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

Tweaking Tradition

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing

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?

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.

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.

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
Age: 35
Height: 5'7"
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?

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.

Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide | $14,499
Tech Spec
Engine type: a-c 45-deg. V-twin Rear suspension: Dual Showa shocks with adjustable spring preload Measured horsepower: 64.5 bhp @ 5000 rpm
Valve train: OHV, 4v Front brake: Brembo four-piston caliper, 300mm disc Measured torque: 81.8 lb.-ft. @ 3250 rpm
Displacement: 1584cc Rear brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 292mm disc Corrected 1/4-mile: 13.21 sec. @ 99.3 mph
Bore x stroke: 92.25 x 111.25mm Front tire: 80/90-21 Dunlop GT502 Top-gear roll-on: 6.9 sec.
Compression: 9.2:1 Rear tire: 180/60-17 Dunlop GT502 Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 41/34/37 mpg
Fuel system: EFI Rake/trail: 34.0º /5.2 in. Colors: Vivid Black, Red Hot Sunglo
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate Seat height: 26.7 in. Availability: Now
Transmission: 6-speed overdrive Wheelbase: 68.3 in. Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Frame: Steel double-cradle Fuel capacity: 4.7 gal. Contact: Harley-Davidson Motor Company
3700 W. Juneau Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53201
414.343.4056
www.harley-davidson.com
Front suspension: 41mm Showa telescopic fork Weight (tank full/empty): 677/649 lbs.

Dyno
The Wide Glide seldom has less than 70 lb.-ft. of torque on tap, so adequate acceleration isn't an issue. Short-shifts are the order of the day: Beyond 3500 rpm, torque falls off in direct relation to the increased vibration from the TC96 mill.

Ergos
Both bikes' C-clamp riding positions aren't exactly a recipe for comfort. Harley makes a big deal about beginner- and female-friendly 26-inch seat heights, but the long reach to the bar and pegs makes the Wide Glide unreasonable for non-Amazons.

Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle | $18,344 (as tested)
Tech Spec
Engine type: l-c 60-deg. V-twin Rear suspension: Dual Showa shocks with adjustable spring preload Measured horsepower: 105.1 bhp @ 8250 rpm
Valve train: DOHC, 8v Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 300mm discs with ABS Measured torque: 74.5 lb.-ft. @ 6500 rpm
Displacement: 1250cc Rear brake: Brembo four-piston caliper, 300mm disc with ABS Corrected 1/4-mile: 11.86 sec. @ 115.3 mph
Bore x stroke: 105.0 x 72.0mm Front tire:120/70ZR-19 Dunlop D208F Sportmax Top-gear roll-on: 3.3 sec. (5-speed)
Compression: 11.5:1 Rear tire:240/40R-18 Dunlop Elite 3 Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 33/29/30 mpg
Fuel system: EFI Rake/trail: 34.0º/5.6 in. Colors: Brilliant Silver, Vivid Black, Dark Blue Denim, Red Hot Sunglo
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper Seat height: 26.7 in. Availability: Now
Transmission: 5-speed Wheelbase: 67.0 in. Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Frame: Tubular-steel perimeter with aluminum swingarm Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal. Contact: Harley-Davidson Motor Company
3700 W. Juneau Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53201
414.343.4056
www.harley-davidson.com
Front suspension: 43mm Showa inverted fork Weight (tank full/empty): 674/644 lbs.

Dyno
The Muscle's dyno curve could come from a big-bore V-twin sportbike. Power builds steadily almost to redline, with a comfortable over-rev cushion that makes it easy to tame the top of the tach. Flat, fat torque output almost lets you forget there are only five gears.


Ergos
From the fat rear tire forward, everything about the Muscle is oversized. The square seat and drainpipe-sized dual exhausts splay your legs in motion and at rest. Bars and pegs are a stretch for anyone shorter than 5'8", and the non-adjustable levers fit big paws best.

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