Harley-Davidson Night Rod Custom – Fast and Loud

Barnes Harley-Davidson Custom black Night Rod right front

Barnes Harley-Davidson in Langley, BC has a reputation for outrageous, creative customs. Here’s a look at the latest from that dealer’s skunkworks department – the Night Rod Custom.

I have to say right off the top that the rubber all over the road was already there when we went to do the photo shoot. While the exhaust bellow from this bike could take the rubber off the road as quick as its big rear tire can lay it down, I wasn’t going to be the one to toss away a one-off bike pushing 50 grand. I have to give the credit to the 16-year-olds who obviously put a lot of work laying the groundwork in daddy’s ’88 Grand National. Thanks boys, the backdrop fit the bike perfectly.

The guys in the skunkworks department at Barnes Harley-Davidson in Langley, BC have also been busy. While 99 per cent of the bikes rolling out the door are Harleys of the stock variety they have prided themselves on building some original custom bikes based on a number of Harley-Davidson platforms. While at the Vancouver motorcycle show in January we saw a wild looking custom that began life as a V-Rod but had long since morphed into something a little darker, a little wilder. One look and we wanted to ride the machine that so stood menacingly tall—yet low to the ground—amid a variety of shop-built customs. The other bikes were customized yet recognizable, but this one was different. 

Turns out riding that particular bike was about as wild as it looked so the folks at Barnes said we could ride the next one that came out the door. It would be for all intents and purpose the same minus the single sided swingarm, which would make the bike a little less expensive to build, and enhance the bike’s riding characteristics.

Barnes Harley-Davidson Custom black Night Rod tank gaugesAs the stock V-Rod still does not fit public perceptions of what a Harley-Davidson should look like, most people who came to look at the bike had no idea what it was—one gentleman asked if it was a Ducati. Make the bike unrecognizable to its former self and nobody would have known what it was if not for the Barnes Harley-Davidson logo clear-coated into the tank beside the gauges. There have been some interesting Barnes-built rides  through our office before—including a customized Fat Boy and a performance-oriented Sportster called the Barnes Stormer—but it would hard to pick one that garnered more attention.

Unlike some of the other customs we look at in the issue, the Barnes’ bike is primarily a show piece. And while it has the acceleration to match its looks nobody, including its builders, would expect it to be a daily rider. And this in itself has given the Barnes boys  the freedom to make modifications to the bike that compromise its rideability in favour of the outrageous styling. With the removal of most of the rear fender to accommodate a pointy tailpiece and only the  suggestion of a seat, this bike was never intended to feel rain or be ridden far enough to be caught in it.

Before the transformation the Night Rod custom the bike was a Night Rod Special with a 1250cc, 125-hp V-Twin, with a slipper clutch and Brembo brakes. By anyone’s books, a great place to start. 

Barnes Harley-Davidson Custom black Night Rod right rearThe body is virtually new from above the frame. It is almost entirely replaced with a fibreglass kit—everything from the tank through the tailpiece. New drag bars, mirrors, rims, turn signals and brakelight are also in there.  

The Night Rod’s instrument cluster moves from the bars to the tank, which greatly enhances the look over stock, putting the focus on the tank which in stock mode lacked a design focal point.  Finished with high gloss black paint, there’s an orange highlight around the wheels and trim pieces. The other colour options are slim -if you asked you could probably have it in any colour—as long as it is black. 

No one said looking  cool was going to be comfortable. The formerly generous seat on the donor bike becomes a  wafer-thin pad that sits atop the the gas cap. Even though the suspension has been slammed, the ride is not as punishing as you might think …really. Some didn’t mind it but others found the ride highlighting every bump in the road. 

What is punishing however are the loud pipes. Not since we had a Bub-piped Buell back in the 1990s have we had a bike this loud at our offices. The sound fits the nasty dark nature of the bike but we could hear the bike coming from about 10 blocks away and it must have scared at least one little old lady unsure of what evil this way comes.

Barnes Harley-Davidson Custom black Night Rod tail pieceAs promised by the stock Night Rod and delivered by Harley-Davidson’s own Destroyer class drag bikes, the Barnes Night Rod custom launches hard and excels in straight-line performance. Twist the throttle vigourously at around the 5,000 rpm and the bike will rapidly disappear down the road with enough squat to make the front end light, which is quite the trick considering the Night Rod’s long wheelbase and stretched front end. 

Power is enhanced from stock by a Power Commander kit among other modifications. The bike’s straight line performance was addictive—with each stretch of open road an invitation to roll it on. I did so late one evening and with a combination of acceleration and the blurring lights I thought the bike was going to jump to light speed until I realized it was just the headlight bouncing around in its fibreglass nacelle.

The Barnes Night Rod custom is going to retail for $47,995—this is a $26,000 premium over the V-Rod Muscle, which could be considered the factory’s closest competitor, though it wasn’t the exact platform. Yes it is a lot of money but it guarantees exclusivity. There is probably not another one like it in Canada. I have to think of the guy who pulled up alongside me on his sportbike and asked if this was Batman’s bike. Yeah, I think the Dark Knight would have liked it. But he has to go to Barnes because this one might be a little beyond Alfred.  

John Molony, Canadian Biker, #255

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