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Harley Davidson V Rod Performance Cruiser

The Harley Davidson V Rod first got its start back in 2001 for the 2002 model year.

Since then it has been reworked, redeveloped and since various different iterations, until its final year of production in 2017.

The V Rod is a bike that since its inception was controversial for Harley Davidson, it is absolutely a Harley with all the trademark iron and brute-ish mannerisms you expect, but it is much more than that.

A genuine muscle bike departing from traditional cruisers and the engine even had some input from Porsche which quite frankly die hard Harley Fans weren’t exactly thrilled with.

However, Harley deemed it fit to sit in their lineup in one form or another for nearly two decades so the V Rod definitely had something going for it.

Let’s explore exactly what that it is, with our review of the Harley Davidson V Rod.

Harley davidson V Rod Review

History

So, how did the V Rod come about?

The V Rod stands out in the legacy of the Harley Davidson brand simply because it was their very first foray into powerful performance motorcycles.

Harley had always been known for their traditional cruisers, bikes that could carry you comfortably to your destination that were loaded with torque over and above horsepower and top end performance.

The public expected innovation, creativity and out of the box thinking from the likes of Yamaha and Ducati etc. but from Harley it was just expected to keep improving on the foundation they had already laid slowly but surely.

Harley knew this and so the design team set to work on changing the narrative that all they were good for were heavy cruisers.

The result of the research and development was the V Rod.

Engine and Transmission

One of the most interesting parts of the new model was the engine which had been developed by Porsche engineering alongside HD designers.

The Revolution engine had its beginnings in the VR1000 racing bike, it was a liquid cooled, 1130cc, 4 valve per cylinder, DOHC, 60 degree V twin. The big difference was that the radiator and other frame members supported the round-top air cleaner cover. The fuel tank was under the riders seat and the ‘tank’ instead was the cover for the airbox and coolant fill port.

Harley Davison had actually worked with Porsche engineering before, in the 1970’s, on the Nova project, which was another innovative project stepping away from tradition. However, the Nova project was abandoned by 1981 as the Evolution engine was instead taken up.

The all new Revolution engine therefore was a clear departure from the air-cooled 45 degree V twins the world was used to, however when it came to performance that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It offered up a massive 115 horsepower at the crank which for a Harley Davidson was unheard of, later on this would increase to 125 horsepower. In terms of torque the V Rod had around 114 Nm to play with. This was one V twin that couldn’t be called a slouch.

The motor would rev all the way up to 9,000rpm and be smooth while doing so, the complete opposite of what Harley riders were used to. Vibrations were minimal and it wouldn’t leave you left behind from a stoplight, the bike had a 0-60mph time of 4 seconds.

The designers had fitted the engine with a balancer shaft and rubber mounts to assist in minimising the vibrations. The powerplant was mounted to a 5 speed transmission which gave power to the back wheel by the use of a toothed belt; this stayed the same throughout the bikes production.

In 2008 the engine was increased to 1,250cc which is when the motor became capable of producing 125 horsepower and the V Rod was also fitted with a slipper clutch for faster, smoother and easier shifting.

With lightweight (by Harley standards) flywheels, the 1130cc, four-valve engine is surprisingly free-revving, more like a twin-cylinder sportbike than a cruiser. In fact, the engine the V-Rod’s was most often compared to was that of the Honda VTR1000F Super Hawk. Only thanks to a counterbalancer and rubber mounts, the Harley is smoother than any Japanese Twin, or a Beta Twin Cam, for that matter.

Cycle World

You would be hard pressed at the time to find better praise for a new muscle bike’s engine than it being smoother than Japanese twins.

The Revolution engine was again taken up in 2014, although it was heavily revised. The new Revolution X engine was produced and fitted into the Harley Davidson Street, a small capacity entry-level Harley.

Chassis and Styling

The original had been given the designation VRSCA taking its main design from drag racing and custom design (VRSC stood for V twin Racing Street Custom).

This was very evident with raked out long front end and a long low wheelbase. The forks were chunky upside down affairs and bringing up the rear was a large 180mm rear tire worn on solid disc wheels.

The fuel tank caused quite the stir as it was only a 3 Gal. tank, plus it was stuffed under the seat into whatever space the designers could find.

By 2006 it would receive Brembo brakes and a 240mm rear tire further enhancing the muscle look. The Brembo were very effective but the original brakes were more than up to task and had all the bite needed to slow the bike down safely. Twin 292mm discs sat up front with four-piston calipers. Later bikes not only received Brembo’s but ABS too.

Harley Davidson designers as part of the brief for the new model had been told that the frame needed to be just as radical as the engine and be different from anything else done previously.

As a result they came up with a weighty but interesting external frame that had pipes bent into weird shapes which was done by a fancy process of using high pressure water to bend the steel without it creasing, called Hydroforming.

The suspension fitted was considered pretty basic and fairly soft, the front wasn’t adjustable and was one of the things that owners were quick to switch out for better handling and road feel.

The exhaust pipes swooped down and around the side of the bike and were once again used as a stylistic feature.

Originally the V Rod was only offered with forward controls and came in an unpainted anodized aluminium, for a stripped back, raw appeal proudly displaying both the chassis and the engine.

The aluminium bodywork was later dropped and this increased the bikes overall weight.

Eventually by 2006 the suspension was swapped out to be supplied by Showa and mid mounted controls became an option.

Handling and Comfort

So, we have an insanely new engine that has a higher output than anything Harley Davidson had offered before and a chassis designed to be museum worthy, therefore, what did the bike handle like?

The first thing you will notice is the super low seat height, when perched on the seat you then stretch your legs forward to reach the foot pegs and arms out in front for the controls.

Now the next thing to do is start the bike up and you are met with a satisfying rumble. Here is where a couple of issues come into play.

The front raked forks shove the front wheel so far forward you don’t quite get the feedback you would like, it is almost like the wheel has to send a carrier pigeon up to the bars before they respond.

On the early models the rear 180mm tire made for pretty good cornering but when this increased in size, cornering became more of a chore than an exciting experience. There is a saying that the V Rod is great in a straight line, and its poor cornering mannerisms are definitely to blame.

However, whether this is really a concern will come down to the rider, those accustomed to riding choppers or drag bikes will be unaffected by this setup, it is just everyone else who might be a bit put out.

The stock suspension does little to positively impress on a machine that was built to leave an impression. You find yourself needing a break if you spend a while on uneven terrain or carrying passengers.

The passenger pad is nothing more than a token and if you intend to lay down some miles with a pillion, switching the seat and pegs for them is a must, anything else would be cruel.

On the flip side I would argue it’s a solo motorcycle anyway but each to their own.

Ground clearance isn’t amazing and didn’t overly improve with the generations, although the exhaust did become more upswept so you could stop scraping it quite so much.

The motorcycle is also a heavy one which won’t shock Harley riders generally as they tend to be, though low speed manoeuvres on the V Rod are easy to handle and comfortable.

Clutch felt a little heavy by Harley standards but gave excellent feedback, the hydraulic actuation meant take offs were smooth.

Interestingly the motor lacks torque down low and it takes you to get past 4,000rpm before it kicks in and drags you wherever you want to go. Overtakes are fun at speed as the powerband explodes and lets you just go.

Where you are going to find the bike to be happiest is in long sweeping turns and straights where you can unleash all the power that is contained in the engine; it is a fun ride and an unexpected one from that of a huge V twin.

When it comes to comfort, the motorcycle is as good as any cruiser will get. If you intend to really lay down miles then switching the suspension particularly on early models is essential to keep you riding longer.

The great thing about all Harley’s really is that you can swap out the features that most affect your comfort and tailor it to you, so handlebars, pegs, seat etc can all be modified to your tastes, it just might be a bit pricey.

One niggle on the first generation was the small fuel tank, you will find yourself needing to fill up more often than you would perhaps like.

Features

There are few fancy features with the V Rod, it came about as bare as a bike can get.

Cycle World only ever managed to get 135 miles out of a tank of fuel on their test ride and on the second run was 118 miles, so you need to be prepared to stop often.

The fuel gauge causes a few issues too as it flashes up to warn you that your fuel is low but realistically it comes on too late and when it gets to that point you are pretty much already out of fuel.

Later models came with a slipper clutch and ABS which were brilliant additional details.

As with every Harley Davidson motorcycle there were plenty of aftermarket accessories for you to add on from exhausts, mirrors, seats to screens.

Another bonus was the V Rod sounded great, it roars on starting up and the sound just increases as you pick up speed.

Overall, the V Rod split the public’s opinion with diehard Harley fans, some welcomed the creation of something new, and some were outraged calling the bike anything but a Harley.

Regardless, the new motorcycle was here to stay and would see several variants before its eventual demise.

David Edwards Editor in Chief of Cycle World magazine in 2001 wrote:

“Can’t say I’m a fan of the H20 Hog’s heels-forward riding position, raked-out fork or crosswind-catching disc wheels, but I will tell you this: In my 17 years in the business, no other machine has stopped traffic or dropped jaws like this new Harley. It’s got a stance, a presence that commands attention.”

Harley davidson V Rod Specs list

Engine and Transmission

  • Engine – Four Stroke 60 degree V twin, DOHC, 4 Valves per cylinder

  • Capacity – 1,130cc

  • Bore x Stroke – 100 x 72mm

  • Compression Ratio – 11.3:1

  • Cooling System – Liquid Cooled

  • Starting – Electric

  • Induction – Sequential port fuel injection with 53mm throttle bodies

  • Transmission – 5 speed

  • Final Drive – Belt

  • Max Power – 115hp

  • Max Torque – 114Nm

  • Top Speed – 140mph

Chassis and Dimensions

  • Frame – Steel perimeter upper frame with hydroformed main rails and bolt-on lower frame rails, swingarm one piece cast aluminium

  • Front Suspension – 49mm telescopic forks

  • Rear Suspension – Dual coil over rear shocks

  • Front Brakes – 2 x 292mm discs, 4 piston calipers

  • Rear Brakes – Sinlge 292mm, 4 piston caliper

  • Rake – 34 degrees

  • Trail – 100mm/3.9″

  • Wheelbase – 1713mm/67.5″

  • Seat Height – 659.9mm/26″

  • Dry Weight – 270kg/595lbs

  • Wet Weight – 280kg/615lbs

  • Fuel Capacity – 14 liters/3.7 Gal.

V Rod Variants

There were a series of variants that Harley Davidson produced up until 2017 alongside the base models. The base models main differences were the improved fuel tank, brakes, suspension and everything else was largely cosmetic.

The 2006 Night Rod was a hot rod inspired model with mid-mounted pegs; the only other model to receive these was the Street Rod. The Street Rod was a more roadster styled version with less extreme layout, it was the first model to get inverted Showa forks.

The V Rod Muscle was built to resemble big American Muscle cars, it had a big presence and with fake Air Rams for cosmetic resemblance to the inspirational muscle cars.

Aside from these key models, there were limited edition short production runs of other variants like the CVO bikes.

  • VSRCA – 2002-2006

  • VRSCAW – 2007-2010

  • VRSCB – 2004-2005

  • VRSCD – Night Rod 2006-2008

  • VRSCDX – Night Rod Special 2007-2017

  • VRSCF – V Rod Muscle 2009-2017

  • VRSCSE and VSRCSE2 – Screamin Eagle CVO V Rod 2005+2006

  • VRSCR – Street Rod 2006-2007

  • VRSCX – 2007

  • VRSCE – Destroyer

Finding a Harley V Rod For Sale

Prices in the UK start from £6,500 with the average being around £8,000 but do go all the way up to a huge £37,000 for an extreme custom model.

In the US the price starts around $10,000 with the average being in the region of $13,000.

Check out this 2009 version with less than 900 miles on the clock selling for $12,400.

There are loads of low mileage good quality options on the market.

Restoring a Harley davidson V Rod

When it comes to restoring a V Rod the price ranges pretty significantly so you can find an older model, do it up and have some room to make a bit of profit.

They have attracted a big custom following with many using the bikes as bases for wild drag bike builds.

Harley Davidson stock parts aren’t cheap and never will be but you can find an almost endless supply of manufacturers who produce parts you might need for your build.

The key is to remember that in any restoration, the original is always best to make profit. If your build is too custom you end up being in a niche and limiting your potential buyers down significantly.

Are they a good investment?

The very original generation of V Rod’s are a good investment as they represent a shift in Harley’s history into the future. There will always be someone who has an interest in collecting the original bikes. Whether the value will shoot up and make masses of profit, I would think probably not, but a slow increase over the years is likely.

Limited edition CVO models are always a good investment as the limited runs increase their value and attraction to collectors.

Verdict

I like the V Rod, I don’t care that Porsche helped with the engine, to me it is still very much a real Harley Davidson motorcycle. The naysayers will be the same people now saying the move to liquid cooled engines in the latest generation of models makes them less authentically Harley.

Time moves on and in order to compete in a market that appreciates performance Harley did what they had to do and continue with that ethos today.

Plus the bike is just a really cool looking motorcycle.

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