Vive la Révolution – 2012 Harley-Davidson V-Rod 10th Anniversary Edition

Story by Uwe Wachtendorf// Photos by Uwe Wachtendorf
December 1 2011

2012 Harley-Davidson V-Rod 10th Anniversary Edition

All dressed up with nowhere to go, Editor Glenn Roberts grabbed the key for the Harley-Davidson’s 10th Anniversary V-Rod and decided to reacquaint himself with the machine. The gloriously warm fall day was a perfect excuse to go for a ride – in full formal wear – but as I watched him through the window of our photography vehicle, I was surprised by what I saw.

Riding a Harley while wearing a tuxedo was supposed to have been an irreverent stunt, an opportunity to poke a little fun at the 10th anniversary celebrations. And even though the sight of tuxedo tails flapping in the V-Rod’s wake was not a common one, it wasn’t the outlandish display that I’d hoped for. On the contrary, it looked disappointingly appropriate that someone would be riding the V-Rod wearing a tuxedo, which can’t be said of too many motorcycles.

That Motorcycle Mojo was first published around the same time the V-Rod first appeared on the motorcycling landscape is fantastic providence. Both magazine and motorcycle were revolutionary in their day; Mojo by virtue of challenging established Canadian motorcycle publications, and the V-Rod because of its Revolution engine, the first liquid-cooled V-Twin with overhead cams that had ever been used to power a consumer-level Harley-Davidson.

Revolutions, even the successful ones, have to survive a precarious phase during which the outcome hangs in the balance. During itsinaugural year, it seemed that Harley-Davidson’s hardcore fans would never accept such a radically different machine as the V-Rod, especially not since it was powered by the engineering efforts of a German sports car company. Harley-Davidson’s collaboration with Porsche to build an entirely new engine was an odd marriage of manufacturers, but as Erik Buell explained to me during an interview years ago, the Revolution engine was initially slated for use in a Buell. In the end, the Revolution’s size and weight made it an inappropriate choice for a sportbike, and as a result, Harley-Davidson’s first true power cruiser was unveiled.

The initial success of the V-Rod was measured by the riders it drew to the brand who otherwise wouldn’t have entertained the idea of owning a Harley-Davidson. The years that followed saw many V-Rod variants and a steadily growing acceptance of the unorthodox cruiser by the Harley faithful. Without question, the V-Rod has become an iconic motorcycle for the Milwaukee manufacturer and adds exciting diversity to its model range.

To celebrate the V-Rod’s longevity, Harley-Davidson is offering a 10th Anniversary Edition of the motorcycle. Fitting for a motorcycle with a character that is both brash and complex, the Anniversary Edition was designed as a tribute to the original 2002 V-Rod. Its Silver Pearl bodywork and colour-matched frame mimics the anodized aluminum used in the construction of the original model. Adding arrogance to its already bold looks and strong curbside appeal, the Anniversary Edition’s engine, exhaust system – even its miniature flyscreen – have been fitted with an overabundance of chrome and polished finishes. New five-spoke, cast-aluminum wheels have also been fitted, which Harley-Davidson claims are three pounds lighter than previous V-Rod wheels.

A new tapered tail section with a flush-mounted LED taillight adds to the bike’s long and low profile – a profile visually punctuated by a monstrous V-Twin that appears to have been shoehorned into the bike’s hydroformed frame. There’s little arguing that the V-Rod’s slammed and purposeful stance makes an unmistakable addition to Harley-Davidson’s model range.

Despite the many changes that have been made to the V-Rod’s exterior over the years, the core of the motorcycle has fundamentally remained the same. Although it had been two years since I last rode a V-Rod, the Anniversary Edition immediately felt familiar when I started its engine for the first time. As with any respectably powerful motorcycle, I started off with an evaluation of its brakes. The front wheel has dual discs that proved strong, but not linear in their operation. A steady pull of the lever generated an exponential, decent braking force. With only moderate pressure from two fingers, it was easy to bring the 19-inch wheel to the point where the bike’s ABS had to step in. The rear brake, despite its four-piston caliper, felt typically vague when compared to the front; however, it did work well in a supplementary role and helped to settle the bike during hard braking. Our test unit was equipped with optional ABS, part of the also-optional security package which adds $1,310 to the Anniversary Edition’s $17,559 base price. Although the ABS worked, it felt crude in its execution and even allowed the rear wheel to momentarily lock when braking hard on a road with a light dusting of sand and stone.

Because it is such a low cruiser, with modest suspension travel (102 mm at the front and 74 mm at the rear), I started out needlessly bracing for every bump in the road, assuming that even hairline cracks in the asphalt would result in a bone-crushing impact. To my relief, the suspension did a good job, and even though the dual rear shocks sounded like the back end of an old dog on a steady diet of baked beans, it dampened even the most extreme hits into tolerable jolts. At lower speeds, the suspension’s nonadjustable compression and rebound damping worked well, but at highway speeds it couldn’t keep pace with closely spaced bumps, and the bike had a tendency to float rather than ride over them.

The suspension also contributes to the V-Rod’s impressive handling. For a big power cruiser with a 240 section rear tire, the Anniversary Edition performed well through turns and was happy to hold a steady line while gently scuffing the edge of its foot pegs. Of course, this isn’t the type of bike on which you would use a late-braking, dive-for-the-apex approach to turning, but the V-Rod nonetheless tips in without much effort and has enough corner clearance that you can enjoy a tightly twisted road.

Prospective buyers will want to know that it’s the V-Rod’s rubber-mounted Revolution engine that defines this motorcycle. I’ve been preaching for years to anyone who will listen that the V-Rod has one of the best engines currently in production; its ability to deliver robust performance in a refined manner has always set it apart, and whether it’s at idle or high revs, the Revolution maintains a perfect balance between velvety smoothness and primordial grunt.

My only criticism of the Revolution is that it appears to have an insatiable appetite for speed. Although you can easily use the V-Rod to cruise at a pedestrian pace all day long, the bike is sending a subtle message to the rider that it wants to be fed more fuel. This relentless goading will cause even the most law-abiding citizen to eventually succumb to the will of the machine by grabbing a handful of throttle, which simultaneously injects a burst of fuel into the cylinders and a warming rush of adrenaline into your veins. The overachieving, 1250 cc engine pulls hard from anywhere in the rev range and provides satisfying twist-and-go rideability.

Since the Revolution is such a torque-rich engine, the V-Rod manages nicely with just a 5-speed transmission. Many motorcycles now have a very tall final gear ratio to help their engines comply with exhaust standards, so it’s rare that we would ask for a taller top gear, but when riding on highways in fast-moving traffic, I did find myself wishing that the V-Rod had a proper overdrive gear – not because of excessive vibration or for the improved fuel economy – but simply because it’s nice to be able to lower the revs to a more calming and sedate rate.

Not so much a fault as a characteristic, the gearbox was very audible in use. First gear in particular dropped in with a notable clunk, but otherwise the transmission performed flawlessly and provided precise and effortless shifting. And when you’re having one of those V-Rod, full-throttle moments, it’s good to know that Harley-Davidson has added a slipper clutch to the machine to deal with potentially overzealous downshifting. The V-Rod’s clutch pull was moderate and didn’t require more than a couple of fingers, unless of course I was caught creeping through heavy traffic and had to contend with an overworked wrist.
The motorcycle’s base ergonomics, which places the rider in a hand-and-foot, forward rowing position, favours taller and bigger riders, but it does have a low seat height (678 mm), which means few will struggle to find a solid footing at stops. The deeply cut seat is sculpted for speed and is very supportive during hard acceleration. Unfortunately, this means that there is no room to move around, and even though it’s comfortable enough for urban cruising, when you often have to drop your feet to the ground, it’s a lousy companion for long-haul riding.

Instrumentation on the Anniversary Edition is simple, yet elegant. Equally sized fuel and tachometer gauges flank a central speedometer that contains a small multifunctional LCD. I had a couple of issues with the instruments; switching between the LCD’s various screens was a nuisance, as it required that I reach underneath the instrument pod and fumble around to find the selection button. I also found out – the hard way – that the fuel gauge, along with the LCD’s remaining mileage display, was not exactly accurate. With the fuel gauge showing an eighth of a tank left and the LCD telling me that I could ride another 19 km, I ran out of fuel. A splash from a jerry can got me underway again, but it also raised another peeve I’ve had with the V-Rod since I first fuelled one over seven years ago. The bike stores its fuel under the rider’s seat, which is great because it keeps more weight closer to the ground, but the tank’s opening is just large enough to fit a gas pump’s nozzle, so you can’t monitor the fuel level as it’s filling. Relying on a nozzle’s auto cutoff doesn’t always work, and more than once I’ve had to deal with a gasoline geyser that left a puddle of gas under the seat, close to the engine. The only alternative is to tediously free-pour the final bit of gas into the tank; shaky hands need not apply.

Over the past ten years, Harley-Davidson’s V-Rod has become a familiar old friend. And just like an old friend who may try to reinvent himself with a new look, the V-Rod has maintained the core values that drew me to it in the first place. The 2012 V-Rod Anniversary Edition is a visually striking motorcycle – apparently one that will only be available in limited supply – but the basis of its design is as relevant today as when the very first V-Rod was revealed. I was reminded of the timelessness of the V-Rod’s look while riding the bike; keenly aware of the general public’s reaction to every motorcycle that we test, I noted the disproportionate praise that the bike received from passersby. That ageless look also explains why our tuxedo-clad Editor wasn’t an outlandish sight on the bike; everything about the V-Rod’s appearance exudes sophistication. However, there was one thing that Editor Roberts could have added to make the picture perfect: an exuberant shout of “Vive la Révolution!” Here’s looking forward to the next 10 years of Motorcycle Mojo and Harley-Davidson’s V-Rod.


2012 V-Rod 10th Anniversary Edition Spec Chart

MODEL 2012 V-Rod 10th Anniversary Edition
List Price $17,559
Warranty 2 years
Engine Type Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-valve, 60-degree V-Twin
Displacement 1250 cc
Power (claimed) 125 hp at NA rpm
Torque (claimed) 115 N-m (85 ft-lb) at 7000 rpm
Bore and Stroke 105 x 72 mm
Compression Ratio 11.5:1
Fuel Delivery Electronic sequential port fuel injection
Transmission 5-speed
Final Drive Type Carbon-fibre belt (72/28 ratio)
Front Suspension 43 mm inverted telescopic fork
Rear Suspension Twin shocks with adjustable preload
Wheel Travel 102 mm front; 74 mm rear
Brakes Front: Two 300 mm discs with 4-piston calipersRear: One 300 mm disc with 4-piston caliper
Wheelbase 1702 mm (67.0 in.)
Rake and Trail 34 degrees/142 mm
Tires 120/70-19 front; 240/40-18 rear
Weight (wet) 304.0 kg (670 lb.)
Seat Height 678 mm (26.7 in.)
Fuel Capacity 18.9 L
Fuel Economy (observed)  7.3 L/100 km (38.7 mpg)
Fuel Range (estimated)  254 km




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