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Harley-Davidson FXSTB Night Train

Road test and pictures by Adrian Percival

According to the literature, and quoting Harley-Davidson here, "The FXSTB is lean, mean and ready to be ridden hard." So not wanting to disappoint them or anyone else, I decided to take it on its first ride out. This just happened to be the National Rally, a 540mile jaunt around the UK, starting at 2pm on a Saturday and ending sometime in the early hours of the following morning at a racecourse in Staffordshire!

Some people said I was mad at even contemplating taking the Harley on such a run, suggestions from various individuals were that I should take my Osteopath with me in a back-up vehicle as the riding position was not quite suitable for this kind of rally and this type of long haul trip! Well ignoring all sense and good advice, I took it with a pinch of salt and packed up the bike ready for the off later in the day.

The FXSTB Night Train is one of Harleys more radical models in the true tradition of 'long, low and raked' custom bikes. Harley-Davidson build this particular model based on the Softail specifically for Europe, and it was named by Willie G as the Night Train. The name comes from the manufacturers first proper custom bike back in the early 70's, a stripped down Shovel Head, nicknamed the Night Train after it became known from a road test in the famous American magazine 'Hot Rod'.

The Night Train looks good from any angle you care to sit and gaze. The front end is lifted from the Wide Glide together with the super skinny wheel and tyre, and a single headlight is fitted to finish off that radical custom look. The top yoke is then capped with 6" risers and drag bars all in chrome. That concludes the bulk of the chrome fittings on the Night Train, we now move on to the rest of the bike in black of course! In traditional style the Night Train gets a proper Harley tank with instrument and ignition etc mounted on the top between the fuel filler cap and the fuel gauge cap. Underneath all this is the big 1340cc fuel injected v-twin, finished in a fantastic crinkle black. Getting lower and lower we move to the 'Badlander' seat and rear fender, and the solid disc rear wheel. The look is complete and the Night Train has a aggressive stance and a super low profile.

After a few attempts of packing it up I eventually found out just where I could strap luggage, there's not a lot of space on the rear seat let alone anywhere to tie things down, it's just too smooth back there! With luggage on a bike it is sometimes difficult to get your leg over the bike, no such problem with the Night Train, just stand beside it and sit in it! The seating position is super low and the footpegs and controls are mounted way up front, this together with the stretch to the drag bars makes it a bit of an unusual riding position, not a natural one but after a while I did get used to it. At first you don't notice the pretty slim seat and it's lack of padding, but that's until you hit your first bump! All bumps seem to be transferred up through the suspension, the seat and into you the rider, and with the seating position being what it is there's no chance to brace yourself and try to cushion the blow. Not the best set up for many of the roads in the UK, come to think of it anywhere for that matter! So off on the ride to the start of the rally, a reasonably short 55mile run to check in before the off on the 500 plus miles I was expecting to do a little later in the day!

When you ride any Harley-Davidson you have to virtually re-think your riding style, things take on a new meaning when it comes to corners and stuff like that, and at a shade under 300kg it's no lightweight either, so nipping in and out of traffic etc becomes a major lifestyle experience! On open roads the Night Train will cruise merrily along at around 70-80mph, uphill, downhill, whatever comes your way, still sees you in top gear. At this speed the fuel seems to go on forever and I easily got around 160miles without going to reserve. But come to the corners and roundabouts and that's where you need a big re-think as to how to take them. At the first attempt you suddenly realise just how long the Night Train actually is, and just how raked out those front forks are. Turn-in is slow to say the least and if I had to draw a comparison to any other types of vehicle then it would have to be trucks! At one end you have the white van, nippy and agile, at the other end there is the artic with 40 tons on board taking up most of the road on roundabouts. The Night Train is somewhere in the middle and is a bit like an 18 tonner, needs quite a bit of road but can get around most bends without fuss. Take it by the neck and ride it around the corners and it stays stable and has a reasonable ground clearance, not bad really for such a low bike.

After a few miles and a few corners confidence builds up and you can begin chucking the bike around a bit, but beware if you need to brake quickly! As per usual Harley standard the brakes are not quite up to the challenge of stopping in a hurry. The single disc up front does not have the ability to stop the bike quickly, if it did I would say that the wheel design, rake of the front end and width of the tyre would have you off in seconds! A combination of front/rear is by far the best here as the weight of the bike is placed on the rear brake and nothing you can do will lock up the rear. I used the rear brake very effectively here, far more than on most other bikes. So plan your braking carefully and re-educate those corners, then you'll have no problems.

So first ride over and I'm beginning to understand the knack of riding the Night Train. The riding position had me wondering if I was going to make it after the first 100 or so miles, but after a while you get into a position and ride at a speed that becomes comfortable. One trick on motorways is to put your feet on the passenger pegs (that's if there is no passenger!) as then it feels like a normal bike and keeps the immense drag off your legs and thighs. That way was fine for the open roads but back in the normal place for all other roads was never a problem. Surprisingly I didn't get too much wind blast considering there is absolutely no protection at all on the Night Train, I suppose it was because I was sitting so low in the bike that made this difference, although when it rained nothing could stop you from getting seriously wet!

Riding along you begin to appreciate the Harley-Davidson motor revving slowly underneath you. Torque by the bucketful and the need to virtually never change gear made the long ride around the UK a lot easier that I had imagined it would be. In fact after some 250 miles and stating to ride into the night it became a lot easier to cruise around the 'A' and 'B' roads, and I was very surprised with that little single headlamp up front. The lights look tiny but the beam and spread at night was perfectly suited to night riding, in fact on high beam it became searchlight-like shining into the distance and illuminating everything in your path.

High speed cruising is not what this bike is about, 60-85mph is by far the best and least tiring, long stints of 80 mph + is out of bounds in reality, but if you feel the need to do 100 mph then it will do it but don't stay there for too long, your arms and thighs won't take it! As lower speeds you can cruise all day with great fuel economy, it's far less tiring and surprisingly you can cover huge distances without fuss or bother. I ended up finishing the rally after 540 miles of riding through the night, a further 120+ miles getting to the start and back home again, and was far less tired than the previous year when I did it on a Triumph Speed Triple, now that says something to me!

The Harley-Davidson Night Train is a great looking piece of machinery, it has true style, draws crowds, has character and performs far better than I had imagined at first. Take your time when you ride it, don't bother manhandling it around corners, adopt the cruiser attitude and let it just get around by itself. If you are in a hurry to get anywhere then this is not the bike for you, if you want something to commute then smaller and more agile will be the best on the menu, but if you want to own an icon in motorcycling and a bike that will light your soul up then the Night Train is the one of choice. I don't ride Harleys all the time but I like it when I do, something stirs inside you and it's a feel good factor that can't be duplicated by any other motorcycle, Harley has it and always will.

Harley says' 'Ready to be ridden hard', well you can but I wouldn't recommend it until they decide to put some brakes on it first! To me this is the only true factory custom out there, in looks and style it is at the top of the tree.


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