Harley-Davidson Introduces the 2012 Night Rod Special

Breaking the Mold

It’s been 10 years since Harley-Davidson introduced the V-Rod and I remember my reaction the first time I took one out – this is a Harley? It was so different from the Sportsters, Dynas and Softails I had ridden, it felt like a product from a different company. Some people knocked the model, not on its’ merits, but because it didn’t mesh with their pre-conceived notion of what a Harley-Davidson “should be”. When I think about the history of Harley-Davidson, my thoughts drift towards the early board track racers, the hill climbers of the depression era and the XR750 flat tracker introduced in the seventies. Those models didn’t fit a mold either. They broke it and I can’t imagine Harley-Davidson without them.

Only time will tell if the V-Rod achieves the same iconic status, but it has been embraced by Harley-Davidson enthusiasts and attracted a new crowd interested in performance cruisers. The latest V-Rod was introduced this past weekend against the backdrop of the MotoGP race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s called the Night Rod Special and while it incorporates a number of improvements from previous years, it has subtle nods to the original in honor of the 10th anniversary.

Black Beauty

V-Rods use the liquid-cooled 1250cc Revolution series V-Twin engine, designed in conjunction with Porsche and matched to a 5-speed gearbox. They include features you’d expect on a performance machine including Brembo dual-disc brakes with optional ABS and serious rubber. Although I’m not a fan of fat rear tires on street bikes, I have to admit the 240mm rear really does compliment the drag-inspired, low-slung look. You’d almost forget it’s a cruiser, but the 5 gallon fuel tank and 37 mpg combined fuel economy mean you can spend about 3 hours in the saddle before a refill. One gripe about V-Rods in the past has been the riding position. Simply put, it can be uncomfortable, especially if you are vertically challenged. The most welcome change to the 2012 models are the redesigned ergonomics. The handlebars and controls have been moved closer to the rider so it’s considerably easier and more comfortable to ride.

The Night Rod Special marks the 10th anniversary using the tank lettering from the original model and a commemorative badge, but also includes features unique to the bike like the streamlined front end and fastback tail section. There are tasteful accents of chrome, largely on the shotgun exhaust, but the frame, engine, forks, triple clamp, swingarm and lighter cast aluminum wheels are all blacked out. It’s available in three different paint schemes, but I love the “Black Denim” option featured here. The paint combined with the overall lines present a truly sinister profile.

Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special on Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Piloting a 2012 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special around Indianapolis Motor Speedway

First Impressions

I was lucky enough to take the Night Rod Special around the track set-up for the MotoGP race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The bike rumbled to life in a snap and idled at a relaxed pace. I’m 5’11” and I found the riding position very comfortable. If you are new to forward controls, it can take a moment to find your balance, but I loved the improved ergonomics. Shifting was easy and I appreciated the positive response when a gear engaged. The bike weighs 637 lbs dry, but has plenty of get up and go thanks to 115 horses which provide a linear response across the power band. Unlike a traditional V-Rod, both exhaust pipes are routed across the right hand side which can get a little toasty in stopped traffic on a Summer day and the exhaust note was a bit muted for my tastes. I bet many owners will choose a pair of aftermarket pipes including this rather nice set from Vance & Hines.

After the track, a few bikes needed to be driven across town and I quickly volunteered. A track is nice, especially Indianapolis, but I wanted to get a better sense of the machine in traffic. The definitive moment came when a van made an illegal left across and into my lane. Any restraint I felt quickly disappeared and I hammered the throttle and made a sharp turn around the interloper. It was over in a matter of seconds, nothing really, but it showed me the extent of the power and responsiveness and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

Prices begin at $15,299

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