Photos by Riles and Nelson unless otherwise specified
The last time Harley introduced a new platform was in 2002, when the company launched the V-Rod. The Motor Company obviously takes its time with new product development which is why the latest addition to the line up — the Street (available in 500 and 750 cc variations) — is such a big deal.
Produced primarily for the expanding Asian market as well as Europe, the Street will be built at a plant in Bawal, India. This may seem like sacrilege to dyed-in-the-wool H-D riders, but rest easy, Canada and the rest of the Americas will be getting bikes assembled at Harley’s Kansas City plant … although mostly from parts manufactured overseas.
Harley touts the Street as a beginner bike, and it’s certainly on the entry-level side of the spectrum, both in physical size and in pricing, at least in the U.S., where it starts at $6,799 for the 500 and $7,499 for the 750. Canadian pricing will be announced sometime in August, around the same time that the bikes will be arriving at Canadian dealers.
Those who know me, also know I like Harleys. I’ve owned several in the past, and will likely buy another sometime in the future. After riding the Street 750 in Austin, Texas last weekend, however, I was left with the impression that the company’s engineers have forgotten a few important things about building Harleys. But more on that later.
Aside from the bar and shield on the gas tank, the Street 750 shares nothing with any other Harley model (except the Street 500 of course, which is identical except for the smaller bore size), and is a completely new design from the contact patches up.
There are styling cues however, that I recognised from a previous Harley model that has gone on to achieve cult status: the XLCR Café Racer. These include the seven-spoke wheels, fork gaiters, mini café racer fairing, fuel-tank emblems, and even the header pipes have familiar bends.
The 60-degree ‘Revolution X’ V-twin is liquid cooled and fuel injected, but is otherwise a relatively simple design. The unit-construction engine (the transmission is inside the engine cases) has one cam per head and four valves per cylinder, which are operated via forked roller rockers (no pushrods here). Valves are adjustable, but maintenance costs should be low because it uses simple screw and locknut adjusters with 24,000 km adjustment intervals.
Torque output is very reasonable at 44.5 lb-ft and it peaks at just 4,000 rpm, about halfway to the 8,500 rpm redline (the 500 peaks 500 rpm sooner at 29.5 lb-ft). Mikuni provides the single-port fuel injection, which breathes through a 38 mm throttle body (35 mm for the 500).
The chassis is comprised of a single-backbone, double downtube steel frame with twin shocks and a conventional 37 mm fork. Suspension adjustment is limited to rear preload. Chassis geometry is closer to a cruiser than a standard bike, with a 32-degree rake, 115 mm of trail and a wheelbase of 1,534 mm (60.4 in.). Wheel sizes are 17 inches up front and 15 inches in the rear, the latter contributing to a low seat height. Wet weight is 222 kg (489 lb), and to keep costs low, there’s no ABS, not even as an option.
Harley surveyed thousands of riders worldwide for input when designing the Street. Everything from riding position to suspension to chassis geometry to engine characteristics were determined by these riders.
As many new riders will tell you, seat height is a very important factor that greatly affects rider confidence, and as such the Street has a low, 710 mm (27.9 in) seat height, nearly matching the Sportster Superlow’s 696 mm.
However, this low seat combines with the mid-mounted footpegs to make quarters cramped for a six-footer like me. Harley does offer an accessory Tall Boy seat that raises your butt 40 mm and moves it rearward 65 mm. I rode with the standard seat that does allow for a very easy reach to the ground, but is only comfy for about an hour. By the end of the day I was doing the one-cheek-sneak, lifting one buttock off the seat at a time for relief.
There are a few odd things you’ll notice about the Street when seated, the first being that the switch assemblies are mounted up at an awkward angle. I instinctively tried to twist them straight only to discover they have locating dowels that lock them in that position. Fortunately it looks weirder than it feels, as access to the minimal buttons is easy.
I prefer the Street’s mid-mounted footpegs to cruiser-like forward pegs, but they’re placed unusually wide apart, which feels awkward, if not uncomfortable. The rear brake pedal is well placed, just high enough to allow you to place your foot squarely on the footrest, but then when you press down on it, the whole assembly flexes, and the pedal goes way down to boot, forcing an unnatural angle at your foot before it actually engages.
The handlebar is tall and wide and an easy reach, but mirror stalks are short and offer more of a side view rather than a rear view. I had to contort out of the way anytime I wanted to see if the bikes behind me were still following.
After all of these quirks I was beginning to wonder if Harley made a mistake asking riders what they actually wanted, or whether they were riders at all.
Then there’s the wiring. Engineers seem to have placed wiring connectors in the most inopportune places. To the left of the speedometer you’ll find the left turn-signal connector, coloured bright yellow. Then there are bundles of wires and connectors on the right side of the bike (just ahead of the gas tank and below the side cover), inconsistent from bike to bike, varying from relatively orderly to a jumbled, tangled mess, like on my test bike.
Add to that numerous fasteners that had too many threads visible when assembled, and paint finish on the engine that looked like it was sprayed on with a can.
If I seem a tad critical, remember, I like Harleys, but all of these things are entirely unbecoming of a manufacturer who’s been building motorcycles for more than 110 years. And I know Harley engineers know better, the fit and finish of their existing models are proof of that.
Well, fortunately all of this unkemptness in design was partly righted after the engine fired and I let the clutch out for the first time. Clutch pull is beginner-friendly light and the six-speed gearbox is among the best-shifting I’ve sampled in a while. In fact, the engine, despite its modest specs, is surprisingly torquey at low revs, and it is among the smoothest V-twins on the market.
The fuel injection is very well sorted and throttle response is seamless. The bike rolls away from a stop effortlessly and feels quite strong going through the gears. Power flattens out in the higher rev range, and the vibes pick up, but not uncomfortably so. The bike is actually quite smooth at cruising speeds, so the view of your arms in the mirrors is at least clear.
Handling is fine, with nothing remarkable to report, except perhaps soft-ish damping, and despite the low seat, there’s ample cornering clearance, way more than on any of the lowered Sportsters. It’s stable, confidence-inspiring, and easily manageable around town, all of which are in line with Harley’s spiel about the bike being built for beginners.
The brakes, well, they’re adequate, with more than usual travel at the lever, but mostly at the pedal, though at least the lever is easy to modulate and locking the front wheel inadvertently is not very likely, which again is a good thing for novice riders.
To put it simply, this is Harley-Davidson’s first kick at the can with this design, and at least the company got the engine right. It’s the feature I like the most about the Street, and I think it will make a great basis for other models – I’d like to see it in an adventure bike.
It’s a compact power plant with plenty of potential, as hinted by the handful of custom-made dirt trackers Harley built with the help of Vance & Hines. The engines in those bikes reportedly produce 75 horsepower at the rear wheel, an increase of about 20 over the stock engine, with very little internal work.
But a great engine doesn’t make up for lapses in quality control, and it’s here that the Street needs work. Some of the items can be easily rectified on the assembly line, like the wonky wiring, though some will need a redesign, like the rear brake control.
Harley also expressed that this bike will be conducive to modification for up-and-coming custom-bike builders, so it’s likely that a bunch of them will get altered, chopped and maybe stretched, and there were a couple of really cool-looking Streets on display at the X Games, which were also taking place during the weekend, and where tattooed and pierced future bikers were aplenty.
Sure, the Street is meant to meet a price point, another factor that appealed to riders when surveyed, but inexpensive should not translate to cheap, especially when Harley is concerned.
None of the issues mentioned above hinder the bike’s performance, but they will leave a lasting impression on impressionable young riders, and if brand loyalty is part of the Street’s mantra, Harley’s got some homework to do.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.
|Bike||Harley-Davidson Street XG750|
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled V-twin, SOHC, four valves per cylinder|
|Torque*||44.5 ft-lbs @ 4,000 rpm|
|Tank Capacity||13.1 litres|
|Tires, front||100/80 R17 Michelin Scorchers|
|Tires, rear||140/75 R15 Michelin Scorcher|
|Brakes, front||Single 292 mm disc, two-piston floating caliper,|
|Brakes, rear||Single 260 mm disc, two-piston floating caliper|
|Seat height||709 mm|
|Wet weight*||222 kg|
|Colours||Red, gloss black, matte black|
|Warranty||24 months, unlimited mileage|