Let us open our hymnals to the song of the 60-degree liquid-cooled Porsche-designed V-Rod engine, whose 2001 launch represented the last Radical Departure for Harley-Davidson. With its hydroformed frame and underseat gas tank, this bike was the way to the future, one that sadly ended after 2017. In this review of the new V-Rod Muscle from 10 years ago, you can feel Pete “the Rock’s” pain as he struggles to produce faint praise. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Like the new, robust chassis on Harley-Davidson’s touring machines, news about a brand new V-Rod is only weeks old, but like the touring bikes, our time at the recent ‘09 H-D model launch presented an opportunity to cop a ride on the new V-Rod Muscle.The long, low and clean look of this latest VRSC family member strikes a familiar pose to that of the other two V-Rods, the intimidating blacked-out (and now Dark Custom member) Night Rod Special and the more simple but classic-looking V-Rod.
Flexing some new muscle
The Muscle is primarily a styling exercise. Rather than the more rounded shapes of the other ‘Rods, this new guy adopts slightly more angular shapes, especially in the faux fuel tank/air-box cover, wide side air-intake covers and squared-off low and cushy saddle with a rear support designed to hold the rider in place during powerful bursts of acceleration on tap from the same super-smooth 60-degree liquid-cooled DOHC, eight-valve, Revolution 1250cc V-Twin that powers all ’Rods. The Muscle comes in a 121 hp/85 ft-lbs flavor.
Also new is the radiator shroud and minimalist rear fender with incredibly tasteful and smartly-integrated stop/turn/taillight. The further one gets from the rear of this bike, the thinner the fender looks, yet safety isn’t impacted thanks to the powerfully-bright LED lighting. In another stroke of design genius, front LED turn indicators are blended to near invisibleness in the mirror stalks.
The front fender also deserves styling kudos with its rear half wearing a matte-black finish in order to disappear visually, leaving the first impression that only a simple, chopped fender covers the 5-spoke cast-aluminum 19-inch front wheel.
The mirrors themselves, along with the meaty angular bars, internally-wired cast bar riser and simple triple gauges with sportbike-gauge-inspired looks all add to the block o’ billet appearance of the bike.
Finally, the most distinct item setting the Muscle apart from its mates is the wide, long and low dual-exhaust. A muscle-car look was the goal with a single exhaust pipe per side instead of the dual over-under set up on both the Night Rod Special and V-Rod. The satiny finish of the exhaust works especially well on the Brilliant Silver color scheme.
Looks are one thing, a cooked inner calf, melted boot rubber or fried leather are another. I can’t deny the designer’s success at harkening to the muscle-car appeal with the Muscle’s exhaust, but the exhaust shape and placement forces a wide stance when putting a foot down at a light and when straddling the bike.
We had the opportunity to hammer the Muscle down the dragstrip (look for more on that in an upcoming story) at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma County, CA, which revealed the obtrusiveness of the exhaust system. The area just past the point where the head pipes meet the mufflers became darkened and sticky with the melted plastic of roadrace boots, as the smell of hot leather was present and color transfer from leather suits or pants was clearly evident on the exhaust.
They look good, these pipes, but they get hot. More than once during our street ride did I get that sharp jolt of hot flesh as my jeans-covered leg got too close to the exhaust during a stop or paddle maneuver. Pillions may be in jeopardy too of burning some leg hair. Hot stuff, meng!
With a 67-inch wheelbase, slow-speed steering requires effort at the bars and the bike feels generally cumbersome. But that effort melts from your mind once up to speed, and the good leverage from the aggressive bend in the moderately wide handlebars is your friend when hustling this long boy through the tighter and narrower roads on your travels.
It wasn’t until the last 30 miles of the day when an opportunity allowed me to wind up the quick-revving Twin and start flicking the Muscle through the tight stuff. I was genuinely surprised at how nimble the bike felt and how easily it transitioned left to right, back and forth, despite the big 240mm rear tire, now standard on all VRSC models.
This impromptu route gave the bike a chance to reveal a quick handling, stable and very fun characteristic that I didn’t think existed in the machine prior to this point on my ride. The effort required to initiate and then complete a tight radius turn was gone and in its place was a willing participant in my peg-grinding silliness.
Ride quality from the 43mm inverted fork is very good, offering the sensation of a very taut package all around. Only the sharpest angled bumps are a pain, literally, in the rear.
Indeed, the V-Rod is still a cruiser at heart, and has the forward controls to prove it. If there’s another inherent flaw on this ’Rod, aside from the blistering exhausts, it’s the limited lean angle. But, if you’re willing to carry the bike higher, or farther out, in the turn in order to limit the amount of lean needed to complete the turn, you can reduce a good portion of the metal-on-asphalt sound.
Whatever your turning prowess, one thing we can all enjoy is the mill. Acceleration is ferocious from roughly 6,000 rpm all the way to redline; generally, the engine pulls in a very confident and linear manner in any gear and almost any engine speed. Reeling in this silver bullet is cake with the potent dual Brembos made all the more effective when coupled with the optional ABS.
The V-Rod Muscle easily flexes its might with the incredibly smooth and powerful engine and tranny, good ride quality and excellent brakes. If you’re tall enough or content enough to look beyond the stretched ergos to enjoy the bike on the flat, you’ll be doubly rewarded for your endurance when you get this new tuff kid in the corners, or on the ’strip.
The new V-Rod Muscle has a starting suggested MSRP of $17,199 and comes in Vivid Black, Brilliant Silver, Dark Blue Denim and Red Hot Sunglo.
2009 Street Bob gets fresh
Weighing in with a number of cosmetic changes for this year, the venerable Dyna Street Bob is graced with black and silver powder-coated engine treatment that forsakes shiny cooling fins. Gloss-black steel laced wheels are shown off by a low profile front fender. A chopped rear fender with exposed supports is adorned with an old-style LED taillight, and turn indicators also function as stop- and tail-lights, a la the Sportster Nightster.
2009 Sportster news
Suspension upgrades on the 883C, 1200L and 1200C include new springs and recalibrated damping rates for improved ride comfort. New low-profile front fenders are now on all models, and the 883 and 1200 Custom models now ride on a solid-disc silver cast-aluminum rear wheel and a chrome cast-aluminum slotted-disc rear wheel, respectively.
Here’s some Sportster owner data that you might find interesting: 94% of all Sporty owners will buy another Harley. Start ‘em out on a Harley and it looks like they’ll always be on a Harley.