Harley-Davidson Night Rod

Milwaukee builds a bad-boy boulevardier with dragbike looks and the Street Rod's extra punch

Photography by Kevin Wing

It seems so simple. If you're Harley-Davidson and looking to strengthen the VRSC family with something that slots nicely between the original V-Rod custom and the sportier Street Rod, you split the difference with a boulevard badass that combines the best of both worlds, right?

Exactly.

Say hello, then, to the 2006 Night Rod, a custom cruiser that combines the aesthetics, low seat height and frame of the original V-Rod with the 115-horsepower engine and exhaust system of the new Street Rod--and then rolls in some cosmetic touches all its own.

While other manufacturers have created power cruisers by building ever-larger V-twins that owe much of their style to Milwaukee, those charged with creating Harley-Davidson's own performance Vees came at the concept from a different angle. Instead of relying on displacement and the added size and weight that comes with it, Harley used a relatively meager 1130cc twin with liquid-cooling, overhead cams, eight valves and the ability to rev. The result was the 112-horsepower V-Rod, which morphed into 115 rear-wheel ponies with the introduction of the '06 Street Rod. Now that improved powerplant has been coupled to the V-Rod's stretched-out cruiser chassis to power the '06-spec Night Rod. The V-Rod was a potent cruiser, but the Night Rod punches even harder.

2006 Harley Davidson Night Rod Side ViewLike the original V-Rod and the also-new-for-2006 Street Rod, Harley's newly minted Night Rod packs serious stoplight-to-stoplight performance. Its more traditional riding position encourages riders to use that power, too--though there is a second set of forward-mounted pegs that allow riders to relax when the going gets mellow.

Shorter riders sometimes shy away from the V-Rod because of the stretch to the forward-set footpegs, but the Night Rod provides midmount pegs and controls as the main footrests, with folding pegs up front when you want to stretch out a bit. The midmount controls are more comfortable for most riders, offering a more in-charge riding posture and allowing you to better resist wind pressure at speed. With those pegs we could run through a couple of tanks of fuel (at about 130 mph) before the standard saddle made us squirm. Even though the two-piece saddle's small passenger section is an improvement on the V-Rod's sloping pad, passengers were ready for relief after 100 miles or so, in part because the Night Rod's pegs are mounted quite high.

Since the V-Rod donated the frame and most other chassis components to keep the 27.1-inch saddle height, the Night Rod uses the V-Rod's 3.7-gallon underseat tank and has 4.0 inches of suspension travel at both ends. (The Street Rod sits 3.0 inches higher, making room for 5.0 gallons of fuel and 5.0 inches of travel.) Although the steering head remains at the V-Rod's 34 degrees, Harley steepened the fork angle by 2 degrees to 36 degrees from the V-Rod's 38. This juggling gives the Night Rod the most front-wheel trail in the VRSC trio at 4.6 inches, though its steering is still considerably lighter and more precise than the average cruiser's. Compared with the cruiser norm, the Night Rod also has a bit more suspension travel and control, slightly less weight and additional lean angle, all of which make it handier on a winding road.

Brembo brakes were introduced on Harleys with the Street Rod, and all '06 VRSC models will have them. The slightly larger rotors and four-pot calipers (two discs up front) require a bit less effort and deliver somewhat more power than other Harleys, even the earlier V-Rods. All that's lacking is an adjustable lever up front.

With some 626 pounds of motorcycle to stop and the ability to build speed in a hurry, the Brembos are well-suited to the Night Rod. Unless you crave the tractorlike torque of other big twins and don't like engines that develop some rpm, the Rod makes impressive power. You can't just feed it clutch at idle and motor away from stops, but it starts doing good business from about 2000 rpm and winds up happily to just before the 9000-rpm redline. Like the Street Rod, the Night Rod needs to clear its throat coming off idle when it's cold. But once warmed up it flat-out rips. You don't need to downshift to make a pass on the highway, but if you choose to, the gearbox shifts smoothly and positively. Clutch effort is greater than many other big cruisers, though engagement is smooth and predictable.

Combine the solid handling, muscular performance and strong brakes, each of which performs at or near the top of the range for performance cruisers, and you end up with a formidable motorcycle, one that will easily leave those tubby mega-twins reeling in its wake when the road starts to meander.

Of course, for most cruiser riders, looks are a much more important factor than kinetic issues. Fortunately, the Night Rod has powerful visuals. The engine is blacked out with polished fins, and ours was brightened with a $495 chrome-cover kit. The frame is also black, but there are plenty of nicely polished and chrome bits on the bike. It retains the V-Rod's long, low profile, with distinctive features such as a drag-style headlight fairing. It wears new slotted wheels, too (in the same sizes and with the same tires as the other Rods). The red/black color scheme on our bike was the finishing touch in what virtually everyone who saw it called a gorgeous motorcycle.

2006 Harley Davidson Night Rod Brake View

Cruiser enthusiasts may find the Night Rod offers the best of both the other two VRSC models (the VRSCB V-Rod is being discontinued for '06), but it has a unique attraction in addition to its riveting styling: At $14,995 (base MSRP), it's also the least expensive of the family by $500. See? Simple. MC

2006 Harley-Davidson VRSCD Night Rod
PRICE

MSRP $14,995
ENGINE
Type:l/c 60-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement:DOHC, 8v
Displacement:1130cc
Transmission:5-speed

CHASSIS
Weight: 626 lb. wet (284kg)
Fuel capacity:3.7 gal. (14L)
Wheelbase:66.9 in. (1699mm)
Seat height:27.1 in. (688mm)

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