Using Aluminum to Pump Iron
By Dain Gingerelli, photos by Riles & Nelson
Sometimes you need to apply bully tactics to get certain things done. Consider Harley’s marketing for the V-Rod: in the years following its 2002 launch, V-Rod sales floundered. The all-silver, dish-wheeled power cruiser that looked like it was chiseled from a single chunk of billet aluminum never caught on with the Harley crowd. Subsequent iterations using the 60-degree, liquid-cooled, double-overhead cam V-twin engine also underwhelmed potential buyers, including the younger bike crowd that the V-Rod was intended to capture in the first place. The solution for improving V-Rod sales, suggested someone in Harley’s marketing department, was to apply some strong-arm tactics — you know, muscle — to the market.
And so, for model year 2009, Harley-Davidson did just that with the VRSCF V-Rod Muscle, a variation of the metric model that boasted a bolder, brawnier stance. The Muscle was a chest blow to the industry, and when enthusiasts regained their collective breath, many customers agreed that the V-Rod’s new look was becoming of its name. Consequently, V-Rod sales gained strength and momentum, and the Muscle has been pulling its fair share of the load for Harley-Davidson ever since.
To achieve the new look Harley injected steroids directly into the V-Rod’s body panels. The Muscle’s signature V-Rod faux gas tank is wider and beefier, and racy mesh-screen vents replaced the caricature front louvers found on the original model. Interestingly, the bulky radiator shroud behind the fork was given a cleaner, leaner look, and both wider fenders were bobbed; the demonstrably wide rear fender shrouds a massive 240mm Michelin Scorcher 11 radial tire. Beefy handlebars that are intricately cast from aluminum shore up the equally massive-looking inverted fork, and, to help balance the visual aesthetics, the V-Rod’s familiar stacked mufflers were rerouted, one per side, with styling to mimic the big cans seen on a Corvette L-88 from the muscle car era 40-some years ago.
Indeed, the fork’s 43mm inverted legs and triple trees also look as if they were whittled from solid billet aluminum, and to underscore the bike’s racy appearance, all but the EFI throttle cables and hydraulic brake and clutch lines are routed within the handlebars. Notice, too, that there are no ungainly turn signal stalks protruding like antlers from the fork legs — the billet-looking mirror stems serve as housings for the amber LED turn signal lights that double as running lights for greater visibility. Similar stealth-like concealment of exterior illumination is found at the rear, where integrated LED taillight and turn signals are form-fit to the arching fender. You get the impression that the guys manning the CNC machines played a role in sculpting the three-face instrument cluster, too. Positioned at the top of the steering stem are three overlapping analog gauges that, from left to right, include the 10000 rpm tach (but engine redline is set at only 9000 rpm), 150-mph speedometer (the Muscle won’t reach that speed, but the numbers staring back at you are impressive nonetheless), and fuel gauge (especially important when considering the bike’s fuel range — more on that later). The reset button for the electronic odometer/trip meter/clock is found at bottom center of the instrument housing. It’s somewhat of a stretch when reaching for the odo’s reset button and handgrips, for that matter, because the Muscle’s bucket-like seat positions you rather far back on the frame. And while the seat’s abbreviated backrest offers ample support — especially during hard-charging, off-the-line launches, which the Muscle does with gusto — foot and hand controls are placed well forward, creating a clamshell riding position much like a member of the 101st Airborne making a jump behind enemy lines. Seat height is set at 25.6″ (with a 180-pound rider), and the combination promotes the seating posture you expect from a power cruiser such as this. That’s not to say that it’s the most comfortable riding position, though; your lower back will begin to feel the stress after about an hour or so in the saddle. That seat time equates to about two-thirds of a tank of gas, because the V-Rod delivers 30-or-so mpg. Harley advertises 37 mpg (combined city and highway), but our test figures penciled out to a low of 27 and a high of 32 mpg. Tank capacity is advertised at 5 gallons, and you’ll find the fuel filler under the flip-up seat.
There’s a reason for those somewhat dismal fuel mileage figures. Horsepower requires btu (British thermal units), and to raise those you need to burn plenty of high-octane gasoline in the Muscle’s motor. The Muscle delivers its fuel through electronic sequential port fuel injection that’s nestled under the faux tank. The four-valve heads pack the fuel charge within 1247cc (76″) worth of cylinders that have an 11.5:1 compression ratio. With a bore and stroke of 4.130″ and 2.835″ respectively, the Muscle revs fast, delivering 87 ft-lbs. of torque at 6750 rpm. Power delivery is seamless from as low as 2000 rpm up to redline, although the slick-shifting five-speed transmission encourages you to liberally select gears for the occasion. A slipper clutch (officially marketed as Assist-and-Slip, or A&S) reduces the effects of engine braking during downshifts, and clutch pull at the lever is rather light, offering positive feedback, too.
But when you grab a fist full of throttle, you’ll leave those facts and figures, and possibly your stomach, at the line. All that matters is how wickedly quick the V-Rod Muscle can be, with plenty of punch in any gear. Our second-gear roll-ons generated a time of 2.6 seconds from 20-50 mph, which is only a tenth of a second quicker than our 60-80 sprint in fourth gear. These acceleration times for Big Twins are generally about a second or so apart, favoring the 20-50 sprint. Why the tight spread with the Muscle? Transmission gear ratios are a key factor. Simply, fourth gear at 60 mph (4500 rpm) puts the engine near its torque band so the rear tire is already feeling the effect of horsepower. On the other hand, the lower gears are fairly steep, keeping engine rpm low so it takes a millisecond longer for the 1,247cc engine to spool up to power.
Regardless, the engine’s power is delivered smooth and strong, and once up to cruising speed, the Muscle produces a pleasant ride with little vibration present. Complementing the engine’s smooth power delivery is suspension with evenly matched spring and damping rates for an overall controlled ride. Suspension travel is advertised at 4″ (front) and 2.9″ (rear), so expect to bottom out on bigger bumps and ruts, with more positive feedback under less stressful road conditions. Steering geometry suggests a slow-steering bike. With rake and trail set at 34 degrees and 5.6″ respectively and the huge 240mm-wide tire pushing from behind, the Muscle, indeed, requires initial muscling on the hand-grips during turn-in for corners. The big tire also promotes a slightly unsteady feel while holding a curvy line on a twisty road, but if you maintain a reasonable pace the 640-pound (dry weight) bike feels manageable and steady. You’ll gain equal confidence while braking because the Muscle comes standard this year with ABS (anti-lock braking system). And with three (two front, one rear) four-piston Brembo brakes coupled with two rather large tire contact patches (tire sizes are 120/70ZR-19″ front, 240/40R-18″ rear) the Muscle can stop quickly. Our 30-0 panic stops measured 22′, and feedback through the brake controls is smooth and positive.
Boasting raw-bone styling and sizzling acceleration matched with dazzling deceleration performance, a MSRP of $15,849 (Vivid Black; $16,174 for solid colors such as our Charcoal Pearl test bike and $16,384 for two-tones), and ABS as a standard feature, the Muscle represents the best bargain ever for a V-Rod. AIM
This story originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of American Iron Magazine. To order a back issue, visit Greaserag.com.