Test Ride: Harley-Davidson V-Rod

“Who da white fool?”. Huggy Bear – a seventies icon.

Words: Andrew Boss    Photos: Richard Seck

Sometimes clarity comes from the most unlikely sources. In this case it happened in the adjective defying Toronto neighbourhood of Parkdale, when a hipster, who could have been the stunt double of Huggie Bear, from TV’s Starsky and Hutch fame, exclaimed with perfect intonation: “Sheeeeeeiiit, that thing’s off the HOOK!” He was referring to Harley Davidson’s V-Rod.

Since its introduction in 2001, the V-Rod is arguably the most controversial bike around, especially since it’s a Harley. Letters to motorcycle magazines are disturbingly passionate with a large portion of negative feedback coming from the hard-core Harley riders themselves. Seems they think it looks Japanese, a touchy area for some. And God forbid, is that a radiator up front?

If you’re wondering what it’s really like, then sit back CMG’ers, and like Mama Boss says, we’ll show you where the bird shit is in the buckwheat! Note for those of you of non-Eastern European prairie dirt farming descent; buckwheat kinda looks like bird poop, eh.


The centre of attention.

Combining natural brushed aluminum body work, exposed silver painted frame, solid cast wheels, unique exhaust pipes and a slammed profile, it is obviously not subtle. Fit and finish are very good, although there is some minor spatter in the frame welds.

It is a striking motorcycle that attracts attention unlike any other I have ever ridden.

Cagers would stare while their traffic light turned green, ignoring the honks of impatient motorists. I was photographed from an adjacent car while riding on the highway. A van pulled over to let me pass so he could follow me for awhile and check the bike out. Some drivers got dangerously close in their enthusiasm. Simply put, anytime the bike was outside the garage, moving or stationary, everybody wanted to talk about it. The majority thought it was beautiful, with a few undecided and only one dissenter, who was on a Road Glide.

One hot motor.

The first time in the V-Rod saddle reveals ergonomics unlike anything I had experienced. Particularly in the gynaecological footpeg placement!

It was quite narrow by cruiser standards too. And despite a dry weight of 270 Kg (595 lbs). it doesn’t feel that heavy. It could even be tiptoed backwards up minor grades.

Funny how 1130cc sounds small. And in the Power Cruiser category it gives up 350cc to 670cc to the competition. But not to worry, they built a gem. Firing up the Porsche/Harley developed twin yields a rumble with very little mechanical noise or exhaust racket. However, the po-ta-toe/po-taa-to sound we have become conditioned to is noticeably absent.

Releasing the clutch in first shows this twin doesn’t make that classic stump pulling torque from zero rpm either. What we do get is relatively decent power to 3,000 rpm, better power to 5,000 rpm, and from 5,000 – 9,000 rpm … well that deserves its own paragraph:

It’s fooking fantastic! It pulls hard all the way to the nine grand redline, with an urgency that is simply addictive. And there was no vibration or buzziness at any mix of speeds.

Top gear roll-ons at highway speed did not disappoint. Not quite the pull that the Honda VTX1800 possesses, but enough to ditch the gawking citizens on the highway when you “vant to be left alone.” That’s actually funny if you say it with a German accent.

I should also mention that Mama Boss used to say “horsepower makes heat!” And the V-Rod is one hot runner! I got visions of my shins looking like those wieners rolling around in that contraption at the local 7-11. Riding the V-Rod through one of the hottest summers on record, you learn to use the outside of the pegs in slower traffic.


More than just a styling exercise?

I had two defining power moments while riding the V-Rod. One was at CMG Dragways against the Kawasaki Mean Streak 1500. Although a very nice bike in its own right, the V-Rod simply eviscerated it. The second was while plodding along on the highway in fourth. The motor wasn’t working that hard but with a quick twist of the throttle, took me from 110km/h to 180km/h. All without hesitation and quick enough to leave me yelling under my helmet.

Now for people who ride sport bikes, this may seem like no big thing. But on a cruiser where style and posture conspire against you aerodynamically, the sensation of fast is exponential.

On that aerodynamic note, the V-Rod actually provides better than average wind protection – being comfortable up to 110 km/h, with no headwind. Credit must be given in part to the sloped headlight and gauge cluster, which appear to be more than just a styling exercise.

In addition, the lighting is effective enough to allow you to see the red-eye in the mirrors of the poor bastard unlucky enough to be stopped in front of you at night. I’m not sure the average citizen would agree, judging from all the high beam flashes I endured, but it’s effective and can be used a friendly reminder of your presence to people who may deem it okay to cut in front of you.

Not yer typical Harley style.

Handling the claimed 115hp and peak torque of 74ft.lbs is left to a hydraulic actuated clutch that engages a five-speed gearbox. Both handled their jobs without complaint or hiccup.

The clutch remained effective while being subjected to repeated hard launches, but did cause my hand to cramp in stop and go traffic, due to the firm pull required. Similarly, the gearbox yielded no false neutrals or blown shifts, even when power shifting under load or lazily while cruising. Neutral was easy to find as well. This is in pleasant contrast to other Harley’s I have previously sampled, and a welcome step in the right direction.

The triple disk brake set-up is up to the task. Both ends were strong and predictable.

Tied with Honda’s VTX1800 for the longest wheelbase at 1,713 mm (67.5″), it looks long. At low speeds it feels that way too. Not to fear though as a low 660 mm (26″) seat height helps lower the centre of gravity and keep this bad boy (or not, as the case is) under control. The upside of a long wheelbase is excellent stability once up to speed.

Easier to clean than spokes.

Reports of V-Rods being susceptible to buffeting from side winds due to the gorgeous cast wheels shouldn’t worry potential buyers, as I can attest that the effect is minimal. While riding to Fred Deeley Imports to grudgingly return the V-Rod, I got caught in an absolute monsoon that caused dozens of cars to simply and smartly pull off the highway. Being complex and stupid, I continued on at 80 km/h, with my only worry being how wet my pants were getting (from the rain).

I don’t look good in wet pants (nor dry ones – Editor ‘arris).

Cornering at speed was predictable, helped by a stiff frame and radial tires. Like the big VTX, I found that gassing it on the apex of the corner helped the rear weight biased V-Rod keep an entertaining pace. It should be noted that however, that aggressive cornering can bottom the suspension and allow the pegs and pipe to touch down, albeit infrequently. While Harley doesn’t publish suspension travel specs, I suspect it’s mere inches. Mere enough that I actually had my rump and feet popped into the air upon hitting a highway pothole. Luckily, since I possess a kung-fu grip, I managed to hold on, although it must have been funny to see me trying to look cool, only to almost become an X-games contestant seconds later.

Another wiener moment saw me trying to thumb the left signal button but hitting the horn instead. It’s an easy mistake to make when you ride a lot of different bikes, but this horn was so loud it scared the crap right out of me (along with all the woodland creatures for at least a three mile radius).

All bikes should come with this horn.


The V-Rod is a lot of fun to ride, and you can’t say that about all motorcycles. Of course I didn’t have to scratch together the close to C$30K to find that out – which, BTW is up a massive $2,537.00 from 2002. While that sounds expensive, it’s actually not the most expensive model in the wildly popular Harley Davidson line-up.

I also think that the hard-core Harley guys who complained about the V-Rod are wrong – It won’t detract from the existing line-up that has served them well for years and Harley are smart enough to keep building those. It’s a kick-ass bike that will win over most anybody who likes their motorcycle to have the free accessory of adrenaline.

I have visions of a Buell Firebolt stuffed with this motor, although if this is in the master plan, they’re taking their sweet time implementing it. At the very least, that would give Buell a toehold on the sportbike market, setting up a move for the hammerlock.

If you ride it you will want it. If you don’t ride it, you could just look at it. If you are in the Witness Protection Program, stay very far away. It attracts too damn much attention!


Harley-Davidson V-Rod


$29,538.00 ($30,688.00 for 100th Anniversary two tone paint)


1,130 cc

Engine type

DOHC v-twin, liquid-cooled


Fuel injection

Final drive

Five speed, belt drive

Tires, front


Tires, rear


Brakes, front

Dual 292 mm discs with two-piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 292 mm disc with two-piston caliper

Seat height

660 mm (26″)


1,713 mm (67.5″)

Dry weight

270.4 Kg (596 lbs) (claimed)

Canadian colours

Anodized aluminum, two-tone silver & black (100th Anniversary Edition)


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