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Longterm report on the Harley-Davidson V-Rod

Published: 24 June 2002

Updated: 19 November 2014

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?

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