So, as some of you may recall, I posted awhile ago about getting a motorcycle after not having been on one in many years. I did so, and have been incredibly super duper happy with it. With that having been said, I recently traveled to Florida for work and lopped a couple of vacation days on the end, and decided to rent something different...and much like jumping from iphone to my one max, I decided to go about as different as you could from my shadow 750 (sportbikes aside, since I was going to have a passenger) - I rented a 2014 Harley VRod Muscle. I wanted to know why it was that "traditional" Harley guys hate it so much, and if it really was all that different from your typical cruiser style bike. Spoiler alert: it is.
So, for a start, my bike at home is a 750. I've spent most of my adult life riding 500, 700, or 800ish cc bikes and have only on RARE occasion in the past ridden anything larger. I've ridden 1200cc sportsters before, but have read tons of articles saying not to compare the 1200 sporty to this thing...that it was a totally different feel. As a result I was heartily nervous about getting on the vrod. Horror stories about people doing terrible things to themselves because of the sheer power of the bike kept running through the back of my head when I showed up to pick the bike up at the dealership...even the dealer said "Be careful, it's got some power", lending some serious credence to everything I'd heard already.
The first thing you notice is....
The rear tire. It's tremendous by comparison to any non-custom cruiser I've ever put my rear end onto.
I was told that this rear tire would help keep the bike under control when you unleashed all of that almost legend-like power. The 2014 has a 240mm tire (compared to a 200 on the 2014 Fat Boy)...and it looks gigantic when you're standing right next to it, conjuring up images of custom choppers with big-ass rear tires like the ones you see on all the biker shows.
The next thing that you notice is that this thing is low and lean. It feels like you're VERY close to the ground, though in truth the seat height is about a half an inch taller than the aforementioned fatboy. Likewise, it's actually not more than an inch or so LONGER than the fatboy, but it definitely feels and "looks" it - the reason being the rake of the front forks is a relatively extreme 34 degrees. While that pales in comparison to a lot of custom jobbies out there, it's a pretty major rake angle for a factory bike. Where I found some of the 1200 or 1300cc bikes to be somewhat intimidating because they just FELT big, this thing actually felt quite reasonable - and from the first time I stepped over the seat I felt almost immediately comfortable.
Firing it up...
Within 5 seconds of starting the bike, I knew why hardcore Harley guys hated this thing. Yes, it's liquid cooled (a major departure from traditional Harley), but it's really the FEEL of the bike that is a departure. Firing up the bike, it sounded more like a large scooter than a mid-sized cruiser. The motor is by no means small, but you don't get that traditional "puhTAYtoepuhTAYtoepuhTAYto" sound that you get from Harley's traditional 45 degree v-twin.
Speaking of which, as you can see from the photo, this is NOT Harley's traditional 45 degree v-twin. It's a 60 degree liquid cooled evolution motor. Now let me be clear, I am NOT a wrench-head. I wouldn't know the difference between a Harley motor and a Honda motor based on sound in any way...but when you start the vrod and rev it you IMMEDIATELY know it's something different. Maybe it was the wide-but-muffled pipes on the bike, but when standing next to the guy I was riding with (him on a 650cc suzuki burgman scooter) the motors sounded VERY similar.
Something else that I found interesting: the fuel tank is not what you think it is. The fuel tank on the vrod is actually stashed under the seat - it makes the bike have a DELIGHTFULLY low center of gravity, giving it a sportier feel all around - but I'll get into that in a minute.
So I do the "drive to the end of the lot and uturn" test ride and then it was time to get out on the open road. Before loading up with a passenger I took an hour with my riding buddy (my girlfriend's father, as it were) to get a few miles under my belt and see how the thing felt. I was still intimidated by the rumors of uncontrollable power, so I took the first 10 miles VERY easy. Once again, it was plainly apparent why Harley guys aren't too fond of this thing. That whole "one with the bike" thing where you can feel the link between your throttle and the motor? It was virtually gone. (to put it into terms I was more familiar with, it was like changing my paintball gun from a mechanical sear to an electropneumatic) - the throttle doesn't feel so much like you're doing anything physical/mechanical so much as it feels like you're opening up an electronic switch of some kind. It is SMOOTH and the delivery of power from motor to rear tire comes across as completely effortless.
So I tried riding this thing the way you'd ride a traditional cruiser and, what I discovered, is that it's not the way the vrod wants to be ridden. If you cruise around at low RPMs (low in this case being 3500-4500) the bike jutters, jitters, bucks, and generally feels unhappy. If, on the other hand, you get comfortable with running in the 6k range, this thing is as smooth as any vehicle I've ever ridden. The motor's vibrations were almost undetectable, and I very quickly found myself cruising down the highway at 70mph in 2nd gear and just shifting into third. In fact, in the whole weekend that I had the bike I didn't feel a need to shift into 5th even a single time, and barely touched 4th.
So, with a few highway miles and some twisties under my belt I went to pick up my passenger. The bike CLEARLY had power, but nothing that I felt uncomfortable with at this point, and I was ready.
First rule. The pipes on the Vrod get hot...like WAY hot. Like, a passenger can't get on if you've just finished riding hot because their legs will just be too close to the pipes. You could have fried an egg on them 5 minutes after the motor was shut down.
Once we cleared that little hurdle, we started out from the residential community that we were staying in, and therein came the hardest part of riding the vrod: ~400lbs of passenger trying to stay under 25 MPH on a bike that does NOT want to stay under 25 MPH. It was juttery to say the least and, despite what I'd always been told, I found that the hydraulic clutch VERY quickly tired out my hand (never again will I complain about my old reliable cable clutch). Also...speedbumps. Speedbumps are bad, mmkay? Know why? Because the Vrod has only 4 inches of ground clearance...and the suspension is tuned quite tightly, so you feel those bumps at that speed...and while the seat is somewhat comfortable as a solo rider, with a passenger you find your legs being pushed wider around the tank than is comfortable. At this point I was just hoping that once we hit the highway things would smooth out a bit...
And they did...
Oh boy did they ever. Once we got onto the highway I was AMAZED at how effortlessly I was able to go from 0-60. No sputtering, no reaching for power that wasn't there...and even at 6k RPM, the bike STILL had enough "get up and go" that I could zoom out of trouble had the need come up. Riding 2-up on my 750 shadow, while more comfortable in terms of seat width, definitely couldn't compare in terms of having power to spare - NEVER on this ride did I look down at the motor and say "dammit, I wish you had just a little more juice" or "Man, it's working hard" - the vrod took everything we threw at it (a couple 100+ mile rides) and then some. Only once or twice did I really turn on the throttle hard to see what it could do, and even then we're talking 1/4" of throttle as opposed to 1/8 - I could see how people would get into trouble. Every fraction of a movement on your right hand puts a TON of power into that massive rear wheel - and if you're not careful, it would be quite easy to tear off at a nasty clip. But without too much effort I was able to accelerate at enough of a clip that my girlfriend felt that she should grab on tightly (a sneaky trick on my part, right?). While the seat back certainly kept her in place, it wasn't hard to start up quick enough to feel that "pushed back" feeling you get when you are starting to MOVE.
Braking...not so good
So we know the thing has get up and go...unfortunately it doesn't have a matching "slow down and stop" - I found the brakes on the Vrod to basically have 2 positions: on or off. There really wasn't much of an "ease on" - part of that may also be because the bike I was on had under 200 miles on it so the brakes were not even WORN yet...but I found stopping distances to be a bit longer than what I'd typically be comfortable with, or else painfully short if you clipped a smidge too hard.
Overall grade: A
I won't give it an A+ because I don't give ANYTHING an A+...and also because I'm judging based solely on a weekend adventure. I can't comment on maintenance or how well it'll hold up in the long run, but I will say this: in terms of pure FUN the Vrod is an absolute winner. It's got power to spare and rides low and sporty, making it feel more stable than other similarly sized bikes (in terms of motor size). To ride a Sportster 1200 and then jump onto this is like you are riding a different type of vehicle. They both have two wheels, they both have handlebars. Other than that, it's a totally different kind of motorcycling, altogether.
I will also mention that this thing felt even MORE potent by comparison to my adventure earlier in the week on a 49cc scooter. It felt like I had earned back my "man card" to say the least and let me wipe the below image from my mind: