Monday, August 25, 2014

The littlest Harley, the V-Rod, and wny the Switchback made me want a new bike.

Hello fellow riders!

Sorry for missing you in July, but I was way too busy riding! In fact, I rode three Harley Davidson motorcycles that left very strong, and very different impressions on me. The first was the Street 500, literally the littlest Harley! The next was the V-Rod Muscle. It's a 1200cc, 130 horsepower beast of a bike, at least on paper. The third was the Dyna FLD Switchback, the Swiss Army knife of Harley's line. And without further adieu ...

The Street 500

I just rode on June 29th. It was certainly peppy enough, and I weigh about 220, but man is it SMALL! Tiny little thing, like an 8/10ths Sportster. And it isn't just the physical size; the rider's triangle is much smaller than that of a Superlow or an Iron 883, both of which have the same seat height and mid controls. Light as a feather too.

Overall, I was pleased with it, and the seat was surprisingly comfortable; a definite improvement over the stock Sportster seat. But if you're over 5'10", forget it. I'm 6'4" and I could barely fit on it.

Aside from being much more compact than I expected, the littlest Harley handled nicely and pulled strongly enough; more than strongly enough given it's intended mission. Revvy little thing, but it didn't lack pep and the ride was better than I expected.

And it looks a lot better in person than it does in the photos. The bike had a fairly solid feel, though the hand controls and switchgear feels more delicate than what I'm used to on my Superglide.

Overall, I think it's a homerun, though I'm definitely not the target customer for this bike.

The V-Rod Muscle

The V-Rod Muscle lives up to its name: muscle. It oozes muscularity and power. Long, low, with a thick back tire and an aggressive stance, this bike screams 'fast,' and with 130 horses on tap, it's no poser.

But that doesn't tell the whole story. In fact, it's speed is almost meaningless. The bike is too big to be sporty; way too long, and the riding position is terrible!

In fact, the riding position was the first thing I noticed, and it was so bad that I almost turned the bike around before I left the parking lot! The seat was comfortable enough, but the tiny little drag bars mean that you're leaning forward a lot, but unlike sport bikes, which have controls mounted under your hips, the V-Rod has forward controls. Mids are an option, and I've seen one with mids on the road, and for riders without my long legs, it would be a huge improvement.

But with forward controls, narrow (they felt like they were only about twenty inches, though I think they're actually about 24" across)drag bars, and a long, low frame, your riding position resembles that of a villain that Superman just punched in the gut. Being tall, my long arms meant that I was probably more comfortable than a shorter rider, and I was not comfortable in this position at all! And in spite of having forward controls, my legs were cramped up due to the angle of the controls; I had to lift my foot entirely off of the peg to upshift, and both braking and downshifting were uncomfortable.

I should note that these bars are unique to the V-Rod Muscle; the V-Rod Night Rod Special has a more traditional low rise bar. According to the dealership, the Muscle's bars cannot simply be swapped out; you'd probably have to replace the riser.

Did I say that this bike is long? With a 67" wheelbase, this bike is longer than a Road King! And once I had the bike moving, it was the first thing that I noticed. The length of this bike makes itself known constantly. When riding down the straights, this bike is stable; rock solid! It has that smooth, controlled ride that you get from a long wheelbase and thick tires. When you're turning, it feels ponderous, recalcitrant.

Part of this is the length, but I feel that those tiny handlebars really cut down on the ability to maneuver this long machine, which needs wider bars for anything other than going in a straight line.

Power was never a problem. In fact, for as much power as this bike has, it was surprisingly well controlled, and not at all twitchy. Throttle progression was smooth and even, and it only delivered what I was asking for. And when I asked for power, it really delivered! Though it doesn't get its power as low in the powerband as an EVO or a Twin Cam 103, it's rev range is nearly twice that of either engine!

In summary, this bike has a lot of very good qualities, but not necessarily the right mixture of them. I will have to ride a Night Rod to see what it's like; the seat looks a bit nicer and the bars are definitely wider and taller.

The Dyna FLD Switchback

I spent two weeks after I rode this bike trying to figure out how to buy it. I loved it that much! This bike felt almost made for me. The bars are almost as big and as wide as the bars I added to my Super Glide in my efforts to size it to my long build, the floorboards are nicely placed, and the seat was incredibly comfortable. And power; it had power in abundance, and its exhaust note was so sweet that I had to ask the salesman if it still had a stock muffler!

The FLD has a smooth, controlled ride, handles crisply, and has ample bags in comparison with the throw-overs that I'm currently using. It comes with a quick detach windshield and those hard, lockable bags also detach in less than thirty seconds.

This bike is well suited to a wide range of sizes too; at 6'4", I felt like this bike was made with me in mind. So did a guy who was 5'7".

About the downside. Well, there isn't one, other than that I have a car payment that's preventing me from buying it. It's heavier than my 620 pound 1996 Super Glide by about a hundred pounds, but you'd be hard pressed to notice it. It's rated for 42mpg combined, which is about what I get on my machine. And with that 6th gear, this bike probably does better than mine on the highway despite its engine having a 300cc size advantage.

So, if I traded in my current bike and sold my car to CarMax, I could do it. But when I rode home on my own machine, I did not feel like I was riding an inferior machine. The truth of the matter is that I am very happy with my 1996 Dyna. Yes, the Switchback is definitely an upgrade, but not one that I can afford, or can justify.

Thankfully, I can make the parts department at the dealership and J&P Cycles very happy by adding the parts that made the Switchback so appealing to my existing ride, and doing a few upgrades to improve the engine performance. All for much less than the cost of a new bike.

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