seat, though you can ask Harley-Davidson of Manila to add a pillion seat for your OBR.

Tech & Safety

The Harley-Davidson Nightster comes with a ride-by-wire fuel injection, which came with three riding modes: Road, Sport, and Rain. The speedometer’s analog, though there’s a digital display at the center that shows a variety of information, one at a time, namely: total odometer, Trip A/B, gear indication, fuel range, 12/24-hour clock, digital tachometer, segmented fuel level, and ride mode indication.

All of these are well and good, except that I think the round instrument cluster is a bit positioned too low for a quick glance. If you’re one who monitors your speed on the highway, you’d have to take your eyes off the road to check on the display, especially since it doesn’t have cruise control, unlike the bigger Sports S.

Be that as it may, the display was legible enough amid brisk sunlight, more so at night (or when really early in the morning). The self-canceling turn signals were also a delight to have, especially considering that their indicators on the instrument panel were a bit diminutive. It also has traction control and ABS on both wheels.

Ride & Handling

The Nightster marks a significant departure from the iconic air-cooled Sportsters that have been a staple of the brand for 65 years. The liquid-cooled engine boasts a peak power of 89hp and a redline of 9,500 rpm, making it 80 percent more powerful than the 883 Sportster.

The 975cc V-twin engine in the Nightster is a detuned version of the Revolution 1250T engine found in the Sportster S and Pan America, with a smaller bore and stroke and three riding modes to choose from. During the test run, the Nightster employed a fluid gearbox, a modern feel, and impressive performance. The fuel injection, however, was sharp and spritely, more so when in Sport mode. This should take some getting used to, especially for beginners, but not for too long. That said, staying on first gear amid really slow-moving traffic will be cumbersome if your throttle hand’s heavy.

Speaking of, the Nightster has a curb weight of 218 kg, which is on the light side considering its class. You won’t feel that weight while on the road, too, even when maneuvering the bike around in parking lots.

The Nightster can be ridden like a traditional Harley, or with a sportier edge by holding onto a gear and letting it rev. It has great handling, thanks to the low center of gravity, newfound agility, and easy-to-achieve lean. While it may not be a track bike, the Nightster offers a sporty entry-level Harley experience with its torquey power delivery. Filtering and lane-splitting were also a cinch as the bike was almost just as narrow as my 400cc classic bike. It can actually pass as a daily city commuter if not for its heat. Then again, just leave earlier to avoid heavy traffic.

One thing that can be improved on the Nightster was its brakes. The single-disc up front with Brembo calipers did its job well when cruising pliantly, employing a gradual halt. However, spirited drives would warrant a stronger bite, so riders should approach this cruiser with extra care.

The digital display doesn’t have the option to show average fuel consumption, but the Nightster is rated at 19 km/l. Filling the 11.1L shows a range of over 170 kilometers – a bit shallow for a cruiser, I reckon.


Quick and agile – two words I’d normally not use to describe a Harley, but the Nightster is those things. It’s the more approachable member of the Sportster line, a bike that even beginners can ride – with proper caution, of course. With a little improvement on the heat, it can even pass as a daily commuter, especially for those working in Metro Manila and living in surrounding provinces.

At P990,000 for the black and an extra P20,000 for the gray and red ones, the HD Nighster isn’t a cheap bike to purchase but it’s one you should consider if you’re new to the brand.

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