2009 Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle

New Look For The New Harley

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Andrea Wilson

It seemed like a good idea, riding the redesigned 2009 V-Rod Muscle to the 17th Annual L.A. Calendar Motorcycle Show. You know, go incognito, park the bike somewhere prominent, then kick back with a cold one and listen to the opinions flow. Except those who knew what it was (mostly dealers) were only moderately excited to see it and those who didn't (most everyone else) thought it was a custom. Only those who gave it more than a passing glance realized this thing is too finely finished to have been cobbled together in some workshop. The distributor plate gave it away anyway.

It's no secret that the V-Rod has been less than a smashing success. Harley created the next-generation, liquid-cooled machine to combat ever-tightening noise and emissions standards that will someday doom air-cooled engines and to appeal to a younger demographic. The average age of Harley buyers now stands at 47 and rising, so The Motor Company needs to start reversing that trend by appealing to Generations X, Y and, presumably, Z.

The main complaint voiced about the original '02 V-Rod was, "It's not a real Harley." Never mind the Porsche-designed 60-degree V-twin, the V-Rod simply looked too far-out, like some unholy marriage of a drag bike and a spaceship. Glistening in polished aluminum with solid disc wheels, it was hard to look at in direct sunlight. High-school metal-shop louvers below the faux fuel tank (the real tank is under the seat) combined with a futuristic gauge package atop alien-eye-stalk bar risers just made it that much weirder. Performance from the 1130cc Revolution engine was certainly impressive, but the hands-and-feet-forward "C-clamp" riding position and the wonky handling afforded by the raked-out front end tainted what could have been a very nice ride. It was fine blasting from stoplight to stoplight around town, but the open road was pure misery. I know-I rode one from Los Angeles to Reno and back. Reno 911 indeed!

The '09 Muscle borrows some '60s/'70s muscle-car styling cues to give it a much more, um, muscular appearance. The changes start with the screened-in air scoops jutting out from the faux fuel tank, replacing the former louvers. Above those is a new, intricately cast, 1-inch-diameter handlebar that ties together the inverted fork, headlight and mirrors to give the bike a very clean-looking front end. Below is a new satin-finished, dual-side exhaust with turned out tips, recalling an old Corvette. The five-spoke wheels have a hint of Cragar to them, and the 240mm-wide rear tire tucked tight under the tail wouldn't look out of place on a car. The only thing missing is a set of wheelie bars. If the original V-Rod looked like a Top Fuel dragster, this one is pure Funny Car.

Throw a leg over the Muscle and you immediately notice the new handlebar-some 6 inches wider and quite a bit lower than the original V-Rod's Schwinn Stingray-like bar. The foot controls are still forward set, but they're an inch or so closer to the seat. So while the riding position is basically the same, it's not as stretched out as before.

The new two-piece seat helps. Though at 26.7 inches above the pavement it's nearly a half-inch lower, it feels thicker and more supportive thanks to the rear bolster that provides better lumbar support. Passengers wouldn't agree about the improved comfort, however, as the pillion perch slopes downward in the rear, making them feel like they'll slide off the back. The grab strap is useless because they're sitting on it.

The main problem with highway-style pegs is you can't carry any of your weight in your feet; it's all in your butt and, sitting upright like you do, jolts go straight up your spine. The new, wider bar actually helps here in that it forces you to lean forward some. The new 43mm inverted fork and twin rear shocks, while nonadjustable, actually work fairly well. With just 2.9 inches of travel, the shocks bottom often, but there's plenty of compression damping so it's not too painful.

By Brian Catterson
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