The Night-Rod is not a commuter scooter
When the Harley-Davidson V-Rod was first released in 2002 it came as a surprise to most Harley fans.
Here was a bike that looked forward, not back, with a liquid-cooled DOHC engine, designed in collaboration with Porsche, that revved to 9000 and produced serious power by any standards, in a hydroformed tubular-steel frame with its fuel tank under the seat.
It didn't even look like a real bike, dammit, but it was the Motor Company's first power cruiser and it went like no street-bike from Milwaukee had ever gone before.
Ten years down the line, the engine has grown from 1130 to 1247cc, power is up from 85 to 93kW, the V-Rod has picked up about 13kg in weight (haven't we all?) and now there's a special anniversary model. This is Harley-Davidson, the company that gave nostalgia a part number - there would have to be.
But there are also quite a lot of new features and some styling updates, starting with a slimmer, lower tailpiece incorporating a flush-mounted LED tail light. The front suspension's rake angle has been steepened quicken the steering, and the handle-bars have been pulled back to reduce the stretch to the grips for those of us not built like gorillas.
The five-speed gearbox now has a slipper clutch to prevent the rear wheel from locking on under injudicious downshift and the rear tyre is up from 200mm to a low-profile 240/40 gumball.
The test 'Rod also came with antilock braking (very reassuring, on a bike that weighs 302kg wet) and a 'security package' - an extra fob that, if moved further than about a metre from the bike, arms an alarm and prevents the engine from being started.
Thanks to the new 'bars the seating position is more comfortable than it looks around town - once you've heaved the bike off its side-stand - and the quicker steering a boon in traffic.
The faster you ride a 'Rod, the better it goes. The power comes on strong as the rev counter needle rises past 4000 and clutchless shifts in both directions become the norm.
One hundred and eleven Newton metres at 7 000rpm translates to a serious kick in the butt anywhere over 5 000 and the bike runs up to its true top speed of 211km/h at 8 100 remarkably quickly, with 225 showing on the old-fashioned analogue speedometer.
The less said about the postcard-sized pillion pad the better; Herself could not be persuaded to try it.
On the second weekend we had the Night Rod, we took it on a long country ride in atrocious weather.
Even at modest speeds, however, the stretched-out seating position eventually became a pain. But that long, gentle ride on wet roads highlighted another facet of Milwaukee's power cruiser: it's astonishingly fuel-efficient. The factory quotes combined fuel consumption of 6,3 litres/100km; we averaged 5,9 over a week's worth of commuting, performance testing and a long cruise.
Like most Harleys, the Night-Rod is a rolling contradiction; it's an efficient commuter that's difficult to ride in heavy traffic, a well-tuned tourer that becomes uncomfortable on long rides and a kick-ass, show-them-who's-boss power cruiser that's a real pain to keep looking good because its matte black paint shows every speck of dirt and can't simply be wiped down with a squirt of polish.
The Harley-Davidson Night-Rod Special is an urban warrior for riders who wear 'distressed' leather, who make a fashion statement out of always looking a little scruffy. It has so much attitude it would be faintly ridiculous if it didn't back it up with solid, no-nonsense straight-line performance.