Harley-Davidson has been plugging away at the liquid-cooled V-twin format for ten years now, so it's reasonable to expect that, by now, it should have made it righ-on perfect.
This, the Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle, is the company's variation of the liquid Milwaukee power bike. Handily for Harley-Davidson, the Muscle feels about as good as you could realistically expect. From the side, it looks fast; it also looks modern, and, most surprisingly, it looks like you could have fun on it.
The first thing I noticed about the Harley-Davidson V-Rod was its complete lack of Harley-Davidson branding. You'll see the name only in two spots on either side, very different from the regular Harleys of old, which screamed and shouted 'Step aside, mid-life crisis coming through' from every available centimeter of paintwork.
Fast it is too – proper, straight-line, traffic-light-here fast. Thanks largely to the ease with which you can flick it at the horizon – by tempering wheel-spin with the throttle and avoiding speed-sapping wheelies – it felt almost on par with my sportsbike. So I attached a data-logger to the Harley-Davidson V-Rod, to capture 0 to 400 meter figure, and did the same on my sportsbike – to get some comparative stats. Bearing in mind that my sportsbike weights a lots less than the Harley-Davidson V-Rod. The Harley-Davidson V-Rod performing remotely close to the sportsbike would have bee impressive. Both motorcycles have ABS, so stopping is as simple as yanking and stamping on everything, then remembering to stick a foot down once you've stopped. The results showed that, on a liter sportsbike, if you miss a shift or get caught napping for even the blink of an eye, there's a good chance you'll be overtaken by this Harley-Davidson V-Rod, which, in case you were in any doubt, would make you look silly. I managed a 12.3-second run on my sportsbike, compared to 13.5 seconds on the Harley-Davidson V-Rod – and only lost time on the Harley because it needed to make one more gear change to hit 160km/h.
That's supercar performance territory, if you didn't already know, and easily as quick as an on-form 600 sportsbike. This Harley-Davidson V-Rod's acceleration is something Harley should be proud of.
The Harley-Davidson V-Rod's seat is a comfortable place to sit but, once you get going, the ride is a little jolty; every bump is transmitted into your tailbone and up your back. It's bearable if you're young enough, but a possible deal-breaker if not. Take an extended test ride if you're interested in one of these.
Although ABS is a welcome addition to any cruiser, on the Harley-Davidson V-Rod it feels slightly dated in its execution. On an ABS-equipped Triumph or BMW, the lever thrums in your hand and speed is dispatched as the brakes apply and release themselves for all they're worth. On the Harley, it feels like the system pulses once and then releases the brakes completely. The reactivation of the brakes happens only after the motorcycle has run on a little, and this slack feeling from the ABS is the worst I've experienced. This overrun has nothing to do with the geometry of a Harley-Davidson V-Rod, and I think I could stop in a shorter distance on the same motorcycle without assisted stopping. That said, it is nice to be able to confidently haul on the heavy and senseless lever knowing the front isn'tt going to lock up the moment it's had enough.
The news isn't all negative, though. Far from it. Being as objective as I can, I know – even though I'm not a Harley man – this is a good one. I would never buy one with my own money, but having lived with this one for a while, I can see why some people do.