Family Feud: Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide vs. V-Rod Muscle

Tweaking Tradition

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing

The Muscle's fatter footprint does let you better exploit its excellent braking system. Strong, fade-free, dual Brembo front calipers, enhanced on our testbike with the optional $845 ABS system, combine with the grippy Dunlop Sportmax front tire to bring the 674-pound Muscle to a confident halt from any speed. There's not nearly as much stopping power at the front of the Wide Glide-just a single, two-piston Brembo caliper-but there's not much front tire, either.

The best part of the Muscle is the rev-happy Revolution engine. Famously designed with assistance from Porsche (so much for the musclecar comparison!), the liquid-cooled, DOHC, 1250cc, 60-degree V-twin delivers a robust 105.1 bhp and 74.5 lb.-ft. of torque-enough to make even this big beast accelerate with authority. The Revolution has personality too, with an aggressive exhaust note and a power profile that builds to within 500 rpm of redline, so it's plenty fun to race through the gears.

The Muscle's smooth-operating hydraulic clutch is unexpected on such a buff machine, though the gearbox would benefit from the addition of a sixth speed. The engine is busier-and buzzier-than expected at freeway speeds. The Wide Glide is equipped with H-D's six-speed Cruise Drive transmission (with a helical-cut fifth to reduce mechanical noise), and the overdriven sixth gear cuts revs to a lazy 2000 rpm at 75 mph.

The Wide Glide uses the non-counterbalanced, Twin Cam 96 engine. Though smooth enough at speed, it still delivers the full vibro-massage treatment when stopped. On the gas, the latest version of Harley's historic, air-cooled, OHV, 1584cc, 45-degree V-twin is a gas. With almost 80 lb.-ft. of torque at 2500 rpm on tap and plenty of flywheel whirring around between your legs, you'd best hold on tight before short-shifting to the next gear. There's nothing gained by revving it out, but get through the gears quickly enough and you'll outrun everything short of a big-bore sportbike off the line.

Does either bike point a way out for Harley-Davidson? Is the reconstructed Wide Glide more than just baby-boomer butt-jewelry? Will the Muscle satisfy enthusiasts who demand a decent dose of performance from their cruiser platform? Speaking subjectively from our (mostly) post-boomer, performance-first perspective, the answer on both counts is maybe.

We wanted to like the Muscle more. We loved the bare-knuckle looks-and the entertaining Revolution motor-but the fat rear tire and feet-forward riding position dumbs the chassis down and undermines all-around performance. It just made us miss the long-gone V-Rod Street Rod, which was basically the Muscle with a right-sized rear tire and mid-mount foot controls. We would have preferred Harley pumped up the Street Rod's styling and left its chassis alone.

Ironically, we were more satisfied by the retro Wide Glide. There's no denying the visual appeal-it flat nails the street chopper look. It's the more cohesive machine, too. Though not everything works perfectly, everything does work in harmony. The Muscle, on the other hand, seems confused, with a compromised chassis and wonky riding position that make it harder to exploit its exemplary engine and brakes.

Given the recent sales success of the Dark Customs, and the promise shown by this revised Wide Glide, Harley-Davidson's post-recession corporate strategy ("more of the same"?) might not be so far off-base. The Motor Company has long known what works for its air-cooled line; it just needs some more tweaking for the V-Rod line to find its stride. Done right, that shiny bar-and-shield medallion on the gas tank could still become the brand with which the next generation's motorcycle enthusiasts most identify.

Off The Record
Brian Catterson, Editor-in-Chief
Age: 48
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 215 lbs.
Inseam: 34 in.

Between writing the First Ride on the V-Rod Muscle, attending the annual dealer show, commuting on my long-term XR1200 and taking part in this shootout, I've been spending a lot of time aboard Harleys lately. And while I might be getting older, they're not getting any better. Not much, anyway. I love my XR, but I'm in the minority as sales are flat. The V-Rod hasn't fared much better. The Wide Glide is a perennial best-seller, but mostly to guys in their 50s and 60s. If Harley's product planners want to attract Gen Xers, they need to realize that choppers are dead (ask Honda about the Fury) and café racers are in. If I were in their shoes, I'd bring back the XLCR, to my mind the coolest Harley ever.

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