Harley-Davidson VRSCR Street Rod
By David Tong
Harley-Davidson sure opened themselves up for some criticism from their air-cooled Big Twin customer base when they introduced the VRSCA V-Rod in 2002. It was nearly blasphemy. A liquid-cooled engine? Camshafts located in the heads? More than two valves in those heads? No pretty paint on the sheet metal, no chrome, radial tires? It was way too much to bear for the vast majority of them, who stayed away from these bikes in droves. So much so that they depreciated steeply and clean, low mileage examples are actually inexpensive these days.
I spent quite a bit of time and mileage on one of those original V-Rods and other than the miserable excuse of a stock seat, enjoyed it immensely. Then again, I never did fit into the Harley crowd. Being Asian, of slender build and a non-drinker, I was more an admirer of technology than tradition.
Other than the seat, those forward footpegs were fine on the highway, but stunk pretty much everywhere else. The bike was comfortable, but the gas tank was too small. It went like a decent performance bike, but ran out of ground clearance too soon. It steered okay, but was clumsy at low speed due to the offset triple clampsí excessive rake angle.
Someone must have been reading my mind, because The Motor Company produced the VRSCR ďStreet RodĒ for two years, 2006 and 2007. A revised seat frame raised the seat height nearly two inches and made room for a full five-gallon plastic fuel tank under that seat. New triple clamps pulled the forks in a few degrees, reduced trail and that fork was an inverted cartridge design with more spring rate, damping and travel. Out back, the shocks were longer and had both the usual preload as well as rebound damping adjustment.
The heavy disc wheels were binned, in favor of neat and much lighter cast spoke wheels. The change eliminated side wind sensitivity and made the suspension work much better due to less unsprung weight. If I recall correctly, the engine developed about 5 more bhp and was good for about 115 rwhp. The handlebars were still mounted on dogleg risers, but the bar itself was narrower and lower than the stock V-Rod item. More importantly, the riderís footpegs were now a rear set design to improve ground clearance and take some weight off oneís butt.
Essentially, what H-D did was reinvent the late, lamented (and also poor selling) 1977-1978 XLCR Cafť Racer. Sadly, for reasons mentioned above, the Street Rod suffered the same fate in the marketplace. Itís a pity that the Harley faithful are more impressed with chrome gew-gaws than riding dynamics. Boy Howdy, does the Street Rod deliver the latter. In spades.
My one and only brief exposure to the Street Rod was when I considered buying one at the end of the production run. It was heavily discounted to just over $11,000. I didnít buy it and regret it to this day. My test ride was an un-chaperoned romp through some two-lane curvy country roads outside of town. It was an unmitigated blast to ride.
Itís obviously not a sportbike, nor a cruiser. Not a sport-tourer and not really a standard, either. Some have called it a performance cruiser, but to me that appellation waters down its appeal. This bike offers it all to the mature rider who has owned and ridden them all. It goes, stops, steers and handles like no other Harley before or (sadly) since.
There was a special synergy in how seamlessly it performed, befitting the modern product it is. Nudge the bar to initiate countersteer and the bike was utterly neutral in its response. Stable over bumps while leaned over at sane speeds. Roll the throttle on exiting a corner and the refined big engine rush of torque and horsepower is exhilarating. Trail brake in a corner and the bike did not stand up midstream. Those four piston Brembo calipers, lightweight rotors and good factory pads provided strong yet easily controlled effect.
I wish that H-D had fitted the bike with wheels that take the much more common 120/70X17 front and 180/55X17 rear tires that all modern sport and sport touring bikes use. The reason is simple, as the manufacturers spend more time and money developing those sizes than any other for street bikes today.
The slightly taller exhaust system makes fitting luggage back there a bit harder and it does need a slightly better seat and some wind protection. Other than that, Iíd leave the blessed thing alone. Iíd ride it until the stock suspension got worn, then replace springs and shocks with premium aftermarket units. I would happily ride the wheels off it for as long as I wanted to swing a leg over a motorcycle. These observations were a bit shocking. A bone-stock Harley that worked so well that it was fine right out of the crate.
I guess one other thing that might be an issue to some is that the valve lash inspection and adjustment must be carried out with the engine removed from the tight-fitting hydro-formed frame. I do suspect, however, that the liquid cooled mill would make those adjustments fairly rare.
Available colors were a metallic two-tone black/white, blue/white and orange/white. Iíd probably choose the latter, not because itís flashy, but because it represents that the light was finally shining through all that black leather imagery the past five decades.
All this genuflecting from a long time BMW owner (25 years, six-figure mileage) and a former monthly contributor to Motorcyclist magazine, is saying a lot. Itís that good. At this point in my life, Iím not easily impressed and have ridden a few. Hereís hoping we get a reprise from the Motor Company soon, but Iím not holding my breath. H-D seems to be ďrefocusing on their core customer baseĒ to the extent that those of us who truly enjoy the congruency between a rider and the machine on an interesting road have lost a really good bike.
Copyright 2011 by David Tong and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.