Harley-Davidson 2009

Change Is In The Air

If you didn't know any better, you'd think Harley-Davidson was trying to reinvent itself. First there were the Rocker, Fat Bob and Cross Bones bikes (last year). And for 2009 the news is even bigger-a new V-Rod debuts, and an entire line gets a new foundation.

Since 1980 the FL touring line has used one frame and swingarm. But after years of analyzing customer feedback H-D has finally seen fit to completely redesign it, and with good result. The new chassis allows for greater luggage and load capacity, improved handling, more passenger room, decreased exhaust heat, and longer rear tire life. The frame and swingarm are constructed with a combination of steel castings, stampings, forgings and tubing, with an overall increase in torsional rigidity. The frame is also longer and the swingarm is wider, allowing the use of a 180mm tire, up from the previous 150mm. The wider rear tire contributes to both the larger load capacity-70 pounds-and increased tire life. Tire wear is further improved by way of a multicompound carcass with a harder compound in the center of the tread, while softer rubber on the sides provides better cornering grip. The fatter tire has resulted in the rear of the bike being 30mm wider, and with no change in saddlebag width. The rear subframe is a bolt-on assembly, allowing for greater precision in the main frame's alignment during fabrication, less expensive damage repairs, and modularity of the frame itself. While the forks and shocks look the same on the outside, the insides now have different springs and damping rates to provide a smoother and more controlled ride. The forks are held in redesigned triple clamps that increase trail and provide more straight-line stability. The exhaust has been changed to a 2-into-1-into-2 design with the rear cylinder's header angling forward and down into a collector with the front cylinder's exhaust, and a crossover pipe going underneath the motorcycle to the left-side muffler, eliminating the left-side pipe. The engine is unchanged, but there are now two mounts at the front of the frame, significantly reducing engine vibration at idle.

I rode several of the FLs at the press launch, spending a lot of time on the '09 Road King. Visually it seems the same as the '08 version, other than the exhaust plumbing and the wider rear tire. After firing up the engine the reduction in vibration is noticeable, the handlebars no longer doing their happy dance, now merely a shuffle. Ride quality is definitely improved, the Road King feeling far more composed over bumpy tarmac, even at a spirited pace, and exhibiting a wonderful new stability in fast, sweeping turns. So what we have is the same bike as before but new and, yes, improved-a lot. The real beauty is that these ride characteristics are shared across the entire Harley touring line. We'll bring you many more details on all of the changes to the FL line as soon as we're able to get some serious testing time on the '09s.

Other platforms are also receiving updates, some in the suspension department, some mostly cosmetic, and there is even an Electra Glide Ultra-based trike-the Tri Glide-but that's not a motorcycle, now is it? So the other big news is a new V-Rod model, the Muscle. While the FLs are different under the skin, the V-Rod Muscle is all about the skin, with a complete facelift from the other VRSC motorcycles. The name says it all-the bike looks buffed up. There are new, angular body panels constructed from sheet molded compound, the same material used for Corvette body panels and, according to H-D, the wings of the F-18 fighter jet. The air box is broader than the other V-Rods with metal-screened inlets at the front and large scoops around the radiator increasing cooling air flow. The rear fender is chopped off at the tail and slender, with a smooth arc underneath containing the LED turn signals, taillights and stop light. Other new styling touches abound, too-the front LED turn signals integrated into the mirror stalks; new, beefy triple clamps and handlebars with internal wiring; and a new instrument cluster with analog speedometer, tach and fuel gauge. Completing the look are the turned-out musclecar-style exhausts on each side of the bike and the left-side license-plate mount. Of course performance is important, too, and ABS is an available option for all of the '09 VRSCs.

On the road, the V-Rod Muscle is a hoot. The seat has been lowered and has a tall bolster at the back, necessary to keep you on the bike when you rip the throttle wide open and release the claimed 125 hp and 85 lb-ft of torque. The 240mm rear tire provides good grip but, combined with the 34-degree rake angle of the forks, slows steering in sharper turns. Acceleration is instantaneous and brisk, and the ride quality is surprisingly compliant. The rider footpegs are 11/2 inches back from standard, but for short riders you'll feel like you've been trying to touch your toes for the whole ride. The seat is firm and should be good for at least a tank of gas' worth of riding, although the pillion pad is pretty hard. But why would you want a passenger when you're really going to be spending your time dragracing the Muscle from stoplight to stoplight? Skip the gym and get some real Muscle for $17,198.
-Evan Kay

'09 Road Glide
'09 V-ROD VRSCF Muscle