Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle

Harley-Davidson_VRod_11By Kevin Ash


Pictures: Double Red,




It’s something of a shock to realise that the V-Rod has been with us for eight years now, as much as anything because it’s still a dramatic sight when you see one on the roads, like an escaped show bike or weird special of some sort. Another factor is that the bike is more of a rarity than Harley would have liked, although it’s sold well enough to be kept in production for all this time, and it has helped bring new riders to the Harley marque.

 Harley_Davidson_Muscle_27Click on image for galleryThere’s a surprise too when you sling a leg across the low, low seat of Harley’s take on the performance cruiser theme: it’s still a fine motorcycle. Of course it has its own set of limitations as much as it has its own appeal, but it does what it’s supposed to do supremely well. At the heart of the bike is the Porsche-designed Revolution engine, now 1250cc across the current 3-bike V-Rod range (the new V-Rod Muscle’s siblings are V-Rod and Night Rod Special), but aside from the 120cc increase from the original V-Rod it’s not changed a great deal, other than regular refinements of the engine management to improve rideability and meet new emissions regulations over the years.

It’s really not needed any serious change either. In fact the engine is an absolute peach: up to 5000rpm or so it chugs away with all the punch and torque of a conventional Harley, oozing, er, muscle and guts and purring with a deep and bubbly note that’s both sophisticated and stirring. At this point for air-cooled Harleys it’s all over and well past gearchange time, but the Muscle instead assumes a new persona and kicks in with a flood of extra power and the best part of another 5000rpm to come. At 644lb (292kg) dry this is one heavy mutha of a motorcycle, but still it flies when the motor’s given free reign. The top speed of around 140mph (230kph) is no doubt restricted by aerodynamics, and probably the need to bolt the rider to the bike too, but up to 100mph (160kph) it’s very quick indeed, as well as smooth, crisp and flawlessly if thirstily fuelled. Use a 1250 hard and consumption readily drops as low as 34mpg (12km/l, 8.3 l/100km, 28mpg US)which in theory means the 4.2 gallon (18.9 litre) tank runs dry too early for serious long distance use. In practice you don’t ride that hard for that long, but still if you plan on going places, you’ll do best if they’re not too far away.

This is all known quantity, so what’s the Muscle difference? Primarily it’s styling, the Muscle defined by a hard, angular look in contrast to the curves of the V-Rod. All of the bodywork is new, from the radiator shrouds to airbox cover to the chopped back rear mudguard, wide and tight against the massive 240mm rear tyre. Different markets have to worry about fitting a licence plate in various ways: in the US it’s carried on a bracket on the left side by the wheel spindle, but in most other countries an extended arm holds the plate centrally over the tyre, which does at least stop some of the road spray drawing a line up your back. Harley knows about this and says yes, but if it’s raining you’re going to get wet anyway, and hey, it looks cool...

The seat is new too, very flat and low but it does support you well from the rear in hard acceleration, while the footrests are forward set and the bars straight and pulled back, sitting you in what Harley calls a clamshell position that’s surprisingly comfortable, and it doesn’t feel too clumsy in low speed manoeuvring either. There are some subtle geometry changes: while the steering head angle is the same as the V-Rod’s at 34 degrees, the forks on the Muscle are now parallel with this, where on the V-Rod they’re set at 36 degrees. A change of trail comes with this, up to 141mm from 115mm, alterations made to help the handling with the 240mm tyre fitted. When I rode a CVO V-Rod two years ago with 240 rubber it was markedly reluctant to change direction, and when it did the bike didn’t like to steer where you were pointing it. The Muscle is different, steering slowly, inevitably, but very naturally, and it’s a lot more pleasurable for that reason. The huge wheelbase incidentally (1700mm) in combination with the fat rear rubber is responsible for the large lean angles you need to achieve relatively modest changes in direction, and when you’re trying hard the bike does ground out, although it’s footrests first rather than radiator shrouds as on the original V-Rod. In fact your heels scrape the ground before then...

The exhaust system goes down next: the Muscle’s is different to both V-Rod’s and Night Rod Special’s, featuring long, dead straight silencers which in the US are slash cut but in most other markets are finished square, due to regulation differences. The look has been kept clean by the wiring hidden in the handlebars and the same philosophy is applied to the brakes. All V-Rods now use Brembo stoppers, and they’re pretty good despite the monster mass they have to haul up. They come with ABS (an option in some markets, standard in others), although you’d hardly tell: rather than have a serrated disc sensor system like other bikes, in this system a sensor is mounted on the wheel bearings themselves and measures wheel speed from these – all you can see is a wire coming up from the wheel centre.

Another modern feature is the slipper clutch, although quite when you need this on any V-Rod is unclear – of more use is its self-servo action under load, which means the springs can be lighter and the lever action is easier.

The Muscle is not a sports bike in the usual sense but it is satisfying to sweep along rapidly, it's fast and like all Harleys it feeds other senses with its seductive sound, dramatic looks and the shuddering pulses of torque as it pulls from low revs. Know what it can’t do, like be agile, cruise at high speed or cover long distances, and if you’re okay with that you can appreciate how it does the rest in exceptional style.

shuggiemac
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OK Kev so it is 18.9 litres or gallons that tank? Only kidding but the new units of volume did make me do a double take.

I really wanted to like the V-Rod but I was personally quite dissapointed by it when I tried one. The engine, which as you say is the focal point of the bike, was excellent and I really can't fault it but unlike you I find the riding position quite uncomfortable or should I say a bit disconcerting. It may just be a case of getting used to it after what I have been riding for the years but I never felt that way about H-D's that I have ridden.

Styling is, by nature, subjective but I think that right from the first model that Harley have made a pig's ear of the radiator on this bike and judging by the photos of this one it does not look much better on this version. It is a big lump of matrix to style, I concede but I just don't think that it has been done very well and on a bike where looks are so important then it is, for me, a big drawback. I am sure there are many out there who will disagree with me completely and that is fine. In my own little world however the Harley that I would put my own money down on is still the XR1200. It does tick almost all the right boxes.

kevash
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I can now pretend I don't know what you're talking about, but okay, I've just corrected it, haha. Reminded me, I have to add the Imperial and American figures still...
I've always liked the V-Rod engine but the later 1250 has a fair bit more torque. The riding position varies between models, the Night Rod has the footrests further back, and in fact with the Muscle (I can't believe they called it that...) it's quite a stretch to the footrests - shorter riders' legs are almost dead straight, which can't be comfortable. I might add a mention about that to the test in fact.
Agree about the radiator, although the first V-Rod was worse (this is restyled but not very different) and in fact used to ground out in corners quite easily!
Yup, I'd have an XR too, although that has its own radiator issues... well, the oil cooler anyway, stuck out to one side like they forgot about it until the last moment.
They all need to lose weight though.

louis
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I bought an AW in 2007 to slow me down (Portugal and lairy sports bikes is a scary long term combo). You do indeed get used to the riding position - I was ragingly uncomfortable at anything over 100 miles at first, but the muscles have adapted and I love it now. Nuisance is you can't stand up over bumps.

Nicest bike I've ever owned - love it. And I'm not some weirdo shed-riding Harley freak, there's a 2006 Daytona 955 in the garage too.

They really do need a tuner and pipes (though the tuner is the important bit) - as stock they run horribly lean. There's much MUCH more midrange in there than you find as stock.

kevash
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That's a good point about them running lean... the one I rode was in California where these days the emissions aren't as strict as in Europe, and I think it could be that the Euro ones do run leaner. I was impressed with how good the fuelling was on the one I rode, better than previous ones, but I need to check out and see if European 2009 models feel the same or if it's just the US ones. They did say they've made improvements to the fuelling so I assumed it was that but later in the year I'll get a UK model and check that too.
You've got the 240mm tyre on the AW haven't you? I think one of the improvements on the Muscle (VRSCF in Harley speak, and the AW is the VRSCAW - I'm sure you know Louis but others might not...) is that it steers better than previous V-Rods with this tyre on.
Yeah, they do pummel the kidneys on rough roads, you can't take any weight through your legs, but not as bad as a Softail (which is anything but...) with forward footrests.

louis
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Depends if it was California plated or not. As I understand it the Cali bikes will have a cat and be as strangled as the UK bikes, the rest of the US not. This is extremely easy to reverse though. The bike grounds before one can really push the handling, so within those limits, despite the rubbish suspension, I don't find any handling issues at all, even with the 240. I have air ride with a compressor on mine, which lets me cushion my kidneys around town while still accessing what limited ground clearance is available on the twisties.

A more general point: I've been riding superbikes every day for thirty years so I've probably more or less got the hang of it by now, and I find riding my credit-crunch 955 up in the sun soaked Algarvian hills a little like I imagine it would be to seduce a slightly faded screen goddess on a vast yacht in Monte Carlo: fantastic in theory, but in practice you're thrashing around risking a coronary while she's going through the motions but actually wondering why she didn't call Brad Pitt.

The only way I could get near the limits of a litre superbike on a regular basis is if I had a) a lot more skill b) a lot more road c) the ability to regenerate.

By contrast the V-Rod is more like ending up with an American client's wife after one too many in the bar of the Heathrow Holiday Inn. It is all a bit dodgy, and you wish she'd lose some weight and wear less perfume, but by heavens she's keen.

I can and do scrape my heels in every bend and nail it on every straight, and come back grinning like a maniac.

You could make the same argument for a Honda Hornet, but riding around on a Honda Hornet does not feel special, and riding round on a V-Rod does.

Count me out when it comes to UK Winters though.

kevash
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I'd assumed they were but the sneaky buggers registered them in Milwaukee so they're all Minnesota-plated and 49-state spec. Definitely worth revisiting the UK spec ones then, although we were specifically told the differences are negligible now, aside from that slash cut silencer. But it's always worth finding out for yourself.
I do like your analogies btw...
I don't completely agree about the superbikes - I know what you mean about not getting close to their limits on the road (there's no way of course) but what I like about them is how precise, composed and responsive they feel even when you're nowhere near their limits. In fact I prefer the way they feel to other bikes even trickling around town. And these days there are plenty of track days to stretch them a bit too.
I had a GSX-R K7 a couple of years ago as a long term test bike, then a Hayabusa in 08, and aside from anything else the GSX-R's far lighter weight (some 50kg less) made it much more fun to use.
Big, very fast sports bikes do feel a bit special too, in a different way to the V-Rod of course, but it's something else going for them. But yes, the V-Rod does have that in spades, and other Harleys too, I'm quite a fan of the latest range as much as anything because of how they feel.
I wish I could count me out of UK winters...