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.

We're also compelled to point out the Muscle's peculiar handling. Unlike the original V-Rod, whose fork was kicked out an additional 2 degrees, the Muscle's is set parallel to the steering head at 34 degrees. But strangely, trail has been increased from a generous 4.5 inches to a Kenworth-like 5.6. Combined with a 67-inch wheelbase and the mammoth rear tire, steering is floppy at slow speeds, the bike falling into corners and crabbing out in the rear. Matters improve significantly at speed, where the bike is supremely stable and steering is surprisingly light, if not exactly neutral. In fact, we'd dare say the Muscle is the best-handling wide-tire production bike we've ridden. Just be careful not to lean it over too far, as the first thing that touches down is your boot heels-not the best way to get a kick in the pants!

What the Muscle is about is its motor. Powered by the 1250cc twin that debuted in the '07 VRSCX Screamin' Eagle CVO edition, it churns out a respectable 104.9 horsepower at 7750 rpm and 76.8 lb.-ft. of torque at 6250 rpm. The tach shows a 9000-rpm redline and the speedo's tiny digits read to 150 mph. Those are some very un-Harley-like numbers and point to the real appeal of the Muscle. It doesn't just look muscular; it is muscular! It's truly a wonderful engine: smooth, powerful, quick revving and fast. Throttle response is excellent; gearshifts are positive, if not exactly slick; and the hydraulic clutch has a reasonably light pull. New this year is the A&S (Assist & Slip) slipper clutch, which reduces the effect of engine braking during downshifts-an important consideration on any high-compression, light-flywheel engine. Our only real complaint is the rear header pipe broils your right inner thigh.

Harley's website claims the Muscle gets 34 mpg city and 42 highway. We got nothing like that, netting a high of 32 mpg and a low of 23, with most tankfuls hovering right around 30. That gives the Muscle a theoretical range of 150 miles-not that you'd want to ride it that far.

Our test bike was equipped with the new optional ABS, which works great. It ain't subtle, though: The tires howl, and the pedal and lever pulse whenever it's activated. But it's nice to have on a fast, heavyweight (674 pounds wet) power cruiser like this, especially in an unpredictable city environment.

ABS adds $795 to the Muscle's $17,199 base price. That's for the good-looking Vivid Black version; it's $17,504 for the Brilliant Silver, Red Hot Sunglo or badass Dark Blue Denim. A coded-key security system goes for $345, while California buyers pay a $100 emissions fee.

Much as we performance-minded moto-journalists hate to admit it, many motorcyclists buy bikes based largely on their looks and here the Muscle scores a direct hit. Everywhere we rode it, heads turned and more than a few popped out from car windows and face shields to ask, "What is that?!" One dealer who spied the bike at the L.A. Calendar Show gave it a backhanded compliment, saying the styling "isn't as Euro foo-foo as before." But the most telling comments of all came from those onlookers who said the redesigned V-Rod looked "more muscular"-and hadn't even been told its name yet. Guess that makes the Muscle an unqualified success.

Hard Parts
More Than Meets The Eye

Styling
The Muscle looks tougher than the original V-Rod, as its name suggests. The most obvious change is the pair of screened-in air scoops at the leading edge of the faux fuel tank, which are much better integrated than the old louvers. The clipped rear fender is broader to accommodate the 240mm-wide tire, with the taillight and turn signals tucked tight up underneath and a folding license-plate holder on the left. The airbox cover, radiator scoops and fenders are now color matched, while the aluminum swingarm remains polished.

Instrumentation
Gone are the old bar risers with gauges perched high on top, replaced by an attractive polished-aluminum handlebar with internal wiring. The gauges now look less like an afterthought, and the teardrop reflector-optic headlight is a better fit. Dash features analog speedo and tach, plus a multi-function digital display. Harley's coded-key security system is a $345 option.

Engine
All '09 V-Rod models get the 1250cc Revolution motor that debuted in the '07 VRSCX Screamin' Eagle CVO edition. Breathing is improved via the redesigned air intakes plus freer flowing, satin-chrome, dual-side exhausts with a crossover pipe and turnout mufflers. Output has been increased markedly, to 104.9 rear-wheel horsepower and 76.8 lb.-ft. of torque. A new A&S (Assist & Slip) slipper clutch eases downshifts. There's a relocated oil dipstick, too. Pewter powdercoated powertain with polished engine covers spruces up the looks.

Running Gear
The Muscle is the first Harley equipped with an inverted fork, in this case a 43mm Showa unit that's sadly nonadjustable. Dual Showa shocks return with five-position ramp-style preload adjustments, now with black-painted springs. New five-spoke wheels weigh less than the previous slotted discs, improving suspension compliance and handling while reducing the effects of crosswinds. Front wheel measures 19 inches in diameter, the rear 18 inches. Four-piston Brembo brakes are employed all around, with ABS a $795 option. Note there's no unsightly ring gear.

Accommodations
A two-piece, two-up textured saddle replaces the original one-piece seat, with a more supportive lower backrest that improves rider comfort. At 26.7 inches above the street, it's also .4-inch lower than before. The rider's portion flips up, right to left, to access the underseat fuel filler. The 1-inch-diameter handlebar is far wider than before: 40.2 inches compared to the original Rod's 34.5 inches. Harley's unique one-per-side, push-to-cancel turn signal switches are retained. Foot controls aren't quite as forward as before, measuring 1.5 inches closer to the seat.

Tech Spec
Evolution

Second-generation v-rod with revised styling and the 1250cc revolution motor that debuted in the '07 VRSCX Screamin' Eagle CVO edition.

Rivals
Power cruisers such as the Boulevard M109R, Honda VTX1800F, Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 Mean Streak, Star V-Max and Warrior, Triumph rocket III and Victory Hammer S.

Tech
Price as tested $18,644
Engine type l-c 60-deg. V-twin
Valve train DOHC, 8v
Displacement 1250cc
Bore x stroke 105.0 x 72.0mm
Compression 11.5:1
Fuel system EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission 5-speed
Measured horsepower 104.9 bhp @ 7750 rpm
Measured torque 76.8 lb.-ft. @ 6250 rpm
Frame Tubular-steel perimeter with aluminum swingarm
Front suspension 43mm Showa inverted fork
Rear suspension Dual Showa shocks with adjustable spring preload
Front brake Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 300mm discs
Rear brake Brembo four-piston caliper, 300mm disc
Front tire 120/70-ZR19 Dunlop D208F Sportmax
Rear tire 240/40-R18 Dunlop Elite 3
Rake/trail 34.0°/5.6 in.
Seat height 26.7 in.
Wheelbase 67.0 in.
Fuel capacity 5.0 gal.
Weight (wet/dry) 674/644 lbs.
Colors Brilliant Silver, Vivid Black, Dark Blue Denim, Red Hot Sunglo
Available Now
Warranty 2 yr./unlimited mi.

Contact:
Harley-Davidson Motor Co.
P.O. Box 653
Milwaukee, WI 53201
www.harley-davidson.com

Verdict 4/5 stars
Finally, a V-Rod that looks like a Harley!

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By Brian Catterson
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