▲ 2001 VRSCA V-Rod. The "A" denotes the first-of-type model. This, therefore, is the origin of this particular species. A little natural selection has since spawned a wide range of mutations and aftermarket accessories. But we'd be happy to stick with this silver machine.
Harley Davidson V-Rod
V-Rod development and the VR1000 racer
The V-Rod Revolution engine
The VRSC steering angle
Instrumentation, levers and switchgear
Seat and foot controls
2001 V-Rod VRSCA
Engine: Liquid-cooled, 60-degree, DOHC,
4-valve per cylinder, V-Twin
Bore x stroke: 100mm x 72 mm
Compression ratio: 11.3:1
Fuel injection: Sequential Port Electronic (SPEFI)
Max Power: 115bhp @ 8250rpm
Max torque: 77ft-lb (88nm @ 6300rpm)
Top speed: 130mph
Primary transmission: Gear
Final drive: Belt
Frame: Tubular cradle
Front fork: 49mm stanchions, 3.94 inches of travel
Rear suspension: Dual shocks, 2.36 inches of travel
Front brakes: 2 x 4-piston calipers, dual 293mm discs
Rear brake: 4-piston caliper, dual 293mm discs
Front tyre: 120/70ZR-19
Rear tyre: 180/55ZR-18
Wheelbase: 67.5 inches
Overall length: 93.6 inches
Seat height: 26.0 inches
Weight: 620lb (281kg)
Fuel capacity: 3.1 gallons (imp)/14 litres
Price new: £11,995
8 Tritton Road (not Triton Road)
Lincolnshire LN6 7QY
Tel: 01522 850098
14 West Mains Road
Edinburgh EH9 3BG
Tel: 0131 278 3172
Kent, ME20 7XA
Tel: 01622 711680
611 Kings Road London SW6 2EL
Telephone: 0207 736 2934
16-20 Mottingham Road, London SE9 4QW Tel: 0208 857 9198
Black Bear Harley-Davidson
Black Bear Lane
Telephone: 01638 66 44 55
▲ Left-side mid-control gear shift for the V-Rod. If you're of more modest proportions, these are probably essential for day to day riding.
▲ ... and you'll probably want a brake pedal for the other side.
▲ Those forward controls do little or nothing to enhance the riding experience. Retrofit mid-controls will help short riders. But taller guys will continue to stretch and shave their boot heels during heavy lean angles. That's a twin filament ovoid headlight, by the way. Plenty of photons for night work.
▲ These wheels might put you in mind of the Fat Boy, but we hear that they're very different in design and construction. The core is hollow, and these discs are significantly lighter. Harley-Davidson didn't merely want a clean look. They wanted a surgically clean look, and that's exactly what the engineers produced.
▲ 2002 VRSCA V-Rod front hub detail. Brake upgrades and aftermarket wheels are available. But you have to know what you're doing before you start chopping and changing.
So you're interested in the Harley-Davidson VRSC
V-Rod, huh? Possibly the VSRCA? Or maybe one of the later models? Well we can understand that. It's a perfectly normal human reaction because the Rod is a very interesting motorcycle. Moreover, when we pointed our (patent-pending) coolometer at the first one we road-tested, the damn needle went off the scale.
But if your eyes like it (and that's always the place to start when considering the acquisition of a new pair of wheels), the rest of your body might be considerably more reluctant to take that all-important second ride. That's because this single-track hot rod simply isn't a motorcycle that's going to suit everyone no matter how hard and how persistently they try to squeeze themselves into or onto this potential torture rack, and no matter how persuasive their neighbourhood HD salesman happens to be.
So what's wrong with it?
Well it's too long, and it's too low. It's too heavy, and it's got a ridiculous rake on those forks. It will easily blunt the sharpest corners and has a tendency to wallow during slow speed traffic weaves. And on long, high-speed hauls it can pop your shoulder joints—unless, of course, you're of a certain shape, size and temperament.
It's not just a question of height, mind. It's also a question of girth, and a question of inside leg measurement, and a question of whether you've got arms like a baboon.
And maybe there's some masochism mixed in there too.
▲ Harley-Davidson's VR1000 engine. If you're looking for the father of the V-Rod, try a paternity test on this. Designed with the help of Porsche engineers, it was behind on the track, but HD had an Ace up its sleeve.
V-Rod development and the VR1000 racer
The roots of the Rod lie in the fertile soil of the late 1980s when the VR1000 racer project was conceived. Harley-Davidson, a firm that had built its reputation upon generations of blistering competition success, had wanted to develop and build a machine capable of being campaigned in the AMA (American Motorcycle Association) Superbike Series. And not merely campaigned. No, Harley (as ever) was ambitious and demanded a machine that would kick asphalt in everyone's face and restore the firm's (then) flagging credentials.
To that end, the company spent a lot of time and money headhunting the "right" people to lead the project and design the bike, and various established Harley contractors and suppliers were invited to come on board, never mind that many of these firms were out of their depth and had insufficient experience of front-line racing.
But corporate stubbornness and determination triumphed over reason, and the VR1000 was eventually up and rolling, albeit overdue and over-budget. In anticipation of that pivotal moment, HD had been busy headhunting the "right stuff" to climb aboard and pilot its new projectiles and carry the company to victory. And soon enough, some names came forward.
▲ VR1000 racer. For a brief while, this was big news. But all too soon it became yesterday's news. Nevertheless, its genes are in the V-Rod.
Overall, it was a creditable enough attempt (smudged by startling moments of commercial and competition naivety), and the VR1000 acquitted itself well at various circuits during both shakedown and competition.
But it was all too little too late, and the bike was either constantly playing catch-up with the likes of Ducati, or struggling to stay ahead of developmental woes.
Finally, the inevitable happened and Harley-Davidson scrapped the
VR1000 project. That was 2001. There was naturally much disappointment from the team who carried the ball thus far, but the project was far from a wasted effort. The VR1000 had taught the company a lot, and much of the technology found its way into the VRSC V-Rod, a motorcycle that represented a giant leap forward for the firm which, from the early 1990s, had recognised the need for such a bike.
When the V-Rod was launched in 2001, the motorcycle world quickly divided into two camps; the Harley-Davidson traditionalists who were still lamenting the demise of the "Shovelhead" whilst getting over the shock of the Evolution "Blockhead" engine, and the Harley-Davidson modernists anxious to embrace Milwaukee's next great leap forward (and Messrs
H & D have always got something interesting cooking).
The design concept was straightforward enough. Harley-Davidson needed a new model that could not only meet existing and planned noise and emissions regulations, but one that would stay ahead of the game and effectively be future proof.
The bike needed to be mechanically quiet (in terms of both induction and exhaust noise) to meet the expectations of the modern rider and the rampant environmentalists. It needed to be ultra reliable and look good, and—importantly—it needed to significantly push the Harley-Davidson envelope without alienating the old guard; well, without alienating all of them.
Harley Davidson had built its empire around the 45-degree V-twin engine configuration. That angle is a reasonable compromise between performance, smoothness, manufacturing viability and general eye-appeal.
But it's not necessarily the best angle. Nevertheless, Harley-Davidson pretty much made it their own, and almost all the Harley V-twins since forever have shared that configuration—until, that is, the V-Rod happened along. Suddenly, the engineers at Porsche, which Harley had directly approached for their engine building expertise, demanded a new number, and that was "60", or "60 degrees".
That, they said, was the future.
Plenty of Harley purists were disappointed, if not shocked at this angular heresy. But the designers and the company accountants took a more pragmatic view, and soon rumours began leaking out about the new inclusive angle, perhaps to help soften the blow when the bike finally arrived.
▲ All the Rods are built in Kansas, Missouri, USA. With Harley-Davidson, form doesn't always follow function. But fortunately, the firm's designers invariably manage to make their bikes function good enough for most riders. You just have to be patient. And forgiving.
The V-Rod Revolution engine
Soon after its launch, we took a test ride on a 2001 Harley-Davidson V-Rod and returned three or four hours later with mixed feelings.
You couldn't fault the build quality. The machining, the welding, the brushed-aluminium panel finish, the paint, the chrome and the fasteners
(which are all metric, incidentally) are all good-to-very-good. As you might expect, nothing squeaked, rattled, clattered and whined. Like the air-cooled Hogs, the V-Rod has an unmistakeable growl that's carefully tuned to hit all the right bass notes for the discerning ear.
Thumb the starter and the over-square (short-stroke) 100mm x 72mm, 1130cc, 115bhp @ 8250rpm, four-valve per cylinder motor spins up with appropriate urgency. It settles into a relaxed tickover and throbs like you caught it in a door. As you check your feet for balance and squint over the instruments at the road ahead, you understand all over again that this is going to be a very different ride. As with all Harleys, the asphalt is either wonderfully close, or disturbingly near. And as with all Harleys, it feels like a seriously hunk of metal, albeit far better engineered that its predecessors.
Finally you clunk it into gear (and it does clunk), release the clutch and wind it up.
The VRSC steering angle
At first, it feels awkward, like it's on a blind date and doesn't really know how to behave. The 67.5 inch wheelbase is part of the reason for that. The 26-inch seat height adds to it. And the steering angle does the rest. That's because the headstock is set at 34-degrees, but the forks are set at 38-degrees. Why? Because Harley demanded the kicked-out, laid-back, run-to-the-sun chopper look, but they also needed a faster steering response for practical riding in close urban quarters. This, therefore, means that the yokes (triple trees) are machined so that the stanchions are not parallel with the headstock stem.
If you haven't encountered this mechanical phenomenon before, you need a few seconds to get your head around the idea. But chopper builders have been pulling this trick forever. Meanwhile, performance bikes have done it the other way so that that racing forks are sometimes built steeper than the steering stem. And it's this two-stage steering head arrangement that gives the V-Rod its awkward feel.
Mercifully, however, that awkwardness doesn't last. In much the same way that you quickly get used to, and ignore, the torque reaction on a BMW Boxer, you quickly get used to this idiosyncrasy of the V-Rod. However, that initial ride might well get you wondering if the front tyre has developed a flat. Put simply, like first time sex, it's a little unnerving, but you soon adjust and take up the slack.
▲ VRSCA V-Rod instruments/gauges. Functions include speedometer, rev-counter, fuel level, oil warning light, ignition light, indicator repeater light and trip meter. There's also an automatic security function. But hey, where's the temperature gauge?
Instrumentation, levers and switchgear
The handlebar levers are chunky and well machined, but they're not ideal for small hands. The hydraulically operated clutch is smooth and progressive and reasonably light. Ditto the hydraulically operated brake. And there's plenty of stopping power from the twin 292mm, 4-pot calipers, or so it seems at first. But after fifty or sixty miles of heavy traffic and fast dual carriageways, you start to wonder if maybe Harley shouldn't have dialled-in a little extra grip. Certainly, with a regular pillion you might want to upgrade.
The instrumentation is pretty straightforward and unremarkable, except to say that a bike such as the V-Rod really deserved something a little more original. A talking point. Something unique. But these clocks merely tell engine and performance time without returning that extra something. Yes, they look right on the bike, but they could be on almost any modern bike.
The switchgear, meanwhile, is pretty much par for the course. Big. Chunky. Positive. The indicators are self-cancelling, one on each handlebar. They work as they're designed to, but we would have been happy to have both switches located on the same cluster on the left. After a few miles, however, we forgot about them and focussed on other factors.
Such as the power delivery. That's maybe a little harsh at lower speeds. It's as if the bike is impatient and wants to climb quickly into the high numbers. But that harshness is never unwieldy or seriously irritating. It's just the way it is, and it's mostly something you notice because you're on a test ride and trying to notice everything. If you simply stole one of these Rods and, say, used it as a getaway bike for a bank robbery, you'd never care one way or the other.
▲ 2006 VRSCA V-Rod. Now well established and steadily consolidating its market appeal. Colours are (wait for it): Vivid Black, Black Cherry Pearl, Black Pearl, Chopper Blue Pearl, Deep Cobalt Pearl, Anodized Aluminum, Rich Sunglo Blue, Brandy Wine Sunglo, Two-Tone Chopper Blue Pearl/Brilliant Silver Pearl, Two-Tone Black Cherry Pearl/Black Pearl, Two-Tone Deep Cobalt Pearl/Brilliant Silver Pearl.
Seat and foot controls
The seat is comfortable, or would be if the foot controls were in the conventional/middle position. But they're not. They're about as far forward as they can get, which is fine for taller riders on shorter journeys. But more modestly proportioned guys will soon find themselves angled back a little further than ideal thereby putting pressure on their spines. So okay, it wasn't a serious problem for us, and we had two riders of different heights compare notes on the test. But Harley-Davidson might have been better advised to cut some of us a little slack with a mid-control option, which did in fact later appear. At a price.
The original 2001 VRSCA V-Rod (built for the 2002 season) was fitted only with forward controls, note. It wasn't until that the 2006 VRSCD Night Rod appeared that mid-controls were offered along with highway pegs (which simply made the riding position uncomfortable for the taller guys). But if ever there was a Motorcycle Form Before Function Championship, the V-Rod is a serious contender.
We noticed too that the pillion pegs are positioned on the swinging arm (as with early Sportsters), which means that if you ride two-up with the wife/hubby, someone's legs are going to be bobbing up and down more or less constantly, which is not good. Harley-Davidson, of course, has long had contempt for pillions, and if the miniscule saddle perches on most models hasn't sorted out your social divorce, these pegs will do it for you.
Overall, this bike is pretty much the street dragster it was intended to be. It bears obvious comparisons with Yamaha's V-Max. But the V-Rod is slicker. More refined. More elegant, if you prefer. Not that there's anything wrong with the Yam (given its obvious design limitations). With its four cylinder liquid-cooled engine, the V-Max simply has more traffic light muscle and stomp, albeit at the expense of a generally cruder feel. Put another way, if you pulled up outside a Mayfair Casino on a V-Max, you might well be politely asked to park it behind the Rod.
The 3.1 gallon fuel tank is located beneath the seat on the V-Rod (same as with the Yamaha V-Max). But it's not in that position simply to keep the weight down. It's there because the DOHC, liquid-cooled V-Rod engine is tall and is fed via a downdraught fuel-injection system capped by a dummy tank-shaped cover (also as with the V-Max).
There's an electric fuel pump kicking around down there somewhere. We thought we vaguely heard it kick in once or twice when starting and restarting, but it wasn't heard when we actually listened for it.
Fuel economy isn't bad at around 40mpg. Some claim nearer 50. Other's whisper numbers as low as 35. But you can't really ride a V-Rod economically anyway. The impulse to show off is simply too great, and even the most unassuming rider will want to open it up at every opportunity.
▲ Hi-ho silver. Anodised aluminium, polished aluminium, and a frame that, if you squint, could also be aluminium tubing (but is actually steel). Harley-Davidson did what they could to make a heavy bike look light, but at around 620lbs, it ain't.
It's a seriously flawed motorcycle and it can be hard work. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. All the best products are flawed. That's how they engage you. And if you don't want to be engaged, buy a Toyota.
However, you might soon begin to wonder if maybe this metric Hog ought to be confined to American roads, not British ones. Sure, it can cope well enough right here in the UK. It's got presence, poise and power. And up to a point, it returns reasonable handling for anyone clinging to middle-ground riding. But what it really wants is BIG highways. BIG vistas. BIG aspirations. The engine wants to work. It doesn't want to wait. The bike wants to cruise. It doesn't want to stop. The gears don't really want to change. They want to hustle into top and stay there. The clutch wants to be left alone. In short, the Rod constantly wants to be somewhere else.
But if your eyes say yes, and if the rest of your body is ready to suffer a few slings and arrows, you can probably live happily with the V-Rod. With few exceptions, there's not really such a thing as a truly bad motorcycle anymore. And in its own way, the V-Rod is a GREAT bike. But as with all greatness, it comes with a penalty.
▲2016 V-Rod Night Rod. In recent times there have been no great leaps forward; not even in marketing hype. Nevertheless, at £13,995 this two-wheeled factory hotrod is better value than ever (the launch price in 2001 was £11,995).
Harley-Davidson made a daring move with this the V-Rod. It could have flopped in the media, the salesrooms and the pubs. But instead, it's found its niche, and HD has managed to rework, revamp and reintroduce it successfully season after season with the various other VRSCs in the muscle-bound family.
For our money, the first-of-type V-Rod is the coolest, if not necessarily technically the best. It's an imperfect world, after all, so maybe an imperfect bike is an appropriate device to help you navigate through it.
UPDATE: The V-Rod was discontinued in 2018. Despite rumours, it's not clear if it will be returned to production.