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MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: Harley-Davidson Sportster Nightster

Why women like this bike

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor
10/1/2008


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What a popular motorcycle the Sportster 1200 Nightster is turning out to be among women. It was introduced in January 2007 -- an early release 2008 model -- and the women riders who took a chance on the new blacked out retro-bobber Sportster have not been disappointed. I get emails all the time from "satisfied customers" and every time I see a woman on a Nightster, I ask if she likes it. I even like it, and I'm not a fan of the Sportster line.

Genevieve riding the 2008 Nightster.
Genevieve riding the 2008 Nightster.

What impresses me about the Nightster is that we finally have a Sportster that's low enough and agile enough for confident beginners, yet has tons of attitude, style and power –- qualities often sacrificed in an entry level motorcycle. And that's a reason to hold on to the Nightster long after you feel you've outgrown it.     

Grinning because the bike is a blast to ride.
Grinning because the bike is a blast to ride.

While it has the same 25.3-inch seat height as the other lowest Sportster in the family, the 883 Low, the Nightster delivers more power that's quite noticeable. Not only is the engine displaced 1200 cubic centimeters instead of 883cc, the Nightster is about 20 pounds lighter. More power, lighter -- great combination to have in a motorcycle. Also, the retro styling and blacked out components set it apart from the rest of the Sportster line. That's why I like this bike.

What's New for 2009?
Nothing was changed on the Nightster for 2009 other than adding new paint options. For 2009, all the other Sportsters now sport the low profile front fender that hugs the tire that was introduced first on the Nightster in 2008. The Nightster, though, still retains the chopped rear fender exposing more of the tire in the back. That, and the solo seat give the Nightster that retro bobber look.

The 2009 Nightster with new color scheme.
The 2009 Nightster with new color scheme.

Pretty much every component that is chromed on the other Sportsters including the handlebars, swing arm, engine guard and wheel rims is painted black on the Nightster. What's not black is power coated with a gray finish. The Nightster is the first of the "dark" motorcycles for Harley, which now include the Cross Bones and Night Rod Special.

Notice the black and silver components on the Nightster.
Notice the black and silver components on the Nightster.

Zipping Around
That's what it feels like riding around on the Nightster, zipping around. I have never felt that much power and agility riding a Sportster before. That's because this is one light bike that sits low and feels low. The Sportster 1200 Low, by comparison, has a seat height that's a noticeable 1-inch higher. At 5 feet 6.5 inches with a 30-inch inseam, I almost feel too big for the Nightster. While I look like I fit just fine on the Nightster judging by the picture, the motorcycle feels small for my size.           


Zipping around the corners, the bike goes right where you point it thanks to a stiffer frame that was introduced several years ago. The Nightster has a sportbike feel to it, if I can dare say that of a cruiser. Hey, the Sportster 1200 platform is the bike of choice among champions racing flat track. Flicking through the fives gears to get up to speed is effortless and before you know it you're cruising at 70 mph. Unlike the big twin Harleys with their 6-speed transmission -- I just love that 6th gear overdrive -- the Sportster XL power plant has five speeds -- which is fine. The engine is fuel injected as it is on all the Sportsters. No more choking and sputtering when hitting drastic climate and altitude changes. The bike starts right up wherever you are.

Genevieve's 5-foot-6.5 inch frame easily fits on the Nightster giving her lots of control of the bike.
Genevieve's 5-foot-6.5 inch frame easily fits on the Nightster giving her lots of control of the bike.

The ergonomic triangle on the Nightster -- how the handlebars are positioned in relation to the seat; how the seat is positioned in relation to the foot pegs; and how the footpegs are positioned in relation to the handlebars -– is ideal. There's a little bit of leaning in to the bars putting the rider in a more active riding position versus a laid back one, but it's quite comfortable and smaller framed riders should have no problem handling this bike. If there was ever a Harley designed for smaller people this is it. The grips are a 1/4 inch smaller than the rest of the Harleys and the clutch pull is easy, unlike Harley clutches from years ago.

The 2008 Nightster with orange and black color scheme.
The 2008 Nightster with orange and black color scheme.

If I were to own a Nightster, I would add highway pegs so I could stretch out my legs. Being on the taller side, my legs felt cramped after about 50 miles of riding in that 90-degree neutral position. Add a windshield and some saddlebags (aftermarket accessories pictured below) and this motorcycle can have you going all day keeping up with the rest of the pack -- oh, except for one thing. You might have to stop for gas more often as this 1200cc has the smaller Sportster fuel tank, the peanut style as it's called, holding 3.3 gallons instead of the larger 4.5 gallons. In spite of that, the peanut style is part of why this bike looks so cool.

Forward footpegs is an aftermarket accessory available from Harley-Davidson.
Forward footpegs is an aftermarket accessory available from Harley-Davidson.

Specs at a Glance: 2008 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Nightster
Displacement: 1200cc
Seat Height: 25.3 inches
Fuel Capacity: 3.3 gallons
Weight: 562 pounds
Price: $9,695   

WRN Recommendation
I've met several beginning women fresh out of rider training choosing this bike. I've also heard their stories of how they've dropped the bike. Remember, it's a 1200cc motorcycle, not a 250, so it has a lot of power and might. If you're a confident beginner, the Nightster makes a great choice if you want to buy into the Harley family right away. If not, I advise learning and making those beginner mistakes on a smaller engine motorcycle. Veteran riders will love the Nightster for all the qualities I described above.    

Aftermarket accessories include this mini-fairing.
Aftermarket accessories include this mini-fairing.

A detachable windshield is also available for the Sportsters.
A detachable windshield is also available for the Sportsters.

Blacked out mini-ape hanger handlebars are available for the Nightster.
Blacked out mini-ape hanger handlebars are available for the Nightster.

Harley makes saddlebags just for the Sportsters.
Harley makes saddlebags just for the Sportsters.

Related Articles
Reader Review: 2007 Harley-Davidson Nightster

Reader Review: 2008 Harley-Davidson Nightster


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Reader Comments


I love my Nightster. I wanted a V-Rod; rode one all last year but it was out of my price range, so I "settled" for the '09 Nightster. Was I ever wrong! She's got all the snap I need, and is very responsive. I'm 5 feet 3 inches with a 31 inch inseam and it's very comfy. My hubby loves my bike too. He has a Night Rod. I have the forward controls, mini apes, Stage 1 Screamin' Eagle air intake and exhaust. No windshield.

I'm looking for a new seat as the stock one is a bit hard. The suspension is stiff. I don't imagine a rigid would be much worse, but I love its performance, and its minimalist look. There really isn't anywhere to put bags unless you get the saddlebags, which I don't want. I use a small leather backpack, works great. On longer trips I have a HD backpack that fits everything I need and is very comfy. It doesn't have a gas gauge, just a dummy light that tells you you're out of gas so you have to pay attention. I don't need a bigger tank, 'cause my hubby's tank isn't much bigger, so we need to fill up at the same rate.

Ree
Whitecourt, Alberta
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Have the Nightster -- love it better than riding a crotch rocket and better on my back. But when I do get home with my husband after riding, all worries are gone and we have our down time (wine time and good food) better than seeing a shrink. He has his own bike; we both have freedom when we need it.

Meg
Alexandria
Thursday, February 25, 2010
I started off with a 2008 Suzuki Boulevard S40 as I was a beginner rider but found that I needed to upgrade by the end of the season. While on vacation, I came upon a 2009 Harley Davidson Sportster Nightster XL1200N Orange and Black paint scheme. I sat on the bike and instantly knew that it was the bike for me as I am only 5 feet 2 inches. I stopped in at my local H-D retailer to place an order and have loved it from the start.

I have done a couple things to the bike to make it mine and add some comfort. I added the dark logo gas cap cover, derby cover and timing cover. I purchased a Mustang seat as the original seat is pretty firm, some Vance & Hines Short Shots in black and am considering forward controls.

Overall, this is a great bike but I think that if you are taller than 5 feet 8 inches it might be too small, at least that is what my husband thinks. He said it's fun but feels too small for him. That's OK with me, just means that he won't be riding my bike!

Carolyne
Regina, SK Canada
Friday, February 19, 2010
I started on an 883L Sporty directly after passing my test and loved it to bits for nine months. Unfortunately it soon felt underpowered for the kind of riding that I was doing and I began to search for something with more energy. I found a second hand 2008 Nightster with S&S Cycle pipes, HD heavy breather and racing chip and I was in love. She absolutely munches the miles between petrol stops and is spine-tinglingly fun around the curves. You could not want for more power and the low centre of gravity and relatively low weight make handling a dream.

Styling is extreme and I have added bullet hole heat shields, HD seat and fender bib and she is absolutely resplendent in her black and orange colourscheme. Perfection on wheels! When I'm not riding, I'm dreaming about riding. You couldn't get a better bike in my mind.

Charley
Sydney, Australia
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
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