I was riding in the extreme summer heat surrounded by some of the worst drivers in the world. I got off at the next exit, went back home and put the bike up for sale. I figured that if I had any doubt about the safety of motorcycling then Murphy's Law might apply and it could be time to stick to four wheels.
I knew my wife would be happy, after all we had two little ones at home now, but how would I tell my four year old daughter who loved motorcycles so much she cried when I sold my bright red Ducati 900SS about a year earlier. Yet something happened over the last few weeks that brought back the excitement and freedom that I remembered from all my years of riding. I met the folks at MO and the next thing I knew I was hanging out at Harley shops trying to get a close up look at the 2000 models.
Suddenly I found myself trying to decide which one I lusted after most. For those of you who have shopped for a Harley you know how difficult it can be to figure out which model is right for you. The only thing more difficult is actually finding one at your local dealership.
I had been down this decision path before. First it was the 1200 Sporty. Should I buy it or should I hold out for what some would say is a "real Harley." At the time I opted for the Sporty since I reasoned that I would only be riding occasionally and most likely solo. Within six months I was back at my local H-D dealer looking for a bigger bike that I could ride with my significant other comfortably on the back. The second time I took a long hard look at the FXRS Low Rider Convertible and the FLSTC Heritage Classic. I knew the Convertible was more comfortable, but the looks of the Softail were hard to resist. I sat on both bikes about a dozen times and spent the better part of the day bullsh*ting with the dealer about the pros and cons of each bike. The Convertible clearly was more practical. I could go on weekend trips more comfortably and, if I took off the windshield and bags, the bike had an alter ego. But hey, isn't it better to look good than to feel good? After all, isn't that a big part of the H-D lifestyle? Still, at the end of a long day, I went home on the more practical FXRS.
The third time I was convinced that I wanted the Heritage or maybe even a Fat Boy. That particular morning I told my wife that I was just going for a ride, but in my heart I knew that I was going back to my local H-D dealer to trade for another bike. The dealer and I were getting to know each other pretty well at that point and he had a wide selection of bikes. I sat on a Heritage and a Fat Boy and I liked them both. Once again I had a difficult decision.
After having the usual conversation about my concerns for the well-known vibration of the Softail, the dealer suggested that I stick with a rubber mounted engine. "But I want the nostalgic look," I said. "This time I want the full H-D experience." He pointed me in the direction of a new Electra Glide, a black FLHTC complete with gobs and gobs of chrome. "Southern Comfort," he says. "Take both bikes out for a spin and then decide." "But if it were me I go for the Dresser." You guessed it; I left with the FLHTC. Later that year we moved from Los Angeles to Phoenix and my bike began to feel heavier and hotter than I remember. Damn! I knew I should have bought a Softail.
So here I am again four years later at the same dealership, having the same conversation. This time I'm back in Los Angeles living off Mulholland Highway, mecca to thousands of motorcyclists on any given fair-weather weekend, which, in So Cal, is almost every weekend. Once again the issue is handling and comfort versus incredible looks and harsh ride. Or is it? Harley has made significant changes to the popular Softail line. They still have their incredible looks but without the vibration with which tens of thousands of previous owners either loved or hated. In addition, they now have even more torque and horsepower -- always a good thing -- and great brakes as well.
Oh yeah, there was the one dealer who had a $900 gouge-up on top of a set-up fee of $500 and a mandatory "chrome package" for $2,000. He had a couple of bikes just waiting for the latest IPO gazillionaire to open his wallet. With my newly fueled interest in motorcycles, I was ready to jump back into Harley ownership. So when the opportunity came up to ride the 2000 Night Train, I quickly unpacked my helmet, boots and leather jacket and was ready to roll. First of all, let me say that the Night Train is one great looking bike, that is if you prefer the blacked out look to gleaming chrome. Unlike the previous Bad Boy model with its springer front end covered in black, the Night Train goes with the more traditional look of steel telescoping forks. Let's face it, even if you love your Harleys in black, too much of a good thing is, well, too much. There are a number of chrome accents including the drag bars, headlamp, dual staggered pipes and the front wheel.
The twin counterbalanced 88B motor that also calls the Deuce home provides power for the Night Train. It has the same 3.75 x 4.0 inch bore and stroke, 8.9:1 compression ratio and uses the same five-speed transmission, but the chassis is quite a bit different. This FXSTB has a wheelbase of 66.9 inches that, when combined with its 629.6 lbs claimed dry weight, lives up to its "train" monicker; especially with the rake and trail figures of 34 degrees and five inches. This bike is a long, low, stable ride.
The front wheel is a 21-inch laced job while the rear is a 16-inch solid disc with a black center. Practically everything else is black including the console. While the color is the same, the textures run from black crinkle to smooth lacquer. The new one-piece, five-gallon tank sports a tasteful Harley-Davidson decal in silver and red. This bike looks great either at a distance or up close.
When the big day arrived, I arranged to pick the bike up on Topanga Canyon near Pacific Coast Highway. After unloading it from the MO Van, I pulled out the enricher knob and fired it right up. I had never ridden a bike with forward controls and drag bars so I was concerned that the riding position might be a little awkward. In order to get acclimated, I decided to drive the six miles of winding road known as Old Topanga instead of the more leisurely route of Topanga Canyon into the San Fernando Valley. I quickly gained confidence, but when I reached Mulholland Highway, I realized that something was not right. The bike was running fine, although it would have run better if I had remembered to push the enricher knob back in. I made a quick detour to my house, put on an old pair of blue jeans and a black H-D t-shirt. Now I was feeling much better. In fact, during the next 14 miles to the Rock Store, I felt downright jubilant.On my short ride, the stretch to the drag bars seemed a little long but not uncomfortable. The forward controls provide for a relaxed riding position. The slightly forward slant of my upper body helped ward off some of the effect of the wind pushing my body backward when I exceeded speeds of 50 mph. At this point my conclusion was that the unique riding position provided for good feel and bike control, although, when making very low speed maneuvers, such as making a U-turn, I would have welcomed a wider set of handlebars.
When it comes to cornering, this is no sportbike; but then again I'm no sportbike rider. Unlike my Electra Glide, I could lean the Night Train over without fear of grinding any of the shiny parts. After the first few tentative turns, I began braking later and powering out of the apex sooner. I had enough confidence for any turns that I would encounter, but being a cruiser, the Night Train and I both preferred the wide sweepers to the tight twisties.The big news here is the new Twin Cam counter-balanced engine. While it is more powerful than the previous Evo motor I was pleasantly surprised to find a significant reduction of vibration from idle well up to 65 mph. While I know that vibrations are part of the overall H-D experience, I would classify what's left as "good vibrations." I can't imagine anyone getting tired after a few hours in the saddle. Another pleasant surprise is the more direct feel of the shifter. Neutral is very easy to find and shifting gears can be done with less effort. My second ride on the Night Train included 40 freeway miles as I went back to my Harley dealer to take a look at a pearl white Fat Boy that had just come in. On the superslab the stretch to the drag bars seemed a little too long. My arms started getting sore and I constantly found myself taking my left hand off the handlebars and bending my arm to eliminate an annoying cramp. was developing in my arm.
All good things must come to an end and so to did my stint on the Night Train. Overall, I like this bike a lot. My hat's off to Harley-Davidson for finally making a Softail that even I can own without going through the mental gymnastics of having to decide between a Softail and a rubber mount. Buying one bike over another is largely a matter of taste. Now that Harley's made the Softail more user friendly, I think they will have even more customers lining up to put down their deposits. Would I buy a Night Train? It's a great looking, awesome bike, but, as I said, it's also a matter of taste. Personally, I'd like a little more chrome and a comfortable bend in the riser. Or better yet, pearl white and make mine Fat.