Harley’s move to smaller and more affordable products manufactured in India has been a big win for the American icon.
Over 35,000 of the new ‘Street’ models in their original two configurations (500cc and 750cc) have hit the streets around the world in the three years since their introduction. Australia only received the Street 500, due to our 660cc-capacity limit for new riders, but globally it is sales of Street 750 that have really made big strides for H-D in regards to this new direction for the brand.
The Harley Street range has now also spawned a new V-Rod inspired derivative, dubbed the Harley-Davidson Street Rod. Not to be confused with the V-Rod-based Street Rod that went out of production in 2006. That model was motivated by a powerful 1247cc V-twin Porsche helped Harley develop almost 20 years ago, and that engine still sees duty in the current V-Rod range. This new machine is powered by a high-output version of Harley’s Revolution X engine, which debuted in the aforementioned Street 500 and Street 750 models.
While the larger capacity V-Rod makes well over 100 horsepower, the Street Rod 750 makes a claimed 68 neddies at its 60-degree crank. It is also not learner-legal in Australia due to its 749cc capacity. But at $12,995 ride-away Harley will, I predict, move hundreds of them in Australia.
The Street Rod 750 is a very important new model as it is not all wine and roses at Harley. Operating income over the first quarter of 2017 is down from the $332 million recorded in Q1 2016, to $239 million so far this year. Q1 of 2016 saw Harley ship 83,036 motorcycles, while this year that number dropped to 70,831 motorcycles. American retail sales dropped 5.7 per cent while sales in our Asia-Pacific region were down 9.3 per cent.
However, Harley-Davidson remains the number-one-selling road bike marque in Australia. Sales within Australia were only down a marginal 1.1 per cent. Harley retailed 2261 new motorcycles in Australia during the first quarter of 2017, 322 of which were Street 500 models. Thus Harley is still doing incredibly well in Australia, bucking a trend that saw most other brands lose significant ground during the first three months of this year. The new Street Rod 750 will certainly boost those numbers throughout the remainder of 2017.
Will Street Rod 750 cannibalise Sportster sales? Harley doesn’t think so, although I am not quite so sure. The marginally more expensive 883 Sportster does have a more ‘big engine’-style rumble to it than the water-cooled Revolution X engine in the Street models. The 45-degree 883 v-twin, somewhat predictably due to its larger engine, also makes slightly more torque, 71 versus 65 Nm, but the Street 750 boasts more horsepower from its 60-degree layout. We also know the regular Street 750 accelerates harder than the 883, thus this new higher-output-engined version should certainly leave an 883 for dead in a traffic light drag.
We flew over the equator to try the new bike on the streets of Pulau Ujong, otherwise known as Singapore, a densely populated island measuring 50km across and 26km from its most southern and northern tips. We pretty much touched all those cardinal points in our quest to find out just how good this new Street Rod 750 is.
Clambering onboard the Street Rod for the first time felt like a yoga exercise. Most Harley Sportsters feel much the same, at first. It takes some time for your body to adapt to a riding position that puts quite a serious bend in your leg at the knee. At a very average 178cm tall it does feel a little cramped for me, even when I got accustomed to the riding position. Eventually I presume you would adapt further and find it quite comfortable, but I can’t see anyone with long legs enjoying the riding position for any length of time.
Those with short legs will be very comfortable, and the well-padded seat-height of a modest 765mm will make the vertically challenged feel very comfortable on the Street Rod. This is also a boon for less confident riders, such as someone whose partner has a big Harley and wants to join in on the fun, but doesn’t feel the need to go the whole Hog, so to speak…
Taking off from a standstill the clutch on my test machine had very little friction point and was clearly unhappy. I persevered until the first photo stop, by which time the binding of the clutch plates had got better, but was still far from satisfactory. I had some Harley technicians adjust the clutch, and the friction point then became much more amenable, but it was still a somewhat rough-feeling motorcycle. I was subsequently told that on the previous day some sort of journo-come-stuntman had been committing acts of rampant abuse on a test bike, and obviously that must have been the mount I started the day on. It was not a pleasant introduction to the model.
After lunch I swapped to a different machine, which actually felt something like a new motorcycle should! The difference was night and day; not just in regards to the clutch, but the whole bike felt much better. Launches were smooth as were the gearshifts, even the braking was vastly improved compared to the mistreated machine I had started the day on. That previous rider must have really known how to mercilessly thrash a motorcycle. Still, it doesn’t bode all that well for the long-term feel of the bike if an owner was to ride it hard for a lot of the time.
I started to grow more fond of the second machine as the afternoon wore on. The switchgear started to feel more natural and I started to gel with it a lot more.
This new high-output version of the Revolution X engine is much more boisterous than the standard 750, let alone the 500 we had access to in Australia. A much higher compression ratio, larger Mikuni throttle bodies (up from 38mm to 42mm), more aggressive camshafts and a 1000rpm higher rev-limit all combine to make for a much more sporting mount.
It really is quite quick to 100km/h (for this class of machine), where once in sixth gear the liquid-cooled engine is turning a comfortable 3800rpm. Peak torque arrives at 4000rpm which means that top gear overtaking urge from the metric ton is dispensed with quickly and smoothly.
The throttle is controlled via a cable, unlike the modern trend towards fly-by-wire control. Thus there are no multiple engine maps or traction control.
Harley tells us the engine will rev to 9000rpm but to be honest I can’t see why anyone would bother. Its best work feels done by 7500rpm on the small digital tachometer inlaid in the speedometer face, despite Harley claiming that peak power is 68hp at 8750rpm. So either the tacho is wrong, these engines were still very tight and yet to reach their higher rpm best, or H-D are telling us fibs. Over the regular 750, Harley claim this high-output version puts out 18 per cent more power and eight per cent more torque.
The engine really does grunt well down low, will easily take off in second gear, and fairly rapid progress is made while short-shifting through the six-speed box. It’s clearly a vast improvement over an 883 in regard to performance and manners, but the fantastic theatre of that long fabled 45-degree engine is a critical ingredient clearly missing from the Street range.
For me, that almost archaic pushrod two-valve engine is what makes Harley what it is, and while the Street Rod makes a nice rasp through the air-box when hitting the throttle hard, it does lack some of the traditional Harley experience. And no, I am not a Luddite. I rapidly embrace new technology. I started a motorcycle news website at the end of last century via a dial-up internet connection, five years before even Facebook kicked off, so I am hardly technology averse. But just like there is nothing like an old school V8 swallowing great globules of fuel through an 850 Double Pumper, Harley’s traditional pushrod engine is what makes the brand, and the motorcycle. In the ‘Street’ range that part of the traditional Harley recipe is somewhat lacking.
There is certainly no argument though that Street’s overhead cam four-valve heads and liquid-cooling do bring more performance potential to the table. I also think that we will see larger capacity, more serious iterations of this Revolution X engine to come in many more new models from Harley over the next few years.
While overall I was impressed by the performance on offer, my primary bugbear with the engine is the amount of radiant heat that reaches the rider. Sure, it was hot and humid in Singapore, but Sydney has plenty of comparable days, and in city traffic it was a thigh-cooker. The rear cylinder also often touches the inside of your left thigh at times, which is less than ideal. Still, it does offer excellent performance for its low-priced urban-cruiser-come-roadster segment of the market.
Now on to more pleasant things to report…
The handling is a vast improvement over not just the other bikes in the ‘Street’ range, but on pretty much anything Harley has ever produced. The front-end rake is tucked in from 32-degrees to 27-degrees for the Street Rod and combines with a longer swingarm, fairly sporty 17-inch rubber, and pretty reasonable suspension to deliver a fairly sporting bent. To a point; it’s still a Harley after all. Milwaukee is not into producing sporting motorcycles and has no need to. That is not what they are about.
The dual 300mm disc brakes are a good asset and Bybre, a second-tier offshoot from Brembo, provides the twin-piston calipers. They work well and are assisted by a generously sized 300mm accompaniment at the rear. Other testers reported great performance from the rear brake, but I could not effectively test it. My fused right ankle doesn’t generally cause me too many problems with rear brake use on most motorcycles as I can utilise the bend in my forefoot, but the riding position of the Street Rod meant that I had no hope of achieving any sort of rear brake control. Thus I will take their word for it. The ABS system is quite good and a great safety aid.
Another Indian brand supplies the 43mm inverted forks and dual piggyback rear shock absorbers. They also supply KTM, Piaggio and quite a few other brands. I was pretty impressed with the composure and response they exhibited during my time on the bike.
Sure, they are not top-shelf stuff, but with pretty reasonable travel and damping control they are very good for something in this mid-capacity cruiser segment. Especially considering the target market is young urbanites looking for something cool to commute on or blast around the city.
The Street Rod shocks also offer 31 more per cent travel than its siblings, a handy 117mm makes for a great ride and most bumps are smoothly taken in its stride.
The available lean angle of 37.3 degrees on the left, and 40.2 degrees on the right, offers a different realm of sporting performance compared to the other Street models, which at 28-degrees make cornering an almost bolt-upright proposition. Street Rod is about as sporting as Harley’s get, even though this model doesn’t wear a sports moniker.
On the styling front Harley have done a good job, as they generally do. The Street Rod is, in my eyes, a massive improvement over the other Street models. The new 13-litre tear-drop fuel tank, which is mounted higher and more forward in the machine than on other Street models, flows nicely with the lines of the bike. The number plate hanger is a detail that’s not been forgotten. It incorporates what looks like a luggage grid/rack, but isn’t, as it not designed to be weight-bearing and putting anything on it would completely block the LED tail light. But it’s still a nice touch, and a point of detail I admired in the overall execution of the bike.
The cast alloy rims, which are unfortunately quite hidden by the large discs or belt-drive system, are quite handsome and intricate in their design.
Very clean and uncluttered lines across the undercarriage of the motorcycle also add to the appeal, while helping to provide the generous 205mm ground clearance on offer.
Bar end mirrors are both handsome and functional, offering a good field of view, and not affected by any vibration induced blur. The mirrors can also be flipped under the bars, if that look floats your boat.
The bars themselves are quite wide. Unfortunately an alloy plate on the underneath of the control block fouled my hand a few times. When riding ungloved late in the day this drew blood from the knuckle on my thumb, not once, but twice. The levers are not adjustable for reach.
Still, the ergonomics are quite reasonable, once accustomed to the strange peg placement. The rear-set pegs themselves are alloy and flip up, sometimes at inopportune times. Such as lifting your boot back up for a traffic light getaway only for you to foul the peg and flip it up. Finding them with your feet to flip them back down was at times quite irksome. Best I get some Pilates classes in!
The ignition key is inserted in the conventional position behind the steering head for the machine to be started via a conventional bar mounted button. A proximity sensor is coded to an immobiliser on the key-fob and an alarm system is fitted as standard. Good one.
I think Harley Australia made the right decision in not originally bringing the normal Street 750 model to our market. It is not really a big enough step-up from the 500 to be an existing customers next motorcycle. This new Street Rod, however, is a fairly big leap in all areas of performance across the board from the normal 750, let alone a quantum leap over the Street 500. Thus after achieving their full licence, I can see the step up to the 750 being a significant move up the ladder of motorcycling for owners. And with learner-legal bikes generally holding their value, and Harley particularly strong across the board in regard to retained resale value, it should not cost a Street 500 rider much moolah to trade up to the Street Rod.
Three colours choices will make it to Australia for this model year; a gloss ‘Vivid Black,’ the trend of the moment matt black/grey, which for the Street Rod Harley have dubbed ‘Charcoal Denim,’ is also available. In the flesh the pick for me is the greenish looking ‘Olive Gold’. It would definitely be quicker in red with a go-faster white stripe though…
Harley’s Street Rod will also form a great basis for modification, which is all the trend these days and Harley, along with plenty of aftermarket distributors, will no doubt cater to any rider’s individual dreams of what they can turn the Street Rod into.
Will it be a success?
A Harley-Davidson badge at 13 grand ride-away basically ensures success, such is the incredible strength of the brand. It can’t hold a candle to say a Yamaha XSR700, or even a $7300 CB500F Honda in regard to overall dynamics, but it’s certainly still a fun ride around town, and the best thing Harley has made at anything close to the $12,995 price point they have set the Street Rod at. And it doesn’t need to be better than the Japanese bikes. It’s a Harley, and that brings instant street cred’ in many circles. It’s also why Harley is the number-one-selling road-bike brand in Australia, and why the Street Rod will sell in big numbers.
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