2001 Harley-Davidson V-Rod
Ground clearance isn't as limited as our test rider makes it look.Kevin Wing

This article was originally published in the October 2001 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Where do you start when discussing the first entirely new Harley-Davidson model in 50 years?

Well, if you want a short list, we could start with what it has in common with current Harley models: a V-twin engine, left-side belt drive, the same handlebar switches and, er, two wheels. That's it. The rest of the bike, called the V-Rod, is so different from all previous Harleys that without the logos and H-D people there, you would have had a hard time convincing us it was a Harley-Davidson product.

The list gets quite long when you talk about what's different from past or present Harleys. In fact, most of the bike is unlike other cruisers. The new motor is light-years away from the present generation of air-cooled, 45-degree pushrod Harley engines. The aptly named Revolution engine is a 60-degree, liquid-cooled, double-overhead-cam, four-valve-per-cylinder V-twin laid out like the VR1000 race engine, but sharing none of its parts. It is a short-stroke (72mm stroke in a 100mm bore) with the cylinders an integral part of the crankcase. The camshafts are chain-driven, with long followers for the automatic tensioners. Valve lash is adjusted with shims-under-buckets. The design is unit-construction with a wet sump and geared primary drive. It displaces a mere 1130cc, but is redlined at 9000 rpm, and claims a stunning 115 horsepower, much more than any other H-D street engine. The connecting rods are side-by-side, and a gear-driven counterbalancer, backed up by rubber mounts, snubs any shaking. This is the first Harley streetbike with a radiator, and it is encased in a large shroud with a raft of high-tech air-management features. The engine is fuel injected, with an all-new two-throat downdraft system. The five-speed transmission uses helical gears for the middle three ratios to reduce noise. In short, this engine is as modern as anything on the road and certainly as modern as any cruiser engine.

2001 Harley-Davidson V-Rod
The V-Rod appeals to a new kind of customer.Kevin Wing

The 4.0-gallon fuel tank is plastic, which sounds unthinkable for a Harley. But the uninitiated will never know because it's under the seat, which flips up after you twist the ignition key counterclockwise. A large airbox, the battery and various other odds and ends occupy the conventional fuel tank location, which is topped by an alloy cover that, like the alloy fenders, is polished. Other parts, including the dual-shock perimeter frame and some of the engine cases, are powdercoated in a silver color. There is virtually no paint and, at least for 2002, no color choice. The dual preload-adjustable shocks control the movement of a cast-aluminum swing-arm. Alloy disc wheels carry radial tires and disc brakes with two four-pot calipers up front.

As you can see, there is little resemblance to any previous Harley, and the V-Rod certainly won't be mistaken for any other current cruiser. Only the kicked out front end with 49mm fork legs set at 38 degrees on a 34-degree steering head settles the issue of whether this bike actually is a cruiser. Harley's legendary design team drew heavily from dragracing influences when sculpting the machine, which is definitely long (67.5-inch wheelbase) and low (27.1-inch seat height). The unique, aerodynamic headlight uses two stacked bulbs and optics to direct its light. Instruments—a small tachometer and fuel gauge wrapped around a central speedometer—are completely new and set on a pedestal that also serves as a handlebar riser. New instrument features include a tach needle that glows red when the engine nears redline and a fuel gauge needle that does the same when you are into the last gallon. The LCD used for the odometer and speedometer also includes a countdown feature which tells you how much distance remains in the tank. Brake and clutch hoses are braided stainless steel and enhance the deep silver theme of the bike. Claimed dry weight is 596 pounds—approximately 10 pounds less than Yamaha's forthcoming aluminum-framed Warrior. Its 620-pound wet weight makes the bike over 40 pounds less than Kawasaki's Mean Streak, and over 130 pounds less than Honda's VTX.

2001 Harley-Davidson V-Rod
H-D has a complete accessory line for the 'Rod.Harley-Davidson

There are other breaks from tradition. Most stunning for many at Harley's intro was that the bike is metric. This also does away with the rough, almost agricultural look of the fasteners on previous bikes. The V-Rod, including the engine, will be entirely assembled in Kansas City, Missouri, at Harley's existing Sportster plant. Various new manufacturing techniques have been adopted, such as hydroforming some members of the frame (which has removable lower rails). The V-Rod even introduces a new model nomenclature. It is designated the VRSC—V-twin Racing Street Custom. (And no, we aren't quite sure how racing and street get attached to the same motorcycle, either.)

The V-Rod, says Harley, is a "global motorcycle," intended to extend its appeal beyond America. As widely reported, the engine was indeed developed in cooperation with Porsche, and many of the motor's components bear "Made in Germany" markings.

2001 Harley-Davidson V-Rod
Early models came only in one finish. No colors were available.Kevin Wing

We spent several days with pilot-production models (bikes using some prototype parts built on the assembly line to debug the process) of the bike and came away impressed with what a tremendous leap this is for Harley. The engine really gets your attention. Starting is instantaneous after you turn on the ignition on the right side panel and thumb the button. First gear is somewhat tall, but no matter, the clutch engages smoothly, and there is plenty of juice from below 1000 rpm to launch you without a hiccup. It has less flywheel effect than current H-Ds, but there is still enough that a ham-fisted clutch release won't automatically make you stall. Power develops quite smoothly, and you can simply roll the throttle open anywhere between 800 and 8750 (where the "soft" rev limiter cuts in) and get huge acceleration. The thing boogies, and we didn't encounter any flat spots, lean points or abruptness when changing throttle settings. Overall, throttle response is much cleaner than most fuel-injected motorcycles.

2001 Harley-Davidson V-Rod
You won't mistake the engine, designed in conjunction with Porsche, as a traditional Harley engine.Kevin Wing

The performance definitely lives up to the musclebike style. Top speed is close to 140 mph. Shifting was positive, but stiff, a problem Harley has already recognized and plans to remedy before production starts. Fuel mileage ranged from 33 to 39 mpg.

That feet-forward riding position and scooped saddle rate pretty low on the happy-ass scale. It took just half an hour before the editorial heinie was asking for some relief. Riders can take some consolation in knowing their passengers have it worse off, with only a thin tailsection of the seat that slopes rearward. Harley has replacement seats available as accessories, one of which includes substantially more acreage for the buns in back. Except for an occasional flutter in the shift lever, no vibration reaches the rider. The suspension is quite firm. It doesn't bottom, but sharp bumps convey their presence quite plainly, and the bike hobby-horses along concrete-slab interstates.

2001 Harley-Davidson V-Rod
Look, Ma, no filler cap. We applaud the futuristic speedo/tach/fuel gauge housing nestled on top of the encased riser.Kevin Wing
2001 Harley-Davidson V-Rod
We were able to fondle parts from a dismantled V-Rod engine just after it had completed a 500-hour endurance test. Interestingly, many internals are marked "Made in Germany."Kevin Wing

That firmness carries through to the handling, which is exceptionally solid and stable. Obviously the chassis is very rigid and tightly connected. However, steering into corners is a bit quirky. Under trailing throttle, there is some initial resistance to turning, then it tends to fall in. The result is anything but a smooth line. However, if you approach the corner slowly and accelerate all the way through, steering is more consistent.

There is definitely more cornering clearance than the other two street-rod V-twins (VTX and Mean Streak) we have ridden, and the Harley feels more stable than either when you get it settled onto a line. The raked-out front end and riding position make it clear that cornering was not a top priority on this bike's To-Do list, but there is potential for the basic machine to be quite good at it.

2001 Harley-Davidson V-Rod
The disc wheels add a stunning custom look, and the swooping exhaust, exposed frame and faux gas tank make it seem like a fantasy bike come to life.Kevin Wing

Braking is progressive and strong, although not as strong as the Kawasaki. The V-Rod feels controlled even under forceful braking, thanks to well-controlled front suspension and the long wheelbase.

Obviously appearance will be a major subject of discussion when the V-Rod hits the streets for the first time. We are quite taken by the style, both of the overall bike and its components. Although the look clearly fits within the cruiser genre, it's anything but conventional. It does not look like any other motorcycle. We're glad someone has dared to use aluminum for the major body components (Yamaha considered it for the Warrior but stayed with steel), although the alloy pieces may be more susceptible to dings. We like the solid silver approach to color, but those who feel otherwise can surely find painters willing to personalize it.

2001 Harley-Davidson V-Rod
When Harley finally went with a radiator, it dressed it up right.Kevin Wing

Our eyes only found two objectionable points. The 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust system has an eye-stopping break where the mufflers plug into the collectors, which is made worse by two big bolt shafts that protrude glaringly from the clamps. Just above them, the junction where the upper and lower frame tubes come together with the shock mount seems somehow out of place too. But these are minor issues in a bike that is exceedingly well-finished.

The V-Rod certainly doesn't fall anywhere near the various niches Harley has created previously, and it forces us to expand our thinking about what a Harley can be technologically, aesthetically and functionally. By making such a huge break with its own tradition, Harley has created a bike that will appeal to a new kind of customer. Judging from our experience and the reactions we saw, a prime customer will be you motorheads who never would have given any existing Harley a second look.

V-Rods arrive at dealerships in October and will sell for $16,995—a bit more in California.

2001 Harley-Davidson V-Rod
The V-Rod's innovative frame combines a steel perimeter upper section with hydroformed main rails and bolt-on lower rails. Most everyone likes the look of the exposed skeleton, and some customizers will surely remove the lower rails.Kevin Wing
2001 Harley-Davidson V-Rod
The 'Rod has full instrumentation.Kevin Wing

RIDING POSITIONS

Andrew Cherney: "That new Harley rips!" It's starting to sound like a broken record around here. The Motor Company has blown open the cruiser performance envelope again, but in a big way with the V-Rod. Frankly, it's getting embarrassing to admit that I like Harleys as much as any cruiser out there -- probably because the V-Rod's so unlike any other cruiser out there. Any comparison of this bike to other cruisers would be moot. The V-Rod has created its own category, which is not to say this bike isn't going to have detractors. I've already heard people say it's not really a Harley -- it doesn't shake enough.

I just have one question. Why even bother putting passenger pegs on the V-Rod? A squirrel couldn't fit on that patch of pillion.

Jamie Elvidge: Harley-Davidson has made so many huge strides since the debut of its Twin Cam motor in 1999; our hands are stinging from drawn-out applause. But this bike, the V-Rod, well, I can't figure out whether I'm standing in ovation or passed out on the floor from amazement. Either way I'm still clapping (not a bad trick when you're passed out). It's not only a showstopper. The V-Rod's a world-changer. Harley just made it snow in July. Visually, the V-Rod hits every nerve ending that matters to me. It's sleek, yet voluptuous, and unspeakably elegant all dressed in alloy. Within the first mile of riding the thing it become totally obvious to me that this isn't just another cruiser. It's a hybrid of sport and custom intentions -- a new breed. I can't wait to see what follows. The hard-core Harley "biker" types will probably never understand or appreciate this bike, or realize that H-D doesn't really care if they do. It's a machine built for their children...a way for Harley to invest in new blood before all those grizzled gray hairs die off. Even if this bike doesn't impress you, The Motor Company's savvy must.

Breakdown
High Points
Advanced design
Visually stunning
Very fast
Low Points
High price
Squirrely handling
First Changes
New seat
New rubber

Related:

Specifications
Harley-Davidson VRSCA: V-Rod
Designation: Harley-Davidson VRSCA: V-Rod
Suggested base price: $16,995
Standard colors: Anodized aluminum only
Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Liquid-cooled 60 degree 1130cc V-twin
Valve arrangement: Dual overhead cam, chain driven
Bore x stroke: 100 x 72mm
Compression ratio: 11.3:1
Carburetion: Sequential Port Electronic Fuel Injection (SPEFI)
Lubrication: Wet sump, 4.5 qt.
Minimum fuel grade: 92 octane
Transmission: 5 speed, dog and pocket (spur type first-fifth gear, others helical)
Final drive: Belt
Chassis
Front tire: 120/70ZR19
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-18
Front brake: Four-piston caliper, dual 293mm discs
Rear brake: Four-piston caliper, single 293mm disc
Front suspension: 49mm custom stanchions, 3.94 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual shocks, 2.36 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 3.7 gal.
Seat height: 26.0 in.
Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging output: 360 watts
Battery: 12v, 12 AH
Instruments: Electronic speedometer/tripmeter; diagnostic capabilities, warning lights for high beams, neutral, oil pressure; tachometer and fuel gauge
Performance
Fuel mileage: 33.4 to 39.1 mpg, 36.9 mpg average
Average range: 136.5 miles
Rpm at 60 mph, top-gear: 2700
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 82.7 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 11.92 sec., 112.8 mph