Tech Specs

Harley Davidson XL1200N

1200cc air cooled vee twin with electronic sequential fuel injection, 5 speed gearbox and kevlar/carbon fibre final drive belt. Twin slash cut exhausts.

Steel tubular chassis with rigid mounted engine as a load bearing member. Twin rear shocks. Rear suspension adjustable for preload only. Single dual piston caliper on single front disc. Single rear disc.

100/70 19
150/80 16 rear

Length: 2245mm
Wheelbase: 1510mm
Seat height: 642mm
Dry weight: 251kg
Fuel capacity: 12.5 l

Price: £ 6,995
as tested
(£6695 for solid paint)


great bike, daft name. Again

Harley Davidson Nightster

Words and pics by Simon Bradley

When a bike looks as good as this, who needs chrome and tassles?We've tested quite a few Harley Davidsons over the last few months. And I make no secret of the fact that, personally, I like them. I like the total departure from the type of riding I normally do. I'm a dyed in the wool sportsbike rider, but the opportunity to just sit back and relax, knowing that I'm not going to break any lap records because what I'm riding doesn't go that fast is actually rather nice. Add to that the undeniable warm feeling you get from cracking the throttle open on a big lazy vee twin and hearing that "potato potato" exhaust note sharpen up and you're more than halfway to biking nirvana. Obviously a few of you will be shaking your heads in disbelief at this point, but unless you've managed to try a modern Harley and left your preconceptions at home then you just won't get it.

Now Harleys are generally regarded by their owners as blank canvases on which to paint their personalities. Harley Davidson has a truly immense accessory catalogue. I've got one here that they sent me. It's beautifully produced and photographed and it has eight hundred and twenty six pages. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a lot of accessories. I like that. Bikes are far more personal than cars anyway. Why shouldn't you make your bike into a statement about who you and what you are? Whether it's a replica paintjob, race exhaust or wavy discs on your sportsbike, iridium flyscreens and braided lines on a streetfighter or loud pipes and more chrome on a cruiser, personalisation is a booming industry.

The only thing I've ever struggled to understand in this arena is the concept of the factory custom. The Japanese started doing this a few years ago, and I just didn't get it. Surely if Classic lines. it couldn't be anything but a Harley. Check out the integrated (and very cool) rear lights...something is mass produced to the same spec it's not a custom bike. And if it's a custom bike then it's unlikely to be a standard factory model. The trend gradually died out, but oddly Harley Davidson sort of resurrected it. Many Harleys come already adorned with the accessories that most people would choose to fit, or not fit, themselves. Take a look at the Heritage Classic we reviewed a few weeks ago and you'll see what I mean. Now that's all well and good if you like that sort of thing. But there's still a lot to be said, in my opinion anyway, for the purer motorcycling experience.

Actually, there's a lot to be said for a purer motorcycling experience full stop. Biking without sophisticated fuel injection, switchable ECU maps, ABS, massive performance with brakes to match and the sort of performance that makes a normal rideout only become a real laugh when speeds get up to imprisonable levels. That's where the Harley Davidson Nightster comes in.

Because it's basic. Really basic. From the single front disc and eighties size front tyre hanging off simple, unadjustable suspension back through the positively ancient 1200cc overhead valve air cooled vee twin engine, to the twin rear shocks, the Nightster is totally unadulterated. Sure, there actually is some quite sophisticated fuel injection keeping the engine behaving nicely but it doesn't feel like it. And the super high-tech Kevlar drive belt is pretty special but it also passes un-noticed in the overall experience.

At a glance the Nightster looks as though it's thirty years old. Maybe more. Standard fork gaiters may be hugely unfashionable these days but they are useful and they do a stirling job of starting the illusion. Wire spoked wheels, small single hadlight and minimal instrumentation all do their bit, as does the subtle colour scheme and the utilitarian engine finish. It's actually a very good looking bike, it just isn't fussy. And there are some really clever touches as well - the rear indicators incorporate the stop and tail lights as well. Genuinely high tech, bang up to date solutions making a bike feel and look older. Theat's a nice irony.

You can almost imagine Steve McQueen jumping wire on it. I know thatw as a Triumph but you see what I mean, I'm sure...Riding the Nightster is, probably, exactly what you'd expect. The footrests are mid mounted rather than being stretched out in front and the bars are just nicely positioned to get the riding position very comfortable. The suspension was rock hard, mind you, and would get some attention were I to own one. Starting is as easy as you'd expect today and the clutch is quite light. The gearbox, obviously. is a little rough. This is a Harley Davidson after all, and there are standards to be maintained. But it's a world better than the old Sportster box. Yes, fundamentally this is a twelve hundred sportster. Just stripped down. And that's not a bad thing as the Sportster is a pretty good package generally. So get rolling and you'll find that the engine pulls from tickover to change up time. There's no tacho but you'll know when to change. It's never been gutless, despite claims to the contrary, as there has always been lots of torque to play with. But in this guise the Nightster seems more sprightly than usual, offering a very nice turn of speed and provoking huge grins.

And here's the rub. The Nightster handles pretty well. Yes, this Harley Davidson has sufficient ground clearance provided you think ahead, behaves impeccably once turned and turns fairly easily. It had brakes which are adequate. Just. But that's easy to fix. And it goes plenty well enough, as I've suggested already. In fact the only criticism I could level at it was the dreadfully hard rear suspension. It was utterly reliable, sounded great (even with the standard pipes on it) and was reasonably economical. Though the tiny tank reduced range to around a hundred miles anyway.

In a nutshell, I'd buy one of these with my own money provided it wasn't the only bike I could have. It's a little too compromised for me to have as an only bike, but come the day I can have several bikes in my garage this will be one of them.

I've said it before. Go to your Harley Davidson dealer, leave your preconceptions at home and get yoursef an extended test ride. It'll take a couple of hours to get it and then you'll be a convert. And for under seven grand the Nightster represents quite remarkable value as a way of preserving your licence, perhaps your life and having a great laugh at the same time. This is definitely the best Harley I've ever ridden. And one of the best bikes ever for what biking is all about...

Definitely the best Harley I've ever ridden. And one of the best bikes ever for what biking is all about...

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