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Click on the image for more high-res shots of the Night Rod Special

Harley-Davidson and the cruiser segment in general is currently being forced into the realization that such bikes are often considered playthings by their owners. Sure, there are plenty of die-hard HD fanatics who ride their bikes thousands of miles annually and attend faraway rallies to gather with other enthusiasts who share their passion. Many owners, though, spend more time polishing their chrome than out riding. Such weekend warriors make up a large portion of the cruiser market, and those owners are being forced to hold onto their current rides a bit longer than normal due to the slowing economy in the U.S. -- a country which easily makes up the bulk of cruiser sales.

Harley-Davidson and the rest of the industry could see this change coming long ago, and the V-Rod was its opening defense to this looming issue... and it was a good one by most accounts. The Motor Company, though, has not been content to rest on the original V-Rod as the only alternative to its classic line of air-cooled V-twin powered bikes. Thankfully, we have machines such as the Night Rod Special to provide a welcome diversion from the rolling pieces of nostalgia that make up the majority of HD's line. Does the Night Rod Special's riding experience live up to the promise made by its menacing looks? Read on to find out.

Photos copyright Jeremy Korzeniewski / Weblogs Inc.

click any image to enlarge

After being lowered just under an inch from the standard V-Rod chassis configuration, the Night Rod Special benefits mightily from the full blackout treatment, with the night-like hue covering nearly the entire bike, including the 1250cc liquid-cooled Revolution engine. That engine certainly proves that the collaboration between HD and Porsche was as successful as could be. Punching out 125 horsepower along with 86 ft-lbs of arm-stretching torque, there are few bikes that transition from stoplight-to-stoplight as rapidly as the Night Rod Special.

Due to the lowered stance and the wide 240mm rear tire, that straight-line performance had better make up for the lack of cornering clearance to owners of the machine. A good push on the bars is required to lean the bike over at any real angle, but once there, it is supremely stable and holds its intended line very well. In all honesty, though, cornering clearance is mostly superfluous with this bike, 'cause being seen is what it's all about.

We got plenty of stares while riding the VRSCDX, much of it coming from the younger crowd that Harley hopes to attract with this bike. In fact, one 22-year-old blonde's first words upon seeing the machine were, "Wow, that bike is gorgeous." Those words should be music to the ears of the HD marketing team, because that's exactly this bike's goal.

When we first learned that the Night Rod Special was equipped with a slipper clutch, we didn't understand the need. Nobody is likely to be flinging this particular machine around a race track after all. After riding around town, though, we found that the slipper allowed for very easy shifts, even at relatively high RPM, making the overall transmission seem quite slick. The clutch was a rather easy affair to pull as well, surely an important improvement over past efforts from Milwaukee.

The abundance of torque makes shifting an optional affair most of the time anyway, but riders are sure to appreciate the smooth feel when pulling away from a stop. The only problem we encountered from the drivetrain was the fact that the clutch doesn't really begin to engage until over half the lever's travel has been used up. After a few harrowing green light stalls, we got used to it.

Comfort is a bit of a sore point with the Night Rod Special... literally. The stretched-out, foot-and-arms-forward position forces the rider to imitate a clam that has been rudely yanked from its resting place. Comfortable it's not, but the look mimics that of many custom bikes on the market, so it's probably a good selling point. The seat proved unremarkable, which is to say that it worked fine. (If you don't notice a motorcycle seat, that's likely a good thing.) Long trips on this bike should be considered very carefully, however, as it's a long reach to those low-slung drag bars and forward controls, and wind-resistance threatens to blow your parachute shaped self right off the back at extra-legal speeds.

Once planted firmly in the cockpit, though, the view out is awfully pretty. Short trips reveal another problem: heat. Get used to your right leg being roasted and hearing the cooling fan kick in when stuck in traffic. Our test bike was painted gloss black with a contrasting orange stripe running the length of the machine. As previously mentioned, it was quite the looker. An easy-to-read gauge cluster sits atop the bars, not on the tank as with many bikes of the cruiser genre, making it much more in line with your eyes when peering ahead.

The sound of the bike is just as radical a departure from the Harley norm as its looks. We enjoyed a nice ride with a Road King owner and never once heard the Night Rod Special over its forebear. Depending on which side of the "loud pipes save lives" argument you stand, the stock pipes could be the first things to get trashed. That would be a mistake as far as we're concerned, as the stock duals look very nice hanging off the right side of the bike.

Substantial is the word that comes to mind when giving the bike its first walkaround, with every part of the machine very beefy and heavy in appearance. In fact, all of these bits and pieces are actually heavy too, which you're sure to feel every time you lift the machine off its sidestand. That stand always feels ready to let the bike meet the pavement when it is initially deployed. Though it always held, we never stopped worrying.

Riding the Night Rod Special is what it's all about, though, and the bike never disappointed. Though the $16,695 asking price may seem a bit steep at first glance, the competition is equally as expensive, making the V-Rod line seem almost a bargain as compared with the rest of HD's offerings. The Revolution engine is a real gem, and the Night Rod Special is the best wrapping that Harley has put it in so far. While sportier versions of the 'Rod line exist and are better choices for the cornering-is-bliss populace, we feel that the Special is the one to get if being seen is of paramount concern... and for many prospective owners, it is.

Photos copyright Jeremy Korzeniewski / Weblogs Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      OK, now that you're getting bikes in the AB garage, I would like to formally apply to share these duties. I have pretty much all the major dealer networks within 100 miles of my home. Pretty please?
      Smoke Wagon
      • 3 Years Ago
      The V Rod/Night Rod series from Harley is a step towards the future. Its the natural evolution of things. The best part about Harley is that they make something for everone. Buy what you want. Bethoven would use keyboards just like Willie would use liquid cooling. Did I mention this bike is a rocket.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I love the look of the bike and would love to own one, Seem like it would have a low center and a pleasant feel on the road
      • 7 Years Ago
      There are Harley people and non-Harley people. Most of the Harley guys I know will say that the bikes aren't as advanced but they still prefer them because it is a Harley and that is what you pay for.

      What is funny is that you can buy a Chinese made Harley duplicate for $3000. About 80% of the bike is made of actual parts that Chinese companies make for Harley. If you stuck some Harley Stickers and the real Harley logo air cleaner cover, nobody could tell.

      Jim Richards
      • 3 Years Ago
      Best looking bike out there. I've seen people walk by dozens of Harley's just to see my Night Special. A old rider came over and said that he'd been riding Harley's all he's life and that bike was the nicest lookin bike he's ever seen. That alot from a rider who's 75 years old. The bike is amazing. If ya can't ride, don't buy this one. It can be too much for some. Only problem I found, is ya gotta slow down to ride with your bro's.
      Ŗıçķ Freyser
      • 3 Years Ago
      Night rod = V Rod. A failed Harley experiment. Changing the name a little doesn't work for me. Haven't you ever wondered why there are hundrerds of used v-rods on the market, all with less then 5000 miles. Because a real biker stays clear of these FAKE Harleys.
      • 7 Years Ago
      My boss has a V-Rod... and its stunning. He was nice enough to let me borrow it one day and I have never forgotten it.
      • 7 Years Ago
      HAHA! Nice job copy the color scheme from the YAMAHA Midnight Warrior that has been out for over 2 years.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Yeah! And way to rip off the two wheel idea! Thats been out for EVER! Losers!!! And the one seat and handlebars, where did you steal that idea from harley davidson???????????????? HUH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
        • 7 Years Ago
        The Night Rod Special has been out for at least as long because I remember seeing it when I was shopping for bikes in the summer of 2006. I think the orange stripes over the top are new though I think. The versions I saw were in denim black.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'll stick with my 07 K1200 R Sport, cost me 12,250 and it has ABS. It also will be much more reliable and safe than that piece of over priced garbage.

      Did HD finally figure out how to get their emissions to not kill the power or the engine in total? Seems 2006+ was loads of fun for the HD crowds. I guess this bike is an admission that they can't get the airheads to work and its far easier to go to water cooling (something BMW may be faced with as well with their R-boxers)

      I ride with HD people all the time, most of them won't touch the new bikes. My number one reason is lack of ABS and reliability.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Chris, ABS is optional on many HD bikes, including the Night Rod Special that we reviewed. In '06, Harley went with EFI for emissions purposes and ended up making more power than before. HD's aircooled engines aren't going anywhere either.

        The K1200R is an awesome bike. Congrats on a wise purchase.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Chris: Did you know that Porsche did the development work on the V-Rod engine? The traditionalists never "likes" anything new. Half of their apprehension is that this motor is too complex for the average shade tree mechanic.

        Nice bike, on my shortlist of vehicles to transport me through my midlife crisis.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I don't picture anyone from autoblog being able to keep this bike upright, let alone ride it. Lil nerdy legs shaking trying to hold it up at a light. How cute. : )
        • 7 Years Ago
        • 7 Years Ago
        who said anything about stopping at lights?
      • 7 Years Ago
      "Eye Spy" Kierland Commons in Scottsdale, Arizona.

      Good to know an Autoblogger is here in town! No better place on earth to have a motorcycle with 320 days of sunshine. Even if it's going to be 108 F t'day! The Arizona open roads seem purpose built for motorcycles, and the V-Rod is probably the only Harley that most Autoblog readers would ever be turned on too.

      Keep up the moto coverage, AB!
      • 7 Years Ago
      All the reasons that make a Harley, a Harley, are the reasons that i don't care for them. But i did stop in the local dealer a few days ago... the sportsters looked like they would offer a comfortable ride. I like having my feet below me, i like the control.

      doesn't matter anyway, i'm a Triumph rider.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Where I live, the HD dealer is the Triumph dealer.
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