Harley-Davidson Sportster XL Nightster

THE Nightster is the toughest looking Harley-Davidson Sportster to feature in the XL model’s 50-year-history. That’s why I bought one! I was in the market for a new bike and once I laid eyes on this baby, it was love at first sight.

The sales blurb for the Nightsters includes such great descriptive lines as ‘Appeal to the darker side of your soul!’ and ‘Put the edge back on your blade!’ Only Harley can get away with this sort of angle when it comes to selling motorcycles. This is something they do very well. When it comes to ‘over the top’ styling, the Motor Company never ceases to amaze the unsuspecting motorcycling community. Such is the case with the Nightster.

I was keen to buy myself a 50th Anniversary model Sporty but when I saw what H-D had to offer, I was less than impressed. It looked like your average XL 1200 with a few extra gold badges on it? I thought to myself ‘Badges? We don need no steenking Badges!’ Anyway, lo and behold, the Nightster appears on the scene and turns everything around as far as me and my cheque book are concerned. Just had to have one!

As far as looks are concerned, this bike is simply sex on wheels when it comes to the flowing lines. Its low bars compliment the high set tank and the lines flow nicely down to the 25.3 inch seat height and over the back of the super clean rear guard. The rims and hubs are blacked out as are the rear fender struts, indicators, mirrors, bars, hand levers, rear brake lever, and gear shift. The barrels get the black affect as well and the cases, covers and air cleaner are, what the factory calls, medium grey. This sits just fine with me—less polishing, more riding! The rear chain guard and front fender struts have a drilled out finish; and for the ultimate bit of ‘retro’ styling, the front forks wear a set of rubber gators.

One of the most outstanding pieces of styling on this bike is without doubt the rear guard. The LED indicators also house the tail, and brake lights in one clean unit, thus doing away with the need to clutter up that beautifully short rear guard which complements the 150 rear tyre, nicely.

In the States the number plate is side-mounted, down by the axle, but the Australian ADR party poopers insisted that the number plate had to be rear-mounted to meet their specs. This can (and will!) be rectified by purchasing one of the many side-mounting kits available on the market these days.

The paint scheme echos the original XL models

I love the vivid black and mirage orange paint scheme as it seems to echo the style of one of the original XL models from the 1950’s. 

So, she looks the goods! How does she go? I promised myself I wouldn’t compare this bike to my tried and trusted ’91 model. But what I will say is that these bikes have come a looong way, as far as refinement goes, in 16 years.

What struck me first was the lower than low seat height. With the raised 12.5 litre tank and the bucket seat, it really does give you the effect of sitting ‘in’ the bike and not on it.

The footpegs had some touch-down tags fitted which were the first thing to go into the odds and ends box in my shed, as after one quick ride, I ground them down rapidly.

“…I still managed to bottom out a few times.”

The side-stand scraped easily on left-handers as did the front pipe on the right. This could easily be cured with a set of taller shocks, if you were willing to sacrifice the ultra cool, low look of the machine. The stock units don’t have a lot of travel, and even with the pre-load on its highest setting, I still managed to bottom out a few times. (No thanks to my calorie-enhanced build and the Qld Government’s funded goat tracks!)

Without sounding too overwhelmed, this bike is a fuckin’ rocket! The fuel injected (ESPFI) motor is so responsive, and with the rubber mounting, seems to lull you into a false sense of security. Until you look down at the speedo and realize, third gear has gotten you easily into the three figure zone without even knowing it. “Honest orifficer! I’ve only owned the bike for a short while!” I’ll be interested to see how healthy my licence looks in the next few months?

Even as low as it is, the bike still handles the twisties with ease and is more than predictable in tight situations. The seating position was comfortable on the highway. I’d keep the mid-sets and opt for a set of highway pegs for when it comes to doing some long runs in the future.

The handlebar-mounted, electronic speedo is a work of art in itself! In this tiny unit is housed a dual re-setable tripmeter, time of day clock, low fuel and oil pressure indicators, blinker lights and engine diagnostic readout. Whew! Guess who won’t be fucking around with the wiring on this little gem?

All new Harleys also come out with the factory’s new security system. This little item is almost idiot proof! You must carry the disarmer (fob) with you at all times or all hell breaks loose. I say almost idiot proof, as the other night I had to move the bike and did not have the fob on me. The neighbours must have thought that I was setting up a disco in my shed as the bike came alive in burst of sirens and lights until I sat her back down on the stand again. Very effective, indeed!

In closing, I can easily see me and this bike getting along, just fine. I love the looks, I love the power, and I can’t wait to get some serious miles up on her.

words by Chuck U Farley; photos by Jo

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