I've always been a Sportster guy -- I ride a 1993 XL Deluxe that I've had since 1994. So when the opportunity to test the 2007 Harley-Davidson XL 1200N Sportster 1200 Nightster came my way, I jumped. The 2007 Harley-Davidson Nightster is the latest addition to the XL family. Carrying a base price of $9,595 ($10,675 as tested with two-tone paint and HD Factory Security System), the Nightster comes with a 24 month/unlimited mileage warranty, and estimated fuel economy on premium unleaded gas of 42.4 mpg city/57.1 mpg highway.
The Nightster is a symphony in darkness. My test bike wore a two-tone Suede Blue Pearl and Vivid Black paint job (there are three other two-tone combos available in addition to all-black, of course), applied to Harley's usual high standards, with subtle badging beneath the clearcoat. In addition to paint, there are a number of complementary and competing textures and tones on the bike, from black wrinkle to matte gray to satin aluminum to anodized black chrome to polished chrome. The only current bike in the Harley lineup that comes close in variety of surface treatments is the Softail FXSTB Night Train.
Not that the bike is merely an exercise in finishes. There have been some subtle (and not so subtle) modifications to the Sportster sheet metal and hardware. The rear fender has been chopped and redressed for a cleaner look. The license plate holder has been redesigned as a folding side-mount unit. The stock taillight has been replaced with a much smaller light bar that peeks out from beneath the back lip of the rear fender. Retro black rubber fork gaiters dress the 39 mm legs. The wire wheels (19" x 2.5" front, 16" x 3.0" rear) have black hubs and rims with stainless spokes. The front fender mounts and rear belt guard have been drilled out with lightening holes, like an old-school bobster.
With all this attention to detail, it's a shame that the exposed wiring and tubing on the Nightster is so ugly and sloppy. Tangles of wire and hose run along the frame rails, looking unsightly and vulnerable. Yuck.
SEAT OF THE PANTS
I'm a big guy -- I stand 6'2" and I'm big-boned, as us fat guys say. But I've always found the Sportster frame and layout satisfactory for my size. It's all a matter of purpose and use. Nightster tweaks the Sportster layout with an even lower seat height (just over 26" unladen vs. 29.9" for the XL 1200R Roadster), and a flat, drag-style bar that stretches your arms more than the standard buckhorn style that you'll find on most stock Sportsters. The foot pegs and controls are positioned to provide an upright riding position, unlike the La-Z-Boy recliner position of the forward-control equipped XL 1200 C Custom.
The flat bars provide an unobstructed view ahead. Instrumentation is minimal and simple -- a single round instrument housing is mounted to the center of the bars, home to an analog dial speedometer and a digital odometer/trip meter, along with a few warning lights and indicators. There's no tach, no fuel gauge, no temperature gauge, no thermometer -- basically, there's a whole lot of nothing. Harley cleaned up the Sportster's neck a few years ago, eliminating the old-style fork lock holes, and replacing them with a keyed fork lock that works with the same key as the ignition. Now they just need to take it that next logical step, and integrate the ignition lock with the fork lock.
Nightster's hand controls, bar and bar-mounted front brake reservoir are all blacked-out, as are the bar-mounted front turn signals and headlight cowl. Not only is this pretty cool-looking, it has the side benefit of reducing glare and reflection on the road.
ON THE ROAD
Nightster's 1200cc engine is rubber-mounted in the frame, an enormous change over my old solid-mounted Sportster. The isolation does wonders for the comfort of the bike, and even makes the mirrors useful at many speeds. The air-cooled Evolution V-twin is rated to deliver 79 ft-lbs of torque @ 4000 rpm. Harley doesn't release horsepower figures -- my local shop claimed that their stock Sportster measured in the upper 60s on the dyno. The technology is very familiar -- two push-rod activated overhead valves per cylinder with self-adjusting hydraulic lifters; a five-speed transmission with a wet clutch; a chain-driven primary and belt-driven final drive. Nightster comes standard with electronic sequential port fuel injection (ESPFI). It's amazing that the technical advances haven't erased the character of a motorcycle line that has been around for fifty years.
Nightster's low seat height was accomplished by shortening the rear shocks and scooping out the seat. I expected the shorter available travel to affect clearance, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Nightster handles very nicely in the lean. Though the bike has pronounced feelers on its footpegs, I never touched down, even around the tightest turns. Bumps, however, were another issue. A sharp bump or pothole delivers a serious jolt to the spine, feeling almost like a hardtail. The reduced padding on the seat doesn't help at all. I wound up riding very carefully, with even more attention than usual to road surface conditions.
Every factory Harley represents the starting point on a journey of personalization and even with its cool design, Nightster could do with some tweaking. The stock slash-cut slip-on mufflers keep the noise down, maybe more than I like- I might go for a set of the Screaming Eagle "race-only" slip-ons for a cooler exhaust note, just like every other Sportster rider seems to have done. Those front forks will work better with progressive springs and heavier weight oil, and maybe an aftermarket brace. If your regular route includes freeways, you may want to invest in a windscreen– felt like a kite at freeway speeds. Oh, and then there are the braided stainless steel brake lines, the gel grips, the bar-and-shield tire weights, and the countless other items you can add from the H-D catalog. Or, you can enjoy the elemental simplicity of Nightster’s design and execution, and leave it alone.
Nightster wouldn't be my first choice in the Sportster lineup -- I'd pick the Custom as my starting point. But for low seat height, unique styling and a pure Sportster experience, Nightster delivers.
Bring on the night.