Harley-Davidson 2007 XL 1200N Nightster

Story by Glenn Roberts// Photos by Glenn Roberts
September 1 2007

Photo of the new XL 1200N Nightster by Harley Davidson There was a time the Harley-Davidson Sportster was something to be feared on the street. First released in 1957, it soon garnered the title of ‘Superbike’ among the motorcycling public. For many years after, it could put any current model of the day in its place whether off the line or down the street. Although the Sportster was, and still is, one of the all-time favourite bikes to buzz around town on, the venerable Sportster eventually lost its footing to the off-shore contingent and some naysayers have even relegated it to beginner bike status. While many feel it does not belong in the beginner bike group, it could lay claim as an entry-level bike into the American-made family of motorcycles because it has remained very affordable in comparison to the larger Harley-Davidsons.

Over the years the original 1957 V-twin powerplant has gone through some pretty major technological changes but all the while keeping the traditional Sportster image alive. The stature has changed slightly as well but there is still a strong resemblance in both driveline and design to the original Sporty. Arguably, two of the most important changes the Sportster has had in recent years are the vibration isolating rubber-mounted engine in 2004, and in 2005, Harley released a lower version of the smaller of the two Sportster versions, the 883L. Changes come and changes go but one things remains status quo for the Sportster, it has never lost its fun factor.

The XL 1200N Nightster, Harley-Davidson’s newest addition to the Sportster lineup is based on the proven fifty-year platform and combines stylish eye-catching good looks, lightweight agility and power, all wrapped up in a way-too-fun easy-to-handle package. From the gators on the front fork, to the traditional ‘peanut’ gas tank and clean bobbed rear fender, minimalist solo seat, low rise bars and the big air-cooled 1200 cc V-twin, this rebel look is completed with a pair of black wheels and hubs with chromed spokes adding a bit of contrast. The blacked-out look with just a hint of chrome is stunning and attracts a lot of attention wherever it goes.

Throwing a leg over the Nightster with bars in hand, sitting on the well formed seat pocket and lifting the bike off the kickstand, your first impression is that you immediately know it’s going to be a cool ride.

Compartment space of the Harley Davidson XL 1200NOne of the characteristics of a V-twin engine is bottom-end torque. The torque of the 1200 Evolution engine is the first thing you feel once on the road and how easily it pulls the bike and rider to highway speed with just a slight twist of the wrist. The Sequential Port Fuel Injected XL 1200N delivers 107.2 NM @ 4000 rpm (79.1 ft. lbs. @ 4000rpm) results in very snappy acceleration with very little movement of the throttle hand and the bike wants to surge forward on the road. Holding on with both hands is highly recommended, especially on rougher roads, as a little twist goes a long way. Another characteristic of a V-twin is vibration but the rubber-mounted engine does a fine job of keeping most of the vibration at bay. At idle, the engine appears to bounce around in the frame but anywhere off idle the engine calms to a gentle purr. There is just enough vibration to remind you of the V-twin powerplant between your knees throughout most of the rev range but not enough to offend. Seeing out of the mirrors at highway speed is not an issue and just shy of 100 km in fifth gear, whatever vibration you felt is completely gone. Along with that V-twin power comes a nice exhaust note from the dual staggered shorty exhaust.

The 5-speed transmission shifts are typical Sportster and although they feel a little on the heavy side, the feel is very positive and you absolutely know it has shifted into the next gear whether it is up or down. It takes little effort to pull the clutch lever and comes with a very intuitive friction point making for friendly launches from a stoplight. Although it wasn’t overly noisy, I had some concern that the primary chain needed adjusting but a quick stop at my local Harley dealer confirmed the chain was adjusted properly and that all was well.

Of course getting up to speed is one thing but hauling the bike back down to legal limits is of equal importance. Although the brakes feel a little vague, a decent squeeze on the front brake lever and the rear pedal do provide more than adequate stopping power through the dual-piston caliper and single 292 mm (11.5”) front brake rotor while the single-piston caliper on the rear puts its grip on the 292 mm (11.5”) rotor.

Transferring that stopping power to the asphalt is through a 19” laced front wheel shod with standard Dunlop rubber while the rear 16” laced wheel provide road contact through a 150-section Dunlop tire.

Riding the Nightster is just plain fun, no doubt about it. The bike is somewhat of a lightweight and certainly not the heaviest when comparing to other makes and models in its comparative engine size class but in full running order, that is full of fluids and ready to ride, the 256.2 kg (565 lbs.) doesn’t feel near as heavy due to its low stance and low centre of gravity. Picking up the Nightster off of the side stand is a breeze and the low laden seat height of only 642 mm (25.3”) means virtually anyone can ride it. The wide handlebar, needing only slight input, and skinny minimalist design of the Sportster make it easy to bank into a corner. Coming out of the corner, all that is needed is a little throttle to stand it right back up when the corner straightens out as you set it up for the next corner.

Keep in mind that this bike was not designed for long distance travel but more accurately built for cruising downtowns and the surrounding countryside. The slammed look is sure to attract a lot of attention as you pass by the crowds that will gather to watch it roll by but the frame’s low 3.9” ground clearance also comes with a trade-off. The Nightster is a firm ride if those roads are in rough shape. If I had one complaint about the Nightster it would have to be the suspension. The blacked-out front 39 mm fork, with retro gators and minuscule fender, allow 116.8 mm (4.6”) of travel but the rear will only give up 60.9 mm (2.4”). While the rear dual shocks have the standard spring adjustment, my demo unit was set to the softest setting. Minimal padding in the seat helps to keep the seat height at a low 642 mm (25.3”) but doesn’t help much to contribute to a soft ride. Strangely enough, I found my hips got tired before my butt got sore, that is partly due the nice seat pocket that your derriere fits neatly into.

Riding position is aggressive cruiser style but comfortable with arms straight out in front and feet just ahead of the seat. My 5ft, 11in frame found it OK but if the rider is too tall, they might find the footpegs a little close resulting in the knees being bent too tight for a long ride. Gwen, on the other hand, standing at a little over 5ft, 2in found the bike to be a perfect fit.

The low-rise blacked-out handlebar is in a comfortable position leaving hands and arms around chest height making it easy to see behind from mirrors that look over the arms, not at the arms. One thing I found a little odd is that the footpegs did not have return springs on them so that when lifted up, they stayed up. I later realized that although the Nightster is skinny, the footpegs got in the way when backing the bike up. Lifting them out of the way made the job easier providing you remember to put them back down before taking off.

Suzzy gives the Harley Davidson XL 1200N a drive around the blockThe view from the seat makes all gauges and hand controls easy to see. Instrumentation consists of a single gauge that houses the analog speedometer with low fuel indicator and a digital multi-function odometer that does extra duty as a dual tripmeter and clock. The high beam, turn signal and oil pressure warning lights are mounted in the speedo bracket. Because the seat is low, the handlebar, speedometer and gas tank block much of the windblast to the torso and somewhat to the chest but head and upper chest are still in the wind. No need to worry about forgetting to turn off the turn signals since they are self-cancelled by either traveling .3 km or when exiting a corner.

The ‘peanut’ fuel tank holds 12.5 L of fuel and delivered an average highway and city mileage of 5L/100 km (55.7 mpg) for a theoretical range of 250 km per tank. Not bad for a small tank Sportster. The low fuel light lit on average at 154 km leaving plenty of time to find a gas station.

The best way to describe the styling on the Nightster is striking. The blacked-out body and engine components, the chromed spokes set against black wheels and hubs, the side-mount license plate bracket that easily flips out of the way and the rear turn signals that play triple-duty as brake lights and tail lights leaving the rear fender bare and clean all contribute to the custom look. All these little things and a typical Harley-Davidson perfect fit and finish combine to make the XL 1200N Nightster a real head turner either by itself or in a crowded parking lot full of other bikes.

Considering the prices of comparable bikes in the marketplace, the Nightster seems to be a pretty decent price. The suggested list price for solid Vivid Black is $11,929 or $12,409 for the two-tone option. See your local dealer or visit www.harley-davidson.com for more information.


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