First Ride: 2002 Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod

One small step for America, one giant leap for The Motor Company.


Torrance, California, 12 July 2001 -- It's time to stow those chromed German helmet thingies and don a proper lid for proper protection on this most proper of motorcycles. Just how proper? Try 140 miles per hour capable with enough horsepower to spin up the rear wheel like a genuine sport bike.

Forget everything you ever knew about Harley-Davidson as a motor company. This is like nothing you were expecting. Harley have just done the improbable, nay, impossible by producing a (gasp) water-cooled motor that safely revs to 9,000 rpm and pumps out class-leading power across the board. Then, to ensure the heads of Japanese manufacturers stay spinning long and hard, the Motor Company saw fit to wrap the thing in a thoroughly modern chassis before dressing it in the sort of good looks that even die-hard Harley haters in the media have been seen drooling over.

According to Harley, the V-Rod is "the first member of a new family of performance custom motorcycles." The motor that powers this first of a new generation is the much rumored water-cooled engine that was inspired by the factory's VR 1000 Superbike racing effort and received assistance from a little Stuttgart company named Porsche. Displacing 1130 cubic centimeters (69 cubic inches) via its over-square 100 x 72 millimeter (3.94 x 2.83 inch) bore and stroke, the new motor manages to make 115 horsepower (claimed, at the crank) at 8,250 rpm before moving on to a 9,000 rpm red line. There's even a lofty 11.3:1 compression ratio helping things along within the confines of the cast iron cylinder liners. Again, this is not the Harley you expected.

Situated atop the new motor you'll find dual overhead cams driven by hydraulically tensioned chains. Each cam operates two valves, giving the obvious total of four with the intakes checking in at 40 millimeters, the exhausts at 34.5 millimeters. The valve train features a shim under bucket design, a 23.5 degree included angle and a maintenance interval of 10,000 miles (after the first service at 1,000 miles) of open road between trips to your local dealer.

The Twin-Cam 88B motor didn't count. The V-Rod's water-cooled motor is Harley's first significant leap of faith in modern times. Fuel and air meet in the cylinders thanks to dual downdraft intakes that feed into 53 mm throttle bodies. A Sequential Port EFI system ensures that appropriate amounts of fuel come to the combustion party at the correct time. A number of sensors take into account manifold pressure, crank position, incoming air temperature, throttle position and engine coolant temperature before things are lit off by a single 12 millimeter spark plug that resides atop each cylinder.

Each piston pushes down on a connecting rod that's located next to its neighbor, spinning the one-piece forged crankshaft. Automotive-style full pressure bearing journals keep things steady while a single crank driven forged steel counter weight balances out the vibes. Power makes its way to the ground through a five speed transmission that features a hydraulically operated nine plate wet clutch before it feeds out to the fat rear tire through the familiar belt drive.

The Revolution motor is rubber mounted in Harley's first steel perimeter frame. It features hydro-formed main rails, bolt-on lower frame rails and hangs a polished cast aluminum swing arm off the back. The 49 mm forks poke off the front of the V-Rod at a 38 degree angle, contributing to the bike's long 67.5 inch wheelbase.

 Hanging off the front of this newest Harley is what some might consider another minor miracle among Harley cruisers -- dual 292 mm disc brakes, each grabbed by a four-piston caliper. One of the rotors and one caliper reside out back and, thankfully, nothing is linked.

Enough of all this silly technical detail stuff already, then, the point of which all leads up to the plain and simple fact that Harley has built a cruiser for people who hate cruisers. Hell, it's even a Harley for people who hate Harleys.

It should come as no surprise that Harley's first truly modern sport bike is a cruiser. Well, it may not have a fairing or a face down, bum up riding position, but the V-Rod is sportier than quite a few sport bikes think they are. Though we couldn't run it on our dyno, we can tell you that, seat of the pants, this thing is making over 100 horses at the rear wheel and will trounce even the mighty Honda VTX. No question. Done.

Things are kept quiet thanks to a 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust system. The lower muffler is the only thing to really limit your fun in the canyons when it touches down. The styling may appear questionable at first, but it grows on you faster than the quarter mile disappears behind it as you as you grab gears, shifting up through the Getrag-designed gearbox. We shouldn't be this excited about a Harley of any sort, let alone "just another cruiser," but since we rode the bike it's all we can talk about. Those of you lucky enough to own one will see what we mean.

 Twisting the not-very-loud handle, the V-Rod produces the type of acceleration that keeps us looking down at the faux gas tank (the fuel resides under the seat) to remind ourselves that, yes, this is a Harley. Lifting our gaze from the tank, attempting to focus on the road again, we find ourselves glancing at the tach located on the left side of the minimalist gauge cluster. Chugging along at 3,000 rpm suits this bike just fine. So all you pukka pukka riders out there don't have to worry about all the power that's yet to come. Ignorance is bliss, and if you chose to ignore this bike's potential, you'll still find yourself pleased with the engine's low speed sense and sensibilities.

At low rpm, the sound emanating from the twisty bits of plumbing that make up the mufflers is pure Harley-Davidson, just with a slightly more precise sound and the volume turned down a notch or two. The vibes coming through the bars at this point are pretty classic Harley as well. You can feel the bike's soul, right there in your hands, and at no time do the vibes become either a pulsing nuisance or an annoying buzz. The riding position puts your feet out in front of you similar to what you'd feel on the Deuce, but the bars are narrower and situated a bit closer to you.


After you've spent enough time lingering around the idle speed, it's time to get a move on with things. Accelerating upwards into the revs, it is an understatement to say that the Revolution motor accelerates briskly. It pulls through 6,000 rpm like nobody's business. But then you look back down at the tach and realize you're not done, as there are still another 3,000 revs to be had if you've got the balls (and enough open road in front of you) to hold it open a while longer.

 Oh, and don't think for even a second that this motor is unhappy when it's called upon to sing a sweet high-rpm V-twin song. It was jointly developed by Porsche, after all. They know a thing or (GT)2 about building motors.

But motor alone will not sell bikes. Well, actually it will, but what kind of segue would we have, then?

After looking at the specifications, one of the things that stuck in our collective minds was the fact that this new Harley is supposed to be able to attain 32 degrees of lean angle -- this, from a company whose bikes rarely get past upright without something dragging.

Solid wheel discs, belt drive and loads of chrome let you know it's still a Harley. The motor will make you wonder why you ever hated these things.Running the motor up between corners means those four-pot calipers get a workout at the end of every straight stretch of road. They do a good job though, and get things slowed enough with a decent two-finger squeeze of the lever to allow you to safely toss the bike on its side and rail towards an apex. You have to work (ride quite hard) to get the V-Rod to drag any hard parts on left handers. Right handers, however, will drop the bottom of the lower muffler to the pavement, though this happens far later than we thought it would having grown used to comparatively poor clearance on a number of other bikes.

Rapid changes of direction are easy thanks to the low-slung chassis, and things remain stable over irregularities thanks to the long wheelbase and low center of gravity. Of course, good suspension helps iron out most of the irregularities. And (another minor miracle) this Harley has the best suspension we've ever experienced on a cruiser. It's well-balanced and keeps things feeling sporty without being harsh. The up and down movement of both wheels is actually controlled as opposed to just being softened before they impact the rider as is usually the case on most cruisers.

Long and low, smooth and fast. It's truly amazing how well the V-Rod manages to get through the twisties.So what does that make this V-Rod, then? Cruisers don't handle this well, so it can't really be one of them. It's not a sport bike, of course, even if it does do a good imitation of one from time to time. About the only thing left is the recently over-used term "power cruiser" which manufacturers and journalists the world over seem to love slapping on anything they can't place a proper tag on. We won't do that, though. Right now the new Harley V-Rod is in a class of one.

The V-Rod is like nothing we ever expected Harley to produce, but we're sure glad they did.

The suggested retail price for all this goodness is $16,995 and Harley's planning a production run of 11,000 units. The bikes will be available in a myriad of colors - that is, as long as you know a myriad of different ways of saying "silver."

This is about as good as it gets. The new Harley will get under your skin from the first twist of the throttle and stay there until you get back on and go for another ride. It's like nothing you were expecting.Note to "purists" here: Harley will continue to manufacture your beloved air-cooled motors and more traditional motorcycles. This new V-Rod doesn't replace anything in Harley's line-up. It merely adds one more way to get customers in the Harley door. And with a price that's the equivalent of a new Softail Deuce with Fuel Injection, we expect quite a few people will be rushing through Harley's doors for the chance to pick up a new V-Rod. They'll need to get in line behind us, though...


Specifications:
MSRP: One Million Dollars! Or list price of $16,995 if you're lucky.
LENGTH : 93.6 in (2375.6 mm)
SEAT HEIGHT : 26.0 in (659.9 mm)
GROUND CLEARANCE : 5.6 in (142.1 mm)
LEAN ANGLES (LEFT/RIGHT) : 32.0 / 32.0
RAKE/TRAIL : 34.0° / 3.9 in (9.0 mm)
WHEELBASE : 67.5 in (1713.2 mm)
DRY WEIGHT : 595.7 lbs.
BORE X STROKE : 3.94x2.84 in. (100.00x72.00 mm)
DISPLACEMENT : 69.0 c.i. (1130 cc)
COMPRESSION RATIO : 11.3:1
FUEL SYSTEM : Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection
OIL CAPACITY : 4.5 qts (4.3 liters)
FUEL CAPACITY : 3.7 gal (14.0 liters)
EXHAUST SYSTEM : 2-into-1-into-2
PRIMARY DRIVE : High contact ratio spur gear
FRONT BRAKES : Dual 11.5 in (292.1 mm) 
REAR BRAKE : Single 11.5 in (292.1 mm)
FRONT WHEEL : 19-inch disc
REAR WHEEL : 18-inch disc
FRONT TIRE : 120/70ZR-19
REAR TIRE : 180/55ZR-18
Dyno Chart! 

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