SO black it could get lost in the dark, the Harley-Davidson V-Rod is back for its fifth model year in an eighth incarnation. The Night Rod Special is its name, and it's darker than ever -- with a blacked-out powertrain, exhaust shield and wheels.
A spinoff of the 2006 Night Rod, the new version is picking up on a big trend in southern Europe and Scandinavia that's just beginning to emerge here. In Europe, bikers aren't interested in playing dress up with their bikes so much as stripping them down to their skivvies, with less chrome and more black surfaces.
Now, you may be wondering: Why is the famously flag-waving Harley-Davidson taking its cues from across the pond? It's because the 69-cubic-inch V-Rod, with its liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, 60-degree V-twin Revolution engine, has been at least as big a hit over there as it's been in the U.S.
And not with the usual, card-carrying members of the HOG. The market for the V-Rod isn't the unwashed rider of yore. And it isn't that dentist in the Palisades who's taken up riding to show he's still got some edge. The V-Rod rider is young, multiethnic and surprisingly gender neutral.
Feminine isn't the first word that comes to mind in describing the bike's riding position, but it's more comfortable than it looks. Harley calls it the clamshell. I call it pre-hominid. On the Night Rod Special, the controls are forward, not mid like they were on the 2006 Night Rod. So if you're a fan of low-rise jeans, you'll want to pick out your nicest pair of undies because they're probably gonna show.
Or a nice long shirt, because you'd rather have other motorists drooling over that bodacious 240 tire out back. A 60 millimeter increase over previous model years, it makes the bike look even more sinister without sacrificing the creamy-dreamy handling.
Even with the fat rear tire, the Night Rod Special can hold a line like nobody's business. It's surprisingly nimble for a bike so long and low. The wheel base is 67.2 inches. The seat height is just 26.3 inches. The shocks are an inch lower than in 2006 and the five gallons of gas are under the seat. What appears to be the gas tank is just a mirage. It's a shell to hide the air box cover, which is positioned to allow more direct intake into the cylinders to maximize performance.
The V-Rod's Revolution engine was, after all, a joint development with Porsche. That's obvious from the power band. It doesn't have a sweet spot. It's all yummy fun, from the moment you roll on the throttle till you kick it into the next gear.
Based on Harley's VR1000 superbike of the '90s, the V-Rod's cylinders are at a 60-degree angle instead of Harley's famous 45. That's part of the reason why the bike doesn't sound like a Harley, but more like its competitors a 15-hour flight away. I won't use the J word, but I will say the Night Rod Special sounds like it comes from a place where they don't use forks to eat dinner.
And not only because of the wider V-angle of the twin cylinders. It's also the partially helical transmission, which reduces mechanical noise, and the liquid cooling, which helps baffle the engine, with the added perk of making the front end of the bike look like Darth Vader's mask.
The V-Rod was the first production Harley to use liquid -- rather than air -- cooling. It's air cooling that's helped, in part, to give Harley its legendary sound. And that's still in place on all of its 45-degree V-twins. As of 2007, however, all Harleys are going the way of the V-Rod, adopting an electronic fuel injection system that delivers a more precise air/fuel mixture to each cylinder for better combustion and less wasted fuel. From this point on, Harley-Davidson is officially carb-free. Dr. Atkins approves. So does the California Air Resources Board and the Environmental Protection Agency, which is why Harley's doing it. Otherwise, the Big Cheese from the land of dairy wouldn't be able to meet increasingly strict emissions and noise requirements in the U.S. and Europe.
The exhaust, by the way, is a California-legal 80 decibels, so it won't be setting off any car alarms. It may, however, fry your leg. Sit too long at a red light, and it'll be crispy as a rotisserie chicken because, while the black on the engine and exhaust pipe covers dissipate heat from the engine, it throws it at the rider.
My only other complaint: The weird little black thing sticking out from the left side, just under the fake tank. For such a well-designed bike, it's odd that Harley couldn't find a better place for the horn. The button's on the grip where it belongs, but, like a toddler-assembled Mr. Potato Head, the actual horn is at your left knee. At least you can't accidentally honk it.
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2007 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special
Base price: $16,495
Price, as tested: $16,920
Powertrain: 60-degree V-twin, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, four-stroke, 5 speed
Displacement: 69 cubic inches
Torque: 80 pound-feet at 7,000 rpm
Bore and stroke: 3.94 inches by 2.84 inches
Seat height: 26.3 inches
Dry weight: 643 pounds