Back in 2001, Harley-Davidson introduced its VRSC “V-Rod” to the motorcycle world to compete with both imported and domestic (U.S.) muscle bikes The factory teamed up with Porsche to design the aptly-named “Revolution” engine to power this new drag bike and the evolution of the “Revolution” has continued ever since.
One needs to look no further than the V-Rod Muscle to appreciate how the Vehicle and Powertrain Operations factory in Kansas City, Missouri, has spent the last 14 years. This drag bike maintains the design concepts of the original VRSC, with the subtle improvements that one expects given the popularity of the bike and the ever-increasing strides in technology over the past decade and a half.
The original VRSC was based loosely (read: very loosely) on the VR-1000 superbike design, though visually the two bikes are as different as chalk and cheese, though that could also be said of the difference between the VRSC and any other Harley street model. In a sharp departure from convention, Harley used a 60-degree, water-cooled V-twin engine as opposed to the usual 45-degree, air-cooled engine.
The “fuel tank” atop the engine is actually the airbox, and the real fuel tank is positioned below the rider’s butt where you might normally expect to find the oil bag. Personally, I don’t like this particular design philosophy, but it does have some benefits, namely a lower center of gravity. And let’s be honest, nobody misses that huge ham-can air clearer in the right knee.
The low lines along the top of the airbox meet an abrupt kink at the rear of the seat. No doubt this is necessary to keep the rider’s bottom contained while on a 1/4-mile strip, or more likely during holeshots from your favorite green light.
A molded, all-in-one LED stop/turn/taillight tucks away under the rear fender, and the front turn signals are integrated with the mirror standoffs, leaving the bike looking clean and smooth. Oh, and let me just say I love the abbreviated subframe. It’s almost like they built a frame, motor and wheels, then at the 11th hour someone decided to throw a seat on it. It comes off looking like a saddle strapped to a rocket a la Looney Toons, the only thing missing is a salivating coyote. I love it.
Big and beefy 43 mm front forks add to the already chunky and mean look of the bike, while providing extra strength and stability and lowering the unsprung weight on the front wheel. Black cast-aluminum wheels help keep the weight low, and they mount the Michelin “Scorcher” tires for maximum traction. Speaking of traction, the huge, 240 mm rear tire provides plenty of it!
Dual front Brembo brakes (and a single in the rear, of course) handle the braking stresses, and the ABS ensures that you can use this not-inconsiderable braking power with confidence, even in adverse conditions. The steering head is set at an aggressive 34-degree angle, lending the bike a low and mean custom look. Laden seat height is only 25.6 inches, which is remarkably low for a non-Softail model and should preclude the need for an “upping block” for vertically challenged riders.
As for the radiator itself, it comes hidden behind a guard. The dark coloring makes it blend in against the engine somewhat, but the guard still draws the eye to that area. But to be fair, it is not possible to make a radiator disappear or look sexy, and at least the cowling/guard hides the actual fins and tubes so you aren’t really looking directly at it. Additionally, the guard prevents flying-object damage while acting as a fairing of sorts to guide ram-air into the scoops and across the rad for a forced-ventilation action, at least when underway. In short, it could be worse.
The V-Rod Muscle backs up the unspoken claims implied by the design with a VR-1000-inspired engine. Punched out to 1,247 cc, the Revolution engine has a 4.13-inch bore, 2.835-inch stroke in a 60-degree V, and a relatively high compression ratio at 11.5 to 1. This mill cranks out a generous 119 horsepower, backed up by a pucker-inducing 87 pound-feet of torque at 6,750 rpm, which is enough for the streets, and a good starting point for the track.
Speaking of the track, the “slipper” clutch makes the transition from race track to street in the Muscle, providing the bike with smoother handling in the corners when downshifting, as well as rear-wheel hop prevention. This is great as far as it goes, but the power-to-weight ratio falls a bit short compared to some other similar models, and someone looking to actually use it on a track should expect to perform some heavy modifications to the engine before hitting the track in a competitive capacity. Like I said: a good starting point, but not the be-all, end-all right out of the box. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, H-D is relatively new to the performance sector, and into every new endeavor some growing pains must surely follow. Nothing for it.
You can get the 2015 Muscle in Vivid Black starting at $16,149, or you can spring for the Mysterious Red Sunglo, Sand Cammo Denim or the new for 2105 Black Quartz for another $350. If your vanity really gets the better of you, then you can choose one of the Two-Tone Option colors for $16,699. The security option will set you back $395 – cheap insurance, if you ask me – and the California Emissions package will add another Franklin to the bill. The 2016 model year sees a bump in price up to $16,449 in Vivid Black, $16,799 in Black Denim or Crushed Ice Pearl, or $16,999 for the two-tone, Billet Silver or Velocity Red Sunglo, both with black tribal flames.
For 2017, we see quite a price bump with MSRP on Vivid Black at $17,449; Black Denim or Corona Yellow Pearl for $17,799; and two-tone Velocity Red Sunglo or Crushed Ice Denim at $17,999. That’s quite a jump with no apparent updates over the previous year.
Street-drag bikes with less than 1,500 cubes or so are hard to find, unsurprising given the nature and demands of the sector. I was about to abandon my search for an appropriate competitor when the Diavel by Ducati presented itself, and I found myself wondering how I missed it in the first place.
While the Diavel isn’t specifically a “drag bike,” per se, it does meet the majority of the criteria. A relatively low, 30-inch seat height keeps center-of-gravity at a reasonable height. The aggressive, all-up-front stance, 240 mm wide rear tire and ram-air intake scoops all point to a ride that means serious business. At 28-degrees, the Diavel carries less rake than the 34-degree front end on the Muscle, but the 5.1-inch trail on the Duc is close enough to the 5.6 inches on the Harley, leaving both bikes fairly stable on the straightaways. All fairly drag-tastic if you ask me.
Looking at the engines, it is easy to detect the lack of experiential overlap within the high-performance sector between the two manufacturers. Harley doesn’t do too bad with 87 pound-feet of torque and 119 ponies out of its little, 1,247 cc Revolution mill, but Ducati manages to wring 96.3 pounds of grunt out of the even smaller, 1,198 cc Testastretta plant, backed up by 162 horsepower.
To further exacerbate this offset, the Diavel weighs in at 527 pounds wet, a considerable bit lighter than the Muscle at 673 pounds. What this means is if a bunch of Muscle riders are at the dragstrip and a Diavel shows up, the H-D riders are suddenly competing for second place. Yeah it sounds harsh, but this is the reality of it, at least on stock bikes.
I don’t get to say this very often, but the H-D comes in a bit cheaper at $17,449, with the Duc rolling for $18,795. Course, the Diavel comes with all sorts of yummy-goodness in the form of a ride-by-wire throttle that enables the traction-control system and rider modes. A rider not hung up on the H-D brand and really looking for a top-performing, stoplight burner probably won’t look twice at the Muscle, to be honest. However, riders looking for some non-competitive fun and wanting to be a part of this relatively new direction from The Motor Company, or simply looking for a “not-your-daddy’s-Harley” may find plenty to love about the Muscle. Myself, I’m torn but leaning toward the Duc myself. I leave it to you to decide where your priorities lie.
“I’ll be honest, the first time I saw the VRSC I thought to myself “Oh God, is this the new normal?” I have never been a fan of this design, especially the engine and radiator, but I do recognize that it fills a niche in the market, and helps to draw some riders into the brand with a machine that is closer to an import than a traditional Harley. Anything that turns people on to H-D in general, or motorcycling in general, is a good thing.”
My wife and fellow writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “It just looks weird to have a 60-degree engine on a Harley. Are they trying to appeal to the Asian-fan crowd? Yes, the laden seat height is 25.6 inches, but that’s assuming a 180-pound rider. Unladen it’s 27.8 inches. Not a big deal, but I wanted to make that clear for us height-challenged folks who have to laden it ’and’ touch the ground. With a 67-inch wheelbase, that makes for a long, low ride and it has just a hint of rake. That ultra-fat rear tire makes it look so dragster, but I guess that’s the point. I’m not a fan, but the muscle crowd will go nuts.”
|Engine:||Liquid-cooled, Revolution®, 60° V-Twin|
|Compression Ratio:||11.5 to 1|
|Fuel System:||Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)|
|Engine Torque Testing Method:||EEC/95/1|
|Engine Torque:||87 Pound-Feet|
|Engine Torque (rpm) :||6,500|
|Lean Angle, Right:||32 Degrees|
|Lean Angle, Left:||32 Degrees|
|Fuel Economy: Combined City/Hwy:||37 mpg|
|Primary Drive:||Gear, 64/117 ratio|
|Gear Ratios (overall) 1st:||10.969|
|Gear Ratios (overall) 2nd:||7.371|
|Gear Ratios (overall) 3rd:||5.9|
|Gear Ratios (overall) 4th:||5.095|
|Gear Ratios (overall) 5th:||4.563|
|Exhaust:||Satin chrome, dual side exhaust system with black end caps|
|Wheels, Front Type:||Black, 5-Spoke Cast Aluminum|
|Wheels, Rear Type:||Black, 5-Spoke Cast Aluminum|
|Brakes, Caliper Type:||Four-piston front and rear|
|Seat Height, Unladen:||27.8 Inches|
|Ground Clearance:||4.1 Inches|
|Rake (steering head) :||34 Degrees|
|Tires, Front Specification:||120/70ZR-19 60W|
|Tires, Rear Specification:||240/40R-18 79V|
|Fuel Capacity||5 Gallon:|
|Oil Capacity (w/filter) :||5 Quarts|
|Weight, As Shipped:||640 Pounds|
|Weight, In Running Order:||673 Pounds|
|Lights (as per country regulation), Indicator Lamps:||High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, security system, coolant temperature, low fuel warnings, ABS|
|Gauges:||Electronic speedometer with odometer, time-of-day clock on odometer, dual tripmeter, fuel gauge with low fuel warning light and countdown feature, low oil pressure indicator light, engine diagnostics readout, LED indicator lights, tachometer|
|2015:||Vivid Black, Sand Cammo Denim, Black Quartz, Mysterious Red Sunglo with Flames|
|2016:||Vivid Black, Black Denim, Billet Silver with Flames, Crushed Ice Pearl Deluxe with Two-tone panel graphic, Velocity Red Sunglo with Flames|
|2017:||Vivid Black, Black Denim, Corona Yellow Pearl, Crushed Ice Denim with two-tone panel graphic, Velocity Red Sunglo with Flames|
|2015:||Vivid Black: $16,149, Color: $16,499, Flame: $16,699|
|2016:||Vivid Black: $16,449, Color: $16,799, Two-Tone: $16,999|
|2017:||Vivid Black: $17,449, Color: $17,799, Two-Tone: $17,999|