No other consumer product manufacturer has done as well at lifestyle marketing as Harley-Davidson. The Motor Company has done it so well, in fact, that it may have marketed itself into oblivion. Harley's core customer base is aging out of the sport, and its traditional products don't complement the "personal brand" of the next-generation bike buyers who don't-or won't-identify with the slow-rolling, backward-gazing Hog stereotype. The result is slow-sales suicide.
Like Harley's stressed-out financial services division, its classic retro styling is overleveraged almost to the point of bankruptcy. These two models-an old-school, air-cooled Dyna Wide Glide and a new-age, liquid-cooled V-Rod Muscle-represent two potential paths to recovery. One roughs up a traditional best-seller with a harder look that's more attractive to younger buyers. The other injects Harley's most modern machine with some crossover appeal to tempt fans of other genres and brands. Which of these bruthas from different muthas works better?
The Muscle is the least conventional offering in the three-bike V-Rod line, looking more l
Ever since its 1980 release, the Wide Glide has been one of the most popular customs in Harley's lineup. After a year-long hiatus, the model returns for 2010 re-cast as a backstreet chopper with a longer, lower profile and lots of black paint-a nod to the success of the company's urban-outfitted Dark Custom lineup. It's a wicked-looking bike, especially as tested in Vivid Black, with a clean tail nicked from the Nightster and a low bar set on 4-inch risers.
The Muscle, named for the Motor City musclecars that inform its visual language, comes from a different aesthetic universe. The mesh-screened airbox cover acts like a hoodscoop, while five-spoke mag wheels and dual satin-chrome sidepipes could come from an L88 Corvette. The oversized radiator mounted forward of the hydroformed steel frame lets you know this bruiser is liquid-cooled, and the massive rear tire, more than 10 inches across, would look equally at home on a musclecar.
A 240mm-wide rear tire looks tough, but compromises the V-Rod's agility. Side-mount licens
Particularly now that Buell is gone, expect Harley-Davidson to lean harder on its high-tech V-Rod lineup to lure performance-oriented buyers. The view from the Muscle saddle recalls the Buell Lightning, with none of its stubby front end visible beyond that brawny, cast handlebar. Its blunt styling similarly suggests a steroidal Buell XB, scaled up to 125 percent. The slight forward reach to the handlebar feels streetfighterish too, until you find forward foot controls that force you into an odd, toe-touching riding position. The wide saddle (covering the brick-shaped underseat fuel tank) is supportive enough, but with all your mass on your ass, the Muscle isn't comfortable beyond an hour.
The Wide Glide uses similarly stretched-out foot controls, though the internally wired drag bar rises a few inches closer to the rider. This provides a more tolerable riding position, but a chassis that makes inevitable concessions to the chopper style cancels out any ergonomic advantages. The rear suspension is 2 inches lower than the standard Super Glide, with a corresponding reduction in ride quality. Up front, the raked-out fork seems as likely to deflect as compress, further compromising compliance. Both bikes' suspension units come from Showa, and are too lightly damped in both directions, causing some unwanted vaulting on choppy pavement.
The 150-mph speedo isn't overly optimistic. With an honest 105 bhp and the ability to post
With more conventional chassis geometry, the Muscle behaves more predictably and provides a more controlled ride. Here too, however, dynamic function is compromised by an aesthetic decision-in this case, that hulking, 240/40R-18 Dunlop rear tire. Changing direction demands a strong steering input, and constant pressure is required to keep the bike on the edge of the tire throughout a corner.
Though the Wide Glide's 68.3-inch wheelbase is more than an inch longer, it's actually easier to maneuver, especially at low speeds. Despite 34 degrees of rake, the front end doesn't flop or fold, and cornering clearance is reasonable. It's only at higher speeds, where the skinny, 21-inch front tire wants to wander, that the extra stability of the big-footed Muscle wins out.
Off The Record
Aaron Frank, Editor-At-Large
Weight: 145 lbs.
Inseam: 31 in.
I expected to love the V-Rod Muscle. It looks sick, if a bit extroverted for my tastes, and the promise of triple-digit horsepower, big brakes and Dunlop Sportmax tires sent visions of squid-poaching dancing through my head. But these dreams died before I left the driveway, as I confronted the sheer size of this fat-tired beast. Not only is it long, heavy and carrying way too much rear tire, but I flat-out don't fit. I was soon daydreaming about a different bike that maintained the same revvy, rowdy character of the Revolution V-twin, but weighed at least 200 lbs. less and was 10 inches shorter between the axles. Something, say, like the Buell 1125CR Café Racer. Hey Harley-Davidson, maybe it's not too late to slap a bar-and-shield on that?