When Harley Davidson introduced the V-Rod, back in 2001, the question was naturally raised as to whether it was just a styling exercise, or a new breed of Harley with significant technological advancements?
With that huge rear tyre, and the long, raked-out front, it could’ve been just an image thing. But then, with it’s new liquid-cooled engine (the first ever to grace a Harley road bike) and claims of sporting performance (from the engine at least), it could well have been a genuine new breed of Hog, with worthwhile advances in performance capabilities.
Over the years I've seen opinions supporting both views; that it's all just style, or alternatively, that it's a new-age breed of "Hog".
Harley sees it as a kind of road-going dragster. Their brochure describes it in these words: “The fiery soul and steel of a ¼-mile eating dragster have been perfectly tempered to make it street legal.” In fact the “VRSC” model prefix stands for “V-twin Racing Street Custom”.
So what is it really? And what would an Old Bloke think of it? There was only one way to find out; take one for a ride!
I’d been a bit apprehensive about riding the V-Rod though. Firstly there was the weight; all 289kg of it. Maybe that’s not heavy by Harley standards, but it is by my standards! And then there’s the fact that it costs over $30,000. If things went wrong and I happened to drop it; well, that’d be one very expensive bike sliding down the road! And considering that, with the huge rear tyre and stretched out front, it could well end up being a real pig to ride (no pun intended!), well, you'll understand my apprehension perhaps!
On previous occasions when I’d had the opportunity to test-ride some Harleys, I’d opted for things like the Sportsers. But this time when the local dealer, Fraser Motorcycles, brought the test-fleet to town, I signed up for a ride on the V-Rod. Yep, it was time to ride the Rod!
Sitting on the bike, the first impression you get is that it seems smaller than it looks. And the weight seems less than it is too. It carries a lot of the weight fairly low, I suppose, which makes it much more manageable. For example, just tipping it side to side at standstill it didn’t feel as big and heavy as the Yamaha FJR1300, which is actually 25kg lighter. And as soon as you get moving, the weight seems to melt away. Yes, it’s still heavy, but it’s easily manageable; even for an old weakling like me!
The next thing is that it’s actually fairly comfortable; albeit in that Harley kind of way. The seat is reasonably well-shaped, and while not exactly plush, it is quite comfortable. The riding position is very upright of course (that’s a given with Harley!), but this was so upright it felt like I was leaning backwards! With my feet stretched out in front (it’s a forward-control layout), and the upper body leaning backwards, it felt almost like I was sitting in a lounge-chair – but with no back-rest! But that didn’t end up being as much of a problem as you’d expect, at least not on the fairly short ride I had on it; because holding onto the bars held you in place, and the basic comfort of the bike kind of made up for it. I don’t think I’d like to go interstate on it, but for the relatively short time I spent on the bike it was okay.
The bars are high, of course, and quite straight (no pull-backs or ape-hangers here!); and they felt pretty natural. I’ve got long hands, so I like the thick grips. Also, the levers are quite broad and smooth on the edges, which make them comfortable to use.
Another pleasant surprise is the instruments. For the first time on any Harley that I’ve ridden, they’re in the proper place – up in front of you, not buried in the fuel-tank. They're housed in a good-looking binnacle, and hey, there’s even a tacho and a fuel-gauge! The tacho is red-lined at 9,000rpm. (Harley describe the engine as “high-revving”; so I suppose by Harley standards it is!). The analogue speedo is numbered to 240kph.
Oh, and one other thing I noticed, the horn is very good. It’s quite loud, and much better than the pathetic “meeep” you get on most bikes!
Start the bike up and there are the usual Harley vibes, but they’re not too bad. The mirrors shake at idle, but everything smoothes out well once the revs rise a bit. And it’s never shake-your-teeth vibration like the Harleys of old! This feels quite refined by comparison.
Also feeling quite refined is the gearbox. Yes, that’s right, I said, “refined”! With every other Harley I’ve ridden I described the gearbox as feeling like it’d come out of a tractor. Not so in this case; or if it did, it was a very refined tractor! Yes, there’s still a slight clunk as it goes into gear, but it’s all very subdued, and the changes are smooth. It didn’t like clutch-less changes though; that produced a definite clunk and jolt! Neutral was always easy to find, on the move or at standstill. Oh, and speaking of the clutch, one of the improvements for 2008 has been the fitting of a slipper-clutch.
The engine has been up-graded for 2008 too. It’s now out to 1250cc, and produces about 90Kw. (Harley says the actual output varies, depending on what country it is being sold in). Torque is quoted at 115Nm. Despite their image, V-twins aren't always best from very low down, but the V-Rod pulls easily from low revs; well, fairly easily anyway. From 2,000rpm it’s okay, although it shakes a bit if you try accelerating from that in the higher gears. At around 3,000 – 4,000rpm it feels quite happy. Get it up around 5,000 – 6,000rpm and it surges forward at great velocity, and you really have to hang onto those bars!
Considering Harley sees it as a road-going dragster, you’d expect it to go well in a straight line, and it does. Not just in acceleration, but it also cruises effortlessly. Top gear (of 5) runs at about 27kph per 1,000rpm, so at 110kph it’s settling into a relaxed 4,000rpm. The instrument binnacle acts as a kind of miniature windscreen, and it seems to work. I cruised at around 100 – 110kph and there wasn’t much wind; quite good for a naked with a very up-right ride-position.
With that huge 240-section rear tyre, and the raked-out front, you know it’s not going to like corners! But right from when we turned out onto the highway from the dealer’s yard it felt, well, not as bad as I expected. (True, I did end up in the second lane rather than the first lane, but that was okay, it was my first real turn!). A few right-angle turns into side-streets later, I was starting to get confident with it. And it needs confidence. You’ve got to be a bit aggressive; tip it in and muscle it around the corner.
It was easy enough to lay over into a corner (and you can do that without worrying too much about ground-clearance!), but when you did, it felt awkward, and fought against you. Not in a nasty way though, more in a “confused” way. The front of the bike and the rear of the bike seemed to be fighting against each other; like they didn’t want to go in the same direction. It felt all heavy and “stiff”, almost as if it wanted to bend in the middle! (Maybe they should introduce an articulated chassis – now that’d be interesting!).
But it was better than I expected. (Probably because I expected it to be really, really bad!). The straight bars help here too. Now don't get me wrong, the handling is dreadful, but I suppose if you were into this kind of bike then you’d get used to it.
I said the handling began to impress (if that’s the right word!) right from the time of leaving the dealer’s yard. Another thing that I noticed before I even straightened up onto the highway was the ride. If you’ve read the report on the ridiculous Harley Nightster, you’ll have read that I could feel the harsh ride even across the concrete joins in the forecourt. No such problem with this. In fact, it felt reasonably smooth. And out on the road, the ride was surprisingly good! This is the first Harley I’ve ridden that has suspension I would describe as "compliant". On this bike I didn’t have to brace myself when we came to bumps or sections of patched bitumen; the V-Rod actually absorbed them quite well. Yep, the ride was actually smooth! Mind you, with the weight, and that huge rear tyre, the bike probably acts like a steam-roller – if you rode over the same bumps a few times the bike’d probably start to flatten them out!
Brakes, which in 2008 have the option of ABS, didn’t feel particularly strong. Actually they felt a bit weak. I suppose it’s a lot of bike to pull up; and you’ll need a strong pull on the lever to do it. And wouldn’t you think that, at over 30-grand, they could’ve made the ABS standard?
What else didn’t I like? Well the blinkers, which are self-canceling, took too long to self-cancel. Nit-picking? Not really. Particularly after left-hand turns I sometimes found myself at the next intersection with a road coming in on the left, with the blinker still going. Obviously very dangerous if there’s someone coming out of there who thinks you’re turning in! I don’t know if there is any way to over-ride it and cancel them manually, but if there is I certainly couldn’t find it.
Soon we were back at the dealer; all too soon, actually, I would’ve been happy to have gone further. Because I kind of liked the V-Rod! No, I would never own one! That riding-position would become a problem over longer distances; and the handling - or lack of it - would drive me nuts!
But, by the standard of other Harleys I’ve ridden, this one is actually pretty good! It’s (very!) expensive, but it’s reasonably comfortable, it rides well, it goes well, it cruises effortlessly, and on straight roads it does very well what Harleys do best – travel along with a load of style! But it’s more than just style; it really is a whole different breed of Hog!

Ridden 2008.

UP-DATE 2011.
There have been a few changes to the V-Rod for the 2011 range. Mostly detail changes rather than major things, from what I can find out. The basics are the same, but a few things have been refined.
There are two models now, the Night Rod Special and the Muscle. The Night Rod is all black and has slightly different exhausts. The Muscle changes the exhausts too, and has a different tank and bodywork at the front. Oh, and the seat is different too.
If you are interested in getting the exact details of what's changed, talk to your Harley dealer. Otherwise, the impressions here would still apply.

UP-DATE 2014
From what I can find out, there haven't been any major changes since 2011. Just a few minor bits-and-bobs. Such as the ignition switch now being of the remote security type thing. You still use a key, but it has a built in security immobiliser. The danger, according to one test I read, is if you put the key in and leave it in as you ride off: and the key (and immobiliser) - which is positioned down on the side of the bike - falls out.
Anyway, the V-Rod is what it is. As I said above, check your local dealer for any specific changes, but there's nothing major.
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