2012 Harley Night Rod Special First Ride

August 24, 2011
Adam Waheed
By Adam Waheed
Road Test Editor|Articles|Articles RSS|Blog|Blog Posts|Blog RSS

His insatiable thirst for life is only surpassed by his monthly fuel bill. Whether rocketing on land, flying through the air, or jumping the seas, our Road Test Editor does it all and has the scars to prove it.

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.

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