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2012 Harley Night Rod Special First Ride

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Revised ergonomics make the Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special more comfortable to ride.
Revised ergonomics make the Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special more comfortable to ride.
Harley-Davidson riders seeking a more performance-oriented motorcycle will be interested in the 2012 H-D Night Rod Special. Based off the American Motor Company’s iconic V-Rod platform this new muscle cruiser features an updated chassis that makes the bike easier and more fun to ride.

At the heart of it is Harley’s liquid-cooled 1250cc Revolution-series V-Twin engine. This fuel-injected power plant was designed by Porsche so it goes without saying that this motorcycle has some get up and go. It features double overhead camshafts and dual four-valve cylinder heads along with a five-speed transmission with a sportbike-derived clutch that puts power to the fat 240mm rear Michelin Scorcher tire via a belt final drive.
The engine and chassis components are powder coated black for a more sinister look.

In our recently published 2011 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Comparison we measured the engine’s power output at 78.5 peak lb-ft of torque at 7200 rpm and nearly 114 horsepower at 8300 revs on our in-house Dynojet dyno. While the numbers aren’t earth shattering in the sportbike realm, they are still pretty respectable for a performance cruiser.

One of our biggest complaints with the previous generation V-Rod was its awkward ergonomics-- something that is addressed for ’12. The handlebar is repositioned and is now three inches closer to the seat. The location of the foot controls is also modified for a more traditional and upright riding position. Other chassis upgrades include the use of an inverted fork and the addition of black five-spoke cast aluminum wheels that are said to be three pounds lighter than before. The dual Brembo front disc brakes and single rear disc set-up with optional ABS is retained.

Swing a leg over the Night Rod Special and it’s obvious how much more relaxed the new riding position is. While the reach to the controls is still a bit of a stretch for a six-foot-tall rider, it’s way better than before. With a wheelbase of 67-inches it’s still a long motorcycle but since the seat is only two feet off the ground it’s fairly easy to command even at slow speeds.
The 12 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special starts at  15 299.
The shape of the two-person seat was also modified for increased rider and passenger comfort.
With 78.5 lb-ft of torque and 114 horsepower available at the back tire the Night Rod Special has plenty of power.
(Above) The ’12 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special starts at $15,299. (Center) The shape of the two-person seat was also modified for increased rider and passenger comfort. (Below) With 78.5 lb-ft of torque and 114 horsepower available at the back tire the Night Rod Special has plenty of power.

Press the starter button and the engine fires to life and settles into a slightly faster idle compared to air cooled Harleys. The sound of the engine is muted by the stock exhaust so if there were one model that would benefit from a set of Screamin’ Eagle pipes it would be this one.

Dial-in some throttle and the bike gets with the program. Power comes on smooth and lacks any real aggressive snap or hit – it’s very linear, which could be considered a good or bad thing depending on your preference. Grab a shift through the precise-feeling the gearbox which offers both a short shift lever throw and an audible thud during gear changes. The clutch lever still doesn’t offer that much feel but since the engine offers such a high-level of immediate torque, launching away from a stop is a simple exercise.

On the road the water-cooled Harley delivers a more firm ride compared to other models in the H-D line-up. It isn’t uncomfortable for short rides, but it might not be conducive to 100-plus mile rides if you have a sensitive backside. Further limiting its potential cross country appeal is its lack of wind protection and modest 5-gallon fuel capacity. Steering effort is light but when leaned over in a corner the chassis doesn’t offer a whole lot of ground clearance which limits its outright cornering ability. But that’s the price you pay for riding a bike with this much style.

And that in essence is what the Night Rod Special is more than anything else. It’s a modern-looking and stylish performance cruiser that gives potential H-D owners an option, something different and arguably a little more cutting edge, than some of the company’s traditional motorcycles. In its Vivid Black color way the Night Rod Special might be the best looking Harley V-Rod built to date. And with its starting price of $15,299 it’s also one of the more affordable models too.
2012 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special
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Comments
V8Thrasher   May 27, 2014 04:32 PM
I realize my comment is 3 years late....but I feel I must throw in my .02 here. I own a '12 NRS. I also own a '12 ZX10R. So yeah, I enjoy all bikes. To the guy that wants this HD to handle better, I can see your point, but its not the rear tire thats preventing it from handling better (I say better because for what it is, it handles respectably), its the chassis and design. The Ducati Diavel has a 240 rear tire, and handles better than this bike, why? Because it was engineered to handle the corners. This is a cruiser, a muscle cruiser meant for shooting fast in a straight line. Think old school muscle. I enjoy the feet forward position, it gives it that "bad ass" ness. And while there are cruisers out there that do have gobs more torque than this NRS does, this bike makes up for it with horsepower. Yes It is odd revving a Harley Davidson at 8000 rpm, but the stock exhaust sounds very sweet up there. Is this the best performing bike? Hell no. Is it the best performing HD? Hell yes. Cruiser wise the only other bikes you gotta watch out for are the Triumph Rocket III, and the Yamaha V Max and Ducati Diavel (but then again the last two dont even look like cruisers do they?)
BigRon   November 5, 2011 11:31 AM
I ride sport bikes, cruisers, and dirt bikes. I love riding them all for different reason and currently have an 09' Dyna Super Glide and a KX-450 in my garage. That being said I rode a V-rod with much anticipation and came away disapointed. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it was modern, water cooled or quiet. It didnt have the bottom end torque that the current air cooled V-twin puts out. I rode it some time ago but if my memory serves me right it pulled from about 4K to 9K which did not seem very usable for a street bike. I would not be opposed to having this engine in my Dyna if they could modify the cams or mapping to produce more bottom end. My other issues with this bike are the 240 rear tire; a 180 or 190 is more practical for the riding we do in the Rockies. It did not initiate turns very easily. Additionally, I would like to see the controls moved rearward; about halfway between where they currently sit and the location of mid controls on the dyna and sportster models. The mid controls are too far back for tall riders and the forward controls give you little to no leverage. Lastly, who are they building these bikes for? People are getting taller and taller and the bikes are getting shorter and shorter???
Glen   August 31, 2011 10:28 AM
Superlight, well put there and I see your point. The Diavel is maybe the first real threat to HD yet.
Piglet2010   August 30, 2011 04:34 PM
So worldwide, Honda sell about 25 motorcycles for every H-D sold.
Piglet2010   August 30, 2011 04:33 PM
H-D reports selling 210,494 motorcycles worldwide in 2010, and just under 55% of >650cc sales in the US: http://www.cyclenews.com/articles/industry-news/2011/01/25/harley-davidson-increases-u-s-market-share/
woodco100   August 29, 2011 06:45 PM
Scoot, HD is a publicly traded company, the sales are public knowledge. The symbol is HOG. Look it up. They sell over 200K bikes a year. They sell more Sportsters than the 4 big sell sport bikes every year. These are facts.
udaho   August 29, 2011 10:08 AM
woodco100 August 26, 2011 03:51 AM
Scoot. You seem to have an issue with HD building the bikes that thier customers want and selling many hundreds of thousands of them every year.

HD owns %60 of the total market over 600cc. The rest split up the remaining #40.

Even though I do not own a Harley, I celebrate thier sucess

I would bet they own 100% of the market share over 65 years of age..ha!
Scoot   August 29, 2011 07:38 AM
Harley selling "Hundreds of thousands of bikes each year? Maybe in your dreams.
woodco100   August 26, 2011 03:51 AM
Scoot. You seem to have an issue with HD building the bikes that thier customers want and selling many hundreds of thousands of them every year.

HD owns %60 of the total market over 600cc. The rest split up the remaining #40.

Even though I do not own a Harley, I celebrate thier sucess.
Scoot   August 25, 2011 08:59 AM
The V-Rod girly bike will never sell to the harley crowd as it does not sound "cool" with straight pipes and does not look "cool" with 3 foot tall handle bars. That said - harley should dump there antique air cooled engine and use the V-Rod engine in all there bikes. It is the only real modern engine that HD has. Of course if HD did that they would be out of business in 6 months. The loud pipes saves lives crowd would never buy a HD with the V-Rod engine. HD will drop the V-Rod soon. It is out classed by everything on the market. Slow and heavy and costly.
Superlight   August 24, 2011 05:53 PM
I've ridden both the V-Rod and the Diavel. Both are nice enough power cruisers, but the Diavel is much more entertaining to ride. Part of that is power, part is weight (or lack of) and the last is the riding position. No contest - it's the Diavel.
DocNick   August 24, 2011 05:47 PM
It's a great motor and they should build more bikes around it.
Piglet2010   August 24, 2011 04:08 PM
wildpig BMW has a Rotax engine in one of their models. Buell had a Rotax engine in some of their bikes near the end (when owned by H-D, of course). What's the difference?
Glen   August 24, 2011 02:06 PM
While the Night Rod isn't as fast as a Vmax or a Diavel it's still a great bike. The V-Rod was a massive step forward for Harley who's focus has been the classic movement in the U.S.A. Despite the other performance cruisers these new Harley's are the most popular power cruisers out there. The Star has been out for 3 years with very poor sales and the Diavel has had three recalls in its first year. So I believe the lead will still remain for Harley Davidson.
TURBOCBR   August 24, 2011 12:46 PM
Bring it on..Diavel vs. V-Rod..I remember the Prez of H.D.Running his mouth of about of bad this bike is..Does this V-ROD even have a lockin gas cap...??
wildpig   August 24, 2011 10:21 AM
it would be amazing if harley could ever build a hot rod engine like the MOTUS, rather than jobbin it out to porsche........... least hd aint sunk as low as bmw............... and never will.