Harley-Davidson Nightster Special Road Test

“Paradoxically, for a cruiser, the Nightster loves to rev. I am pretty sure even the most sedate rider will be tempted to explore the upper reaches of the Nightster’s rev range,” said Ozbike road tester Paul Angus.

I HAD just returned the wickedly quick Sportster S to Harley-Davidson’s Sydney headquarters — we had spent a tumultuous, fast fortnight together — when the nice people at Harley-Davidson Australia offered me the Nightster Special for a test ride. “Yes, please, and thank you,” was my response.

The Nightster Special is the little brother of the Sportster S. The two models represent Harley-Davidson’s Sportster range for 2024 in the Australian market. The original Nightster was launched back in 2022; the Nightster Special uses the same 975 cc Revolution Max engine; a pillion seat and pegs, the TFT dash from the Sportster S, cruise control, new wheels, slightly higher and further set back bars, and a small bikini faring all come fitted as standard.

Hopping on the Nightster Special, the first thing I noticed is how similar the riding position is to the old 883 Sportster — low seat, mid-controls and flat bars on low risers put you in a comfortable upright position. Riding home through Sydney traffic, it was a lot less frantic than the Sportster S. While the Sportster S shouts “Faster, faster, faster,” the Nightster Special whispers “Chill out, relax.” 

As well as losing a couple of hundred cc’s, the engine has also lost the variable-valve-timing on the outlet side. This means there is noticeably less go across the rev range. Don’t get me wrong, it is by no means slow, it just does not have the urgency of the Sportster S. The 60-degree V-Twin Revolution Max engine in the Nightster Special is putting out 90 hp and 95 Nm; the Sportster S manages 119 hp and 126 Nm. While it may not have the fire-breathing qualities of its larger brother, it is a much friendlier engine around town. It feels balanced and smooth and spins up quickly. The engine definitely has plenty of character; a little quiet at idle but even then there is a note of anger about it. 

Sydney’s less-than-perfectly-surfaced streets revealed another difference between the two Sportster models. The Nightster Special has nearly double the suspension travel of the S leading to a much more relaxed ride. A reasonably narrow 19-inch front wheel helps to make the Nightster Special turn into the corners with a lot less effort than the 16-inch wheeled, fat-tyred Sportster S. The bigger, narrower wheel also helps the Nightster hold a line and not be affected by road irregularities like its bigger brother.

Over the next three days the Nightster weaved its gentle magic on me. Whether it was a quick ride to the shops or taking one of my daughters to the beach, the Nightster Special just got on with it. Around town the Nightster feels very light on its wheels. It flicks from side to side in a lovely fluid and predictable way. Fuelled up and ready to ride, it only weighs 225 kg. It feels even lighter as Harley-Davidson has managed to keep the weight low. 

That iconic peanut fuel tank is actually just a cover for the intake system and the fuel injection. The fuel cell is under the seat which hinges up to enable access for refuelling. Add in a seat height of only 715 mm and it is a doddle to paddle around when parking. 

I found Road mode the best for town riding; Race mode is a little abrupt and Rain mode a little meah. Strangely, I preferred Race mode on the Sportster S as it seemed to suit its aggressive nature.

My time with the Nightster Special coincided with a family holiday on the Central Coast of NSW. I had forgotten the joy of being able to just go for a ride without having to deal with Sydney traffic for an hour in either direction. The Nightster was great fun to punt around those twisty roads on the Central Coast. 

The 975 Revolution Max engine is making most of its torque by 3000 rpm. There is a small dip just before 4000 rpm but then you are into the sweet zone between 4000 and 6000 rpm. After 6000 rpm there is a noticeable snarl and the Nightster gets angry. Paradoxically, for a cruiser, the Nightster loves to rev. I am pretty sure even the most sedate rider will be tempted to explore the upper reaches of the Nightster’s rev range. A quick look at the world wide web shows people running mid-12-second quarters on standard Nightsters. 

The twin rear emulsion shocks and 41 mm diameter conventional forks help keep the whole thing pointing in the right direction. The handling has a light and nimble feel to it. Through the sometimes bumpy turns, the Nightster holds a line in a very predictable fashion. The Brembo four-piston caliper at the front does a pretty good job of slowing the bike down especially when assisted by the rear brake.

While I was on holiday, Skol (Ozbike Publisher) rang to see if I fancied lunch at the Wollombi Tavern. We met on the Peats Ridge Road just off the freeway. The day was glorious—sunny, high 20’s and a gentle breeze. North of Central Mangrove the road becomes the George Downes Drive and that is where the fun really starts. The road surface has suffered in the same way as most of our country roads after all the rain. There were a few alarming mid-corner potholes, dips and bumps. None of them spoiled my enjoyment of the Nightster Special which is a testament to the bike’s capabilities and not my eyesight or riding skill. The George Downes Drive becomes the Great North Road passing through the brilliantly named Lemming Corner and following the Finch’s Creek until it joins the Wollombi Brook. Now the road really twists and turns as it closely follows the brook into Wollombi. At the fantastic Wollombi Tavern we met an older couple out for a ride on a Harley-Davidson trike and shared stories of the road. As I sat in the shade enjoying a cold beer and some tasty food, I thought what a sensational day and I still had the ride home to look forward to…

As always, you do not need to listen to a word I say, just go and take a Nightster Special for a test ride. I guarantee that engine will put a smile on your face. Harley-Davidson will sell you a Nightster Special for $21,495 in Vivid Black. That is less than the original Nightster cost in 2022 and the Special comes with quite a bit of extra kit. 

review by Paul Angus; photos by Mala Angus.

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