2006 Harley-Davidson V-Rod | Road Test Review


With a liquid-cooled engine (gasp) created by a collaboration between the Motor Company and Porsche (wheeze), the V-Rod’s powerplant sent many of the Harley faithful into asthmatic fits. The styling, with its brushed metal and funky instrument pod, only called even more attention to the bike’s “otherness.” Still, the V-Rod did manage to maintain a few of the more traditional Harley/cruiser elements.

If having the words Harley-Davidson on the tank (and faux tank at that) of a liquid-cooled motorcycle was a shock, several other tidbits about the V-Rod attracted attention. First, in an age where cruiser displacements have taken on SUV proportions, the V-Rod’s engine arrived with a nowadays-paltry 1130cc. Then there was the little thing of needing to spin the engine into its higher-rpm range to make power. Plastic-wrapped sporty bikes do that-not cruisers.

The V-Rod’s Revolution engine did make power, though. In fact, the V-Rod could rip the lungs out of most of the big Twins on the market. Just don’t expect to be able to pull away from a stoplight and count the individual engine pulses-if you want to leave at anything other than a walking pace.

Harley’s usual customers weren’t the only ones who were a bit perplexed with the V-Rod. Riders who sample a broad range of bike types couldn’t help but wonder why a bike that begged you to accelerate put the rider in a position that hindered the use of that power. Well, wonder no more.

The 2006 Harley-Davidson Street Rod takes the V-Rod’s engine and drops it in a frame that sets the rider in a standard riding position and has the ability to corner like no other cruiser. While the VRSCR may spawn debates about whether it really is a cruiser or something else (a “custom roadster” in Harley-speak), no one can dispute that this is an entirely new direction for Harley-Davidson. Placing function on an almost even level with form is something quite new for this most traditional of motorcycle manufacturers.

Since the Street Rod’s job description involved honest-to-goodness, tilt-the-horizon, cornering, the V-Rod’s frame needed some significant modifications. First, the steering stem was tucked back to create a steeper rake angle and help a bike as long as the Street Rod change direction easier. The V-Rod’s stretched-out 38-degree rake has been reduced to 32 degrees by setting the head to 30 degrees with the additional two degrees of rake coming from the
triple clamp. Tucking the front end in those additional degrees also had the effect of shortening the wheelbase 0.7 inches to 66.8 inches.

People familiar with the specs of standards and sporty bikes will immediately know that 32 degrees is still a fairly laidback rake, particularly for a comparatively long motorcycle (again looking at standards and sportbikes, not cruisers). So, finding yourself interested in the Street Rod doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to wake up to the horror of pastel-colored road-racing leathers hanging in your garage-not that there’s anything wrong with that. Besides, you’d probably have to give up carbohydrates to fit into them.

One of the ways to gain cornering clearance on any bike is to move the parts that are most likely to touch the ground further away from it. To assist in the VRSCR’s upward mobility, the shock junctions are 1.5 inches higher than the V-Rod. The remaining 2.5 inches of the Street Rod’s increase in ground clearance comes from lengthening the shocks. However, the designers were still able to keep the seat height to a reasonable 30.0 inches, which is still a couple of inches lower than most standards.

One nice benefit of the relocated shock mounts was the ability to insert a five-gallon tank into the frame to give the Street Rod 1.3 gallons more liquid hydrocarbons. The final changes to the frame were a new seat pan and a relocated kickstand mount. One big change not associated with the frame that dramatically affected the ability to crank the VRSCR over in right-hand turns was the redesign of the mufflers and expansion chamber to create more cornering clearance.

On the front of the bike, the beefy, polished forged aluminum triple clamp grips an inverted fork, giving the front end a visual presence with its 56mm legs and 43mm sliders. Remember, inverted forks offer a stiffness advantage in combating braking and cornering forces when compared to traditional forks. An equally impressive looking pair of four-piston Brembo

calipers grip 300mm rotors for much improved braking power. Still, the Street Rod doesn’t sport industrial-looking calipers. The Brembo components came under the designer’s pen for some true Harley touches-including the bar and shield plus a cool perforated vent on top.

The remainder of the changes to the rolling gear were primarily cosmetic. The front and rear fenders were altered to give a more sporty look. The front fender is really the same shape as on the V-Rod, just turned around. The leading edge of the fender was formerly the trailing one. The rear fender received a subtle sculpted line that only those who were aware of its addition would comment on. The pod-mounted instrument cluster was redesigned with an easy-to-read tachometer.

The ignition switch moved to the upper right side of the chassis. The seat was reshaped for the new rider position, and the new handlebar, mounted on low risers, contributes to the sportier upper body angle of the rider. Mounted to that new bar are new, smaller-diameter grips that really do give the rider a better… uh…grip when in the midst of wrestling the beast along a winding road.

When considering the aforementioned winding road, the Street Rod’s engineers readily admit that they chose style over performance when deciding what wheels to use by not following the current sporting trend and mounting a set of 17-inch hoops. The Street Rod sports a 19 x 3.0-inch front and an 18 x 5.5-inch rear-both of which slow the response to steering inputs. In response to these facts, the builders would probably point out that the Street Rod is not a sportbike but, rather, a hot-rod roadster.

The Street Rod was built around its engine, which remains mechanically unchanged from the V-Rod. For those who aren’t already intimate with the specifics, the engine is a liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-Twin unit. The 100.0 x 72.0mm bore and stroke yield a 1130cc displacement with an 11.3:1 compression ratio. The dual overhead camshafts are chain driven and feature automatic tensioners. Valve lash is handled by shim-under-bucket adjustment.

Although the engine hasn’t changed, its power output has improved. Unchanged V-Rod headers feed in to completely new collectors and the two mufflers. The collectors offer an increase in volume and the mufflers allow an increase of another kind of volume for an even nicer exhaust note. With the fuel injection re-tuned to match the Street Rod’s new breathing capacity, the peak numbers jump 5 horsepower to 120, and 6 lbs.-ft. of torque to 80. As if the old numbers didn’t already eviscerate many much larger cruisers.

Starting the Street Rod’s engine elicits a slightly throatier exhaust note than the V-Rod. At moderate throttle openings, the sound could easily be confused with the V-Rod’s, but rapping on the fuel-injection system-and you know you’ll want to-rewards the ears with a much throatier song. The clutch’s pull required the same high level of effort as the V-Rod, and the throttle return spring is still of a similarly manly variety. With the payoff being pulse-raising acceleration, you’ll get used to cranking on that throttle. Remember, the Revolution engine likes to be spun up into the top of the rev range. Do this, and you’ll be rewarded with big-fun acceleration. Although many bikes struggle to get the EFI fuel metering correct, the Street Rod easily allows for midcorner throttle modulation. Running the engine to red line through a few gears will make a believer out of you. The Revolution engine has always had the power to spin the tire off the line, but now the rider is more in sync with this power delivery.

Where the V-Rod’s riding position previously felt ill suited for handling the power the engine was able to put out, the pilot now controls the bike from a slightly forward-canted upper body. The reach to the bar is reasonable, and the pegs are directly below the rider for better control. Before, the rider had to mostly hang on under hard acceleration (which felt more like being taken along for a ride rather than controlling it), the forces now transfer through the rider’s body more naturally. The inclusion of the smaller-diameter grips plays an important role in helping the rider feel more in control. That change alone allows for better throttle and lever control. If these can be retrofit to V-Rods, Harley will probably sell a bunch of them. If only the levers had been reshaped to match the new grips and purpose of the Street Rod.

In my initial application of the brakes, I was surprised by the grabbiness of the Brembo units. However, this was only an issue at low speeds. Out on the streets, highways and canyons, the binders offered plenty of power in a user-friendly fashion. This is a good thing since the beefier exhaust note and strong power delivery will challenge your willpower and license status.

Although sportbike snobs might scoff at the Street Rod’s 32 degrees of rake, it does steer quicker and more confidently than the V-Rod’s 38-degree rake. When compared to cruisers, the Street Rod’s handling is more responsive, but it still requires some muscle to make speedy side-toside transitions. Mounting 17-inch wheels would speed these up dramatically, but Harley never intended for the bike to directly compete with sporting machinery. The V-Rod’s habit of wanting to fall into corners never appeared, thanks to the Street Rod’s 10-spoke cast aluminum wheels, which have been an available option for V-Rod owners since last fall.

On most “power cruisers,” just when the ride starts to get fun, a peg or the pipe touches down. The Street Rod’s 40 degrees of available lean angle means that you can do some serious cornering before you start grinding metal (in the form of the pegs) on pavement. Push it much further and the hard parts follow in short order. When riding the Street Rod this close to its limits, the front end begins to chatter, gently reminding you that this is still a long motorcycle to be hustling through the corners. Some chassis flex was noticeable in high-speed sweepers, and occasionally the suspension and chassis felt like they were winding up over rolling bumps on the throttle. Still, the suspension did a good job controlling the claimed 650 lbs. of the Street Rod. In fact, the bike’s weight seems to be its only major drawback. Low-speed maneuverability suffers because of it, braking requires more time and effort because of it, and the suspension has to work harder, too.

Before the ride, I was concerned about the Street Rod’s peg layout and whether my legs would feel overly folded with the limited space between the seat and pegs that result from a relatively low seat height. I’m happy to report that the leg position is quite comfortable for a long ride. However, the brake pedal is a bit too high and tucked inward toward the bike, cramping my ankle when I covered it. Another note about the right peg: If you ride with the balls of your feet on the pegs, your right heel will rest on the top exhaust heat shield. Harley did thoughtfully mount a rubber pad to keep the rider from melting boot rubber on the hot exhaust system. The firm seat did wear on my derri√®re during the day.

Finally, what of the Street Rod’s style? Well, it clearly falls into the V-Rod’s family, carrying its attitude, styling cues and idiosyncrasies.

The fenders and tank are essentially the same. The multiple metal treatments are unmatched in the stock cruiser world. You can see chrome, polished aluminum and brushed metal all nestled up next to each other. Fit and finish are up to the level you’d expect from Harley-Davidson. For 2006, you’ll get five colors to choose from: Black Cherry, Rich Sunglo Blue, Mirage Orange, Yellow Pearl, and Vivid Black. If the bike itself weren’t already going to garner attention, the color palette will.

The Street Rod is probably the bike that Harley wanted to build when it designed the Revolution engine with Porsche. However, the reality of its market required that the V-Rod be built first to give the faithful some familiar features to soften the shock of liquid cooling and high-revving power delivery. Since more than 50,000 V-Rods have been sold, the Revolution engine has more than a foothold in the product line. The time is right for a Harley-Davidson that can be as badass in the mountains as it can on the boulevard. So, this begs the question: How bad do you want to be? CR

If you’re interested in the 2006 Harley-Davidson V-Rod, you might also be interested in Rider‘s 2009 Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle review.


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