2007 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special Review
Black as night, mean as hell
Harley-Davidson continues to develop its V-rod Revolution range and the latest addition is the VRSCDX Night Rod Special. Itís longer, lower and meaner looking than anything else out there. Itís the closest thing to a road legal drag bike without the wheelie bar fitted.
Night Rod was launched in 2006 and the new Special is all dragged-out with a mega-wide 240mm rear tire, drag handlebars and forward-mounted foot pegs. This doesnít happen very often, but as soon as I first saw it in the flesh it was love at first sight. Both the Street Rod and Night Rod had to grow on me, but the Special is truly special. Some of the feelings from when I first set my eyes on the original V-rod came flooding back. Night Rod Special is just more of everything in a single minded, very black way.
I attended one of the many Euro launches, which turned out to be the best, as it included a rideout with Bill Davidson himself and partying in the Harley village at the European Bike Week in Austria. This involved plenty of picturesque alpine roads in Austria, Slovenia and Italy. Not exactly the ideal environment for the low and long Night Rod Special.
I savoured my first ride on the Night Rod Special until the latter half of the day, and I made the right choice as it rained the first few hours we were out riding. Also, I got to sample the turbo-like acceleration above 6.000 rpm on the motorway just at the end of the long day.
Riding the brutal VRSCDX is neither easy nor difficult, but it certainly isnít neutral. It is easy enough to have a sit and ride straight on as the jumbo rear tire and mile-long wheelbase makes sure the Special is stable as a mountain in a straight line. The trouble comes in the corners as thereís no ground clearance - Harley did not intend there to be. However, since we were in the Alps, the Night Rod Special felt a bit like a fish out of water, and I knew in advance to be cautious. So corner speed is sacrificed for fast Ďish entries and early throttle openings.
The double four pot Brembo brakes are reassuringly strong, but I had to remind myself that the 240mm rear tire kept pushing the front so I could not go that fast entering the corners. What I could do however was to give it all it had as soon as I was halfway Ďround the corners. It does not matter what sort of lean you have, there is still a massive patch of black rubber touching the tarmac at all times. The rubber is Dunlopís and there is not much to say apart from the fact thereís plenty of it. The rear is a D240 240/40R-18 and the front a comparatively tiny D208 120/70ZR-19. Feels like a bit of a mismatch, but then again this bike was never designed to corner like the Street Rod or even the Night Rod. Night Rod Special is pure evil in the Alps and I like it!
Cruising down from the mountain passes and onto the highway finally gave me the chance to let the Revolution engine breath freely. The Special features the most powerful version of the 1130cc Revolution engine and Harley claims 121hp and 108Nm. Above 6000rpm the liquid-cooled engine revs in a delightful fast and powerful way. This is what all that rubber is there for and I played with on/off sharp throttle openings to get that acceleration again and again. From standstill the initial few thousand rpms fail to impress, but then again you can just dump the clutch with literally full throttle opening as there is some drag-bike heritage on the Special. If you do the same, but grab the front brake lever, you have a nice and scary burnout happening. Scary because there is no way you can stand comfortably on the forward pegs doing one and because the 240mm rear tire really does grip.
Slow speed manoeuvres are a bit scary too because if you donít allow enough space at the right angle when turning you might get stuck waiting for someone to push you out. I saw it happen to a journo colleague and I could understand why. Some of the facts that make the Special such a beast to handle at low speed are: 240mm rear tire, 1715mm wheelbase, 36-degree fork angle and the lowered rear suspension.
The suspension on the Night Rod Special does not feel particularly soft. Up front is a fork with 49mm stanction legs that feels good under braking. As mentioned earlier, I could not challenge the handling capabilities more than I did due to health and safety issues tattooed to my brain. Common sense I believe itís called.
The seat height is a low 640mm combined with the drag style handlebar and forward foot peg position. This sort of squeezes your abdomen together and stretches your back forwards so that you turn into a human clamshell. I would have loved to get Gordon Ramseyís comment on the clamshell position. I believe it would involve the F and W word.
All the 2007 VRSC models now get a five-gallon fuel tank and new instruments that now include a clock and second trip-counter.
After riding the Night Rod Special I didnít really want to ride any of the other Harleys. It is as special, peculiar and attractive to a motorcycle journalist as a honey pot to a hungry bear. I loved it and could not bring myself to hate it for its downsides. There are downsides to ownership, though, as you have to be very careful the first few days not to make mistakes. The dark evil Night Rod Special will not forgive any mistake so you better watch out...