It’s a defining moment jumping on a Harley Davidson for the first time, a moment that has left me so enthralled in the esteemed motorcycle brand that I find it hard to believe that I could ever be content with another bike. Having ridden a Sol Invictus Mercury Cafe Racer and the Honda Rebel, I was curious to experience the power that Harley Davidson promises. The 2023 Harley Davidson Nightster Special is the little brother to the well known Sportster lineup and it continues that popular family’s lineage of good looks and performance. Featuring a liquid-cooled Revolution Max 975T powertrain, ergonomic seating position and more tech than you’ll know what to do with, it was the perfect entry point to my Harley Davidson obsession.
Over an adrenaline-inducing two-week period, I got acquainted with the bike and put it to the test. Ranging from wet and dry riding conditions, putting the suspension to the ultimate test on some of the worst-kept local roads in Sydney’s Northern Beaches and unleashing the power of the V-twin powerplant through some twisties, I crammed as much riding as possible into my time with the bike so I can give you my honest thoughts on what I loved and some things I didn’t.
Table of contents
Laying my eyes on the Nightster Special for the first time I was blown away by the attractiveness of the bike; I knew immediately that it was going to turn some heads. From its attractive, retro Harley Davison badge to the sleek black colourway and thin profile, there were many things for me to love.
Jumping on the bike, the first thing I noticed was the seat height. Coming in at 705mm, it’s set for a very low seating position. Surprisingly it didn’t feel like my knees were hugging my chest and the overall angle of my legs was flat. Continuing with the ergonomics, the handlebars are positioned slightly further away than you’d expect from an upright riding position. This leads to a small lean forward and a noticeable pressure on your palms. I found this a strange feeling at first but over the course of the two weeks, I found it comfortable and practical, especially taking the bike around twisties.
As I took off from Harley Davidson HQ I could immediately tell why the Nightster Special is being hailed as an entry-level motorcycle. The riding experience was extremely forgiving, the throttle response and delivery of power from a standstill made for a smooth takeoff and didn’t feel like I was being slammed with the full force of the V-twin from the get-go.
The Nightster weighs an approachable 219kg, significantly lighter than its bigger brother’s 228kg. This makes the bike feel nimble and responsive. The Nightster Special also has a noticeable centre of gravity, to the point of feeling like the bike could stand upright on its own. This is due to a relocation of the fuel tank which is now positioned underneath the seat, with the conventional fuel tank position being occupied by an air box. This lightweight and the centre of gravity gave me confidence in the bike’s handling from the very beginning.
Technology and Controls
Prior to my time with the Nightster Special, one thing that I had yet to experience on a motorcycle was an abundance of technology. The surrounding LED lights and four-inch TFT display drew me in immediately and before I was even riding away I found myself going through the numerous features of the display. These included:
- Map Navigation via the HD app
- Ride Modes: Road, Sport, Rain
- Bluetooth Capability for phone calls and music (Helmet intercom required)
- General bike information like tyre pressure, battery voltage, engine temp.
Now let’s talk about the controls, as there’s a lot going on here. With so many buttons at your disposal, I was overwhelmed at first, but in the end, I found myself wondering how I could ever ride without them. This included an arrow keypad to navigate through your on-screen menus, cruise control, mobile control navigation and all your standard button requirements. Whilst I found the majority of the controls to be in the perfect position, namely the cruise control switches which certainly got a workout—there was one pet peeve I had: the indicator switch.
Whilst I don’t see myself as having big, uncoordinated thumbs, this switch was hard to find. With an extremely low profile, I found myself constantly fumbling and searching for the button. One nifty feature that eased my frustration was something we take for granted when driving a car. Once you have indicated, lean into your corner and exit the bike will recognise this and automatically switch your indicator off. Now that’s something I wish every bike had!
Whilst I want a motorcycle to give me the thrill of speed and acceleration, which the Nightster Special provides in spades, I also want it to stop on a dime. I found the Brembo brakes to be extremely responsive, giving me plenty of confidence as I cruised through the numerous tight turns on my ride to West Head on the Northern Beaches.
One component of the braking that really impressed me was the engine braking. I found the amount of braking to be perfect for my own riding style, however, should I have wanted to change the levels, I could within the bike’s ride mode settings. How nifty! Over my two-week trial I took the Nightster Special through various riding conditions and it excelled no matter what I threw at it.
When encountering a mid-ride drenching I placed the bike into rain mode, in doing so the bike limited my power to ensure I didn’t slide out on acceleration and reduced the throttle response to give me more control. The combination of those two changes plus ABS and the Brembo brakes left me feeling like the bike had me covered. All I had to do from there was enjoy the ride.
The Nightster Special is a beautiful bike to cruise around town on, the road ride mode provided me with the appropriate power levels for riding around suburban streets, yet still enough oomph for a quick take off at the lights or evasive manoeuvre if someone merged into my lane quickly. One thing to note was that the Nightster ran hot, riding in stop start traffic I found myself uncomfortably trying to manoeuvre my legs away from the engine spitting out hot air. If you like not burning your ankles, I would recommend wearing boots and tall socks. While a toasty ride, it was also a smooth and comfortable one. Featuring dual 41mm Showa forks on the front and dual shock/springs on the rear, the Nightster Special glides over even the worst of council roads. While I initially worried that the low seat height would result in a bumpy ride, I was happily proved wrong.
This is where the Nightster Special really comes alive. With peak torque arriving at 5000 rpm, you’re able to get the full potential out of the bike on the wide open road. Putting the ride mode to sport I felt like I was sitting atop a rocket ship. The acceleration almost had me pinned back. Now, I’m not sure if it was the adrenaline, but the engine’s volume seemed to increase twofold with the signature Harley Davidson sound roaring out of the exhaust.
Naturally, all this cruising can juice the fuel tank. The Nightster Special has an 11L fuel capacity with 3L being held aside for the reserve tank. Within the first week of riding I made surprisingly quick work of this fuel capacity. With great power comes great thirst.
I can safely say that the Nightster Special has turned me into a full-blown Harley Davidson fan boy. The level of craftsmanship, technology and power all combine to result in a thrilling ride. The Nightster Special is perfect for those looking to get on a larger bike, and while at AUD$25,995 it is a significant purchase, I think it’s worth every penny.
What I liked
- Throttle response and delivery of power is very smooth.
- Plenty of technology that improved the riding experience, namely the map navigation.
- The handling, suspension and bike ergonomics made for a comfortable ride.
What I didn’t
- The bike runs very hot in stop-start traffic causing some discomfort to your legs.
- The wide handlebars and grip mounted mirrors make it difficult to lane filter.
Overall, I give the 2023 Nightster Special 8 Rev Ups out of 10.