2006 Harley-Davidson VRSCR

Text: Eric Bass • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

The whispers began almost immediately. No sooner had the motojournalists finished wiping their lips after their first taste of the V-Rod at its introduction in 2001, than they began licking their chops at the prospect of a Revolution-powered, pure performance bike. Oh sure, the V-Rod was one heck of a dragster. In highly modified trim, it garnered H-D the 2004 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championship last year and has even been setting record times of late. But there has always been a sense of manifest destiny surrounding the Porsche-developed, liquid-cooled, 1130cc Revolution V-Twin. "They gotta put that thing in a sport bike, or at least a sport tourer," came the whispers. "Someone should call Erik Buell and tell him he can have a real engine to work with now." We all knew the Street Rod was coming. We just didn't know when.

The V-Rod emerged onto the scene as a stunning fusion of disparate elements that came together in a category-killing performance cruiser. For me, it was the Platonic ideal of that genre, and since its debut, some 50,000 folks have backed up that assertion with their checkbooks. While the Street Rod is clearly derived from the VRSCA, this new addition to the family is somewhat of a singularity. While there seems to be universal agreement within the biz that it's a great bike, nobody can quite seem to put their finger on what category it belongs in, or what bikes to compare it to. One thing is for certain though, unlike the V-Rod, the Street Rod is most definitely not a cruiser.
While it retains the identical Revolution Engine as the VRSCA, the Street Rod's straight-shot pipes boost hp from 115 to 120 and deliver on the aggressive sound that was so sorely lacking in the V-Rod. Oddly, performance mods have left the VRSCR 20 pounds heavier than its cruiser sibling, and the standard riding position has robbed it of the oddly delicious sensation of having your arms ripped out of their sockets by the V-twin's bottomless thrust. Thus, the Street Rod actually feels noticeably slower than the V-Rod when punching it down a straight, even though it probably isn't.

While the Street Rod's bulk precludes it from duty as a champion downhill canyon carver, it's absolutely eager on the uphill sections. Though its length isn't especially hairpin-friendly, this machine will still stomp the V-Rod through any corner. H-D has sweetened things up with revised chassis geometry and non-adjustable 43mm upside-down front forks as well as longer preload-adjustable shocks in the rear. Forged aluminum triple clamps have been set to a 32-degree fork angle, down from the V-Rod's 38-degree stretch, which shrinks the bike's wheelbase to 66.8 inches, shaving off 2/3 of an inch.

After moving the pipes, footpegs, and other hard parts out of the way, the taller ride height of the suspension allows for a generous 40 degrees of lean angle. This figure is up from the V-Rod's heel-crushing 32 degrees and will more than meet the needs of anyone not currently on the Moto GP circuit. New handlebars with low risers and thinner grips also combine with a 30-inch-high seating position to provide the ergonomics necessary to manage the VRSCR's newfound performance attributes. Medium-radius sweepers are now a blast, and digging into the Street Rod's treasure chest of torque at their exit delivers a fistful of soul satisfaction.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the VRSCR experience comes the first time you squeeze down on the Brembo 4-piston brake calipers. Despite the momentum conjured by the Street Rod's mass and power, these stout anchors are well matched to the task. Equipped with braided-steel brake lines and high performance pads, no sooner do you tighten your grip and bite into the non-floating 300mm rotors than you realize that these are easily the best brakes ever to grace a H-D. Gone is the mushy Flintstone-esque response we've all come to know and hate. You'll excuse me if I bellow a hearty, "Yabba Dabba Doooo!"

It's good to see that some of my pet peeves regarding the V-Rod have been addressed as well. The location and design of the VRSCA's ignition switch once left me and my photographer rolling around in a gas station's oil patch trying to fish the key out of the bike's innards with only bendy straws for improvised surgical implements. With a removable key and better ignition switch location, the Street Rod could teach the V-Rod a thing or two about industrial design. A larger gas tank (up from 3.7 to 5 gallons) is another much needed improvement that hopefully will trickle back down to the V-Rod.

The VRSCA's signature solid disc wheels are also gone, and so is their tendency to turn the bike into a flat-tracker when presented with crosswinds. Even though I loved the silver platters' distinctive look, I must confess that this is a case of addition by subtraction. Unfortunately, with the Street Rod's bolt-upright seating position, the complete lack of a fairing still makes even moderately windy conditions an exercise in misery, unless you always dreamed of growing up to be a bobble-head doll. A compact mid-sport windshield is available as an option and while I didn't get to test its efficacy, I have to believe that anything would be an improvement.

Available in blue, orange, yellow, black cherry, or black (which for some reason nets you a $ 245 savings), if the Street Rod's $ 16,740 MSRP hasn't ruined your credit yet, there are a few goodies that you may choose to add to your tab. Factory accessories include a plusher pillion with a palm-sized backrest pad, small saddlebags and a more supportive Sundowner seat. While it could probably be brought up to at least weekend jaunt snuff by an up scaled platform, I wouldn't really look upon the Street Rod as being a viable long-distance sport tourer.

All of which returns us to the question of exactly what category the Street Rod does belong in. Deciding on what it isn't comes easily. It obviously isn't a touring bike, sport bike, or cruiser. Its medium-racy ergonomics would probably place it closest to the standard category. It just doesn't really come off as a standard though. The V-Max is probably its closest neighbor in the moto-philogeny, but Mr. Max's "muscle bike" designation doesn't really do the Street Rod's nimble disposition justice. I'm inclined to create the term "performance standard" on its behalf, but semantics aside, the real seismic shift in the two-wheeled landscape is the fact the VRSCR represents the first H-D consciously designed to not appeal to Harley riders. If that statement just caused your eyebrows to raise and your head to cock to one side, bear with me here.

Bill Davidson himself proclaimed to the gathered media that H-D is attempting to coax a younger, non-HD buyer into the brand by creating a bike that emphasizes style, power, and agility rather than the hyper-traditionalist, vintage-Americana aesthetic that has made Harley-Davidson one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Mission accomplished, Bill. The Street Rod doesn't "feel" like you're riding a Harley. You can't wear a beanie helmet or chaps and cruise the boulevard with your sunglasses on. The bike's ergonomics necessitate a full-face helmet, and the ape hangers and highway pegs crowd who said that the V-Rod wasn't really a Harley are gonna turn their noses up at the Street Rod like it was a glass of chardonnay. You probably won't get thumped for rolling up to the rally on a Street Rod, but you may not feel entirely welcome either. Your membership in "the club" definitely comes with an asterisk.

Ultimately, the only question that really matters is, "What are you buying the Street Rod for, and why is it better than any other bike for you?" You aren't likely to be aided by the results of annual comparison tests, so that really becomes a question potential customers will have to answer for themselves. H-D has announced that it plans to grow the VRSC family just like their other lines, and personally I'll be doing some heavy lobbying for a Revolution-powered super sport. That radical a step into the realm of Blackbirds and Hayabusas would likely need to be justified by a sales-successful Street Rod, and for that reason alone, I hope that this "Harley that isn't a Harley" finds its niche.