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Harley-Davidson Night Rod Review

Harley-Davidson Night Rod Review

In today’s video we’ll be discussing in detail my 2006 Harley-Davidson V-Rod Night Rod that I’ve owned for the last 5 years.

In this Harley-Davidson V-Rod Night Rod review and accompanying video I’ll instill in you what I’ve learned after 5 years of owning my Night Rod. By the end of the review you’ll know exactly what to expect from this motorcycle, and whether or not the first generation of Harley-Davidson V-Rods (2001-2006) is right for you.

Let’s find out if the Harley-Davidson Night Rod is a good motorcycle, and if it’s right for you! We’ll be covering:

  • The difference between a V-Rod and a Night Rod
  • Is the V-Rod right for beginners?
  • How much power does the V-Rod make?
  • What’s the V-Rod’s performance like?
  • Dashboard features and failures
  • The headlight and how to make it better
  • What’s the front suspension like?
  • Do the brakes do the job and how do they feel?
  • The most important thing to know about V-Rod rims
  • The hidden and hard to reach battery
  • How do Night Rods and other V-Rods improve handling?
  • Why the bigger seat isn’t necessarily better for the Night Rod
  • What are the scoops at the front of the V-Rod?
  • The terrible key position and what it means for fuel capacity
  • What makes the rear suspension and rear tire disappointing
  • Everything you need to know about shifting gears on the Night Rod
  • How does the V-Rod sound?
  • How well does the V-Rod handle?
  • How reliable is the V-Rod?
  • It got me a lot of sexual harassment, which was okay
  • Would I buy another V-Rod, and/or, this Night Rod?
  • What is parts availability like?
  • What is the V-Rod community like?
  • Does Harley-Davidson still make the V-Rod?

watch this video

Watch this video!What’s the difference between a V-Rod and a Night Rod?

A V-Rod is a family of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and the Night Rod is one particular model of V-Rod. There are other models of V-Rod including the Muscle, VRSCA, VRSCB, Night Rod Special, and Street Rod.  To put it simply: Not every V-Rod is a Night Rod, but every Night Rod is a member of the V-Rod family.

The Night Rod ran from 2006 to 2008. That’s the model we’ll be focused on in this review. Although 95% of this review will actually apply to all first generation V-Rods, from 2001 to 2006.

Is the V-Rod a good motorcycle for beginners? How much power does the V-Rod make?

First let’s start with what the V-Rod is and isn’t. The Harley-Davidson V-Rod is not a beginner-friendly motorcycle. It was Harley’s first liquid cooled motorcycle, made with a little help from the engineers at Porsche.

The V-Rod makes a claimed 120 horsepower. In actual fact, when measured on a dyno, it makes just over 100 horsepower at the rear wheel, but combined with the weight and size of the motorcycle, it’s too much for most beginner riders.

V-Rod First Generation vs Second Generation

Technically, the 2007 and up models make 5 horsepower more and have a bigger motor, moving up to 1250cc. They’re also much heavier, and therefore, the power to weight ratio kind of negates the increase in displacement.

What is the V-Rod’s performance like?

The V-Rod is a thoroughbred muscle cruiser. You can hit 100 km/hr or 60 miles per hour in first gear. This motorcycle makes power at any RPM, in any gear, and it will let you know that from the minute you let go of the clutch.

Speaking of the clutch, a slipper clutch is available, if you can still find one, and makes the otherwise typical heavy Harley-Davidson clutch pull much more comfortable.

Harley-Davidson V-Rod Night Rod Review: Dashboard

Dashboard features and failures

Across the front end we’ll find a simple dash with odometer, trip meters, remaining range, a clock, tach, and a gas gage.

The gas gage on these models very often stop working. There are special tools you can buy online or 3D print yourself to open up the cover of the tank and clean up the fuel sensor, but before you do that you might just want to try running some seafoam or carb and fuel injector cleaner through first.

The headlight, and how to make it better

In front of the dash the motorcycle usually comes with a standard Harley-Davidson 5.75” headlight with a lame H4 bulb. I strongly recommend upgrading to a Daymaker style headlight. I have a video I put out years ago showing you how to do this, including what OEM and aftermarket parts to use together for a clean installation with no cutting up your factory harness.

What’s the front suspension like?

Moving down the front end, suspension is non adjustable but adequate. Personally, progressive suspension would be nice to have, but that can be said for any Harley-Davidson, and most riders won’t know the difference.

Do the brakes do the job and how do they feel?

That brings us to the brakes, dual disk brakes up front go with the muscle cruiser performance of the bikes. I believe most V-Rods, but maybe not all, will come equipped with Brembos. Part of the reason why I upgraded from a Suzuki Boulevard M50 to the V-Rod was for the improved braking and I wasn’t disappointed. Stopping power could always be better, but that wasn’t one of my complaints about the bike, which we’ll get into soon.

The front tire is a 120/70ZR-19 which isn’t too hard to find tires for. I’ve been running Avon Cobras and enjoy them. They haven’t let me down even in cooler or wetter weather. The problem with the tires, is actually at the rear, but we’ll get to that later.

v-rod night rod review brakes and front tire

The most important thing to know about V-Rod rims

Let’s talk about the rims because that’s absolutely something you should know. Rims are a big debate in the V-Rod communities. The originals came with solid rims which caused the V-Rod to be very susceptible to cross winds. If possible, you should try to find some spoked rims like these for a better riding experience in windy conditions.

The hidden and hard to reach battery

Behind the steering stem are these covers which give you access to a little diagnostics plug. I have a video on that too. It’s cool for running a check up on your Harley. If you’re into that sort of thing I’ll link to it in the description box under this video.

Between the two sidecovers is where you’ll find the battery. Harley-Davidson does a lot of things right with the V-Rod. The fenders and covers are typically made from aluminum rather than steel to keep weight down and premium finish up. They do intelligent things that just make sense, like having the gas tank under the seat, rather than up high, to keep the center of gravity down low, making the bike easier to handle.

Unfortunately, they messed up with this battery placement, as it’s a pain in the butt to access, and puts a big heavy block up higher, rather than down low. If I were ever to replace a battery on my V-Rod, which I haven’t needed to because I’ve babied my battery for the five years I’ve owned this one, but if I did, I would switch to a lithium battery for the up-high weight savings.

v-rod night rod review side shot

How easy is the V-Rod to work on?

Luckily the V-Rod is fairly low maintenance and easy to maintain. Doing an oil change on a V-Rod yourself is easy work.

Accessing the battery can be harder than it needs to be as previously mentioned. However I still found it fairly easy to install a phone mount on my Night Rod that would charge my phone while riding.

How do Night Rods and other V-Rods improve handling?

Moving further back, under this aluminum cover is the air box. It’s a smart design. Light stuff, like air, up high. Heavy stuff, like gas, down low. That’s how you keep a 620 lb motorcycle feeling as light as possible.

Keep in mind the aluminum air cover means that your magnetic tank bag will not stick to the V-Rod. It’s one of the reasons it’s hard to make the V-Rod a practical, utilitarian motorcycle. I get that it’s meant to be a hot rod of a motorcycle, but I ride a lot, usually preferring to commute by bike. If you’re in the same boat, this is something to keep in mind.

The rear fender is also aluminum because Harley wasn’t cutting corners on finish. It’s bottomed out by what V-Rod owners call “The Dog’s Ass”. This expression has never made much sense to me, but you will see it referenced among V-Rod owners a lot. It’s a V-Rod thing.

Why the bigger seat isn’t necessarily better for the Night Rod

For the seat, Harley-Davidson made lots of options with different finishes. Personally I think this perforated leather look is by far the best and just exudes class and quality finish. I also had the fatter Harley-Davidson factory “Sundowner” touring seat, however I found it didn’t pair well with the Night Rod’s mid controls. The Sundowner touring seat felt a lot better on V-Rods with forward foot controls and just feels awkward on the Night Rod.

V-Rod Night Rod seat

What are the scoops at the front of the V-Rod?

Back to the front you’ll find these ram air scoop looking things that help bring air to the rad while simultaneously protecting it from any debris that could cause damage. It’s a smart design and it makes sense that they tried to really decorate around the rad given that this was Harley’s first liquid cooled motorcycle.

Now let’s talk about the motor. It came in different colors, but personally, nothing says bad ass and class at the same time like the matte black with the rich chrome fins and head. I could look at this motor all day long. The fact it has all the power to back up it’s “bad mofo” look is the cherry on top.

The terrible key position and what it means for fuel capacity

Right here is where the key goes and personally, the placement of this sucks. It’s awkward to reach under your leg behind your knee to fiddle with the key placement. V-Rod owners will soon learn the correct order is to put the key in, and then sit on the bike, ride, and then get off the bike, and then take your key out. Anything else is just awkward and your keys can end up falling into the side of the exhaust so that you can burn your fingers digging them off. Many first generation V-Rod owners will learn this lesson the hard way. You’re welcome.

Night Rod vs BMW F700GS

The key takes away from an already small fuel tank capacity. The key location combined with the fact she will guzzle fuel (especially after a good tune), means that you aren’t getting more than an hour away from home before you’ll start thinking about getting a gas station. For comparison, I average about 8.8 liters per 100 km on my V-Rod, compared to 4.4 liters per 100 km on my BMW. Not only that, but the V-Rod takes premium, while my BMW is happy on regular, meaning not only does it drink twice the fuel, it only drinks the good stuff too.

What makes the rear suspension and rear tire disappointing

Unfortunately this whole area of the bike, in my opinion, is a bit of a let down. After the gas tank we get to this rear suspension, which, for me was adequate because I only weighed 155 lbs when I bought this motorcycle. But the minute you put a passenger on the back and you hit a road that isn’t perfectly smooth, you can expect to start bottoming out. If you’re going to be doing a lot of two-up riding, I strongly recommend a rear suspension upgrade.

Next we have the 180 rear tire. Personally, I love this. The newer V-Rods, usually 2007 and up, have 240mm rear tires. The fatter tire means the newer V-Rods aren’t as easy to quickly and precisely throw around tight aggressive twisties as the first generation was with the 180mm rear tire. That isn’t the only thing that makes the Night Rod handle better than newer V-Rods. More on that later.

The tire is a mixed blessing. On one hand the Avon rear has been lovely, and I’ve appreciated the 180 rear tire. The motorcycle has always felt planted across the long wheelbase and even rolling on the power in wet conditions. I’ve always maintained traction, despite having no fancy technology like traction control.

On the other hand, it’s an 18 inch tire. This is a tire size that never really caught on. At one point I had Michelin offering me free tires for my V-Rod when they came out with their Scorcher line up. I couldn’t even take advantage of the offer because they didn’t make something in my size! So just be mindful that you may only have a handful of options of tires for the Night Rod. Personally I like the Avons, but that’s just because that’s what they came with, and then I later found a pair for sale for a price I couldn’t say no to.

Everything you need to know about shifting gears on the Night Rod

Back to the front and let’s talk about transmission. The V-Rod has a 5 speed transmission and while it makes gobs of power, more than enough do about 145 miles per hour or about 230 km per hour, you might still find yourself looking for a 6th gear just as a nice calm overdrive on long rides where a more traditional cruiser’s low RPMs might be nice. Other than that, shifting gears are a hybrid of the usual clunkiness you expect from a Harley, and decently smooth as you’d expect from a more refined machine. Personally, I like a little bit of positive feedback on my gear shifts.

And obviously there is no gear indicator because this isn’t a motorcycle made for children. Most of your riding will be done around 3,000 to 5,500 rpm but whatever gear and RPM you find yourself if you twist the throttle the V-Rod will unleash enough torque to make you smile every time.

Getting towards the end of this review we have the mid controls. On other V-Rod models you’ll find forward controls, but the VRSCD Night Rod and the VRSCR Street Rod get mid controls because they’re the fast ones. Can these mid controls feel a bit awkward at first? Absolutely. You may initially think “What have I done?” Don’t. You might also think “Should I change it?” Don’t. The best advice I got was do nothing and ride it for a week. I did that and sure enough I was used to it by the end of the week.

You’ll appreciate the mid controls when you want to do some, uh, “spirited” riding and twisties, but when you’re in chill mode you can take advantage of these front foot pegs to stretch out. I made use of both the front pegs and the forward controls interchangeably throughout my rides.

V-Rod Night Rod review exhaust

How does the V-Rod sound?

Lastly, we have the exhaust. The Night Rod doesn’t have the traditional Harley-Davidson sound and why should it. There are no push rods, the bike is liquid cooled, we’re comparing 60 degree v-twins with 45 degree v-twins… The V-Rod’s motor is nothing like what Harley-Davidson was making at the time. As a result the V-Rod sounds nothing like a traditional Harley-Davidson. However, you can get a variety of slip-ons for the motorcycle, which when paired with a K&N air filter and a fuel processor to adjust your air:fuel ratio will let you make more power and help the motorcycle to run properly, because it comes far too lean from factory.

Now let’s talk handling, reliability, sexual harassment, and whether or not I would buy one again.

How well does the V-Rod handle?

Firstly, the buyer asked me how I felt the V-Rod handled. Truthfully, it’s better than most cruisers it’s size, but that’s very relative. A spoon is a better knife than a brick is, but that doesn’t mean you want your surgeon cutting you open with a spoon. Odds are you aren’t taking your V-Rod to a MotoGP race track though, so you probably don’t need a precision super sport, and in that case the Night Rod does fine, for what it is, and handles arguably better than other V-Rods.

I should also mention that, living in Toronto, the largest and most densely populated city in Canada, the Night Rod often felt like a lot of motorcycle. I was commuting on it to work every day, and in those very annoying stop and go conditions, it can feel like you’re wrestling a lot of bike that always wants to lunge forward and take off if you aren’t constantly pulling the reigns in on all of those horses.

How reliable is the V-Rod?

Where reliability is concerned, in 5 years I only had the bike let me down once: a thermostat failed. Ironic since this was Harley-Davidson’s first liquid cooled motorcycle, and all the Harley purists said liquid cooled motorcycles were too complicated. In my particular case even though I disagree with them, they were actually right. Other than that this motorcycle has been reliable and a pleasure to own.

It got me a lot of sexual harassment, which was okay

Speaking of pleasuring, this motorcycle got me a lot of sexual harassment from the old ladies at my former workplace. I’m not going to lie, I loved that. I had one coworker, with a son my age, tell me that she liked my motorcycle and if I was born 30 years earlier she thought we would hit it off. The next day she brought in a young picture of herself with the muscle car she bought brand new in the 80s. She was right. I even had a senior director in the company, married, tell me that she saw me on my motorcycle leaving work the previous day. She said I “looked so hot on that Harley” and “Good for me.”

So if you’re into women in their late 40s and mid 50s hitting on you in your late 20s, this is the motorcycle for you.

Would I buy another V-Rod, and/or, this Night Rod?

Lastly, would I buy this motorcycle again? Yes in a heartbeat. The V-Rod was the redheaded step-child of the Harley family. It made gobs of power and was very fun to ride, but it was the black sheep in the Harley-Davidson family. However, today, liquid cooled high performance Harleys are becoming much more common. For those who want a Sportster S, but better looking, and a lot less expensive, a V-Rod is probably a great choice.

What is parts availability like?

My only concern would be the availability of parts moving forward. This Night Rod, although it’s in great shape, is 16 years old. How much longer will we be able to readily get parts for it?

As of summer of 2022, still pretty good. That’s as much thanks to Harley-Davidson as it is to an awesome very niche aftermarket dedicated to offering parts for mods and upgrades for the V-Rod.

Fitzgerald Motorsports

Fitzgerald Motorsports sells everything from performance cam shafts and crank shafts to some of the best exhausts you can buy for a V-Rod. Even if motorcycle racing isn’t your thing, they’re still a valuable asset to the online V-Rod community.

Other vendors are out there, including GRCustoms, which is a go-to spot for more aesthetically-oriented mods.

What is the V-Rod community like?

The online V-Rod community is fantastic. You have roughly a dozen Facebook groups to choose from and can see what V-Rod owners from all over the world are up to.

1130cc.com

More importantly though, there is 1130cc.com, the world’s biggest V-Rod motorcycle forum. It isn’t as big as it used to be, but it’s a huge repository of knowledge on these motorcycles. Any problem you may encounter, or question you may have as V-Rod owner, has probably already been asked and answered on 1130cc.

Does Harley-Davidson still make the V-Rod?

Harley-Davidson discontinued the V-Rod in 2017 in part to ramp up production of the Street model at the Kansas City plant. I made a video about why so many Harley owners hate the Street line up if you’re interested. Two years later, the entire Kansas City plant would be closed down – I did a video on that too.

And two years after that, the Street family would also be discontinued which is fine with me, that bike sucked.

You know what bike didn’t suck though? The V-Rod. Especially the Night Rod. The sum of the pros and cons don’t matter because they don’t really capture the importance of each. Whatever the final score is, trust me, the pros far outweigh the cons. These are really good, really fun, premium motorcycles. If you can find one that’s still in good shape and well looked after you’ll have yourself a very fun muscle cruiser. It’s something every rider should try at least once.

And that’s it for my review. I know I’ve probably given you a lot to think about. I’ve been a fan of V-Rods since I started riding over 15 years ago, and I wanted to make sure that I put as much info as I could into one video to try to help the community.

Ride safe, but have fun, peace!

About YouMotorcycle

YouMotorcycle is a lifestyle motorcycle blog to be appreciated by those who see motorcycling as a lifestyle and not simply a hobby, sport, or method of transportation. Most of the posts on the site are written by past and present motorcycle industry staff. We remain fiercely independent, innovative, and unconventional. Our goal is to encourage more people to enjoy the world's greatest outdoor sport by helping new riders get started and inspiring current riders to get out more. We motorcycle, do You?

One comment

  1. Totally agree with your comments on the v rod but here’s a couple of my own after 6 years and counting on my ownership of a 2006 v rod. Though it’s heavy it’s not actually a big bike in fact it’s one of the smaller Harley’s which may not suit tall riders . As stated it’s heavy but carry’s it’s weight low down and is well balanced it’s very low to which helps if your short of leg however it’s quite a reach to the forward controls on the earlier models . As usual Harley offer short reach handlebars foot pegs and seats I have all 3 and at 5’2” flat foot the beast no prob . They are costly (as all Harley parts are !) and availability may be an issue. Build quality is superb as is the brakes and engine . Rear suspension is much improved with progressive 412s. Gearbox is good hydraulic clutch light.. one final tip if your not used to a heavy motorcycle fit crash bars the feshing German ones are very good and even look as if they belong . Now many people say they don’t look good but I assure you they look most better than scuffed damaged paintwork , broke levers indicators etc which will prob cost 1000s to repair compared to a couple of hundred quid for the engine bars . They will also prevent your leg being trapped god forbid under the bike and make it easier to lift back up as it’s already half way up ! Ok you may have a scuff on the engine bar but that’s the only damage as the bike rests fully on the bar and rear tire. Will you drop it in the first place , quite proberbly once it goes beyond a certain point it’s going down full stop. I’ve dropped mine twice once when I didn’t put the stand down fully and once when I trod in bloody dog***.

    You do get used to the weight and balance quite quickly . Once underway the weight disappears it’s very stable to though does run wide in tight corners due to the long wheelbase and raked out front. Get ready for lots of ques I’ve never had any other bike get so much attention it’s a work of art seeing one in your garage. PRICLESS!

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