Naturally inclined toward track surfaces with sweepers, chicanes, and start points where humans drop flags, our roadracing eastern stringer, Steve Bond, rolls into the burnout box to give the drag strip a go for the first time ever. His ride for the day: Harley-Davidson’s V-Rod Muscle.
Flexing Harley’s Muscle
When I heard that a part of Harley-Davidson’s 2009 new model press launch this summer in Sonoma, California was going to involve a session at the “drags,” I immediately thought, “Sorry, but there’s no way you’re getting me into high heels and fishnet stockings.” Again.
The motorcycle in question is Harley’s new power cruiser, the aptly named V-Rod Muscle, and blasting it through the timed quarter-mile at Infineon Raceway near Sonoma definitely wasn’t a drag.
Right off the bat, the Muscle’s attitude gets in your face with gaping, mesh-covered air scoops, chiseled airbox cover, stylized handlebars, sweeping dual side-pipe exhausts and a chopped and restyled rear end. Power is ably provided by the strong and smooth 1250cc liquid-cooled, V-Rod motor, the only modification being slightly retuned EFI to match the free-flow dual pipes.
The airbox cover, fenders and rad shroud are made from SMC or “sheet molded compound” the same high-tech material found on the front of bullet trains, and F18 wings.
When viewed from the side, the black rear half of the front fender blends into the tire, giving the illusion of a chopped, custom appearance. The front LED turn signals are integrated into the mirror stalks while a curved combination LED stop/turn/tail light brings up the rear. It initially appears ridiculously thin until illuminated, and then it really shows up well. A side-mounted licence plate, first seen on the Rocker and Nightster, completes the custom-looking, clean rear end.
Find a picture of a mid-’70s muscle car and chances are you’ll see large, chromed “outsider” exhausts along both rocker panels. These protruding satin-finished exhausts require a fairly wide stance when stopped and at the end of the drag strip session, there was multicoloured residue from different racing boots and leather pants melted onto the collector. It’s a great way to discourage inappropriate footwear and I’m sure Muscle owners will all be attired in heavy boots—if only to cover recent burn scars.
The low profile is enhanced by the stepped and squared-off “bumstopper” seat, which keeps the rider from sliding off the back of the bike under heavy acceleration.
Normally when on official press launches, screwing around (a highly technical term including but not limited to wheelies, stoppies, donuts and standing on the seat), is generally frowned upon. Burnouts are considered especially heinous and guaranteed to get you a seat on the bus back to the hotel.
So it came as a pleasant surprise when the first thing Harley’s resident Pro drag racer Gene Thomason did was offer a quick course in Burnouts 101.
“Stand with both feet on the ground. DO NOT sit on the seat,” he said. “Grab the front brake, pull in the clutch, bring the revs up to about 6,000 rpm and as you drop the clutch, push down on the bars to slightly unweight the back end. Hold it for about four seconds, then as you ease off the throttle and the revs start dropping, pull the clutch back in.”
Burnouts get the tire good and hot, but the motorcycle will launch better if pebbles, bits of stray rubber or any wildlife that the tire might pick up have been cleared from the area around the burnout box. With that mission accomplished, Thomason gives me the “okay” sign and Bondo was cleared to launch. My first-ever ride down a drag strip.
With the “Christmas Tree” starting lights on the left, I moved the bike slowly ahead and the top yellow lit up, signaling a pre-staged situation. Another foot or so and the second yellow came alive. I was then officially staged, with both feet on the ground, bottom firmly on the seat, leaning forward over the tank and on Defcon 1 Red Alert as the start was imminent.
Bringing the revs back up to 6,000 rpm (no fanning the throttle now, keep it steady), I release the clutch right to the engagement point and … NOW! The three vertical yellow lights all come on at once with the green following 4/10ths of a second later.
I feed out the remaining clutch and fully open the throttle. Too much clutch and acceleration is compromised. Too much throttle and the rear tire lights up. Neither situation is conducive to a quick run. Through first gear, it’s a chore fighting the G-forces to get my lanky legs up to the forward-mounted pegs so I can reach the shifter. A quick shift to second, a clutchless upshift into third (carefully shifting j-u-s-t before the rev limiter kicks in), another quick shift into fourth and I’m through the speed traps exactly one quarter of a mile away.
If you’re Matt Hines or Eddie Krawiec, two of Harley’s factory sponsored drag racers who were there offering tips and advice, it’s all over in 11.3 seconds or less and your Official NHRA electronic timing slip shows a terminal speed of 124 miles per hour (208 kmh).
My first-ever officially calibrated trip down the quarter mile resulted in a time of 13.5 seconds with a terminal speed through the traps of 107 mph. After a few runs, I started getting the hang of it but seemed to hit a plateau where every run was around 12.2 with terminal speeds of 112 mph.
I asked Matt Hines about that and he said it was normal for new racers. “Take a break from the timing runs, sit back and just think about what you’re doing. Analyze every factor of the run, visualize a better one and guaranteed, next time you come out, you’ll be into the elevens.”
Spinal Tap’s guitars may “go to eleven,” but my best run of the day was a 12.134 at 113.8 mph (191 kmh): not bad for a rookie on a brand-new, 640-pound (290-kg) production cruiser with less than 150 kilometres on the clock.
The Muscle stood up extremely well to the brutality of full-throttle runs at the drag strip all morning—and I kept at it until they closed us down for lunch. The motor didn’t overheat, the clutch must be bulletproof as it never grabbed, slipped or chattered and even the stock rear tire looked to have lots of tread left. And, after the going was over, the Brembo front brakes brought the Muscle to a safe, controlled stop well before the exit road at the end of the strip—and fade free all morning too. Impressive.
On the street, the Muscle rides and handles about the same as other varieties of V-Rod. The kicked out front end means fairly slow steering and the foot forward controls place a lot of weight on the old tailbone. On some of the more sportbike-oriented California roads, ground clearance quickly became an issue but most Muscle owners won’t buy this machine to strafe apexes.
Very cool stuff. I realized that:
1. Drag racing has very little to do with fishnet stockings and
2. This was the first time I’ve ever Muscled my way into a strip joint.
– Steve Bond