2015 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special

Editor Score: 81.75%
Engine 17.75/20
Suspension/Handling 11.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10
Brakes 9.0/10
Instruments/Controls3.5/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 6.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 8.0/10
Value 7.5/10
Overall Score81.75/100

Harley-Davidson’s 2015 Night Rod Special is one of the coolest OEM performance cruisers available today. Its DOHC, four-valve, liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-Twin pumps out a measured 107.6 rear-wheel horsepower and 71.5 Ib-ft of torque. It’s straightline performance dominates most other cruisers regardless of engine capacity. Which makes sense considering the Rod’s affiliation to H-D’s Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Pro Stock machine. They’re only similar on the surface, but it gives the Night Rod some extra street cred.

“Face it, who wouldn’t be thrilled by the performance of Harley’s Porsche-designed, liquid-cooled 60-degree V-Twin,” says guest tester, Scott Rousseau.

From the Special’s narrow front end, sporting an industry-standard 120-series front tire, through its tightly packaged engine bay and under-seat fuel compartment to its thick 240-series rear tire, the Night Rod’s visual appeal is intimidatingly elegant. With 67 inches between contact patches, the Night Rod is long, but longer cruisers exist. It’s the combination of wheelbase length and wide rear tire that conspire to make the Night Rod’s handling a steep learning curve.

Scorpion V-Rod Reverse Trike

It takes a fair amount of bar pressure to leverage that wide rear tire up on the skinny part of its contact patch when aggressively navigating corners, turning sharply around town, performing parking lot maneuvers… you get the idea. It becomes second nature once accustomed to the bike’s special needs, and during ownership you’ll rarely give it another thought.

2015 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special Engine

It’s a heavy lump of liquid-cooled performance, but the Night Rod’s Revolution engine gets the job done in authoritative fashion. Residing in the driveline of the Rod is a race-derived slipper clutch.

At 28.6 inches above the pavement, it’s not the lowest seat height in Harley’s lineup, but with its five gallons of fuel residing below the seat, the Night Rod certainly has the best CoG compared the traditionally located fuel tanks of H-D’s other offerings. The low CoG helps offset some the adverse cornering effect caused by the wide rear tire.

Harley-Davidson VRSCF V-Rod Muscle Review

Measured wet weight of the Night Rod is 662 pounds, which certainly isn’t light and can’t help but overtax the limited travel of the rear shocks. Two-point-nine inches is more travel than some HD models, but not enough to provide a compliant ride. The fat tire/wheel combo adds a lot of unsprung weight, which compromises ride quality.

2015 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special Action Front

Cornering isn’t the Night Rod’s strong point, but, the Rod retorts, “My cousin-in-law twice removed is a drag bike, man!”

The Rod’s clamshell riding position is another area that drew some ire from our testers. “Forward pegs and drag race handlebar are a ridiculous combo,” says “Whatever!” Editor, John Burns.

However, it’s Associate Editor, Evans Brasfield, who smartly sums up our time with the Night Rod. “As much as I love the Night Rod’s kick-ass engine, as much fun as I have riding it around town or on other short jaunts, as many smiles as the instant throttle response puts on my lips, just the thought of sitting in that clamshell riding position for an extended period makes my lower back ache. I like my cruisers to be a little more versatile than this one-trick-pony.”

+ Highs

  • Fast, revvy engine
  • Rare, compared to air-cooled big-inch Twins
  • A cruiser with a slipper clutch
– Sighs

  • Fat rear tire affects handling
  • Heavy
  • Outcast of the Harley clan

Handlebars and footpeg placement can be modified, so anyone considering a Night Rod has that option. For many, the seating position may not be as bothersome as it was to some of our testers – whiny, little complainers that they are.

So, if you can get beyond the seating position, limited shock travel, peculiar handling (due to the wide rear tire) and excessive rear cylinder heat, the Night Rod Special is a helluva motorcycle. It’s fast and gorgeous and showcases a level of performance unseen in other Harley-Davidson models save for the the V-Rod Muscle.

2015 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special Beauty

Dual front disc brakes with Brembo calipers and ABS provide excellent stopping power. Note the blacked out engine, exhaust, frame, fork… nice. The combination of rear cylinder and exhaust routing throws considerable heat to a rider’s right leg.

2015 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special Specs
MSRP $16,549/$16,899
Engine Capacity 1247cc
Engine Type Liquid-cooled 60° V-Twin
Bore x Stroke 4.13 in. x 2.835 in.
Compression 11.8:1
Fuel System Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Transmission Five-speed
Final Drive Belt
Frame Steel perimeter upper frame with hydroformed main rails and bolt-on lower frame rails
Front Suspension 43mm inverted fork
Rear Suspension Dual coil-over shocks, preload adjustable
Front Brakes Dual disc with Brembo calipers, ABS
Rear Brakes Single disc, ABS
Front Tire 120/70-19
Rear Tire 240/40-18
Seat Height 28.6 inches
Wheelbase 67.0 inches
Rake/Trail 34° / 34°
Curb Weight 661.7 lbs
Fuel Capacity 5.0 gal.
Observed Fuel Economy 29 mpg
Colors Vivid Black, Deep Jade Pearl, Superior Blue, Black Denim, Vivid Black

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  • RandleMcMurphy

    Nice looking bike but, once again, HD chooses looks over comfort.

  • Craig Hoffman

    Such a great performing and even good looking motor. Such a shame it is always packaged this way.

    I would love to see this proven engine in Victory Cross Roads/Country type package. A fast bagger/tourer that handles. It would blow the rest of Harley’s lineup out of the water though. Perhaps it would be too good.

    I like technology and to my eye this engine is beautiful, far more so than the liquid cooled twins from Japan. It is also now an old design, but still fully competitive and worthy. It was clearly done right and that is admirable.

  • Cool Hand Luke

    I own 2009 HD VRSCF Muscle. I’m in my 40’s and been riding since 19, had plenty of bikes. Currently I also own 2013 Honda F6B.

    I agree with the comments and review. Muscle is one of my favorite bikes I ever owned. Excellent motor, brakes etc. initially I liked the ‘sporty’ riding position. However, I like to ride a lot, the most I did on Muscle in a day would be around 600 miles. So I had to upgrade the ergos a bit.

    I added a fairing (made for Muscle) and adjusted it for my height. I also raised the handlebar 2.5″ and pulled it back 2.5″. I ordered custom made seat for my weight, height and inseam from Rusell Day Long Seats. Have HD bags and luggage rack. Finally, I put Bassani pipes on for some sound (stock sounds like sawing machine). Oh, I also put different tires on (Michelins).

    I now have an amazing touring oriented bike that would put most other bikes to shame. It handled great, is comfortable for me, it runs smooth and turns heads everywhere I go.

    I do wish HD has put this engine into touring chassis, but I believe HD won’t do it as this could take the sales away from other touring bikes HD makes. A shame, really. However, one can make the bike a lot more comfortable and touring friendly.

  • Tim Sawatzky

    I wonder how the Indian Scout would line up against it? I don’t know if the numbers they gave are dyno #’s, but if not the Scout has similar factory numbers, but it also has a lot less weight. Not to mention a lot less expensive, and I would imagine more comfortable. I have ridden a pre-production Scout but not the V-rod. It might be an interesting comparison, even though the Scout’s obvious competitor is the 1200 Sporty.

    • Kevin Polito

      My guess is that the new Indian Scout, in addition to stealing some Sportster sales, will embarrass V-Rod owners.

    • Pharoah Barrett

      i have a 2015 night rod that ive done some work to, gettin 120hp to the ground. and ive owned a 2001 scout. the night rod blows the scout out of the water. not to mention the scouts a horribly designed bike(shit would constantly fall of it). and im not sure what theyre bitchin about regarding turning. i rail thru turns on mine leaving most harleys in the dust. i do agree with the excessive heat on the right side…. that shit gets crazy on a hot day stopping at a light. one of the most impressive things besides acceleration on the night rod is the brakes tho… insane stopping power. ive owned, and blown up, alot of bikes n so far this things my favorite.

  • allworld

    “Face it, who wouldn’t be thrilled by the performance of Harley’s Porsche-designed, liquid-cooled 60-degree V-Twin,”
    LOL, the HD faithful. Too bad HD doesn’t have a performance brand.

  • Kevin Polito

    The BMW R1200RT, despite its relatively stodgy touring image, will smoke the mouth-breathing, crotch-grabbing Night Rod in just about every performance category (in addition to all of the RT’s touring and comfort qualities). It’s not surprising that the V-Rod line has always collected dust on the showroom floor.

  • desselle0010

    A motorcycle that gets 29 MPG? This can not be right. Hell my F-150 almost gets this.

  • Gary

    Im surprised HD has never tried using this engine in a Fat Boy Lo/Slim style bike with relaxed ergos

  • Larinthian

    There are a couple inaccuracies in this article. Horsepower is 125 not 107. Porsche did not completely design the engine, it was a collaborative effort.. The VROD engine is based off of the VR1000 super bike. The article sited that the VROD is an “outcast of the Harley clan.” That’s the whole point. The VROD was intended to be something that is completely different than traditional models. This was primarily done to get people who wouldn’t normally own a Harley Davidson introduced to the brand in order to widen Harley Davidson’s appeal and increase customers. Unlike companies like Victory, Indian, and the Japanese brands, who merely produce a knock offs , Harley Davidson started from scratch, it took six years to develop the VROD and as usual, Harley Davidson did it right. It’s also worth pointing out that the VROD’s frame was produced using hydro forming, an industry first. As with all the other models in the Harley Davidson lineup, the VROD was incrementally improved over the years. The improvements were made based off of input from actual customers. It’s commitment like this, coupled with Harley Davidson long standing policy of producing high quality and innovative products, that allow Harley Davidson to lead in market share for heavy weight motorcycles Despite competitors valiant attempts, they aren’t able to get it quite right.