One thing is for sure, Harley is not standing alone in this segment because there are a few players in this muscle cruiser world. Think of the Yamaha VMAX, Triumph Rocket, the Ducati Diavel in its various forms and in a cheaper sphere the Suzuki Boulevard to name a few. And that’s not even mentioning the competition from within its own ranks. Think of the Night Rod and the fantastic Muscle which, by the way, is my personal favourite. What can be established is that there is a big market for this cross-over cruiser/muscle/ superbike segment.
A few years back you either got a street bike or a cruiser, nothing in-between existed. So there has to have been a migration from both sides; cruiser guys wanting something sportier and superbike guys wanting something a little mellower, but badass looking! The one theme that is apparent in all of these bikes is the obvious street cred, mean look because, if you want to play in this market, you have to look mean and be ready for anything – image is paramount. Which brings me back to our ride of today; The V-Rod, in its original form, just now with a new black colour scheme. Before I even start to tell you more about the actual bike, it has to be said that in this day and age with everybody trying to change things sometimes just for change’s sake, this bike is basically exactly the same bike it was when it was first introduced in 2001. Remember that silver brushed aluminium bike? Now that made a statement like no other! I remember my first ride on one back when I was racing for Linex Yamaha on an R1 and I was a little sceptical of this cruiser thing because it just did not make sense to me. But I remember how astounded I was with the power and the attention it drew was only ever surpassed by me riding the BMW C1 with its roof on top. That original V-Rod was and is an icon.
This bike we have also feels like no Harley before it either. Sure, it has the same cruiser riding position, with feet well forward but it revs to 9,000rpm and is smooth while doing so. It doesn’t shake your fillings out, nor does it leave you playing catch up at traffic-light GPs. But the sublime sound of a tuned up V-Twin remains a wonderful growl that rises to a snarl as the 1,130 or 1,250cc engine passes the normal territory for the marque and heads upwards into the stratosphere. Sure it is not like any Harley we’ve ever ridden that’s for sure, and Harley traditionalists agree but only they hate it. But having said that it has a place in the Harley stable because it appeals to a totally new crowd.
There is a story behind the 1,250cc Revolution engine powering the V-Rod. It started on the racetrack, with the company’s VR1000 superbike engine. Watching it roar around the track got the gears turning in a way to bring the same sort of high-end performance to the street. So the story takes us to Germany, and a unique collaboration with legendary automaker Porsche and their world-renowned team of engineers. The final result? Dual overhead cams, four-valve heads, liquid cooling and a velvety smooth delivery of power all the way up to the redline. In short, a good blend of torque and horsepower in a revolutionary high-revving 60 degree V-Twin, water cooled engine design. There couldn’t be anything further away from the product that traditionalist Harley guys are accustomed to than this.
It’s not a light bike, but because you are so low to the ground and the nearly 20 litre fuel tank is below the seat which even betters the bikes centre of gravity, it actually does not feel heavy at all. Yes, when you try and move it around a parking lot by pushing it you can feel the weight, but once the wheels start turning its surprisingly able. The clutch is light and progressive and during a drag race, even though the hp figures are not stratospheric, it gets the power down and, over the first few 100 metres, you’d be
hard pressed to beat a V-Rod that is launched properly, and they are so easy to launch! Yes you can see 230km/h on the speedo but truthfully that is missing the point, and you’d need a neck like Chuck Norris if you were going to maintain that speed for any distance. The bike purrs along easily at over the national speed limit and the wind is quite acceptable around the 140km/h mark. It makes you feel as if you could cover big distances like that.
On the handling front, let me say on the outset that it is not super bikeish but then again it’s also not Harleyish. It turns easily despite the fat rear tyre and the ground clearance is surprising. Yes you can get the pegs down but again you’d be missing the point because once you get there you are actually not riding this bike where it was intended to be ridden. At a push you would be able to get to the front end of C group or at be stat the tail end of B group at a normal track day, but hey, we are talking about a Harley here. This bike loves street riding and country lanes because the suspension is firm but soft and pliable enough to make it really comfortable.
To stop the V-Rod you have twin disc Brembo brakes up front which have an Anti-Lock Braking (ABS) system. You also get the peace of mind that comes with the factory-installed Smart Security System. The system arms itself automatically six seconds after you turn the ignition off. Then, when you flip the ignition switch back on, the system looks for the presence of your key fob before re-activating the bike. The final drive is belt and all in all a very accomplished product. So, coming back to our original question, no it’s not a superbike but it will appeal to an older superbike rider who does not want the white knuckle Sunday breakfast rides anymore but who would still like to give his buddies hell at the lights. I came away from living with this V-Rod for a week knowing I’d easily find a space in my garage for it. I loved it but would still go for it in its Muscle guise.