2015 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special Review

Tom Roderick
by Tom Roderick

The Motor Co's pinnacle of street-legal performance

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.

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
Ergonomics/Comfort 6.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 8.0/10
Value 7.5/10
Overall Score81.75/100

“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.

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.

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.

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

Engine Capacity1247cc
Engine TypeLiquid-cooled 60° V-Twin
Bore x Stroke4.13 in. x 2.835 in.
Fuel SystemElectronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Final DriveBelt
FrameSteel perimeter upper frame with hydroformed main rails and bolt-on lower frame rails
Front Suspension43mm inverted fork
Rear SuspensionDual coil-over shocks, preload adjustable
Front BrakesDual disc with Brembo calipers, ABS
Rear BrakesSingle disc, ABS
Front Tire120/70-19
Rear Tire240/40-18
Seat Height28.6 inches
Wheelbase67.0 inches
Rake/Trail34° / 34°
Curb Weight661.7 lbs
Fuel Capacity5.0 gal.
Observed Fuel Economy29 mpg
ColorsVivid Black, Deep Jade Pearl, Superior Blue, Black Denim, Vivid Black
Tom Roderick
Tom Roderick

A former Motorcycle.com staffer who has gone on to greener pastures, Tom Roderick still can't get the motorcycle bug out of his system. And honestly, we still miss having him around. Tom is now a regular freelance writer and tester for Motorcycle.com when his schedule allows, and his experience, riding ability, writing talent, and quick wit are still a joy to have – even if we don't get to experience it as much as we used to.

More by Tom Roderick

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2 of 11 comments
  • Gary Gary on Nov 14, 2014

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

  • Larinthian Larinthian on Dec 27, 2015

    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.