by Brian Korfhage

Meet the V-Rod's Performance-Minded Sibling

Harley-Davidson has a well-established tradition of creating motorcycles that are stylistically and aesthetically unparalleled. However, performance hasn’t been one of H-D’s bragging points since the days of the wood-planked racing ovals when its rivalry with Indian ruled the two-wheel kingdom.

Yet, just three years ago, Harley-Davidson made a giant performance leap forward when it introduced the high-performance, competition-based Revolution V-Twin in the radical V-Rod. With an engine boasting a racing pedigree it was tough to argue with 110 ponies of straight-line performance at the rear wheel. However, as quick as the V-Rod is on the drag strip, it was clear that knee-sliders weren’t going to make their way into the Genuine Harley-Davidson accessory catalog.

But get ready for the possibility of chrome knee sliders and full-racing leathers. Harley-Davidson has introduced the first truly sporting Harley-Davidson since 1957 when they welcomed the Sportster line to the H-D family. Introducing, the VRSCR Street Rod.

Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself with the call for chrome knee sliders. After all, Harley-Davidson went to great lengths to avoid the dreaded “S” word at the Street Rod introduction in San Diego last month. The Street Rod isn’t an attempt at a sportbike if you listen to the H-D spin, and it’s not a sporting cruiser. Bill Davidson likes to call it simply a “Roadster,” a machine inspired by Harley-Davidson’s rich heritage in drag racing. Could’ve fooled me; I’ve yet to see a drag-racing motorcycle that can corner like this one can!

I’m not sure what I expected when I first mounted Harley-Davidson’s newest models, but what I got was an adrenaline-injected dose of American thunder. No, it’s not a sportbike, and it’s not a cruiser either. Yet the Street Rod unravels twisty roads remarkably well and it appears as though H-D is about to gather up a new legion of H.O.G owners with an affinity for performance.

In fact, H-D makes no bones about its desire to attract a new customer to the legendary brand. It’s no secret the orange-and-black loyalists are an aging group of baby boomers, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But with a high price point and performance stats that pale in comparison to that of many European and Japanese manufacturers, H-D needed a weapon to attract potential buyers who are younger and interested in performance as much as style. Without question, H-D is banking on the Street Rod to attract new, younger riders.

I can hear you right now, “So what’s so different about it, it looks virtually the same as the standard V-Rod?” Well, yes and no. The changes aren’t visually significant, but when you’re mounted up and ripping through sinuous country roads, the changes are instantly perceptible, subsequently transforming Harley-Davidson’s new-wave cruiser into a true standard with remarkable performance capabilities.

Nestled in a hydro-formed, tubular perimeter frame sits the 1130cc, 60-degree Revolution V-Twin engine. It’s largely unchanged, but Harley claims a better exhaust and remapped fuel injection boosts power to 120 horsepower at 8,500 rpm, five better than it claimed for the original V-Rod Twin. We haven’t dynoed it yet, but let’s just say that it’s enough to get your heart racing and the adrenaline flowing with a ham-fisted twist of the throttle.

The Harley Street Rod has enough chutzpah to get your heart racing on public roads. A twist of the wrist doesn’t immediately jerk the bike forward like many of today’s oversized cruisers. In fact, the hit off the bottom is rather mild when compared to a Vulcan 2K or a Rocket III. However, once the needle on the tach rises to 5,000 rpm, the power comes on strong and gets the 650-pound steed moving in a hurry.

While I was expecting more grunt off the bottom, the power curve seemed to be perfectly suited for aggressive riding. With more ponies available at the top of the rpm range, the Street Rod seems to be a Standard dressed in excessive chrome.

The thrill of the Street Rod isn’t so much in any new internal workings but in the redesign of the overall chassis. Its more upright riding position allows for aggressive jaunts through the countryside thanks to a new set of suspenders and a change in the fork angle, down to a reasonable 32 degrees instead of the chopper-like 38 degrees on the V-Rod. The fork is upgraded to a 43mm inverted unit instead of the V-Rod’s 49mm conventional fork, and it absorbs bumps and dips nicely while providing impressive stability in the twisties. Finally, the wheelbase was reduced by 0.7 inch to make for more maneuverability.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say the bike can be flicked into and out of corners, but this ain’t a traditional H-D, that’s for sure. It takes a little muscle to get it leaned over, but when it gets there the Street Rod stays planted. The suspension changes allow for 40 degrees of lean angle (up from 30), at which point the pegs drag. Unfortunately, you’ve only got another two or three degrees before the hard parts start to hook up with the concrete. However, for most mortals not named Duke Danger, 40 degrees of lean angle is plenty on an H-D.

Bringing the Street Rod to a stop is a set of improved binders. While Hayes discs graced the original V-Rod, Harley-Davidson upgraded to a set of Brembo 4-piston calipers in the front which bite dual 300mm discs up front and a single 300mm rotor out back. The upgrades pay huge dividends on the road and provide ample stopping power. Lever feel is excellent, and even when riding aggressively the brakes perform wonderfully and they never faded during jaunts up and down Mt. Palomar at high speeds. The binders require more than just one-finger pulls, especially when you need to get the big Twin stopped pronto. However, they do a good job for real world riding, and if the speedo stays below triple digits, even the gentlest individuals can comfortably stop the Street Rod.

One gripe that seemingly types itself when reporting on H-D's is the clunky transmission. However, I was thrilled at the Street Rod’s press intro when I explored the five-speed transmission and found it to be buttery smooth. No audible clunks here just smooth shifting. While the tranny was great, the clutch lever still requires a strong hand to hold in at stop lights. Maybe I’m just soft from riding the latest motocross and sport machines, but I could stand to see a bit easier pull on the clutch lever.

Ergonomically, the Street Rod is very comfortable. Arms are splayed out in front at a very reasonable position, which allows the rider to either hunch forward when playing sportbike rider or you can sit back and enjoy the scenery. Feet rest comfortably on the pegs, directly below the hips and a bit behind the knees.

The saddle feels rather firm at first but is remarkably comfortable when riding for long periods of time. The seat position is much more ‘on top’ of the bike than its cruiser cousin, which allows a rider to climb around the saddle to adjust weight and balance for those sharp blacktop benders. Look underneath the lockless seat and you’ll find the 5.0-gallon fuel cell, up significantly from the pitifully puny 3.7-gallon tank in the V-Rod.

Of course, the Street Rod wouldn’t wear the Harley-Davidson badge without flawless fit and finish. Like all things H-D, the Street Rod is a beautifully executed slice of working art, thanks to ample chrome and an attention to detail. H-D has put together a beautiful machine right down to the welds, something that Kevin Duke noticed was lacking when the original V-Rod was introduced back in 2002.

But therein lies one of the enigmas of Harley-Davidson; it will up the performance ante, but aesthetics are of paramount importance. The Street Rod adheres to that theory, so there are no weight-shaving efforts here. The 19-inch, 10-spoke, cast-aluminum alloy wheel up front, and the 18-inch rear are beautiful replacements for the discs which graced the V-Rod, but they undoubtedly add unnecessary weight to a bike with, dare I say, sporting potential.

Harley-Davidson took a chance with the V-Rod, and now it has pushed the proverbial envelope even further with a more performance-based design. However, as obvious as it is to Joe Motorcycle that the Street Rod is a step in the sporting direction, H-D is quick to avoid such terms, instead utilizing verbiage which would be acceptable to the H.O.G. faithful. H-D may be willing to take chances to attract new buyers with the V-Rod family especially with a reasonable price tag of $16,495. But it seems The Motor Company is a bit hesitant to alienate any existing customers with a machine that would make it look as though it is committing the ultimate sin and offering a "sporting' model.

For those with more interest in performance than labels, the Street Rod is a triumphant blend of Harley-Davidson styling and adrenaline injected, blood-pumping performance. Harley, you can call it what you want. I’ll just call it a rip-snortin’ good time.