Ad closing in seconds....

HARLEY-DAVIDSON V-ROD (2001-on) Review

Published: 23 November 2006

Updated: 04 December 2019

The first of Harley's VRSC high tech, water-cooled 'Rod' family

Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Riding

The first of Harley's VRSC high tech, water-cooled 'Rod' family

Overall Rating 3 out of 5

Harley goes high-tech after decades of just updating their lovable antiques. The Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod was the first of Harley’s VRSC ‘Rod’ family. The Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod's water cooling, loads of power, handling that could embarrass a badly ridden sportsbike and brakes that stop fast were totally novel on a Harley. Diehards refuse to accept them but the Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod's a tempting package.

A trip to some rallies on a Harley-Davidson V-Rod

Riding a Harley in public is one thing, but admitting it can be tougher. Sports bikes and motocrossers have featured throughout my biking life, and here I am expecting you to take me seriously on an overblown cruiser. Why would I, lover of the kicks biking gives, slip over to the Dark Side; a world of tassels, polish, leather food and more polish?

Because this is a V-Rod. Everyone, and that includes the speed-riddled freaks hanging around this office, looks at Harley’s latest take on cruising in a very different light to most of the factory’s previous shiny output. It looks stunning. You could leave it at that, and I’m almost prepared to. No other bike attracts attention like this – even a 996 hasn’t got the ‘everyone loves me because I’m a bit mean’ aura of this machine.

That it’s the first Harley that actually accelerates hard, tops the ton with ease, brakes well and can negotiate the odd bend with some sort of finesse is the extra forkful of fois gras. I didn’t get this to ride like a sports bike, but it’s great to be sitting back, chugging at 50 in the laid-back riding position, and roll the bike through to a hundred-and-plenty in top. Most cruisers barely scrape three figures...

I’ve gone easy in the corners, though. You don’t get a look like this and come away with an ice-racer’s ground clearance – pull up alongside a decent kerb and you wouldn’t need the sidestand.

To test the Rod’s real pulling power, I found the perfect event – a joint HOG rally and Hot Rod car rally at Billing Aquadrome in Northampton.

I’m hardly a paid-up member of the Harley Owners’ Group – too much chrome-and-eagles for me – but here was a chance to get the inside line on my new ride (see, I’m talking the talk already).

I cruised in and parked the Rod in the main entrance area, cautiously removed my lid and jacket and had a look around the assembled T-shirt and tassel stands. I even checked out a few of the other Harleys and Buells, looking for inspiration for the next addition to the Rod. It’ll have to be subtle, though, because this isn’t going to be turned into Liberace’s limo. I like the dragster look too much to mess with it.

I’m not exactly the retiring type, but nobody made any attempt to chat about this latest addition to the Harley line-up. The Hoggers were in their tents, probably sleeping off the previous night’s hangover. A couple of people threw a cursory glance at the Rod, before shuffling off in silence. Is this the start of an anti-V-Rod movement by the traditional bank managers-turned weekend wannabe bad boy Harley freaks? They must realise they’ve been out-cooled by the new arrival.

It was clearly time to saddle up and high-tail over to the car boys. Put simply, I was mobbed. every 10 yards I was excitedly flagged down by a genuinely interested Hot Rodder – many with an amazing knowledge of bikes, especially Harleys.

One guy – an American who had jetted over to see the car show – knew just how short supply V-Rods are and wanted to buy it off me on the spot and ship it back to California.

They all appreciated the solid dish wheels, but to show you how into details these folk are, the headlamp caused a real stir. I could see hot-rodders planning how to include a couple on their next project car.

Next thing I knew, I was ushered into the main show arena where the bike instantly pulled a crowd of doting custom fans. And then I was invited to be the only motorcycle to join their 200-car cruise to Rockingham race track to watch some U.S.-style car racing on the oval.

The custom car fraternity love all things authentically American, worship drag racing and drag strip style, appreciate the art of the stylist and are suckers for a bit of performance mixed in with drop-dead looks. They sound like perfect V-Rod customers to me.

Cleaner wanted: Big job

The V-Rod is the only bike I know that comes with its own six-language brochure covering cleaning the bike, and warning that incorrect technique will " void your cosmetic warranty coverage " .

Only the most cynical would say this is a transparent plot to get you to buy Harley’s own range of cleaning products, including Bug Remover, Spray Cleaner and Polish, Wheel and Tire (sic) Cleaner and Harley’s own polishing muff and cleaning cloths. Just to show how all-American it is, Harley Gloss smells like Hubba Bubba cherry bubble gum. How cool is that?

Ride Quality & Brakes 3 out of 5

The Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod's modern tyres and modern suspension allied to a modern chassis give … wait for it… modern handling. Which is great on left hand bends. Take a right hander at any pace and the exhaust decks out disappointingly soon. It’s a real shame. The Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod's brakes are very capable and the suspension manages to balance sport and comfort nicely.

Engine 4 out of 5

More power than a Ducati 916 or early Fireblade and far smoother than Harleys of old. The Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod's injected V-twin is just chuggy enough but pleasingly torquey at low revs. But as the needle sweeps into the top third of the tacho the exhaust note changes and it lays down some serious power. Tuned Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rods are competitive on the drag strip – and the long, low styling echoes that.

Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5

Lots of time’s gone into designing the Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod and there’s no serious glitches in terms of reliability. The finish on the Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod is better than the air cooled Harleys but if you do let it corrode, it’ll not do the second hand value any favours at all – but most Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rods are sunny weekend toys not winter sluggers anyway.

Insurance, running costs & value 4 out of 5

The Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod is savagely pricey when new compared to similar Japanese capacity cruises – but none of them offer the same experience or such power. Running costs aren’t cheap either but few owners do enormous mileages. Depreciation is low. Harley’s own Street Rod is a grand cheaper and arguably a better bike than the Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod.

Insurance group: 17 of 17 – compare motorcycle insurance quotes now.

Equipment 2 out of 5

Few frills on the standard Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod and a small fuel tank. The riding position’s not like any other bike: The seat’s low, as are the bars, and the pegs extremely far forward. It’s not a comfy position for most people but at least you can dip into the enormous range of accessories, both official and unofficial get the Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod's ergonomics closer to what you need.

Facts & Figures

Model info
Year introduced 2001
Year discontinued -
New price £11,995
Used price £6,300 to £14,000
Warranty term Two year unlimited mileage
Running costs
Insurance group 17 of 17
Annual road tax £91
Annual service cost £90
Performance
Max power 115 bhp
Max torque 77 ft-lb
Top speed 130 mph
1/4-mile acceleration 11.5 secs
Average fuel consumption 42 mpg
Tank range 130 miles
Specification
Engine size 1131cc
Engine type 8v V-twin, 5 gears
Frame type Tubular steel cradle
Fuel capacity 14 litres
Seat height 660mm
Bike weight 275kg
Front suspension None
Rear suspension Preload
Front brake Twin 300mm discs
Rear brake 300mm disc
Front tyre size 120/70 x 19
Rear tyre size 180/55 x 18

History & Versions

Model history

2001: Original Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod launched.
2006: Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod gets optional 240mm rear tyre.

Other versions

Harley-Davidson VRSCB V-Rod: launched in 2003 – black frame and rear shocks plus other minor colour changes about £1000 cheaper than the Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod.

Owners' Reviews

3 owners have reviewed their HARLEY-DAVIDSON V-ROD (2001-on) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

Review your HARLEY-DAVIDSON V-ROD (2001-on)
Summary of Owners' Reviews
Overall Rating 4.3 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 3.7 out of 5
Engine 4.7 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4.3 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 3.7 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
4 out of 5

Best kept secret in the Harley range

03 November 2015 by AlanDub

Underrated bike - a lot better than most people think.

Ride Quality & Brakes
4 out of 5
4 out of 5 (rated as a cruiser/tourer). I can go for 1 full tank of fuel (c.120 miles!) before I need to get off and stretch the legs. Choice of switching between mid and highway pegs helps on longer runs too.
Engine
5 out of 5
Big flat torque curve, wonderful.
Build Quality & Reliability
4 out of 5
Some of the polished finishes need attention otherwise they will tarnish, but the overall build quality is good, and it has proved 100% reliable
Value & Running Costs
3 out of 5
Oil, filters and break pads annually - easy for any competent DiY'er
Equipment
3 out of 5
Comes fairly spartan in standard form, but has everything you need (imho). Fit a decent set of panniers and discover one of the best kept Harley secrets - the water-cooled 60 degree V is perhaps the best fast touring bike in the whole HD range.
Buying experience

Bought privately

5 out of 5

Cool Cruiser with a Rush!

13 June 2015 by freemaxuk

What a looker! it draws the crowd everywhere it goes. Sounds great with the V&H slip-ons, goes well too. It's quite nimble considering the big rubber its wearing. If you want cruising with a rush..this is your bike!

Ride Quality & Brakes
3 out of 5
Very little suspension travel, function follows form on this baby and with Brembo brakes you'd have thought they'd be better, but the rear weight distribution means you really need to use your right foot! The engine more than makes up for the brakes though and you really can control your speed off the throttle.
Engine
4 out of 5
The early Vrods had a real top end rush. This version has been tuned more to the low end. I preferred the original, but it's all good:-)
Build Quality & Reliability
5 out of 5
Four years of use and no problems..it's always ready to run
Value & Running Costs
5 out of 5
Very easy to do it yourself... so I do
Equipment
3 out of 5
I regularly ride with a pillion. With the optional backrest fitted she is very secure and loves it. Fuel gauge is a problem, miles to empty doesn't help. Thank god they put a bigger tank on this version, but even so I end up filling up too early. It's not a big issue really
Buying experience

Bought from a dealer. Actually it was their tech guy that sold it to me. Cool and a bit of speed too. Whats not to like?

4 out of 5

vrscb 04

27 June 2007 by fazers123

very quick for a cruiser,handles and stops well,strong engine not good value at £12000

Ride Quality & Brakes
4 out of 5
-
Engine
5 out of 5
-
Build Quality & Reliability
4 out of 5
-
Value & Running Costs
3 out of 5
-
Equipment
3 out of 5
-

Photo Gallery

  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Engine
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Engine
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Brakes
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Riding
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Side view
  • Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle review - Side view
All related reviews
Bauer Media

Bauer Media Group consists of: Bauer Consumer Media Ltd, Company number: 01176085, Bauer Radio Ltd, Company Number: 1394141
Registered Office: Media House, Peterborough Business Park, Lynch Wood, Peterborough, PE2 6EA H Bauer Publishing,
Company Number: LP003328 Registered Office: Academic House, 24-28 Oval Road, London, NW1 7DT.
All registered in England and Wales. VAT no 918 5617 01
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd are authorised and regulated by the FCA(Ref No. 710067)