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Harley-davidson v-rod - Jekyll or hyde!

June 2004 - Road test and photographs by Adrian Percival

When the Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod was first shown to the public a couple of years ago it shocked everyone, not just because of the totally different styling, but because at long last there was a completely new engine powering Harleys latest creation. Having seen and pondered over the bike then I wanted to get my hands on one and really see what all the fuss was about!

Prior to the launch of the V-Rod Harley had just about exhausted development possibilities from its air-cooled motors, but Harley-Davidson knew it had to do something about it and made the decision to enter the realm of liquid-cooling. This was a case of 'get it wet' or sit back and make the decision that a 'off the shelf' quick Harley was never ever going to happen.

Many people suggested at the time that the factory could be taking a big risk with the development of the V-Rod, and that the move away from the traditional air-cooled layout could well alienate its huge customer following, but a Harley is a Harley and personally I think there would be very little chance of that. There are many professional people all over the world that buy the product, and those types will not resent the refinement the V-Rod represents over the normal HD range. On any street corner anywhere in the world just ask the question to the nearest passer-by, 'Name a make of motorcycle' and you will get Harley-Davidson as the answer. The average housewife, school kid or pensioner in the street doing the shopping or just browsing will know that Harley-Davidson is a motorcycle, after all they have seen it in the movies so many times with the likes of Terminator and so on. Throw in this mainstream appeal and the remarkable ability of HD to market the brand and I think you'll agree, the factory and the V-Rod is a pretty safe bet.

Harley-Davidson have no plans to drop any of the air-cooled variants at the moment, so the V-Rod simply represents a modern addition to the range and not a replacement. But, the hardcore and traditionalist Harley owners had better get used to it because I think that this engine will give H-D the sort of platform it has missed in the past. The V-Rod motor is a seriously powerful and functional engine and will no doubt appear in other models very soon, that I can guarantee! Why does the word Buell keep springing to mind here...

Yet again I collected the Harley on a damp and windy day, why is it like this every time I get a cruiser, God doesn't smile on me when I ride Harleys! After a brief spell of waiting for the rain to stop I set off on my first ride back home, some 35 miles away. Immediate impressions? Well it's absolutely nothing like any other Harley I have ever ridden, in fact it took me aback at first with its sheer power and acceleration, but more of that a little later...

The V-Rod development can trace its roots back to the VR-1000 Superbike race program that was created by Harley-Davidson's Powertrain Engineering team and Porsche Engineering in Stuttgart. The all new engine is a complete departure from the Evolution engine, so the new V-Rod powerplant has been given the very apt name of Revolution, I wonder what's next.

The engine powering the V-Rod is an unusual 1130cc unit with the all important liquid-cooling. It is a 60 degree V-Twin with dual overhead cams and four-valve heads. All this is rubber mounted in the frame and puts out a claimed 115ps at 8250rpm, and a very healthy 10.2kg-m of torque at 7000rpm, Unheard of figures for a stock H-D until now! The high spec doesn't stop there either, there's sequential port fuel-injection, a smooth five-speed transmission utilising both spur and helical gears, and four-piston front brakes with braided lines that actually stop the bike, groundbreaking developments for any H-D!

The frame in itself is a work of art and represents yet another major departure for the Milwaukee crew. A silver-dipped, hydroformed (with water!), perimeter creation that looks strong enough to deal with anything the V-Rod (or more) can throw at it. With twists and bends all over the place, it entwines the bike to create a stunning visual package which complements it beautifully. For me this is one of the highlights of the V-Rod, its a frame that you can look at all day and still find something new and different to say about it. This frame is an integral design element of the V-Rod and reserves the right to claim function as its first priority.

The V-Rod is not a small bike by anyone's standards, it may be low and easy to get on but boy is it long! We are looking here at a wheelbase of 1713mm, a 34 degree rake, a 38 degree fork angle and 99mm of trail. What this means is a super stable ride on the straight roads and motorways, but come the corners and we start to have a few small differences over many other bikes! The geometry of the V-Rod tends to make it fall over a bit in corners due to that long raked out front end, not a problem after a few tries but something which may well catch some riders out initially.

So what's it like to ride?

The first thing that strikes you when you get on the bike is just how small the V-Rod actually feels, that's a contradiction after what I just said I know, but physically small is your first thought.. You don't actually get on this bike, you sit in it! The super low seat-height of 659mm is the main reason for this and I suspect that this bike can be ridden by just about anyone, that's great news for shorties and a huge factor for the traditional Harley-Davidson appeal. The V-Rod is probably the lowest std factory bike I have ever sat in!

Turn the key (when you have finally found out where it goes!), press the starter and the motor bursts into life settling down to a steady thump of the big v-twin. It sounds unlike any H-D before, it's mechanically silent with the exception of a whine and a little whirr here and there! Put it into first, twist the throttle and set off changing up through the gears, everything happens neatly and without fuss. The V-Rod just pulls and pulls and pulls to the 9000rpm redline and no matter what anyone's says you will find yourself looking for the longest route to your wherever you're going, immediately! The gearbox on the V-Rod is by far the best of any H-D....ever. This is the first time I have ever been able to do clutchless changes up the box on any Harley without feeling that the contents have departed down the road! First class marks here, it's smooth, has a pretty short lever travel from its 5 speed box all adding up to even more enjoyment from riding this bike.

Riding on the straight roads is perfect, but push it a bit on the twisting A and B roads and you will find that it behaves itself well here too. The ground clearance is surprisingly good and the more aggression you throw into riding it the more reward you get from it, strange but true! Once you get used to the 'drop-in' on corners you can push it through bends and roundabouts with ease, there are no hidden surprises that will catch you out. It's not a Gixxer 1000 or an R1, but the handling of the V-Rod is superb for the cruiser category. Stability is its strong point, and on long sweeping corners you can go through them with bags of confidence. You will touch down in places on tight bends and roundabouts, the main places being the footpegs (your boot heels first!) and the underside of the lower exhaust can at the rear. I first thought this was due to having a pillion on at the time but later found out that it does it anyway when you get a little more brave! This is a fun machine and gives you a big grin whenever you ride it, the more I rode it, the more I loved it.

The V-Rod is a thing of beauty...Yet it looks threatening when stand and stare at it. All over the bike you will find neat styling touches like the aluminium body panels either coloured or natural. There's an integrated instrumentation system that Harley-Davidson calls its clamshell, a sculpted aluminium nacelle mounted in the top triple clamps which features a speedo, tacho, fuel gauge and all the warning lights. Built-in here is a start-up diagnostic check and multiple trip and fuel level settings. There is no fuel cap on the tank, it is actually just a cover, the fuel tank is under the seat keeping the centre of gravity down even more. Twist the key backwards to the 'Fuel' position and the seat opens to reveal a scooter-like filler, unusual yes, practical yes, don't know about cool though!

Harley-Davidson says in their marketing material "So Powerful, the Earth Revolves Around It" Well I don't know about that, but all you need to do is park it up in any high street and maybe it's true! Almost everyone in the immediate vicinity is drawn toward the bike,. I don't know if it's the H-D badge on the tank, the masses of chrome or the threatening bad-boy looks, but people of all ages suddenly appear out of nowhere and crowd around the bike! There are small children and their mums, pensioners and their wives, the local traffic warden who for once smiles and say's 'nice bike', and of course the Britney 'Spearettes' who notice the leathers and the 'cool' bike. Want to impress them, then get one of these, but don't take your helmet or shades off, it's only then do they realise how old you are!!

So in conclusion I enjoyed the V-Rod immensely. It's not perfect, nothing ever is. Initially it's a little difficult to get to grips with on roundabouts and in tight low-speed corners, but when you do it pays you back with huge thrills and total enjoyment. The looks and the street-cred of the V-Rod is unique, nothing comes close to this bike when it comes to getting noticed, and for some that will make minds up.

No matter what you ride, or what you may think of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, you have to respect a manufacturer that can create such icons of biking history. The V-Rod is a bike that will become yet another milestone in Harley's history. This bike is the first of a new breed of motorcycle from the world's oldest manufacturer, and it's a motorcycle that taps into a hidden part of your emotions. That fact alone will sell the V-Rod, it's mean, it's rebellious and ultra cool in one statement, and it goes like the wind..


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