Motorcycles: Best of the Best Cruisers: Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod

  • Matt Purdue

A stock exchange executive who was seeking to purchase the new Harley-Davidson VRSCAV-Rod called his local dealer. Then he called his contacts at Harley headquarters. He’s still waiting for one. Another Harley enthusiast who was lucky enough to purchase a V-Rod at his dealer rode home on the bike. Hours later, however, he returned it because people were following him, and he didn’t want them to know where he lived.

Harley worshipers and new Hog converts are trying desperately to lay their leather-clad hands on the V-Rod, which is proving harder to get than a speeding ticket in Montana. Combine the V-Rod’s appearance and perfor-mance, and it’s no wonder the bike goes from zero to envy in 3.2 seconds. The V-Rod’s 115-hp, 1,130cc Revolution engine powers the bike to a top speed of 134 mph, a pace that would make a superbike jealous. Its dragsterlike looks and its classic-cruiser style of feet-forward riding make the V-Rod a radical shift in motorcycle technology for Harley—and some say it’s about time.

“As a guy who’s been brought up around racing motorcycles, I love speed,” says Michael Lombardi Jr., owner of Frank Lombardi & Sons, a Staten Island, N.Y., shop that dates back to 1905 and claims to be America’s oldest motorcycle dealer. “I kept wondering when Harley was going to come out with a street bike that kicks ass, and they finally have. We need this change.”

Push the V-Rod’s starter, and the first thing you’ll notice is that the sound is distinctly Harley, but with a decidedly new accent. Straight-pipe Harley riders’ hearts beat to their old-school potato-potato-potato; Kirk Rasmussen, Harley’s senior stylist who has worked on the V-Rod since 1995, calls his baby a “sweet potato.”

Twist the throttle, and the V-Rod’s liquid-cooled powerplant (another first for Harley) growls on cue. The bike is reportedly 20 mph faster in the quarter-mile than any other Harley and redlines at 9,000 rpm. The V-Rod isn’t a sportbike, but riders say it is surprisingly nimble. The 26-inch seat height provides a low center of gravity, and while the 38-degree fork rake gives it the look of a chopper, the V-Rod handles responsively. The V-Rod can lean into a corner at 32 degrees, while riders of Harley’s boulevard cruisers usually never tilt more than a few degrees beyond vertical.

At last summer’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, Rasmussen introduced the bike to some of the company’s hard-core devotees. “We thought we might have a love-hate ratio of 60-40, but it was more like 90-10,” he says. “Not a single rider came back without a smile."

Now if only Rasmussen could get a V-Rod of his own.

Harley-Davidson, www.harley-davidson.com

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