Lost in the hyperbole this week of Harley-Davidson’s announcements of new 2018 models – “boasting show-stopping style and plush comfort” with its touring bikes – was the absence of any mention of a model that debuted in 2001 and continued in various forms through the 2017 model year.
Missing from the 2018 slate was the V-Rod, a model that featured radical styling and a Revolution engine that was jointly developed with Porsche.
It was a model that Harley-Davidson purists sneered at for not being a “real Harley” but one that was remarkably polished and fun to ride. I know. I owned a 100th anniversary 2003 V-Rod for a couple of years and loved it for its power, handling, reliability and looks.
The V-Rod is now apparently history, though, with the V-Rod Muscle and Night Rod Special for 2017 being the last of the line.
Harley-Davidson didn’t mentioned the V-Rod’s demise in its announcements of new models, leaving us on the outside to only speculate. Low sales? Perhaps. The fact that is never grew into more than a niche bike? Probably. But I never felt like Harley-Davidson got fully behind the model or got its dealers to do likewise.
Harley-Davidson no doubt developed the model because it knew it had to expand its reach behind its core of audience of traditionalists. So it threw the V-Rod against the wall and hoped that it would stick. Now, here it is 17 model years later, and Harley-Davidson is now in the same boat trying to expand its customer base because many of those traditionalists are either giving up riding or dying.
Just think of where Harley-Davidson would be today if it fully supported the V-Rod from the get-go or came up with additional models that incorporated the solid Revolution power plant.
As I noted, I loved my V-Rod (pictured above). It had gobs of power and is the only bike on which I’ve ever received a speeding ticket. I was doing 80 mph on Route 63 in Goshen, but the state trooper was nice enough to write me up for only doing 65.
It was also one of many bikes that left me stranded on the side of the road. Nothing major. A little corrosion on the battery leads – either that or a lead simply came loose. It conked out one night on Route 44 just outside of Norfolk. I didn’t think to remove the air box cover and check the lead and instead waited for a friend to arrive with a pickup and trailer.
As I waited, state trooper Greg Naylor, who I knew, drove up and was nice enough to keep me company. Must have been a slow night for him.
It’s also one a few bikes that I’ve dumped. Turning into what was then Cliff’s Cycle Revolution (now Max BMW) in Brookfield, CT on a warm spring morning, the rear tire hit some sand at the entrance and slid out from beneath me. I stepped off unharmed but a piece of the frame got bent and a piece of the brake system got crushed. Harley-Davidson of Danbury got it fixed quickly for me.
The V-Rod eventually got sold as the itch for something different had to be scratched, but the memories remain. It was a good bike, even if the stock seat had to be replaced because it was so uncomfortable, and the replacement was so confining that it was impossible to, excuse me, break wind.
Nonetheless, the V-Rod is remembered with fondness. I can’t help but think Harley-Davidson never got all out of the model that it could have or should have.
2017 model photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson