2012 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special Review
My first impression of Harley-Davidson’s 2012 Night Rod Special was this: I’ve never ridden a motorcycle that propelled me forward with such velocity. The slightly scary part was that it wasn’t even that difficult. No thinking, no shifting, no timing. Just. Go. Forward. No, Harley-Davidson hasn’t outfitted its latest V-Rod with an automatic transmission. It’s just that, even in first gear, I could get the motorcycle to 60 mph without even red-lining. For me it was a new experience.
What we have here is one of the latest entries into the power cruiser arena, and here are the vitals: Folks, for just $15,299, you get a slammed-black liquid-cooled V-Twin fuel-injected two-wheeled 5-speed dual-exhaust motorcycle. In retrospect, I guess that “two-wheeled” part was redundant. Anyway … Harley sells the Night Rod Special with the idea that it is the perfect combination of power and swagger, and, for the most part, I think they hit it on the head.
Displacing about 1,250 CCs, the Night Rod Special makes about 85 ft.-lb of torque and 125 horses at peak power, and for me that was plenty. Leading up to my picking up the motorcycle at H-D headquarters in Milwaukee a few weeks ago, I was worried about the feat-forward-hands-forward seating configuration, but after about 20 miles on I-94 heading back to Madison, I was over it—I felt fine. In fact, for this V-Rod model, Harley brought the footpegs and handlebars a few inches closer to the seat. Near the end of my first 90 miles on the motorcycle, my posterior was almost pain free, and my back was fine, too.
About halfway through that ride, I realized the advantage of the dramatically concave seat—I didn’t need to hold onto the handlebars for fear of flying off the back of the motorcycle; instead, I could just let rest my rear end on it while keeping a comfortable grip on the throttle. The motorcycle comes equipped with a slipper clutch, which was another first experience for me. It smoothly shifted upward, and coming back down was no different. Simply smooth, none of that lunge-forward stuff you might get on other H-Ds when you shift down a little too fast.
At 670 pounds, the Night Rod Special is the heaviest two-wheeled motorcycle I’ve ever ridden (Last summer I tested the Crossbow from Lehman Trikes). This turned out to be advantageous on the Interstates, what with the wide-open spaces (read: high winds) and infrastructure decline (read: potholes). If you already own a motorcycle, odds are it clocks in at around 650 CCs—like the two I own—and you know that windy days can make for a long ride.
But there’s no reason to worry about being pushed around while riding the Night Rod Special. It is rock steady. Even with the weight, I didn’t encounter any problems stopping. The Night Rod Special’s got dual discs up front and one in the rear, with four-piston Brembo brakes doing the stopping. The model I rode was equipped with the optional ABS. Brakes on both ends were smooth and responsive.
While the fat 240-mm rear tire looks good, I did notice it pushing me outward on a few of the first turns I took leaving the H-D factory. But that wore off fast. It’s obvious that such a dramatic piece of rubber like that will hurt turning capability, but it’s nothing a breaking-in ride around the block can’t rectify. I said before the Night Rod Special’s weight was a boon, but this wasn’t always the case. I noticed it got a little tiresome taking the Night Rod Special out in the city running errands on the weekend or after work.
Driving a heavy bike at high speed is fine, but navigating parking lots and streets at really low speeds was not exactly a treat. Start. Stop. Sit with heat bellowing up between one’s legs. The bike gets heavy and hot.
H-D also wanted me to test out some of its Motorclotes gear while testing the Night Rod Special. The Authority Functional jacket, size Large, fit great, and I liked that it had plenty of internal storage for all the gear we motorcyclists need to drag around with us: wallet, cell phone, keys, digital camera, insurance papers, etc., etc., etc. I also liked that it had reflective piping. The Traditional Fit jeans were great, too. The important thing to watch when purchasing riding jeans is the inseam, and Harley nailed it with these jeans. So now it’s time for the characteristic Smart Cycle Shopper breakdown for beginner, intermediate and expert riders.
Beginner Rider The Night Rod Special is most likely not a good fit for beginner riders (And the worst part is that this is something that can be said about the lion’s share of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, something the company knows and is addressing, hopefully soon!). In my opinion, it packs too much power for the novice, and it’s too heavy.
Intermediate Rider So you’ve already been riding for a year or two, and you’re feeling really comfortable on your 650-CC UJM. If you feel like making the leap to a bona fide Harley-Davidson, go for it. This motorcycle packs enough wallop to keep you itching to ride, and it looks sharp, to boot. You’ll be able to hit the strip and hang out at a Harley rally in style. It’s a heavy, powerful motorcycle, but by now you’ve learned how to maneuver your ride.
Expert Rider I know for a fact I did not push the Night Rod Special to its limits, and for that reason I’m convinced that even an advanced rider could find joy in riding it. This motorcycle can more than handle city and country cruising, and when you get the itch, you can pull the throttle wide open and make some serious speed. Plus it’s got the braking power and clutch to smoothly slow down. There’s a reason it’s called a power cruiser.