I’ve written about my “Harley hating” in the past. But for anyone who’s paid attention, it’s frustration because I want to love Harley-Davidson so much. Those you care for most can hurt you the worst, right? But here I’m going to go on record as saying the V-Rod is the most important and significant bike, possibly from any manufacturer but certainly from H-D, since the 1957 Sportster.
Design. This occurred to me as I was watching a show about future houses on the Discovery Channel. The most innovative thing wasn’t the materials used so much as the designs themselves. One house eliminated dead space like hallways by having the bathroom, kitchen and bedroom in a chamber that rotated in and out of the living area like Man-E-Faces. Other houses eliminated the need for a/c or heating or electrical lights during the day because of the way the structure’s unconventional shape channeled air and light. What’s this have to do with the V-Rod? When the last time you saw a “custom” American bike that wasn’t some Arlen Ness/Gil Hibben looking thing with sweeping curves going to sharp points because it looks “bad ass”? Jesse James, Orange County Choppers and all the rest share so much common line work that the V-Rod was a remarkable breath of fresh air!
The V-Rod looked like the first truly modern American bike. It was unmistakable. While the Buell XB series were even more amazing, the V-Rod beat them to market by a year. The exposed frame, the faux gas tank that was really an airbox… That’ll all lead to technology, but focusing on just the design, the V-Rod was a tremendous success. Gorgeous, and it just plain looked like a 21st century American cruiser. Milwaukee proved they could design a cruiser that showed it’s heritage, and that modern design wasn’t the sole domain of the Japanese. Aces.
Engine. Harley “purists” couldn’t be more wrong in their dismissal of Harley’s first water-cooled engine. And those who’ve ridden it admit it’s power and speed are incredible. Water-cooled engines have been around long enough to be de-bugged technology, and Harley was way behind the curve. So they turned to another manufacturer who had recently made the same move from air-cooled engines to higher power and cooler-when-stuck-at-a-red-light-in-the-desert liquid cooled engines: Porsche. The famed 911 maker had been making air-cooled motors since 1931 and made some real mistakes with their water cooled engines in the 1970s and ’80s 928 and 944 models. Porsche didn’t make a good liquid cooled motor until the 996 debuted in 1998. While other bike manufacturers had been making liquid cooled engines for 20 years, Porsche had the most recent transitional experience and Harley Davidson had the wisdom to learn from their mistakes and knowledge. No more archaic pushrods robbing power, no more elevation sensitive carburetion… These were Harley’s choices, not foisted upon them by some foreign power, and we finally had an American motorcycle engine that could stand head-to-head with mills from the foreign bikes. “Purists” who would intentionally keep Harley in the stone ages in the name of heritage should be ashamed, and I thank God that Willie G. ignored them. Americans deserved to have an exceptional engine in their bikes.
Technology. Every other bike in H-D’s lineup was basically just a parts bike: change the front fork and call it a whole new motorcycle. They’re all terribly similar, just minor variations. And like other manufacturers, most changes are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Most of what was done on the V-Rod had already been done one other bikes. Liquid cooling, unique frames… Sport bikes had been advancing the state-of-the-art long before Harley got it’s act together with the V-Rod. I’ve already slipped into mentioning fuel injection, etc. The under-seat gas tank may not be convenient, but it lowers the center of gravity. No, what makes the tech in the V-Rod so amazing isn’t that it was top of the line, but that it was such a massive leap for a company that had been stuck in the past for so long. Harley still doesn’t have the tech or model diversity to really compete with the other brands, but 10 years ago they showed what they were capable of when they tried.
This is all just my opinion, of course. But I blog for my satisfaction, so that’s good enough for me. There are only two bikes from Harley I’d even consider today. The Sportster XR 1200 is very cool. But the 10 year anniversary V-Rod is dang near perfect.