2009 Harley-Davidson's Models

Text: Eric Bass • Photography: Kevin Wing, Tom Riles

Harley-Davidson has clearly kicked both style and substance up a notch in their 2009 models. The debut of the V-Rod Muscle represents a macho re-imaging of the formerly sleek power cruiser, adding visual mass and trick custom touches. Meanwhile, the FL touring bikes received an overhaul of their 28-year-old base platform, and the Tri-Glide had its coming out party. Overall, an exciting series of announcements for the touring crowd!

Tourers

With over 450 mechanical changes made to the FL touring class (aside from their powerplants and classic styling), nearly everything about the 28-year-old chassis design of these seven bikes is essentially brand new. According to one of H-D's project leaders, customer research indicated that many owners were exceeding the intended load specifications of even their sturdiest steeds by significant amounts. After briefly considering distribution of South Beach Diet coupons at HOG rallies, engineers instead opted to improve their handling under max load. The frame and swingarm were stiffened, and a wider 180/65-16 Dunlop multi-compound rear tire was adopted with a long-wearing center tread and stickier sidewalls. The combined benefit of these modifications yielded increases of 70 pounds in load capacity, 5 pounds apiece in pannier capacity, and 15 percent in expected wear life of the tires. Passenger comfort has also been enhanced with increased legroom, and a wider pillion and backrest.

Adding the wider tire dictated a redesign of the tail section. H-D used the opportunity to deploy a bolt-on sub-frame that can be replaced independently of the cast single-spar main frame, potentially saving an owner beaucoup buckaroos in the event of isolated damage to the rear. Performance was further improved by lighter, stiffer and, if my vote counts, better-looking 28-spoke cast aluminum wheels, and a rear sprocket that gained two teeth for better roll-on response. ABS is also now an option on all touring models.

For my money, one of the most meaningful transformations to the touring platform under real-world riding conditions is in the newfound effectiveness of the heat management systems. I still wince recalling an afternoon spent two years ago at LoveRide grinding along at waddling speeds astride a CVO Ultra. Due to an exhaust system that could only have been routed by the Marquis de Sade, not only was the heat radiating off of the rear pipe roasting my most sensitive of sensitive areas, but due to the tourer's tall and wide seat, it was also impossible for me to spread my legs any wider, or stand any taller, in order to gain precious relief from the scalding. I returned home that day convinced that riding an oil drum BBQ smoker to Leno's shindig would have been less painful.

Well, apparently someone back in Wisconsin heard my screams (believe me, they were loud enough) because the pipes have been mercifully re-routed under the frame and away from the seat. The new Ultra even received an air-deflector strategically located at the inner thigh to defeat heat radiating off of the cooling fins. Taking these improvements yet a step further, the air-cooled V-twins now come with an Engine Idle Temperature Management System (EITMS). The system deploys automatically, cutting off fuel to the rear cylinder to prevent overheating when the engine is idling and the bike is not moving. The rider can manually disable it via a button on the bars. Impressively, the comfort difference was night and day. These changes are reason enough to reconsider the big hogs' viability if you frequently find yourself stuck in traffic and/or enjoy attending rallies.
Since the Harley-Davidson designers have demonstrated a propensity for taking constructive criticism and running with it, one improvement that I would have liked to see but didn't was a taller (or shorter) windscreen on the faired models. I'm an average-sized guy, and the standard equipped plexiglass tops off right at my sightline. This necessitates straining and hunching to see above or below it, particularly when leaned into corners.

Although we weren't offered 2008 models to compare side by side with the 2009s, the consensus from the communal butt-dynos of the assembled moto-journalists was that comfort, feel, responsiveness, and available lean angle were all noticeably improved over previous incarnations of the FL clan. I can personally state with confidence that if you've already owned an H-D tourer, you're going to like the new ones even better; and if you've never considered purchasing one before, it may be time to re-evaluate your thoughts on the matter.

Tri-Glide

Huzzah! Trike riders can now rejoice at a major milestone, as the Tri-Glide Ultra Classic marks the first full-fledged street model produced by a major OEM. While expert three-wheel builder Lehman Trikes was consulted during the Tri-Glide's incubation, project leaders emphasized that this is not merely a kit, but an H-D design built from the ground up, based upon the Ultra Classic Electra Glide. As such, it will be supported with parts and service at any H-D dealership. Retaining the vintage good looks of the Ultra Classic, the Tri-Glide gets a larger 103ci engine (producing 101ft-lbs of torque), a purpose-built chassis and final drive, heavier duty clutch, 15" tires, and dual Hayes disc brakes at the rear. The front end acquires a steering damper and sturdier triple clamp, as well as increased rake and decreased trail to optimize steering geometry. The trunk holds 50 pounds of kit in 4.5 cubic feet of stowage which can be expanded to 6.56 cubic feet with the addition of an optional top case. Fenders are individually removable, and the entire rear end attaches to the frame by just six bolts. This optimizes both the ease and cost effectiveness of necessary repairs or maintenance. If you're in the market for a new three-wide ride, the Tri-Glide will set you back $ 29,995, with an electrical reverse gear available for an additional $ 1,195. Given the trike's over 1,000-lb dry weight, that option would seem a wise investment in preserving both your boot heels and patellar tendons.

V-Rod Muscle

Harley's expansion of the VRSC family of bikes built around the hard-pulling 1250cc Revolution motor gives rise to the 2009 addition of the V-Rod Muscle. The Muscle's engine is slightly re-tuned, gaining one bhp (121) and losing a ft-lb of torque (85), and now complemented with a slipper clutch. ABS can also be had for $ 795 (now optional on all VRSC models). Clearly though, what the $ 2,200 premium over the base model V-Rod gets you isn't performance mods. It's all about a bulked-up, cleaned-up appearance that exudes gravitas and portends the imminent burning of rubber. H-D thoroughly raided the custom builders' bag of tricks, deploying a side-mounted license plate bracket, internally wired bars, LED brake and turn signals sleekly hidden under the rear fender and on the mirror stalks, dual large-diameter turned out pipes derived from modern muscle cars, and a visually deceiving blackout front fender designed to appear chopped while retaining its dirt-deflecting function. Utilization of a sophisticated sheet-molded material called SMC allowed H-D to cost-effectively create the complex shapes of the new bodywork, wherein the faux gas tank received a broader more angular fascia highlighted by a pair of equally fraudulent steel-mesh air scoops.

I had the chance to test the Muscle on the street and strip, where pro racer Andrew Hines casually demonstrated proper technique by posting an 11.3 quarter mile time on a bone stocker. My best run lagged behind by about a second but I'm confident that my 100-lb weight handicap probably accounted for half of that discrepancy. Speaking of my middle-aged spread, the redesigned seat supported me fantastically well when I lit the wick and proved equally comfortable for day-long rides. I felt that the 67" wheelbase, 240mm rear doughnut, foot-forward pegs, and arms-outstretched ergoes weren't really optimized for gallivanting through snug corners. However, more seat time may have proved a panacea for the initial awkwardness of the unusual geometry, and when it comes to ergoes, I'll readily acknowledge that results may vary according to body type and preference.

In addition to the lineup changes already mentioned, Harley-Davidson's designers and engineers still managed to find time to make predominantly styling-oriented tweaks to its Dyna, Softail, and Sportster model families and whip up CVO editions of the Softail Springer, Ultra Classic Electra Glide, Fat Bob, and Road Glide too. All told, after almost three decades of technological stagnation, 2009 may go down as one of those model year "lines of demarcation" for fans of the Harley-Davidson FL tourer by greatly enhancing the resale value of bikes produced on the modernized chassis. The V-Rod Muscle is clearly a handsome brute, and the Tri-Glide's arrival acknowledges the legitimacy of a long-neglected constituency of the touring crowd. This was clearly the year in which the big bikes got their due, and the 2009 lineup provides plenty of both sizzle and steak for H-D enthusiasts to feast upon.