2007 Harley-Davidson XL1200N

Quick Take on the Nightster


Have you had your fill of virtually everything under the sun being called "old school" (or old skool, oldschool and oldskool; take your pick)? I know I have. What was once a genuine urban turn of phrase suddenly finds its way into everyday language, and its trendy tone is spewed casually from grade schoolers to grannies. Thanks for nothing, mindless advertising agencies!

Now that you know how I feel about that, let me share a great piece of slogan: "An iron fist in a soft-bellied world." Huzzah! Bring that copywriter a beer - a Harley-branded beer.

Clearly meant to get your attention and anchor your emotions with that zinger, Harley-Davidson wants to let you know that they've carved out another bike from their 1,200cc Sporty platform, and slammed it with tough looks and attitude. The XL1200N Sportster Nightster is low, bobbed and blacked-out. With a gut full of torque, low seat-height, minimalist features and subtle colors, this Harley really had me thinking it was one that I would gladly have in my garage. It even turned the head of a non-biker female friend.

The 2007 Harley Nightster: Blacked-out and ready to rumble.

The Nightster has the same 73 cubic-inch, rubber-mounted, fuel-injected, air-cooled Evolution five-speed Twin with a compression ratio of 9.7 and churning out a claimed pavement-ripping 79 ft-lbs. of torque that all the other 1200 Sporties have. But the mill in this bike comes in a "rawboned finish." Rawboned? Just know that it (like most other components on the bike) is black. That black simplicity finds its way across much of the rest of the bike. The low-rise bars, clutch and brake levers, headlight housing, speedometer, mirrors, turn/stop lights, steel-spoked wheels, and drilled-out belt-drive guard all come in a slick black finish. Heck, even the front fender clamps are black.

The Nightster sets itself apart stylistically and functionally from the other Sportsters beyond all that black.

One caveat with the Nightster is to be mindful of its limited ground clearance. Pete thinks caveat tastes good on crackers.

About the only thing that hearkens to chrome cruiser traditions is the staggered exhaust with slash-cut mufflers. Slowing the Nightster is the job of a single disc brake up front. Only one rotor means you can see the jewel-like pattern that the spoke heads create in the wide-flange black hub of the 19-inch front wheel. The rear is a 16-inch spoked job that matches up perfectly with to the front. Gone is the taillight. No, really, there's no taillight. However, there are two red LED turn signals that pull double duty as indicators, and (have you guessed it?) brake light. It just plain looks cool. Both fenders are chopped to reveal more rubber with the front looking very flat track-ish in profile. In an effort to go a little retro, fork gaiters cover up the fork stanchions. A bobber-inspired side-mount license plate not only cleans up the look of the rear fender, it also has a pivoting mechanism that allows the plate to be turned from its rear-facing position to one 90 degrees rotated, facing outward to the side. (Hmm, wouldn't that make it difficult to see by, say, the police or a toll-booth camera... - Ed.)

A number of paint options are available. The black on black looks particularly menacing, but our test unit came in two-tone Suede Blue Pearl and Vivid Black. That color combo may not strike fear in the hearts of hardened criminals or card-carrying members of the N.O.W., but once I saw it up close I was surprised at just how well the two colors went together. It looks great and takes nothing from the devil-may-care attitude the overall theme hopes to inspire.

After my eyes finished glazing over with desire to ride it, I rode it. When I sat on the firm solo saddle I discovered yet another departure from all other 1200 Sportsters: The Nightster has the lowest seat height at a scant 26.3 inches. That certainly would have made the bike all the more appealing to my aforementioned lady friend. What's more, the whole ergo package welcomes the short of stature; my five-foot, eight-inch frame was just shy of feeling cramped. From the seat to the bars to the pegs, it is all a little stuffy. I couldn't help but think that if I were a few inches taller I might have to reluctantly pass on a purchase of this black beauty.

It's hard not to be enthused about riding such a good looking, minimalist machine.

These fork gaiters are just one of the many details that set the XL1200N Sportster apart from its siblings.

Once the fuel-injected powerplant thundered to life, I forgot for a moment about the cramped cockpit and started blipping the throttle. Intoxicated with a sense of self-entitled badass-ness, I twisted the throttle time and again to hear the exhaust and feel the torque reaction of the engine. Every stoplight brought another opportunity.

All that cage-annoying throttle pumping could only lead to one thing: Pull in the light clutch (reduced in effort on all '07 Sportsters), nudge the clean-shifting tranny into first, keep the revs up...red...green...go! Slam the throttle open, dump the clutch and hold on as the Torquinator lays down a long blackie worthy of bikes with much more horsepower.

Ride the bike long enough to build some heat in the rear tire and you can get a respectable-for-a-cruiser wheelie out of the Nightster from a dead stop. This ridiculous fun only serves as more fuel for the type of riding this bike seemed to beg from me. I couldn't help but keep the throttle turned up, the trouble-free fueling blasting me through traffic making me an easy target for law enforcement.

After I left the confines of the city behind via the sprawling L.A. freeway system, I quickly discovered that the Nightster is no distance machine. In keeping with the bobber theme, the bike has traditional twin coil-over shocks that are adjustable only for preload. The ride is tolerable, but the pitiful 2.4 inches of rear suspension travel will leave your posterior begging for more stops along the way.

Searching out one of my favorite canyon roads I was reminded of one more key area where the XL1200N differs: ground clearance. With a mere 3.9 inches of clearance, hard parts will suffer. Thankfully the footpegs are graced with extra-long feelers. The fireworks display trailing behind is impressive, or so I'm told.

I suspected (before scrutinizing the spec chart) that perhaps this Sportster had a more aggressive rake and trail combo or shorter wheelbase than its brothers. Not so. In fact, at 60 inches, the wheelbase is a fraction of an inch longer than a number of the other XL1200 models.

Old school made cool.

What I did learn was that Mr. Nightster requires minimal effort to turn. How so with a longer wheelbase?

Part of the reason is that this price-conscious Harley weighs substantially less than the other 1200 Sporties. At 545 pounds dry (claimed) it bests the Roadster model by a full 20 pounds, according to Harley-supplied numbers. This spec sheet factoid corroborated what my senses were telling me about the Nightster's handling in the twists and turns.

The single front disc brake, as opposed to the dual rotors on the 1200R, reduces rotational mass for lighter steering.

Eventually I had to give up on my aches-and-pains-be-damned mentality as the tight ergos had my knees aching. It was time to reel in my enthusiasm for the day. It's hard not to be enthused about riding such a good looking, minimalist machine. If you're a woman, (this isn't sexist, many women are drawn to Sportsters), a newer rider, believe that other bikes are just too big or are simply drawn to Harleys, the Nightster might be the one for you. With an MSRP of $9,595.00 it's in line with its teammates. Just keep the lean angles mellow, spend plenty of time cruising the strips and ride off into the night(ster).

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