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A close-up of the lit headlamp of a black 2023 Harley-Davidson Nightster Special is shown.

A Legend Returns: The 2023 Harley-Davidson Nightster Special

The 2023 Nightster Special builds on the reputation of the middleweight Nightster introduced last year. As part of Harley’s “Sport” lineup, along with the base Nightster and the Sportster S, the Nightster Special offers a modern, high-performance ride in a classic-looking Sportster profile. It differentiates itself from the basic Nightster with a standard TFT digital display, Bluetooth connectivity, and a wider array of color choices.

The Nightster lineup, including the Nightster Special, offers an entry-level gateway to the Sport range, positioned below the Sportster S in price starting at $14,999. This carries on the Sportster line’s place since 1957 as the lighter, faster, more affordable models in Harley’s lineup. When Harley-Davidson revived the Nightster name after a decade’s absence last year, the legendary motorcycle brand took a strategic step forward while also paying homage to its illustrious history.

Taking the Sportster S as a starting point, Harley transformed the Nightster design by using the engine as the central load-bearing element. This simplified construction and reduced weight to a mere 483 pounds in running order. This innovative design offers a dual advantage. Not only is the motorcycle more streamlined and efficient, but it also paves the way for customization, a hallmark of the Harley experience.

Designing the Nightster from the inside out also delivers other benefits. What appears to be a traditional gas tank actually covers the air intake system. The Nightster’s fuel storage is under the seat to help keep the bike’s center of gravity low for improved handling, as well as a more graceful lift off the side stand. The rider lifts the hinged locking seat to reach the fuel filler.

The Heart of the Beast

Since the Nightster Special’s role is to deliver entry-level performance, its engine is central to fulfilling that mission. The Nightster features the Revolution Max 975T V-Twin powertrain. This state-of-the-art engine is a 975cc sleeved-down variant of the larger 1,250 motor seen in other models like the Pan America. Particularly noteworthy is its water-cooled design, a rarity for Harley-Davidson, ensuring optimal temperature control even under extreme conditions.

The Revolution Max V-Twin is tuned to produce excellent torque at low RPMs, a hallmark of Harley-Davidson. Riders can anticipate a torque curve that remains consistently flat throughout the powerband, peaking at 70 lb-ft and 90 horsepower. These numbers promise riders smooth power delivery and effortless cruising.

It’s not only the engine’s raw power, but also its refined modern engineering that allows it to deliver this power smoothly and reliably. Additionally, riders can expect an efficient ride, with a fuel economy rated at 52 miles per gallon. The exhaust system features a two-into-one design with a catalyst in the header. This ensures optimal airflow and contributes to the distinctive Harley-Davidson rumble.

The Nightster Special boasts an impressive chassis, too. In front are 41mm SHOWA Dual Bending Valve conventional forks, ensuring both stability and smooth handling during rides. These forks are complemented by durable aluminum fork triple clamps, which add strength without adding excessive weight. In the rear, the Nightster Special incorporates dual outboard shock absorbers. While giving the Nightster Special an old school look, these direct-acting absorbers utilize advanced emulsion technology, guaranteeing a smooth ride. Additionally, they come with coil springs and a threaded collar that riders can easily adjust for pre-load.

A black 2023 Harley-Davidson Nightster Special is shown parked in a garage.

Beyond Entry Level Features

The Nightster lineup may offer an entry point to the Harley-Davidson model lineup, but the Nightster Special’s features are anything but spartan. Cast aluminum wheels come equipped with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), ensuring riders can keep tabs on tire health.

Complementing this is premium Brembo braking components. The Nightster Special has a single front brake with an axial-mount four-piston caliper and a 320mm rotor. At the back, a floating single-piston caliper coupled with a 260mm rotor guarantees precise and efficient braking, giving riders an added layer of confidence on the road.

With a five-inch handlebar riser, the hand controls are strategically positioned two inches up and one inch back, placing the rider in a commanding and ergonomic position on the motorcycle. For those who enjoy shared adventures, the Nightster Special hasn’t forgotten the passenger. It features a comfortable pillion seat and foot pegs, making two-up rides a comfortable experience even on long rides.

Adaptability is another key to the open road, and the Nightster Special shines in this department with its selectable ride modes. Riders can switch between Road, Sport, and Rain modes, or even craft their custom settings to match their riding style and the road’s demands.

When it comes to safety, Harley-Davidson has integrated top-tier rider safety enhancements into the Nightster Special. It features an Antilock Braking System (ABS), a Traction Control System, and a Drag-Torque Slip Control System, which prevents the back wheel from losing traction under engine braking or downshifting. These systems work in unison to offer a ride that’s not just exhilarating but also secure. Adding to its impressive suite of features is all-LED lighting, providing brilliant illumination and visibility, ensuring both the rider’s and passenger’s safety.

Comparison to the Base Nightster

The Nightster Special has been designed to elevate the riding experience for riders who want a premium touch on their entry-level performance machine. As such, the biggest difference between the Nightster Special and the base Nightster comes in the area of electronics and connectivity. Where the base Nightster sports analog gauges, the Special is equipped with a color TFT display with a four-inch viewable area.

This display is a hub for both instrumentation and infotainment functions, all conveniently managed using the hand controls. Riders with a Bluetooth-equipped mobile device will appreciate the seamless integration the Nightster Special offers. While most infotainment functions require a Bluetooth headset and speakers inside a helmet, the payoff is a connected and immersive ride. Voice commands via the headset allow riders to effortlessly receive or initiate calls using their mobile device, ensuring they remain connected even during their journey. Many riders these days already have a Bluetooth headset of some kind, so connecting it to the Nightster Special is easy.

Furthermore, with the Harley-Davidson app for iOS or Android downloaded on the rider’s mobile device, navigation becomes a breeze. Whether you prefer a moving map display or a turn-by-turn map, the TFT screen can showcase it. Moreover, audio instructions relayed through the headset make sure you’re always on the right path.

The Nightster Special also offers a wider selection of colors than the base Nightster, in keeping with the theme of customizing your bike to your personal taste. While the base Nightster only offers Vivid Black and Redline Red for 2023, the Nightster Special comes in Vivid Black, Black Denim, Bright Billiard Blue, or Industrial Yellow. The Nightster Special also makes a callback to Harley models of the 1970s with a vintage yellow, orange, and red striped badge on the airbox.

A close-up on the side of a black 2023 Harley-Davidson Nightster Special is shown.

Past and Present Glory

The vintage badging on the Nightster Special ties today’s bikes to Harley’s affordable, performance-oriented past. Riders in those days could hardly have imagined some of the technology on today’s Harleys, and their modern performance would have blown yesterday’s riders away. Yet they would have recognized the Nightster Special’s profile right away, and known it was a Harley even without the badge. All things considered, the Nightster Special can consider its mission accomplished.

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