2012 Harley-Davidson V-Rod 10th Anniversary

Road Test Review

I’ll never forget the first time I rode a Harley-Davidson V-Rod. It was in the summer of 2001, just after the 2002 models had been introduced. I had ridden it up to Santa Barbara, California, and was just rolling along a surface street when a motor cop on a Harley dresser, coming the other way, made a U-turn and lit me up. Oh man, what had I done now? But instead of asking for license and registration, the cop started asking, “Hey, is that the new V-Rod? How long have you had it? How do you like it?” Turns out he was a big enthusiast and was excited about Harley’s revolutionary new liquid-cooled bike.

It’s now 10 years later, and H-D is celebrating that fact with a 10th Anniversary Edition of its hot-rod, drag-styled V-Rod, with an engine The Motor Company refers to as the Revolution, a play on the earlier Evolution air-cooled Big Twins. Granted, V-Rod’s sales numbers may not have exactly set Milwaukee ablaze, but as I learned from that contact with the motor officer it certainly brought a lot of attention to the brand, as well it should.

What distinguishes the Anniversary model from other 2012 V-Rods is that it’s styled with a tiny cast “speedscreen” up front above a redesigned headlight. Enhanced ergonomics include a polished, pullback handlebar, while the reach to the forward-mounted rider footpegs has been reduced. It also features a chromed powertrain, with a platinum crankcase and heads, and a sport front fender. Its split five-spoke wheels are not only color-matched to the silver body paint but also are a claimed three pounds lighter than previous V-Rod wheels. The fork, clamps and handlebar are polished, and that convoluted exhaust system with its covers are chromed. Finally, there’s that “V-Rod 10 Years” logo on the motor covers.

Viewed from the side, it’s obvious that the V-Rod’s motor is its message. Framed by the radiator shroud up front, the lean “tank” cover on top, the seat and those curvaceous pipes, the motor is the star of this show. It’s based upon the powerplant that was developed for the VR1000 superbike racer of the ’90s, and was designed with the help of those good folks from Porsche in Germany. As a result, its power characteristics are quite different from those of any air-cooled Harley model, as it was meant to attract a younger, more performance oriented buyer.

Rather than attempting to hide it, H-D chose to incorporate the radiator housing as a styling element. In the rear, as with all three 2012 V-Rod models, the Anniversary model rides on a meaty 240-series tire. And as with the rest of the H-D line, its power reaches the rear wheel through a belt final drive.

This V-Rod carries the same sort of motor as the original, a liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-twin with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder that originally displaced 1,130cc, but in more recent years now displaces 1,250cc. With a bore and stroke of 4.13 by 2.84 inches the bike is a revver, redlines at 9,000 rpm, and our test bike was already putting out 69 horsepower and 72 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm on the Jett Tuning dyno. It peaked at a heady 119.7 horsepower at over 8,000 rpm, generating more than 80 lb-ft of torque at above 7,200 rpm. This very un-Harleylike performance has endeared the bike to many performance buffs who pulled for this American company to kick tail. Compression ratio is 11.5:1.

Like its big-inch brothers, the V-Rod can be started without a key once its ignition switch, located down on the right side toward the front, has been unlocked. What appears to be the fuel tank is actually a flawless steel cover that conceals the fuel injectors, air box and battery, the latter which is up there near the steering head. The V-Rod carries its five gallons of fuel under its well padded and quite comfortable bucket seat; however, you’ll have to entice a passenger onto its vestigial rear portion.

The rider’s feet are carried forward, which means the legs cannot be used to minimize the effect of potholes or road irregularities; this also makes the seat’s comfort all the more important. With a 26.7-inch seat height, the rider has the sensation of riding very low to the pavement. Out front lurks that futuristic-looking instrument cluster, a circular central speedometer flanked by a 10,000-rpm tachometer on the left and the fuel gauge on the right.

Thanks to its electronic sequential port fuel injection the bike starts easily, and with its counterbalancer is quite smooth. Clutch pull is moderate, and shifting light and precise, belying the size and power of the bike it serves. Though Harley’s Big Twins went to six-speed transmissions several model years ago, the V-Rod continues with its five-speed, as the engine turns an indicated 4,000 rpm at 65 mph in high gear.

The fact that it has a 9,000-rpm redline could give the impression that the V-Rod is a high-revving sportbike, but in all-round riding I found that I spent the vast majority of my time trolling around between 3,000-5,000 rpm. Heck, with 50 horsepower and 70 lb-ft of torque already available at 3,800 rpm, you can crank the throttle at any time above this point and this V-twin emits a snarl and a kick in the pants unlike any air-cooled bike in the Harley line. The motor generates an abundant amount of torque (it peaks at 81.4 lb-ft at 7,200 rpm), which means you can ride it any darn way you please.

The V-Rod rides on a male-slider fork that is noticeably refined and, in concert with the pair of shock absorbers, delivers almost a luxury ride, plush yet well controlled. The suspension is nonadjustable except for shock preload, but the solo rider is not likely to wish for much more adjustability.

Our test bike was equipped with the Security Package, an $1,195 option that includes both anti-lock brakes and an anti-theft system. The latter features a key fob that automatically arms the bike’s electronic security system when it is carried out of range—just a few feet away—and prevents the bike from being started without it. Return within a few feet and the system disarms. The fork lock provides an additional means of theft deterrence.

H-D has given the V-Rod plenty of stopping power with a pair of Brembo discs up front and a single in the rear, each squeezed by a four-piston caliper. The ABS system very effectively releases and immediately reapplies either brake as it approaches lockup, meanwhile delivering a type of buzzing feedback at the lever or pedal when it does so. It works well and could save your hog’s bacon in a chancy situation.

The graceful steel frame is hydroformed, a process in which its gentle shapes and angles have been formed through the use of high-pressure water. It’s backed by an aluminum swingarm that shares its curvy lines. Kicking the fork out at a 34-degree angle helps establish the V-Rod’s longish 67-inch wheelbase with 5.6 inches of trail, and these factors conspire to deliver a machine that is very stable at highway speeds but that is reluctant to change direction quickly. The rider initiates a turn, but as the bike begins to lean it comes up against that 9-inch-wide, 240-series rear Michelin Scorcher tire, which immediately inhibits that instinct and results in rather lazy steering characteristics. To complete any type of aggressive turn the rider must now force the bike over, which means that riding the V-Rod on a twisty road requires smoothness and some planning ahead.

And herein may lie one reason why its sales numbers have never really caught fire. To me, the V-Rod has always presented a conundrum, a puzzle that asks the question, “What’s a beautiful motor like you doing in a frame like this?” On the one hand you have a 76-cubic-inch V-twin that revs to 9,000 rpm, and generates so much torque that it can very satisfactorily spend the great majority of its time cruising below 5,000 rpm. On the other hand you have stuffed this superbike-based sporty motor into a chassis with a long 67-inch wheelbase, a lazy 34-degree rake and a whopping 5.6 inches of trail, backed by a 240-series tire that really doesn’t want to change direction anytime soon, and essentially the sporty part of its nature is fighting the cruiser part anytime the road zigs and zags.

The silver Anniversary Edition’s MSRP is $15,999, and the Security Package brings it to $17,194 with ABS. If you like motoring on a Harley-Davidson, appreciate its heritage (now 109 years) but don’t care to spend the extra it will take to make an air-cooled version run this strong, well, you’ll get the message from the V-Rod’s motor—along with a righteous kick in the tail.