Monday, February 23, 2009
Harley Nightster XL1200N reviewed
I never would have guessed it three years ago when I started riding bikes that I would have thought of harley davidson bikes as anything more than an armchair on wheels for fat Americans. Most of them are. But on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I decided to ride out to machida where there was a large harley shop and give them a spin. As I walked into the vast store, I felt as out of place as a deer in a walmart. The large and ugly touring models glared at me like large elephants sizing me up and deciding whether or not to squash me. I gravitated around the cooler models like the blacked out nightrod and the new 'racer' xr1200. A salesman finally came over and asked if I had amy questions. I breifly thought to ask why harleys looked so damn ugly, but held my tongue and asked to tryout a the sportster instead. Out of the HD lineup the sportster nightster is the coolest of the bunch. Blacked out metal and none of the goddam chrome bits that make the bikes look dated. Also the sportster is actually a pretty bike, if you discount all the wires that hang off the engine. Since I didn't know the roads around there the guy offered to ride along with me which turned to be a good idea as I could free my mind to just the bike and not looking fir the directions every intersection. So the first thing that I notice is how the mid mount pegs seems to get in the way of my feet when you want to move around while stopped. Very irritatingly so. And in true HD style the pegs don't pivot in any sort of sane way, so if you are backing up, good chance you can hurt your shins as the peg plows 250kgs worth of bike into snapping your ankle in two. The next thing that I noticed is how difficult it is to move a 250kg bike around at low speed. It is akin to riding a reluctant donkey, you sort of have to coax it into turning, without dumping you off. Once you start running at speed though, things change, and the free spinning engine and smooth throttle is really a pleasant change from the abrupt and jerky on/off performance of my KTM supermoto. It feels like you are riding a Cadillac, smooth acceleration, and terrible braking. In fact the brake performance (or lack thereof) is what keeps you riding at legal and safe speeds, for fear of not being able to stop the freight train if perchance a small child were to dart onto the road. So what is the upside? Well, riding at such muted speeds, you really start to relax, and begin to enjoy the environment around you. The world seems to open up and your take in sights and sounds as you sit there in the comfortable seat, listening and feeling that lump of an engine jiggling below you like a caged animal in its rubber and steel prison. Its quite addictive. In fact, I started to really enjoy revving the engine just to get the noise while stopped at a railroad crossing. On my regular bike, I would have been exceedingly annoyed at the wait. Instead, once you really 'get it' then riding takes on a whole different experience. The low seat height also adds to the laid back feeling. On the negative side, due to Japanese regulations, the Nightsters side mounted nameplate is replaced with a traditional one, and the pipes are not the cool slash cut ones that Mr Davidson insisted on, and instead is the muffled regular shaped ones that other Sportsters in the range share. They are also baffled to meet the max decibel level of 97db that bikes must adhere to here in Japan, which means that the idle speed 'potato' is replaced with a soft purr. That was the biggest disappointment of them all, though not the fault of HD. All in all, after my ride, I think I finally understand what HD is all about, and I ceased to see these bikes as twisted tangles of wires and ungainly lumps of hard steel welded together badly, and instead a chill bike with attitude in a class of its own. As with all other things American, the difference between 'junk' and 'character' is a story, an attitude and some first hand experience.