Harley-Davidson Sportcruisers | Nightster vs Sportster

The Nightster as a ground-up redesign of the Sportster?

Being able to ride both the Nightster and Sportster back to back on a sunny, warm day is always a great experience. And then, to ride for a nice long stretch over some beautiful country roads, allowing us to experience the differences and power perfectly. Truly ideal.
We started on the slightly less powerful Nightster, with its new Revolution Max 975T engine, slightly lower seat height, and fewer gimmicks. Essentially, it’s the Sport Cruiser that the Sportster could have been.
Then came the new Sportster S, with its much more powerful Revolution Max 1250T engine. It offers more options and software to connect the Sportster to the Harley Davidson app and GPS system. The Sportster S truly brings the feeling of a Muscle Cruiser to life on the Dutch country roads with its new V-twin engine.

One cruiser is not the same as the other.

In the midst of the pandemic, Harley-Davidson introduced the Sportster S in 2021. A sporty reinvention of the 65-year-old design, with a modern twist. This fairly radical redux naturally stirred some discussion among Harley Diehards. These diehard fans may have been skeptical about the liquid-cooled, Pan America-derived, 1,250cc V-twin replacing the old air-cooled 883cc and 1200cc engines. But the Sportster raised the bar even further with unconventional choices, such as an oval LED headlight, a hidden monoshock rear replacing conventional shock absorbers, and a styling with clean, simple lines combined with the dual exhaust on one side. This dual exhaust gives a bit of a Scrambler feel reminiscent of the BMW R Nine T. However, apparently the Sportster’s sales figures were enough to spawn a Sportster spin-off in 2022. The Nightster continues the trend with its significantly revised package. There’s a smaller Revolution Max (975cc vs. 1252cc), a lower retail price ($13,499/£12,995 vs. $16,399/£15,145), and a number of mechanical and stylistic adjustments.

When the two cruisers are placed side by side, the major difference in the front wheels is noticeable. The Sportster S comes with fairly wide 17” Dunlop Harley-Davidson wheels. In contrast, the Nightster comes with much thinner 19” Dunlops, similar to, for example, the new Indian Scout Rogue. Like the Scout Rogue, the Nightster handles corners beautifully and offers more agility than the thicker 160 mm 17-inch rubber of the Sportster S. Steering feels smooth and relatively easy, and the Nightster provides a reassuring sense of stability. Despite its larger inch wheels, the Nightster is slightly more limited with a maximum lean angle of 32 degrees, compared to the 34-degree maximum lean angle of the Sportster S.

The Nightster weighs 218 kg, which isn’t necessarily super light, but it’s roughly 10 kg lighter than the Sportster S. While riding, both Harleys don’t feel heavy, but in the corners, you notice that most of the mass is located close to the ground on the Nightster. Whereas the Sportster S has the fuel tank in the standard location, between the handlebars and the rider, the Nightster’s lightweight plastic tank is under the seat. What appears to be the traditional fuel tank in front of the seat is actually a metal cover for the airbox. By placing the fuel tank under the seat, the weight of the fuel is lower in the frame. This lowers the center of gravity (and moves it rearward), which helps with steering and gives the Nightster a “toss-and-turn” feeling. The space created in the front helps improve airflow to the airbox and provides the V-twin with all the oxygen it needs as the Nightster roars over the dykes.

Evolution in Style and Technology: The Nightster and Sportster S Compared

With the Sportster, Harley made some quite radical decisions: an oval LED headlight, a hidden monoshock, and a liquid-cooled engine. Not every fan was immediately sold, but did Harley aim its sights at fans of the past or fans of the future? The Nightster takes a step back towards the old-school Sportster, leaning more towards tradition with the Nightster’s round headlight and visible screw sets. Compared to the old Iron, the Nightster may have a bit too much plastic, but it’s mainly limited to covers rather than structural parts, all in an effort to save weight while still presenting a sharp, impressive image with an aluminum engine block. However, the Nightster also plays a bit of a trick because what appears to be a fuel tank is actually a false cover for the engine’s airbox. The tank is relocated under the seat, which flips aside to reveal a plastic filler cap.

Both the Sportster and the Nightster differ quite a bit in seating position, and there are also significant differences in the handlebars. The Nightster comes with an analog speedometer replacing the 4-inch TFT of the S, with a multifunctional LCD screen in the lower part of the display. The starter button is located on top of the handlebars (à la the Sportster S), requiring an awkward index finger maneuver to start the downsized engine. At least, it only takes a tap to initiate the starting procedure, activating the dual downdraft throttle bodies to pump fuel and air into the 975T powerplant. The switchgear is somewhat simpler due to the limited technology on the Nightster, so you’ll miss out on all the buttons that the Sportster has for Bluetooth connectivity with the Harley app. A bit of a back-to-basics approach.

In the Netherlands, the Sportster S is available in 3 colors: Vivid Black, Mineral Green Metallic, and White Sand Pearl. Underneath the tank, the Sportster has the magnesium-covered black engine block, interrupted by the exhaust running alongside it on the right side. The Nightster comes in Vivid Black, Gunship Gray, and the very striking Redline Red. The block on the Nightster is completely exposed and visible, as the exhaust runs underneath it. The block has a light aluminum tint, giving it a completely different appearance. On the Sportster, the exhaust pipes run high, towards an almost Scrambler-style duo exhaust, just below the seat and short rear fender. The entire exhaust is bare steel, with an anthracite-like heat shield, in the same color scheme as the block, frame, and front forks. The Nightster features a cruiser-style 2-to-1 straight pipe exhaust at the level of the rear wheel axle. The entire exhaust system, including the heat shield, is black, hidden behind plastic covers to draw attention to the rest of the bike. The larger front wheel of the Nightster and the rear fender that extends over the entire rear tire make the Nightster look bigger. Personally, I find it a bit unfortunate that they left the engine block so light, making it ‘scream’ for attention. If the block had also been black or dark, the rest of the Nightster would have stood out more. Or they could have used the unique magnesium color scheme of the Sportster’s block. Because as strange as that color may seem, the more you look at it, the better it fits the bike, and it wouldn’t look out of place on some other bikes either.

Detail for Performance

The biggest difference lies in the engines of both models. Both cruisers feature the new Revolution Max – 975cc versus 1,252cc -, which is quite a significant difference. The Nightster has been downsized in bore and stroke, but it’s fully balanced and allows for enough movement to produce a pleasant pulse at idle. With its light clutch lever and a tap on the shifter, the Nightster moves forward with enough growl to feel like a viable alternative to its larger-engined counterpart. The V-twin 975cc engine produces 90 hp at 7,500 rpm and 95 Nm at 5,750 rpm, which is considerably less than the 121 hp at 7,500 rpm and 125 Nm at 6,000 rpm of the 1,252cc engine. It’s worth noting that the Nightster reaches its torque peak earlier, and both models are capable of pulling hard. Starting in the standard ‘Road’ mode, throttle response is a bit dull initially but gains strength as the rpm rises. Switching to ‘Sport’ via the button on the right switchgear adds sharpness and makes a noticeable difference in acceleration. With the clutch lever engaged, a light tap on the shifter is enough to smoothly engage each gear of the V-twin. The action feels refined, although some may prefer a more positive “click” when shifting gears in the six-speed gearbox. One downside shared by both cruisers is that it’s not easy to access the turn signal switch when the clutch lever is pulled in. The distance is just a bit too far for convenience.

Electronics and Accessories

The electronics on both bikes are quite similar, but the Sportster comes with a few more accessories. Now, when I say quite similar, starting with the LED lighting on both bikes, one of the larger differences is immediately noticeable. The hyper-modern pill-shaped LED bar of the Sportster vs. the old-fashioned round LED headlight with windshield of the Nightster. Additionally, both are equipped with fully LED taillights and LED Bullet turn signals. The dashboard of the Sportster comes in the form of a 4-inch TFT display showing speedometer, gear, odometer, fuel level, clock, trip, ambient temperature, low temperature warning, side stand down warning, tip-over warning, cruise control, range, and tachometer indication. The Nightster comes with a retro-looking analog display with round meters, speedometer, gear, odometer, traction control indication, coolant temperature warning, ABS warning, high beam indicator, low fuel level, rear ABS disabled indication, and low tire pressure indication.

The Sportster also comes with Bluetooth connectivity and all associated options, hands-free calling, text-to-speech, and headset functionality. And a USB charger. The Sportster is also fully compatible with the Harley Davidson App, for Ride Planning, GPS Navigation, Ride Recording, etc.

In terms of rider safety options, the Nightster comes with the essentials, ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System), TCS (Traction Control System), and DSCS (Drag-Torque Slip Control System). Under the motto “less is more,” this works very well on the Nightster. You want to be able to play a bit with a motorcycle without a program constantly kicking in. And you can, even the ABS gives you the pleasure of a locking rear wheel before fully kicking in. Maybe you can’t leave skid marks when you hit the rear brake hard, but it does let you know when you lock it up. The Sportster, on the other hand, comes with a more versatile package where, in addition to ABS, TCS, and DSCS, there’s more. This includes, among other things, TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), Rear Wheel Lift Mitigation, and Enhanced Lift Mitigation, but unintentional rolling burnouts are still possible. And the Sportster comes with Curve Enhanced options; C-ABS, C-TCS, and C-DSCS.


Harley-Davidson has introduced two modern cruisers under the label of ‘Sport’: in short, the muscle cruiser Sportster S 1250cc and the sport cruiser Nightster 950cc. Both bikes feature Harley’s classic cruiser style infused with modern touches, powered by the new Revolution Max V-twin engines, each tailored to serve different markets. In terms of looks, both bikes have distinctive designs, allowing riders to have their own preferences.

The Nightster, with its friendlier starting price and slightly less powerful V-twin, is aimed at beginner Harley riders, and perhaps even novice motorcyclists. Additionally, there’s an A2-compliant version available, offering 44 hp at 8000 rpm, surprisingly 500 rpm higher. The torque on the A2 version is limited to 75 Nm at 3000 rpm. The Nightster also caters to older generation riders who seek a new and reliable Harley for years of enjoyment, away from unnecessary gadgets and accessories, and far away from the electric LiveWire.

The Sportster is more suitable for riders with a full motorcycle license who seek a cruiser with all the bells and whistles. With 1250cc power and all the electronic aids needed to harness that power while utilizing the full 34-degree lean angle. Whether it’s a day trip to the Eifel Mountains to scrape your pegs, or participating in one of the many Ride-Out events in the Netherlands, laying down rubber wherever and whenever you want. Or for older generation riders who are becoming more technically skilled, using the Harley Davidson app to enjoy Harley tours along the Dutch dykes or foreign country roads.

Both bikes have their charm and differences. And just as the day began sunny and warm, it also came to an end. Secretly, I found myself a little more in love with Harley, with the Nightster feeling a bit more like ‘my bike.’ I chose to test the Sportster and Nightster partly to see if they could compete with Indian’s FTR. A slightly different motorcycle, but Indian’s flagship sport bike, sometimes referred to as a cruiser but truly in a league of its own. While riding, the comparison leaned more towards Indian’s Scout Rogue, a comparison the Nightster would win. The Sportster seems to strike a balance between the two and claims its own throne, as only a Harley can.



Harley Sportster

Harley Nightster


Revolution Max 1250T

Revolution Max 975T

Cylinder capacity

1252 cc

975 cc

Bore x Stroke

105 x 72,3 mm

97 x 66 mm

Compression ratio

12,0 : 1

12,0 : 1


Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)

Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)

Max power

121 pk / 90 kW (7500 tpm)

89 pk / 66 kW (7500 tpm)

Max torque

125 Nm (6000 tpm)

95 Nm (5750 tpm)


6 gears

6 gears


Harley Sportster

Harley Nightster

Front suspension

43mm Upside-down fork, adjustable

41 Dual Bending conventional front fork

Rear suspension

Piggyback monoshock, adjustable

Dual outboard, none-linkage shock absorbers

Front brakes

Monoblock 4-piston radial caliper

Double brake disc floating

Rear brake

Floating 1-piston caliper

Solid uniform expansion brake disc


Cast aluminum, satin black

Cast aluminum, satin black

Front tire

160/70TR 17 (73V)

100/90 19 (57H)

Rear tire

180/70R 16 (77V)

150/80B 16 (77H)

Lean angle Right

34 degrees

32 degrees

Lean angle Right

34 degrees

32 degrees


Harley Sportster

Harley Nightster


2270 mm

2250 mm


1520 mm

1545 mm

Seat height

765 mm

705 mm

Ground clearance

90 mm

110 mm

Curb weight

228 Kg

221 Kg

Fuel capacity

11,8 L

11,7 L

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