Heavy Metal

We’ve always liked large capacity bikes with a lot of power, especially if they are a bit, shall we say, outrageous. It comes as no surprise then to find that we’ve bought or tested machines like Kawasaki’s speed demon, the ZZR1400, or Honda’s mega-mad 1520cc Valkyrie. Harleys have generally been ruled out of the equation due to a lack of power, even though many of the engines are huge.

But there are Harley’s and then, well then, there’s the V-Rod. A bike in a class of its own if ever there was one. First off, it’s nothing like the Milwaukee firm’s usual offering; liquid cooled, with an engine designed by Porsche and kicking out 115 bhp, it’s faster than anything looking like this has a right to be. It doesn’t shake your fillings out, nor does it leave you playing catch up at traffic-light GP’s. Then there’s the sublime music of a tuned up V-Twin – a wonderful growl that rises to a snarl as the 1130cc engine passes the normal territory for the marque and heads upwards to a heady 9,000 rpm. Sure aint like any Harley we’ve ever ridden, that’s for sure, and Harley traditionalist agree – they hate it.

Brakes are better than the typical HD too – with twin discs up front – Brembo’s on the later models. It’s true that ground clearance is pretty limited, especially on early bikes, but then this machine is designed for blasting up the drag strip rather than bombing around a race track. Nevertheless, weight is moderate for a Harley at 275 kilos and with a few minor upgrades it handles surprisingly well.

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Image: Harley Davidson

Above all, we just love the sheer madness of the thing. It’s as butch as a trainload of Terminators, a living incarnation of testosterone on two wheels. If it was a meal it would be a triple Big Mac with double cheese, jalapenos, and three thick shakes; if there could be a musical equivalent it would be ZZ Top’s baseline played at concert volume. Subtle it ain’t, redneck it may be, but a whole load of fun it is for a certainty.

When a 2002 model came up for sale at reasonable price we just had to have a test ride. But the sheer personality of the beast worked its magic and it wasn’t long before there was a new arrival at Bigbikemad.

The bike we bought was one of the very first models – a VRSCA from 2002, and while mileage was low – at around 9,000 – condition was so-so. The bike had been neglected but not abused. Mild corrosion was present here and there, nothing unusual though, tyres were a mismatched Dunlop and Avon combo with a rear worn square and the the front brake hardly worked at all. It needed a full service and the seat needed modifying if its to take the sacred behind of Mrs Dave (who is getting as fond of pies as here husband). There was a need to clean up, service, replace and upgrade. We didn’t like the muted colour scheme (bubonic purple), and there was a lot of stone damage too, so bodywork repairs and re-spay seem in order.

Project Stage 1

First things first

Image: Avon Tyres

Image: Avon Tyres

Tyres were fitted at a most reasonable price by Lightning Services of Trowbridge. An ace little workshop in the tradition of real motorcycle mechanics and experts in the art of making the impossible possible.

First off came a full 10,000 mile Harley Dealer service including a plug change, oil, filters, new brake pads all round and a brake service.

Even so, the bike didn’t feel to good to ride; under-sprung shocks and brakes that needed a bit of a sharpen up.

before starting our road test we shod the Harley is lovely new rubber in the form of Avon Cobra’s – an excellent if expensive cruiser tyre. A full review of these tyres due soon.

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Clean up

Paintwork was tatty, with loads of stone chips, so those parts (which proved to be aluminum) stripped off and sent off to the paint shop (see below). We jacked the bike up and set to work polishing the all-aluminium wheels. We also removed the exhaust, cleaned up the mounting bracket and powder coated it.

Image: Harley Davidson

Image: Harley Davidson

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Comfort

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The standard seat was OK for rider but little more then a plank for pillion . We replaced it with a nearly new HD Sun-downer. See above for the difference is size of the pillion part… the old one is on the right, new comfier seat is on the left…

Then we fitted a Spitfire screen (E Bay USA) to cut down on wind blast.

Then we fitted a Spitfire screen (E Bay USA) to cut down on wind blast.

Suspension and brakes

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Original shocks, with only 9,000 miles on them weren’t worn but were soft. We sold them on E Bay and fitted Progressive 440’s. This would have been an easy job if the soft bolt heads hadn’t stripped. Why anyone would want to use a hex fitting on such a component rather than a good old fashioned hex nut is hard to understand… New bolts duly ordered and fitted.

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9016418_origBrakelines were getting rusty, so we replaced the front with Hel Lines (see above, left). Despite being specifically ordered for the V-Rod, they arrived with one of the front lines too short, so we used Goodridge’s handy kit system to make our own. We opted for carbon effect.

Protection

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Image: Harley Davidson.

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We began by fitting Fehling crash bars. Lovely quality and huge diameter tube which looked nice and chunky, but the worst instructions ever and they needed some fabricating to fit. Having had a car pull out on us on our first ride, we added expensive Highway Hawk ‘oval tech glide’ spotlights to the bars. We ran these through a Fuseblock from Nippy Norman. The fuseblock fitted nicely just in front of the main fuse panel under the seat.

Other stuff

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The standard horn was rubbish, so we junked it and fitted these Wollo Airsplitters from the US. They came without a bracket so we fabricated our own from a simple T-repair plate from B&Q – see below. The compressor fitted well under the old chrome horn cover (below, right), keeping the air pipe nice and short.

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Paint and bodywork

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The original paintwork was poor, and the colour seemed to drab for such an explosive bike as the V Rod. We went for Lava orange – a zingy colour used by BMW on their K1300S. It’s a lovely 3 stage paint with candy flake and a deep triple lacquer coat. We got Reef Paint Shop of Southwick to do the work for us. We also junked the louvered alloy grilles at the front of the bike as they looked like cheap bits on an old air conditioning system, and replaced them with these moulded air vents from E Bay (below, right).

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The plastic fuel tank (located under the seat) is a pig ugly thing on the early V Rods. Why Harley left this on display is a mystery. To fill the void on either side and provide modest extra luggage capacity, we went for these dandy Italian leather side bags that are specifically made by hand and to order to fit the frame shape of the V Rod. Cost a fortune, but what the heck…Yee-har.

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