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You have to hand it to Harley Davidson, not only do they succeed spectacularly well at selling retro style cruiser machines - to the point where they are probably the most famous two-wheeled brand name in the world - but then they go and launch a water cooled, V-twin Hot Rod, and it’s damn good.

Yep, the V-Rod goes, it stops, it handles well too. Plus it just looks absolutely spot-on; unusual, yet classy. There´s no doubt that Harley have woken up and joined the 21st Century in terms of bike design and the V-Rod looks set to be the first in a long line of great bikes. Kevin Ash reports from the US launch.

Always fancied the idea of owning a Harley-Davidson? There’s no doubt the name sounds cool, rolling of the tongue the way it does in that gravelly, Marlboro Man way, and non-bikers are impressed as hell by Harleys.

But that’s because they don’t know what the bikes are really like... slow, heavy, poor brakes, wobbly handling. No, it’s definitely a case of nice name, shame about the bikes.

Until now.

The men at Harley know what people like about their bikes - that’s why they’ve been so successful in the last decade or so. But they also know what people don’t like, and now they’ve decided it’s about time they started to attract these people too.

Hence the V-Rod. And it’s going to take some adjusting because half your Harley preconceptions need to be thrown out the window - yes, some riders will be seduced by its stunning, dramatic looks, but - and this is the difficult bit - others will buy it for the way it performs.

Even so, the styling is worth talking about because an awful lot of effort went into it. The frame, exhaust and body panels all required new manufacturing techniques to be invented or adapted before they could be made reality, and that’s before we get to the engine... The liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 60 degree V-twin from the VR1000 superbike race machine was taken as the basis for this, the Revolution engine. Harley’s engineers worked on the broad principles and requirements, but the detailing and specific expertise came from German supercar manufacturer Porsche, whose mission was not only to come up with a production version offering Harley’s power and torque requirements, it still had to sound and feel like a Harley too. That’s a tall order from an eight-valve, double overhead cam unit producing 115bhp and revving to 9000rpm.

But it all works amazingly well. Swing a leg over the low seat and the riding position is upright and comfortable, although you take a while to remember how far forward the footrests are. And things get better when you fire up the engine. The motor settles into a blatting tickover beat which is even purer than the air-cooled engines’ - no mechanical clatter and a richness and depth which could only be Milwaukee.

The bike punches you forward from 2000rpm like nothing else on the road, and that’s despite the weight - it’s seriously heavy at 270kg dry, but it’s carried so low you barely notice. The throttle response is crisp without the suddenness of many injected engines, but it’s still shockingly immediate, and the thrust continues right up to 5000rpm. And now you’re expecting me to say how it starts to tail off, feel flat, vibrate harshly... Not this Harley, because at 5000rpm it takes off, hammering up to its red line with a force that’s utterly, breathtakingly unexpected, even after you’ve been riding it a couple of days.

The mid-range is just fabulous, making this one of the quickest real-world overtaking bikes around. A rough test with a stopwatch had the V-Rod accelerating in fourth from 45mph to 80mph in a fraction under 6 seconds. This is exactly the sort of knocking it down a gear and blasting past a car you do a dozen times a day on a long ride. And at this the V-Rod is quicker than a Ducati 996. Yes, quicker than a 996...

What is so impressive is not the top end horsepower, good though it is, nor the silky smoothness with a hint of the thumping shakes big twins ought to exhibit, but the way the engine is on the one hand a fast sports bike motor, yet with torque which extends unthinkably low down the rev range with a clear, Harley-Davidson sound.

The chassis is a match for the motor, as the V-Rod steers beautifully, if inevitably rather slowly. Pull it down into a turn and the huge wheelbase means it needs a good amount of lean before changing direction while the front wheel seems to be far off in front of you. But the bike holds its line neutrally and sweeps majestically through corners with stability and accuracy, the damping, though unadjustable, doing a fine job of controlling the solid aluminium wheels. There’s no weaving or wobbling, just predictability and a great blast of fun, enhanced by strong and linear braking.

You’re restricted ultimately by ground clearance, on the right by the lower of those gorgeous silencers which almost tragically scars its trailing edge, while the ingenious radiator cowl touches at the front. There’s a reasonable amount of lean (for a cruiser) before this happens, but the chassis is so good you find yourself wanting more.

The combination of that shallow fork rake and the short travel suspension means ride quality suffers - at low speeds its okay but on motorways the ride becomes jiggly and fussy. But the seat is surprisingly comfortable and good for high mileages, so you can live with that, although the fuel tank (under the seat) is only 3.32 gallons (15.1 litres) so the warning light appears at 80 miles or so - you have about a gallon left, but this will still interfere with touring at what a rough estimate suggests is the sub-40mpg figure you’ll achieve.

You won’t have a pillion with you though - accommodation at the rear is dire, the tiny seat sloping back sharply while the footrests, bafflingly located on the swingarm, contrive to trap your feet under the shock, which potentially could even cause injury if you hit a pothole. I’d expect this last problem to be addressed early in the bike’s life, but for plusher pillion facilities you’ll have to check out Harley’s accessory catalogue, which will include more realistic back seat options.

I suspect that while some traditional Harley riders will move over to a V-Rod, this bike is going to attract a whole new raft of buyers. It’s a motorcycle which encroaches on Ducati Monster, MV Brutale, Cagiva Raptor, Triumph Speed Triple territory as well as Honda Valkyrie and Yamaha V-Max - only the approximate £14,000 price tag separates it, but then so does the Harley badge which on the whole has meant impressive residuals to compensate for the high initial outlay. And the first models might even appreciate rather than devalue - from October this year the UK will get just 40 examples, some of which will inevitably be sold on at a good premium, although this will be short term as the numbers will increase much more for 2002, Harley’s 100th anniversary.

And I reckon they’ll need to increase a lot.

Meanwhile, Harley has plenty more models in the pipeline based on this one. If the V-Rod is a bit too chromey-shiny for European tastes, I reckon the next model is likely to be as black and mean as you can get, probably based on the old XLCR Cafe Racer.

But this is just the beginning of a whole new era for Harley...

Get Harley Davidson motorbike insurance for the harley davidson v rod.



Vital Statistics
Engine
Engine V-twin, four stroke, water cooled, double overhead cam; four valves per cylinder; chain driven with hydraulic tensioners
cc 1130 cc
Claimed power (bhp) 122bhp
Compression ratio 11.3:1
Transmission 5 speed Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Cycle Parts
Brakes Front (Dual) 292.1 mm x 5.08 mm. Rear 292.1 mm x 5.84 mmTyres: Radial D207
Tyres Radial D207. Front 120/70ZR-19. Rear 180/5ZR-18
Dry Weight 270.4 kg
Seat Height 659.9 mm
Electrics
Battery Sealed, maintenance-free, 12-volt,
Headlamp 55-watt low beam, 60-watt, high beam
Options
Colours Anodized Aluminium Body Panels, Silver Powder Painted Frame
Performance
Top speed 140mph
Fuel capacity 15.1 L

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