Anniversaries, aside from being events that most men can’t keep track off, are an opportunity to reflect on the passing of time and often, the origin of a relationship. For a manufacturer such as Harley-Davidson an anniversary – especially a 10th one – is the perfect time to say, “we told you so.”
Over ten years ago, in an odd marriage between contrasting design philosophies and manufacturing histories, Harley-Davidson courted Porsche engineers and got them to design an engine for one of their motorcycles. As Erik Buell once explained to me, the engine that would eventually be known as the Revolution had originally been intended for use in a Buell sport bike, not a Harley-Davidson cruiser. Unfortunately, as the design project progressed, it became obvious that the size and weight of the Revolution would preclude it from use in a sport bike. It was, however, a perfect fit for a Harley-Davidson.
The end result of the Revolution project was the V-Rod, which still represents a radical departure for Harley-Davidson. The Revolution was the first liquid-cooled V-twin with overhead camshafts to ever be used in a production Harley-Davidson motorcycle. It would present a challenge to Harley-Davidson’s hardcore fans who aren’t known for embracing changes to tradition. It seemed possible at the time that they would never accept the radically different V-Rod.
However, Harley-Davidson’s intentions were never to preach to the converted; the importance and success of this machine wasn’t something that would be measured by the reaction of its hardcore customers, but rather the V-Rod’s ability to draw new riders to the brand who otherwise would never have considered buying a Harley-Davidson.
Committed to its plan of attracting new customers with an exciting power cruiser, Harley-Davidson manufactured a steady number of variants in the years following the V-Rod’s introduction. The most extreme of these was a high-performance model called the Screamin’ Eagle V-Rod Destroyer, a professional-level machine designed exclusively for drag strip competition by Harley-Davidson Custom Vehicle Operations.
Perseverance was a contributing factor to the V-Rod’s eventual acceptance, and its elevation as an iconic motorcycle for the Milwaukee manufacturer. To celebrate the decade-long longevity of the V-Rod, Harley-Davidson has built yet another variant, a special 10th Anniversary Edition of the motorcycle.
An homage to the original 2002 VRod, the latest model uses similar silver bodywork and a color-matched frame that is meant to resemble the anodized aluminum frame used by the original. The V-Rod 10th Anniversary Edition’s visual appeal is augmented by an abundance of chrome and polished finishes on its engine, exhaust system and small flyscreen. Further distinguishing it from other V-Rods are the new five-spoke cast aluminum wheels, which are claimed to be three pounds lighter than previous V-Rod wheels, and a new tapered tail section that uses a flush-mounted LED taillight.
The overall effect is profound. The long, low-slung silhouette of the machine exaggerates the appearance of its monstrous V-twin, which seems to be barely contained by the bike’s hydroformed frame. The Revolution engine has fundamentally remained unchanged over the past ten years; in 2008 it did receive a boost in displacement from 1,130 to its current 1,250 cc, enough of a change to increase its rated crank power from 115 to 125 horsepower and allow it to provide 85 lb-ft of torque.
To claim that the rubber-mounted engine defines this motorcycle would be an understatement. It’s easily one of the best engines currently being used in a production motorcycle. Its refined mannerisms and smooth power delivery are supported by its robust and brawny performance that is well-suited to a power cruiser role. From idle to redline, what sets the Revolution apart from everything else is that it strikes a perfect balance between the rush of velvet-like power and the sheer grunt it has to launch the bike forward.
This raises an important caveat when riding a V-Rod. Although it’s content to cruise at a laid-back pace, the bike constantly sends subliminal messages to the rider that it deserves and expects to be given a lot more throttle. Even the most conscientious citizen will eventually succumb to its relentless luring, and allow the overachieving engine to get about its business of hauling the mail. From anywhere in its rev range, the Revolution can be counted upon to provide a satisfying twist-and-go performance.
Mated to a 5-speed transmission, the bike’s tallish gearing relies on its torquerich engine to create brisk acceleration. It’s rare that I find myself asking for a taller or additional top gear, especially given that most final gear ratios are already too tall in their attempt to help engines meet stringent exhaust standards, but when moving at faster speeds I did wish that a sixth gear was available for no other reason than to lower the revs to a more sedate pace.
Typical of a Harley-Davidson, the gearbox was very audible in its operation. First gear, in particular, engaged with a prominent clunk that never left any question that a shift had been performed. This wasn’t a flaw, nor even a criticism, but simply a characteristic of its function. Whether riding aggressively or inching forward in heavy traffic, the transmission always worked flawlessly, and provided precise and effortless shifts every single time. The V-Rod also features a slipper clutch to prevent potentially dangerous rear wheel lock-ups caused by overenthusiastic down-shifting. Clutch pull at the lever ranged from moderate – a couple of fingers worked fine for quick shifts – to heavy, when frequent shifting in slow traffic would tax the threshold of even the world’s strongest wrist.
The V-Rod’s brakes were bolstered by an optional ABS system, which is a part of the Security Package that adds $1,310 to the Anniversary Edition’s $17,559 base price. The other part of the optional package is a security system that uses a hands-free fob, which automatically arms and disarms the bike’s security functions when you approach or walk away from the bike.
Although the ABS did its job of preventing the wheels from fully locking, hard braking on a road dusted with sand and stone caused it problems, predominantly with the rear wheel that would slide for a foot or two at a time. Dual Brembo disc brakes are incorporated at the front wheel and although powerful, didn’t provide the amount of feel I was expecting; a hard pull on the front brake lever created an exponential instead of linear amount of stopping power. However, a moderate two finger squeeze was all the strength required to slow the 19 inch front wheel fast enough to cause the ABS to kick in. The rear brake was typically vague in comparison to the front despite its use of a four piston caliper. It did work well in its supplementary role and was effective at dragging the rear wheel in tight turns.
The slammed power cruiser look usually necessitates the use of a limited travel suspension and I expected that the V-Rod would punish me on less than perfect roads. Even though there was only 102 mm of travel at the front and 74 mm at the rear, I was pleasantly surprised that the suspension performed well. Although the dual rear shocks did sound like they were passing gas whenever a sizeable bump was hit, they did a decent job of dampening the more extreme jolts into less painful knocks.
Lacking any adjustment for either compression or rebound damping, the suspension system was overwhelmed at highway speeds when a number of closely spaced bumps where ridden over. These rapid demands on its performance caused the bike to float instead of ride over the bumps.
For a big cruiser with a 240 section rear tire, the V-Rod handled itself respectably well. It managed to keep up during fast transitions and track accurately through quick turns; it was even adept at holding a steady line through long, fast sweepers while its foot pegs carved a nice arc into the tarmac. Although it didn’t take a lot of effort to tip the bike into a turn, it was hindered by its limited ground clearance. It’s unlikely that many V-Rod owners will ride the bike hard enough for this to be a concern or take away from their enjoyment of cornering through a tightly twisted road.
Though it can vary from one V-Rod variation to another, the ergonomic layout of the 10th Anniversary Edition puts the rider in a hand and foot forward position. This typical posture for a cruiser favours taller and bigger riders until you realise it also has a low seat, which at 678 mm will allow almost anyone to find a solid footing at stops. The sculpted seat is well shaped for hard acceleration and does a good job of supporting the rider, but it’s also confining and wasn’t so comfortable during longer runs.
The instrumentation used for the Anniversary Edition (and other V-Rods) is basic, but nicely designed. An equally sized fuel gauge and tachometer flank the centrally located speedometer, which houses a multifunctional LCD. Using the LCD turned out to be a nuisance as switching between its various display modes required reaching underneath the instrument pod and fumbling around for the selection button. I was even less impressed by the fuel gauge. With it showing an eighth of a tank and its corresponding digital trip meter claiming that I could ride another 19 km, the bike sputtered and then coasted to a stop while I was on my way to a gas station.
An hour later with the V-Rod parked at a gas pump, I reacquainted myself with an annoyance that I first experienced when I fuelled a V-Rod eight years ago. The bike has an underseat fuel tank, which is a boon for mass centralisation as it keeps a substantial amount of weight closer to the ground, but the opening for the tank is just wide enough for a gas pump nozzle and doesn’t leave any room to monitor the rising fuel level. More than once I’ve had gas overflow and leave a puddle under the seat because the pump’s auto shut-off didn’t stem the flow of gas in time.
A few small complaints aside, the V-Rod continues to be an impressive motorcycle within Harley-Davidson’s line-up. Its fit, finish, and the quality of its components are obvious indicators that it’s a premium machine. Equally important for owners and potential owners alike, the 2012 V-Rod Anniversary Edition is a visually striking motorcycle, albeit one that is only available in limited supply. My subjective evaluation of its appearance was reinforced during the test by the disproportionate amount of praise that the bike received and the reactions it drew from those passing by it curbside. Time certainly hasn’t diminished the impact that this ostentatious cruiser has on the general public.
As irreverent – and revolutionary – as when it was first revealed, the current V-Rod has aged surprisingly well. It remains as relevant in today’s motorcycle landscape as when it first appeared 10 years ago. Harley-Davidson is masterful when it comes to reinventing motorcycles by only changing its paint and a few key components; many of the V-Rod variations from the past decade testify to this fact. However, with the 2012 V-Rod 10th Anniversary Edition, Harley-Davidson has come full circle and in the process demonstrated that it got the bike’s core values right from day one. We can only wonder what the next 10 years of V-Rod history will bring, and although it would be ridiculous to discuss the idea of a 20th Anniversary Edition, you won’t catch me betting against the inevitability that one will exist.
List Price: $17,559
Warranty: 2 years
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-valve, 60 degree V-twin
Displacement: 1,250 cc
Power (claimed): 125 hp at NA rpm
Torque (claimed): 115 Nm (85 lb-ft) at 7,000 rpm
Bore and Stroke: 105 x 72 mm
Compression Ratio: 11.5:1
Fuel Delivery: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection
Final Drive Type: Carbon-fibre Belt (72/28 ratio)
Front Suspension: 43 mm inverted telescopic fork
Rear Suspension: Twin shocks with adjustable preload
Front: Two 300 mm discs with four-piston calipers
Rear: One 300 mm disc with four-piston caliper
Wheelbase: 1,702 mm (67.0 in.)
Rake and Trail: 34 degrees/142 mm
Tires: 120/70 – 19 front; 240/40 – 18 rear
Weight (wet): 304.0 kg (670 lb)
Seat Height: 678 mm (26.7 in.)
Fuel Capacity: 18.9 L
Fuel Economy (observed): 7.3 L/100 km (38.7 mpg)
Fuel Range (estimated): 254 km