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First Drive: 2012 Harley Night Rod

Shrines are places so hallowed, so respected, that entering into them sends a chill straight up your spine. They become this way by being attached to events that are legendary and seem almost impossible. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of these places. For over 100 years, people have challenged the laws of physics to extract even more speed out of the vehicles they raced in. To ride here is to ride along with the many legends that have come before. This weekend, I had a chance to ride in this cathedral of speed as a guest of Harley Davidson.

When one thinks of Harley Davidson, racing is not the first thing to come to mind. However, Harley has a proud past and present in various racing leagues across the country, including its own class in AMA racing for the XR1200. Harley is not just chrome and loud pipes, but a significant part of the racing culture in the U.S. For our trip on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they chose a bike that can trace its roots back to racing: the newest Harley V-Rod, the Harley Night Rod.

The original V-Rod is not a racer at first glance. It is by all respects a power cruiser. Back in 2001, it was meant to bring the attitude of Harley cruisers into the new millennium. To do this, they started with a brand new, water-cooled motor. And this is where the racing connection is made. The reason is that the motor of the V-Rod was not made specifically for the bike, it was meant for racing in a bespoke superbike. In fact, the motor was even developed with the help of Porsche. However, the racing bike was shelved, so Harley created the V-Rod instead, and as they say, the rest is history. 10 years later, Harley is celebrating the V-rod with two new versions: the Night Rod and the 10th Anniversary edition.

The true stunner of the two is the Night Rod. Like the Blackline we previously tested, the Night Rod is a blacked-out and tuned-up V-Rod to give both extra performance and increased attitude. Matte paint, wider rear tire, lighter wheels, special exhaust, and inverted front forks update the bike’s looks for the next 10 years.

The Night Rod also rides like no other Harley. Whereas other Harleys feel and ride heavier than they are, the Night Rod feels much lighter. The engine is smoother and more linear in power delivery; silky in nature as compared to the coarseness of some of the other bikes. This character is exemplified on a track like Indy where the bike begins to just sew ribbons of pavement together with its excellent power delivery and effortless, accurate steering.

The bike definitely helps you take in the experience of riding the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The first thing you see is the grandstand looming above you. The banking dares you to take it a good clip, and the infield curves are a snake of pavement. It is less of a racetrack and more like the Roman Coliseum. Like the Coliseum, the fans roared on as men challenged themselves to not only survive, but also thrive on the track. Taken at even a slower speed, the experience is powerful.

Combine the experience of riding Indy with the new Harley Night Rod and you have a potent mix. The V-Rod, like the creation of Indy’s infield track, may have seemed slightly odd at first. However, time and development has been kind to them and we stand here today the better for it.