The Essential Guide to Motorcycle Travel
Tips, Technology, Advanced Techniques
by Dale Coyner

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Harley-Davidson's VRSC family mates the low saddle height and raked-out frame of the V-Rod with the pumped-up 120-horsepower motor and exhaust system of the Street Rod roadster and then rolls in some detail touches all its own. The complete test is available in the October 2005 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine. Here are some initial impressions from our first rides on the bike.

The Night Rod offers both mid-set rider pegs and highway pegs as well as that little fairing. To seal the deal, it asks less of your wallet than previous Harley Rod series motorcycles, although the entire VRSC series enjoys a $1000 price reduction this year.

Combine the V-Rod's solid handling, formidable performance and strong brakes (now Brembos), each of which ranks at or near the top of the range for performance cruisers, and you have an impressive motorcycle, one that will easily leave the those tubby mega twins reeling in its wake. It's even good-looking if our sample, which included the $495 chrome engine package, is any measure. In fact, it's the best-looking of the V-Rod series, and as well as the most affordable.

The little fairing helps identify the Night Rod at a glance, but there are many other differences from other Rods, including the wheels, engine finish, and the footpeg configuration.

We like the way Harley has come at the power-cruiser concept. While other brands have been building ever-larger V-twins that owe much of their style to Harley, Milwaukee's own performance V-twin broke away, using a comparably meager 1130cc. Harley's "little" V-twin relies on efficiency rather than displacement, with liquid cooling, overhead cams, eight valves and the will to rev a bit. That approach yielded better than a horsepower per each 10cc. With the introduction of the Street Rode earlier this year, Harley extracted another handful of horsepower with a new exhaust system. Now that 120-hp engine has been coupled to the cruiser chassis to power the new Night Rod for a bit more punch. The October 2006 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser will have a cover test with the performance figures and additional depth on how the Night Rod works.

The new bike gets the V-Rod frame to hold the saddle height down to that bike's 27.1 inches. Most of the other chassis components were also donated by the V-Rod. The Night Rod uses the 3.7-gallon under-seat tank and has 4.0 inches of suspension travel at both ends. The steering head remains at the 34 degrees of the V-Rod, but Harley steepened the fork angle by two degrees to 36 degrees from the V-Rod's 38. This juggling actually gives the Night Rod the most front-wheel trail in the VRSC trio at 4.6 inches, though its steering is still considerably lighter and more precise than the average cruiser's. It also has a bit more suspension travel and control, slightly less weight, and more lean angle that cruiser normal, all of which make it handier on a winding road.

The Street Rod was the first `Rod with Brembos, but all the 2006 VRSC models will have them. The slightly larger rotors and four-pot calipers (on two discs up front) require a bit less effort and deliver somewhat more power than other Harleys, even the earlier V-Rods. All that's lacking is an adjustment for the front lever. With about 625 pounds of motorcycle to stop and its ability to build speed in a hurry, those brakes are well suited to the Night Rod. Instrumentation, which includes a tach, now also offers a clock as part of the LCD display.

Unless you crave the tractor-like torque of the monster twins or are revophobic, the Rod makes impressive power. You need a modicum of finesse at the clutch lever to motor off at idle, but it starts doing business from about 2000 rpm and rips willingly almost to the 9000-rpm redline. Like the Street Rod, the Night Rod needs to clear its throat coming off idle when it's cold. However, once warmed up, it is responsive and ready to wrap right up. You don't really need to downshift to make a pass on the highway, but if you choose to, the gearbox shifts smoothly and positively. Clutch effort is greater than many other big cruisers, though engagement is smooth and predictable.

Shorter riders' complaint about the stretch to the way-forward footpegs of the V-Rod is eliminated with the Night Rod's mid-mount pegs and controls as the main footrests. If you want to stretch you legs on the road, folding pegs up front fold down for that purpose. The mid-mount controls are more comfortable for most riders, giving a more in-charge riding posture and enabling you to better resist wind pressure at speed. With those pegs we could run through a couple of tanks of fuel (at about 130 miles per) before the standard saddle—an improvement on the V-Rod item—made us want to squirm.

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