Lean, Clean, Motorcycle Machine
When Harley-Davidson privately introduced the new V-Rod Muscle to Ultimate MotorCycling in front of Michael’s in Santa Monica, California-a restaurant celebrated for its creative approach to culinary design we were not the only suitably impressed admirers. Its production-meets-custom form drew an immediate crowd of both motorcyclists and non-cognoscenti, despite Michael’s relatively discreet location. Based on the V-Rod we have grown to know and love since its introduction eight years ago, the Muscle expands the appeal of the line with its enhanced attention to detail and style.
Aluminum is the name of the Muscle’s game, along with a crafty sleight of hand that leaves the observer pondering the legality of the result.Turn indicators, a recurring thorn in the side of
custom builders, have virtually vanished from the Muscle. The front indicators are LEDs that have been integrated into the brushed aluminum rearview mirror stems, cleaning up the front end of the motorcycle. Instead of distracting turn signals, the viewers’ eyes are drawn to the aerodynamic teardrop quartz halogen headlight, inverted semi-satin finished 43mm forks, bobbed front fender (enhanced by blacking out the rear portion), and air intakes with a purposeful woven wire mesh that will undoubtedly prevent the inhalation of errant seagulls.
The Muscle’s trailing end is miraculously clean. The turn-, brake- and tail-lights have all been converted to LEDs and secreted under the assertively bobbed rear fender, which stops far short of the trailing tip of the 18-inch Dunlop Harley-Davidson 240 rear tire. Like the Nightster, the license plate is banished to the left side of the bike, rendering it invisible to witnesses on the right half of the machine. On a hot rod, this has applications that are both aesthetic and practical.
Certainly, the Muscle is intended to appeal to motorcyclists who demand the visual charisma of a contemporary cruiser, as they concurrently value performance. Riding the Muscle is unlike anything in the Harley-Davidson canon that doesn’t have a V-Rod moniker. Thanks to the Revolution motor-borne of a collaboration of Porsche Engineering and H-D’s own Powertrain Engineering teams-the
V-Rod has its own polished personality that eschews many of the visceral operating cues generously provided by either the Twin Cam or Evolution motors.
Rather than a cacophonic explosion of sound and fury when hitting the start button, the V-Rod gently rumbles to life. Liquid cooling muffles mechanical clamor,and the 60-degree configuration offers its own distinctive firing cadence. Twist the throttle, and the SOHC, 4 vpc motor springs to life. The Muscle’s short-stroke 1250cc motor is ready to rev. Maximum torque reveals itself at 6500 rpm, and the 122 hp powerplant has more than enough grunt off idle to make stalling when pulling away from a stoplight almost unthinkable.
If you are interested in making more of an acceleration statement when the light turns green, the Muscle will oblige. Properly coordinate the throttle and well-behaved clutch, and the satisfying reward is tire-scorching performance. The dish seat keeps you aboard the bike as you are aggressively pushed rearward, though your passenger will feel considerably less secure. Don’t worry about out-of-control wheelies, as the Muscle is sufficiently front-heavy and gives your right wrist plenty of latitude. Shifting is sure, if not quickly accomplished. If burnouts are on the agenda, the 240mm Dunlop can be smoked with nothing more than a grab of the twin discs (by 4-piston calipers) and a slight redistribution of rider weight forward.
As much as the hot-rod V-Rod is interested in light-to-light, straight-line sling-shotting, it is still a capable machine when visiting the local twists and turns.The feet-forward ergonomics are not optimized for canyon carving, but the internally wired aluminum handlebars have a rational shape and offer satisfactory leverage.
A 19-inch front Dunlop lightens the Muscle’s steering, counteracting its 67-inch wheelbase. Fast canyon riding is best-achieved though careful line selection, as agility is not the bike’s forte. However, enough ground clearance, stability, and power is there to keep complacent sportbike riders on their toes, and we did just that to our own amusement and satisfaction.
The 5-speed transmission is perfectly matched to the wide powerband, so exacting gear selection is only required for maximum performance; otherwise, just feed in the throttle and lean until the peg feelers start to grind. If you fi nd yourself coming into a corner a bit too quickly, the Muscle’s combination of ABS (optional) and a slipper clutch are reassuring features that will help you complete the turn.
Back in town, you can concentrate on profiling. The bars sweep back far enough for you to project a comfortable cool to those nearby.The smooth EFI means the rider isn’t distracted, and a 26.7-inch seat height results in planted feet at rest. Get used to people eyeballing the cast aluminum swingarm, 5-spoke aluminum-and-black wheels, and long satin chrome mufflers, while you savor your view of
the triple-hoop analog instrumentation.
While some might not consider the higher-tech V-Rod line to be a "real" Harley-Davidson, it is a cosmopolitan combination of sport and performance in a growingly diverse model line from America’s most storied marque. And the Muscle cuts to the front of that line with an undeniably masculine aura.
Photos by: Riles & Nelson
ULTIMATE MOTORCYCLING FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009