They say, "By the street. For the street."
We say, "Oh, god, there are hipsters in the street!"
Do not underestimate the challenge here. For Harley-Davidson, a company accustomed to having pretty much every one of its new designs receive a warm welcome in the showroom, entering the cutthroat world of the entry-level bike is a little like sending a WWE strongman into a, you know, real fistfight. And while you might think the Sportster models have already been there, the truth is that they come with 57 years of reputation preceding them. Not so with the new Street twins, coming in 500cc and 750cc variants. Designed by H-D domestically, the Streets will be built in Kansas City (for US and Canadian consumption) and manufactured "globally" (read: India) for the rest of the world.
While we wait patiently for the first 750s to be produced, H-D's California-based PR team procured pre-production, matte-black 750s that were set aside for a movie premiere and gave us a two-hour sample. Right now, in Kansas City the first 500s are rolling off the line intended for Harley's in-house rider-training program. Once those orders have been filled, production of 500s and 750s for regular consumption will begin. In other words, the schools go first. And they're hungry, going without a dedicated training mule since Buell killed off the Blast. Sometime in the second quarter of 2014, we'll have actual production-line test bikes.
From a styling standpoint, the Street 750 looks better in person than in photos, though the matte-black paint doesn't do the lines too many favors. The shapes are a mashup of Sportster and V-Rod, and generally pleasing, though we'll have to see how the plastic, underslung tail light looks against the dark-red that is the only other color to come for the 750.
While Harley claims the new Revolution X engine is "inspired by" the Porsche-designed V-Rod engine, in fact it's a new design that shares mainly the 60-degree V spread. This liquid-cooled engine is an SOHC design with four valves per cylinder; the valves are operated through rocker arms tipped with screw-and-locknut adjusters, which should make maintenance easier. (Never mind that all the traditional H-D engines use hydraulic lifters with no need to adjust valve clearances.)
The bike starts easily thanks to a single-throat Mikuni fuel-injection system and settles into a somber idle. Grabbing a little throttle reveals its quick-revving nature, nothing like a Sportster's lumbering gait. In fact, once in the saddle and underway, the Street continues to show how much better a beginner bike it will be than a Sporty. The thin-bladed clutch lever needs little effort and the short-throw transmission snicks through the gears like—dare we say it?—a Japanese V-twin. No hammering, no clunking. Just click-click-click through the six-speed gearbox. And on you go to the thrift store.
Power is another surprise. As you'd expect, torque flows freely at lower revs, but the RevX has good midrange and even a pleasant little surge toward the rev limiter. (No tach on this bike, though specs say it'll do 8,000 rpm safely.) Power production centers on the low-end but the bike is geared short and is light enough—489 pounds full of gas (a Sportster Iron is a shameful 562 pounds)—that urban acceleration feels pleasingly brisk. No doubt this sensation is aided by a reasonable amount of flywheel. Where a Sportster always feels like it has two engines' worth of rotational mass, the Street's engine has a very good balance of rev-stabilizing flywheel and willingness to spin. It feels fairly lively but never jumpy or nervous. Moreover, Harley got the injection tuning just right. The engine is docile off the bottom but not soggy, and we couldn't get it to act up at either end of the rev range. For the purposes of making new riders comfortable, the Street 750 engine demeanor hits the bull's eye.
But does it feel like a Harley? Well, not exactly. The 60-degree configuration, integral counterbalancer, and lack of displacement all conspire to make the engine feel different than a familiar H-D mill. It's busier and less thumpa-thumpa than a Sporty's engine, and only chugs like a Harley right off the bottom. Despite being hard mounted to the frame, vibration is well controlled. Only when you leave the intended urban environs and attempt to stay with LA traffic do you notice buzziness, and only then above 75 mph. If you didn't have a mental framework of what a Harley engine should sound and feel like, the RevX would seem image appropriate. Riders who know that Panhead and Knucklehead aren't some long-lost Stooges will be less impressed. And who cares? The Street is not for them.
So, the engine impresses, and the chassis is pretty good, too. Again probably because of its relatively light weight and supposedly "long travel" suspension, the Street 750 rolls over pavement lumps that would have an Iron rider hovering over the saddle. When the road gets really bumpy, the cut-rate nature of the suspension reveals itself, but overall the ride is smooth, predictable, and well balanced. There's some strangeness in the steering—it has low effort turn in followed by a strong tendency to right itself—probably because of the 32-degree steering-head angle and 4.5 inches of trail. For an entry-level cruiser, the Street has a generous amount of cornering clearance. New riders are less likely to feel hamstrung by dragging footpegs; their Sportster-mounted friends will be envious. Finally, while the twin sets of two-piston, sliding-pin calipers aren't expected to provide high-end braking, they work perfectly well for the Street's intended mission, and have much more feel than a Sporty's typically wooden binders.
As first impressions go, the Street has been scoring well above expectations, at least dynamically. Now the difficult discussion: fit and finish. We must cut Harley a little slack for the fact that the two machines we sampled—one for photos, one a "runner"—were hand-built at the Product Development Center in Milwaukee. They may or may not have final-spec pieces. They may or may not represent what Harley can do on actual customer machines. But we have to say the Street, as presented, was not impressive.
How? First, the 7/8-inch handlebar looks puny compared to the 1-inch bar we're used to seeing on Harleys. The Street's switchgear seems unduly cheap and poorly finished. Stand around the machine and soon you're seeing sloppy welds, unfinished looking wiring, rough castings, panel gaps, and other transgressions—one of the most noticeable is the poor fit of the exhaust heat shield where it meets the muffler. And while H-D claims the Street's paint is "mile-deep," the matte finish on the pre-pro machines looked no better than primer. It's only fair to withhold final judgment until we've seen actual production bikes, but geez...
Some explanation for the low-end parts begins with the low-end sticker. Harley will ask just $6,599 for the Street 500 and $7,499 for the 750. (Aside from displacement, the two will be identical.) The next step up the price ladder is the $8,249 Sportster Superlow. That and the 883 Iron are Harley's only sub-$10,000 motorcycles.
And that disparity emphasizes the challenge for Harley, to join the swiftly moving river of entry-level, low-cost machines built by companies with a lot more experience doing so. The Hondas and the CF Motos of the world have a history of designing and manufacturing to a price. Harley has been able to make a few of its models affordable on the basis of shared platforms and long-amortized development costs. For it to jump in with an entirely new bike and attempt to leverage its good name for the purpose of broadening motorcycling's reach and ensuring its own future is admirable but still scary stuff indeed. Build quality aside, the Street 750 is a surprisingly good first effort.
||l-c 60-deg. V-twin
||44.3 lb.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
||Steel double cradle
|| Showa fork
||Dual Showa shocks, adjustable for spring preload
||100/80R-17 Michelin Scorcher
||140/75R-15 Michelin Scorcher
|Claimed curb weight