Legacy, tradition and heritage are strong words in the Harley-Davidson world. That’s not surprising when you are a 120-year-old company. Over the years, Harley has built itself quite a reputation with its big V-twins, leather-clad riders and its distinct ‘potato-potato’ sound. Success brings along competition and many have tried to unseat Harley from its haloed position. Some have succeeded, while most have just copied, or been inspired, if you will. Times are changing, though, and younger generations, especially in India, do not always want a big, heavy motorcycle for their Sunday morning chai run. Harley is moving with the times and the Nightster is a step in that direction.
Folklore (blogs on the Internet) tells me the Sportster family was launched in the ‘50s to counter the sporty café racers from British marques. The Nightster is obviously not the first attempt, with the Iron 883 being the most recent., but what makes the Nightster special and important is the new Revolution Max 975T engine. You may feel it lacks presence, but that’s just down to the Nightster not being that photogenic — but it gets the same attention on the road as any Harley would.
The design is clean with a round headlight in a cowl, a fuel tank which is a decoy but reminds me of the Iron 883, chopped fenders and an analogue dial which gives you really basic but useful info. The 19-inch front and 16-inch rear wheels, and a 1500 mm long wheelbase give the motorcycle a low-slung stance which adds to the overall look. It feels almost odd saying this about a Harley, but the Nightster looks and feels compact.
The star of the show is, naturally, the new Revolution Max 975T engine which makes 90 bhp and 9.5 kgm, and looks simply gorgeous. Harley has taken the modernisation theme seriously here, and there are a bunch of improvements like variable-valve timing on the intake side, shorter bore and stroke, Showa dual-shock suspension, and dual counter balancers. The fuel tank is under the seat, allowing for a better centre of gravity, and eliminating the top-heavy feel. The result is you don’t feel like you are at the gym when you take the motorcycle off the stand. It still weighs 221 kg, but it does not feel traditionally Harley-heavy. The tank actually houses an air filter to keep the V-twin cool, but in the Delhi heat I would advise against getting your hopes up. The 6-speed gearbox comes with a cable-actuated clutch, and despite a few false neutrals, it feels nice and easy to use.
The first thing you notice on firing up the Nightster is the lack of vibrations at idle. Told you, this is not a Harley of yore. The second thing is the exhaust note — it is loud (my watch repeatedly reminded me that long exposures could lead to hearing impairment), but it does not sound like a typical Harley. More ‘sweet potato, sweet potato’, than just ‘potato potato’. Off the line, the Nightster is quick and the 9500-rpm redline is closer than you think. The torque takes care of you at slower speeds, limiting gear shifts and the size of the Nightster makes it easy to cruise it in the city. But the Nightster wants more and comes to life with a whack of the throttle.
Triple-digits speeds are easy, and while most Harleys can do that, they take longer — the Nightster is in a rush. There are three riding modes to choose from: Sport, Road and Rain. No prizes for guessing which is the most fun, but Sport is also the most jerky. At first, it kind of asks you, ‘Are you sure you want to be in this mode?’, but it doesn’t take too long for you to get used to it. And once you do, you aren’t going back to Road, forget about Rain. All the tech and engineering wizardry makes sense when you are blasting down the road on a Nightster.
I am not a fan of big, heavy motorcycles in general, and I did have my apprehensions about the Nightster. Having spent time with it, the Nightster did change my mind. It braves the baggage that comes with the Harley name, with style and performance. It is quite contradictory to the image of Harleys, and I am sure I am not the only one who has that image in mind. The Nightster is fast, nimble and agile, and I don’t remember how many Harleys you could say this about. With this motorcycle, and the new engine, Harley wants to invite the new generation into its fold. They have the community and the charisma that motorcyclists like, and in the Nightster they have a motorcycle which can get the young blood pumping.
PHOTOS S Shubham
90 bhp@75000 rpm
9.5 kgm@5000 rpm
F/R: 320-mm disc / 260-mm disc
F/R: 100/90 R19 / 150/80 R16
Rs 17.49-18.29 lakh (ex-showroom)