2009 Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle Review

Harley's more muscular V-Rod

2009 V-Rod Harly Davidson Motorcycle in red

Basem Wasef

Harley-Davidson introduced the V-Rod in 2001 to appeal to younger riders, and the low-slung power cruiser featured Harley's first water-cooled engine, which was co-designed by Porsche. The controversial V-Rod has gone through a number of changes over the years, and the V-Rod Muscle is the Motor Company’s latest attempt to attract a sporty crowd that might not be interested in their Sportsters.

The Goods

The heart of the V-Rod is its water-cooled, 60-degree Revolution V-twin powerplant, which was enlarged from 1,130cc to 1,250cc in 2008. The 2009 V-Rod Muscle’s engine produces 122 horsepower and 85 ft-lbs of torque, and it’s mated to a clutch that has a slipper function. Air is fed through a mesh-covered air-intake, and as with all V-Rods, the Muscle is equipped with a 5-speed transmission.

A steel perimeter upper frame with hydroformed main rails holds the V-Rod Muscle’s guts together, and a polished, one-piece cast aluminum swingarm and preload adjustable shocks meets an 18 inch rear wheel shod with 240mm rubber. Up front are 43mm inverted forks, and four-piston front and rear brakes are responsible for stopping duty. ABS is a $795 option, and cool looking LED-equipped mirror stalks and tail lamps add a premium look to the V-Rod Muscle’s outward appearance.

All in all, the V-Rod Muscle weighs in at 673 lbs (in running order.) Fuel capacity is 5 gallons- a significant improvement over earlier versions of the V-Rod- and the seat is 25.7 inches high without a rider, and 25.6 inches laden. Maximum lean angle is 32 degrees on either side, and EPA fuel economy measures 34 MPG city, 42 MPG highway.

Swing a Leg Over

The V-Rod Muscle looks aggressive, and swinging a leg over confirms its intimidating appearance: it’s low, wide, and- at 673 lbs- seriously heavy to lift off its side stand. Leg position is a classic cruiser, which means the feet-forward posture will feel perfectly normal for Harley fans but disorienting for most sportbike riders. The thick tank requires some hip opening and the seat tapers abruptly at the rear (which can cause some discomfort if you tend to sit towards the back of the saddle), but the reach to the handlebars isn’t too much of a stretch, and the ergonomics for my 5’10” frame felt demanding but manageable during several hours of riding.

The cockpit view reveals new internally wired 1.5 inch cast aluminum handlebars with integrated risers. A simple, three-gauge cluster sits front and center. At rest, it takes a bit of maneuvering to get your boots around those fat, satin chrome exhaust pipes, but the problem alleviates itself once you’re in motion.

On the Road

Fire up the V-Rod Muscle’s V-twin, and its exhaust note lives up to its name. The sound is mean and snarly, with an edge that’s a bit more polished than the typical staccato Harley burble. The shifter clicks nicely into gear, and twisting the throttle produces serious pull from the torquey V-twin.

If you have enough space to exercise the engine, there’s a nice rush of power with a bump in the torque curve at around 5,500 rpm. Redline is at 9,000 rpm, and the engine’s flexibility and powerband make it easy to speed- good for whipping through the city, bad for those trying to preserve their driving record.

When it comes to handling, the V-Rod Muscle is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the suspension firmness coupled with the low center of gravity produces responsive dynamics and a feeling of connectedness with the road. But on the other hand, the bike’s long wheelbase and relatively low clearance can make aggressive turning a bit challenging. It was easy to joust through rush-hour traffic along LA's crowded Wilshire Boulevard, but it took a bit more attention to maneuvering the V-Rod Muscle on twisty canyon roads.

But the V-Rod Muscle is surprisingly nimble considering its weight, and actually fun to thread through traffic. And just as impressive as the engine’s tremendous torque is the ability of the brakes to bring the Muscle to a stop, with skid-free deceleration offering confidence-inspiring braking. Die-hards may disdain ABS, but it won’t be too long before anti-locks become a normal part of the motorcycle landscape.

The Bottom Line

The V-Rod stoked controversy when it came on the scene, and not all spinoffs of the water-cooled bike have been commercially successful (remember the Street Rod?). But the V-Rod Muscle takes another stab at the power cruiser genre and succeeds in offering a fast, powerful ride with serious road presence that you would expect from the Harley Davidson lineup. The shortcomings on this bike- including its high price and limited ground clearance, which may be all that keeps it from being perfect, but the V-Rod makes no bones about being a motorcycle that's sexier more than it is practical. And when it comes to sexy, the Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle just works.