First Ride

First ride: Harley-Davidson Street 750 review

Guaranteed to appeal to non-Harley riders - because it's not like a Harley

HARLEY-DAVIDSON hopes to attract new people to the brand with the Street 750 and there are two reasons why the machine will. The first is the price. At £5,795 on the road, it’s £1,700 less than the next cheapest model in the range, the Iron 883. The second reason is that the Street 750 doesn't feel too much like a Harley.

For a start it’s liquid-cooled, only the second bike to come from Harley-Davidson that is, after the V-Rod. That means the Street 750’s engine can be quieter and more free-revving than other Harleys - which it is. Harleys are famous for their supposedly distinctive noise. I wouldn't recognise this from its docile engine note. 

It’s got a fairly natural riding position, with your back straight, not bent forward to reach the bars. The pegs are a short distance ahead of the seat, not way out in front. It feels smaller than other Harleys. It needs only a narrow street to perform a U-turn, not a car park.

Harley devotees love the machines for their distinctive personality and know exactly what they’re getting when they buy one. Non-devotees do not and may simply want a motorcycle - which on this occasion is what Harley has built.

Introduced in Italy, Spain and Portugal for 2015, the Street 750 is only now due to go on sale in the UK. It reaches us with a round of minor updates for 2016, the most significant being a new Brembo front brake caliper on a slightly bigger disc, up from 292mm to 300mm. 

It instantly feels like a more accessible prospect for those who are no already Harley converts. At 229kg wet, it’s the lightest machine in the US marque’s range and I daresay it’s probably the easiest to ride.

From the way it changes direction, I’d have guessed it was lighter still. It pitches quickly and easily into corners, more so than the two updated models which Harley launched alongside it in Barcelona, the Iron 883 and Forty-Eight.

The engine is punchy. In Barcelona's busy traffic, a small blip of throttle sent it shooting through gaps like Arnie past the lorry in Terminator 2. Most of the fun to be had is from this mid-range wallop, with peak torque at 4,000rpm. But it does keep pulling as revs climb in quite an un-Harley-like way, until it hits a rev-limiter. There’s no rev-counter and this is one Harley that might benefit from one.

Stopping at lights, it sometimes proved tricky to get into neutral, going straight from first to second instead. This could be one traditional Harley trait that has been retained.

Accelerating, it felt stronger than the 883cc Iron and a simple motorway test suggested it was. Rolling on the throttle at about 60mph, the Street 750 pulled away from the bigger capacity air-cooled machine. Both were in top gear (sixth on the Street, fifth on the Iron).

The seat is low, at 710mm, soft and large, with a bum-friendly concave profile. Short riders should have no trouble getting both feet flat on the ground.

The pegs are widely spaced in typical cruiser style and the distance between them and the seat is small. As I said in my first impressions of the bike, the position is not entirely unlike squatting on a low toilet, with knees bent at an acute angle. 

I was comfortable most of the time but the position did seem to cause me occasional spasms of cramp, which I could only relieve by standing up at traffic lights. I suspect six-footers may crave a bit more legroom.

Maximum lean angle is 28.5° according to Harley. That’s a tiny bit less than the Iron 883, which manages 29° on one side and 30° on the other, but still a lot more than some Harleys. Take the Softail Breakout, which touches down at 23.4°.

It's possible to enjoy cornering the Street 750 without constantly worrying about running out of clearance, but optimum lean angle is within reach and the sound of scraping pegs is the reward for getting there. Except it's not pegs that are scraping.

The Street 750 has no hero blobs on the pegs. What touches down first is the rubber of pegs, followed almost instantly by another part of the motorcycle. On the right-hand side it's the exhaust heat shield. On the left it's the solid side-stand bracket which hits the road with an unyielding thunk.

Hero blobs give you a small margin of error, knowing the folding pegs provide a little more lean angle after metal touches road. A solid side-stand bracket does not. Much further and you’re not coming back up. It seems an omission on a bike that grounds relatively easily. I suppose hero blobs would eat into that 28.5° lean angle. 

The suspension - preload-adjustable twin shocks and a non-adjustable fork - is soft but provides a comfortable ride quality.  

The old front brake was criticised as lacking power in the US bike press. The new twin-pot sliding Brembo caliper proved powerful enough to let me inadvertently and momentarily lock the front when braking for a corner on a winding hill road. Just a little skid as the tyre hit bump but enough to remind me that the Street 750 doesn’t have ABS, even as an option. According to Michael Carney, the Harley’s PR manager for Europe, it's to keep the price low. All new bikes sold in Europe over 125cc must have ABS by 2017 at the latest, so we can be confident of seeing an updated Street 750 this time next year whether it pleases the money men or not.

Budget demands also seem evident in the styling of the Street 750, which is made in the US for the US market and in India for Europe. Harley's usual fastidious attention to detail is less in evidence. Look at that visible seam weld at the front of the petrol tank. Compare it to the flawless peanut tank of the Iron 883. And while the Iron has indicators which also serve as a tail light, the Street 750 has a big bog-standard-looking plasticy rear light and plate hanger. 

But these minor cosmetic complaints are outweighed by the Street 750's proposition as a Harley that's cheap and easy to ride, to live with, to use every day as transport.

A Harley that's not awkward, that will easily slalom through stationary traffic without requiring you to over-reach for the bars.

Harley says it's aimed at 'young adults and urban riders'. It's just a Harley that anyone could live with, novices included. It's that usefulness and flexibility that guarantees its appeal to non-Harley riders. It can be made A2 compliant, with a 47hp restrictor kit which HD says will cost under £100 fitted. How much it restricts it by is unclear, as Harley does not provide official power figures.

With the market's appetite for retro/traditional/off-the-shelf-custom bikes, there are certain to be riders tempted by a Harley for £1,100 less than the cheapest Ducati Scrambler. As if to make the point, Harley showed some customised Street 750s at the launch, including a scrambler version.

It could find itself competing for buyers with Yamaha's retro-style XSR700, based on the £5,349 MT-07. Perhaps a closer rival is Kawasaki's middleweight cruiser, the Vulcan S, which costs £300 more than the cheapest Street 750 (but does come with ABS).

But for some riders, the Harley badge is likely to represent a level of authentic traditional character which a Yamaha or Kawasaki struggles to match - even if the bike wearing the Harley badge isn't that much like one.

Model tested: Harley-Davidson Street 750

Price: £5,795 on the road for gloss black option. Other colour options £5,995. 

Engine: 749cc liquid-cooled V-twin

Power: No claimed figure

Torque: 43.5lbft @4,000rpm

Weight ‘in running order’: 229kg

Frame: tubular steel double cradle

Tank capacity: 13.1 litres

Seat height: 710mm

Colours: gloss black, matt black, red, blue

Availability: September 2015

Watch our Harley-Davidson Street 750 video review.

Read our Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight review.

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