Journal of the Motorcycle Action Group

Motorcycle Action Group, MAG
Issue 4 May-Jun 2006
Back Issues

Harley-Davidson's Street Rod

High & Mighty

Harley-Davidson's Streetrod sits 4 whole inches higher than the V Rod but at seven foot four Roland Brown isn't phased.

Sitting with cold drink in hand, admiring the Street Rod as the sun set at the end of an afternoon's riding, I was hard pressed to tell the difference between Harley's new charger and the V-Rod on which it was based. The big, tightly finned V-twin engine, silver-finished frame and slatted aluminium panels at the steering head glowed in the light, seeming as familiar as the tinkling sound of the cooling engine.

But my still racing pulse reminded me that my last journey had been covered at a distinctly faster and more exciting rate than the Street Rod's laid-back relation would have allowed. For the last 20 miles I'd been thrashing the 1130cc V-twin close to its redline, cranking through any bends I could find, and leaving my braking late at every opportunity. The V-Rod doesn't get the adrenaline flowing like that.

In fact there are plenty of visual differences between the two models when you look closely, notably in the new bike's higher, mid-mounted footrests and especially its front forks, which are more steeply angled than those of the V-Rod. But the difference in the riding experience is much more marked, even so. For all its entertaining straight-line bluster, the V-Rod is still very much a cruiser. The Street Rod, on the other hand, is a V-twin musclebike with a notably more aggressive personality.

A more sporty derivative was always likely, ever since Harley stunned the two-wheeled world by revealing the V-Rod back in 2002. That big liquid-cooled, dohc, 60-degree V-twin powerplant, developed with the assistance of Porsche Engineering, was surely destined to power a bike that was designed to go round bends with as much authority as it sat in a straight line. After all, Harley's traditional dominance of the cruiser market is under attack from increasing numbers of bikes from Japan and elsewhere these days, so it was about time that the Milwaukee firm hit back by taking on the big retro roadsters as well as oddballs such as Yamaha's MT-01.

Well, the Street Rod is well capable of fighting back. You know it as soon as you throw a leg over the seat, which is 10cm higher than the V-Rod's thanks to new Showa suspension that give much more ground clearance. Along with the relocated footrests come flatter, shorter handlebars. These dictate a notably more urgent riding position that brings you forward over the front of the bike, looking out over the neat top yoke and stylish analogue instrument panel, complete with speedo, tacho and fuel gauge.

The eight-valve motor is mechanically unchanged but the Street Rod still takes the honour of fastest ever Harley streetbike (not including the VR1000 homologation special) thanks to its shotgun exhaust system, which is claimed to give an extra 5bhp, lifting peak output to 120bhp at 8250rpm. It's a belting motor that looks and sounds good (albeit a bit restrained), has a nice crisp injection response, and encourages you to keep the throttle wound open whenever possible. Doing so for long has the Hog (can I still call it that?) running up against the rev-limiter in top at an indicated 135mph - and feeling much more fun and less windswept than the V-Rod does at similar speed.

That said, the motor is quite peaky for such a big V-twin unit, performing reasonably well at low revs but really coming alive only between about six grand and the 8500rpm redline. That helps give a bit of character, and the engine is smooth enough that I never minded revving it hard. But although the gearbox shifted well, it contains only five speeds. So on an unfamiliar road I had to make sure I was in the right ratio if I wanted to exit a turn with the arm-yanking force that the Harley was so very able to provide.

Straight-line stomp is all very well, but I'd experienced that with the V-Rod and it was the new bike's much improved handling ability that gave the new bike such a dramatically different feel. Steering angle is reduced by four degrees to a still conservative (by non-Harley standards) 30 degrees, and maximum lean angle is greatly increased. By most standards the Street Rod is still a big, heavy brute with 280kg of dry weight and a lengthy 1700mm wheelbase, but it's a much more agile than the V-Rod or most other big cruisers.

Inevitably you still need a firm heave to tip the Harley into a bend, but it makes up for that with impressive steering accuracy and stability. There's a fairly generous amount of ground clearance, too. On smooth roads the pegs touch down reasonably easily, but not till you're respectably well cranked over. And there's plenty of stopping power to be had from another chassis innovation, the front brake that combines big 300mm discs with four-piston Brembo calipers.

So the Street Rod provides power, speed, decent handling, good stoppers... and yes, it really is a Harley, though despite that familiar look it's not like anything that has come out of Milwaukee before. Equally good news is that fit and finish (including paint in yellow, blue or black, as well as orange) seems up to the marque's normal high standards; and the price, although far from cheap, is more competitive than might have been expected.

Yup, I'll admit to being pleasantly surprised. At first sight I was disappointed that all Harley seemed to have achieved was a mild warming-over of the original V-Rod concept. But in many ways the Street Rod is very clever. It still looks almost as outrageous as the V-Rod, and has a similar muscular presence plus more than a hint of cruiser style. But on twisty roads, especially, the Street Rod is a more entertaining bike that deserves to bring Harley to the attention of a whole new bunch of riders.