This is not how it should be, no, not at all. This is a Harley Davidson and frankly I’m shocked.There is no hint of an engine carved from cast iron and suspension made of tree trunks, this is not the “resist-all-change” response to development that HD has become known for. This is good, really good. Not “good… for a cruiser”, not “it’s special and different” good, but stylishly, stompingly good.
It’s the Harley Davidson VRSCR, aka Street Rod, and somehow the foot-pegs up and bars down equation amount to so much more than the V-Rod hiking up its skirt and showing you it really can dance. It’s like piloting a fast freight train, or a ship – a big one, with lots of power and guns, the HMS Invincible maybe. The power is there, implacable gobs of torque, and it’s firm, it’s planted and it knows where to go.
Indeed, any doubts that in the right hands the V-Rod could diminish the ego of the local sportbikes were extinguished when snapper Kevin applied full-throttle logic – up against a Honda VTR with fully sorted Bitubo suspension and aftermarket exhaust, through a series of uphill corners and sweepers. Note we did say in the right hands, Editor Johnston failed to meld with this bike in such a leaning-ful way. Still if you’ve never seen a cruiser give a sportbike a run for its money this was a sight well worth the price of admission.
In the corners it’s firm, solid and unflustered with the right suspension settings. Harley, it seems, has joined in springing its bikes for the lighter amongst us, and improperly set the rear has a tendency to step out for a coffee mid-corner. Set right the Street Rod powers through the corners a relentless force, driven forward by 120hp and 80ft-lbs of torque both hitting at 7000 rpm (claimed). With that sort of output it flies with sheer brute motivation.
Providing this driving force is a fuel injected 60 degree twin, one that gives lovely long-legged roll-on and with an amazing smoothness. This is probably one of the best tuned twins we’ve been on, with superb fuel injection mapping. It’s smooth for the cruise, and then, then past about 5,000 it induces a madly satisfying adrenaline rush. To take advantage of this newfound impetus a few changes needed to be made from the V-Rod.
Everything has been raised over its V-Rod sibling. For the chassis, rake has been reduced from 34 to 30 degrees, that should have resulted in a fair shorter wheelbase but not so here. The neck of the frame has been moved forward to ensure there’s no interference between the radiator and the front tire. That means a negligible reduction in the wheelbase of 1¾ cm (¾ inch) to a long 1,697mm (66.8 inches).
To make it clear the corners to the tune of 40 degrees lean, the VRSCR was essentially lifted on the suspension, raising clearance and allowing for more travel – 207mm front and back. Up front the forks are 43mm inverted Showa units, but a disappointment here is a lack of adjustment unexpected on a premium brand bike with a performance onus. In the rear, preload adjustment is available. Additionally, the footpegs were moved mid-ship, bringing them back and up versus the V-Rod’s classic foot-forward position. All this hike, nip and tuck has done one thing, made lean angles approaching “stupid” possible.
The entire face-lift has also resulted in a 30 inch seat height, surprisingly tall for a “cruiser”. This left photographer Kevin, at 5”10, hard pressed to truly flat foot the Street Rod comfortably. Editor Johnston was right at home however.
The new wheels are an open spoked cast alloy design, a vast improvement over the solid disc of the V-Rod for handling windgusts. Hauling the “Rod” down from speed are four-post Brembo calipers up front mated to 300mm discs. Surprise is that in the rear sits the same 300mm disc. The works is tied together with steel braided lines making for a solid stopping experience. The entire aim we were told was to reduce the needed lever travel for braking, the good news is that it worked, and the bad news is that it worked. The rear brake seems a bit easily locked. This may actually be an ergonomic issue as the rear lever feels high, and is not adjustable. Given the amount of fork travel though, using the front brake alone isn’t necessarily the best strategy.
Fit and finish detail is just quality itself. Everything has a solid, well thought out feel, and almost nothing has escaped the touch of a design team… save the silly hangy-below-bar signal lights.
There are other oddities of design such as the unique-to-Harley sidestand that allows the bike to roll forward against it, though the first time this happened my pulse spiked as my brain didn’t want to allow it, it felt very unnatural.
The ignition switch has been moved from under the seat to the front-right of the bike, this is an improvement over the positioning on the V-Rod but still a bit odd. Somewhat more disturbing is it’s possible to run the bike without the removable barrel key in place, leaving the more “now where did I put that key”- prone among us at risk. The gas tank itself is found underseat, stylish but unusual. On the plus side the tank has been bumped to 19 litres (five US gallons), so suddenly range is not such a big issue. This means the Street Rod can out cruise the cruisers.
For those boarding this express after a transfer at Beemer station, will be very comfortable with the signal switch gear. Left is on the left, and right is on the right, and auto-cancel kind-a-sort-a-works. Supposedly it’s tied to speed, but the logistics are a bit lacking. First miss of the beemer-esque left signal switch will reward you with a good shock. The horn has been liberated from a mid-70’s Caddy we suspect and likely capable of putting the alternator to the test, one of the most satisfying audio experiences the Street Rod offers.
Out on the highway, the Street Rod proves comfortable at a legal pace. Much beyond 140kph however and the windblast over the stylish instrument cluster becomes near unbearable. In the twists it’s all about the muscle. The Street Rod’s long wheelbase and relatively narrow bars along with the 30 degree rake means heavy handling, with a lot of input required. The bonus here is that there is no hint of nervousness taking the bike to it’s limits in the corners, just expect a solid cardio workout when navigating tight turns in series. One irritating niggle is that to put the ball of your feet on the pegs while strafing the twisties, your heel will contact the swing arm as it moves around the pivot end. An odd sensation to be sure.
In 2001 the V-Rod hit the streets and its footpegs hit shortly thereafter. The motorcycling world looked at this and collectively said, “Oh, my, what a lovely smooth and brilliantly styled cruiser”. Meanwhile the Harley faithful pretty much looked away like it was uncle Charlie dressed in drag for Halloween. The bike’s point hopefully wasn’t to appease the faithful so much as create the drive for brand conversion.
The Street Rod is different though, it’s the resurrection of a previously extinct breed – a sport-cruiser. Mid-80’s bikes like Honda’s V45 Magna ruled the roost with both output and handling snugged into a cruiser package. Back then the market did a collective sigh, and we’re hoping that doesn’t happen again. This is a really good package, the comfort of a cruiser and handling that when pushed lets you hang with your sportbike mates. This is far more than a V-Rod in a party frock, the Street Rod is a new take on an extinct concept executed with exquisite style. Now about that naming scheme…
Thanks to Stuart Wells at Trev Deeley Harley Davidson