First ride: Harley-Davidson Street Rod review

Harley-Davidson Street Rod

The entry-level Harley with a bit of bite

BEFORE RIDING the new Harley-Davidson Street Rod, I mentioned to a friend that I was going to Spain to ride a Harley for the first time. His response was, ‘That’s not a real Harley – it’s only 750cc, is liquid-cooled and the ride position doesn’t require your arms to be all up in the air. It looks like it might even go round corners.’

And it does go round corners but being the newest member of Harley’s Street platform, I’d expect that manageable, accessible, competent, comfortable character to carry over, so even though it’s a more badass hooligan (more hooliganized – is that what the Americans would say?) version of the Street 750, it’s still user friendly and designed to draw people in to the brand.

At £6,745 in black and £6,995 in colour, the Street Rod is the only Harley more expensive than the £5,995 Street 750 – I’ve done the math and that makes it Harley’s second cheapest bike. Accessibility is a core part of what defines the Street range – while developing it, Harley did a lot of research, visiting 10 countries to speak to a range of riders to find out what people wanted from the Street. The result was the Street 750 – designed as the ideal entry-point to the brand and now followed by the the Street Rod – a meaner looking, more powerful iteration of the Street 750, and a bike that’s intended to give riders a little bit more performance, attitude and a more dynamic experience.

Looks-wise, the Street Rod is taller (ground clearance up to 193mm from 145mm) and more aggressively styled thanks to it passing through the hands of Harley’s Dark Custom styling studio. Some of its added visual bite comes from a new stubbier tail unit, liberal use of black paint, new split seven-spoke 17 inch wheels and an intake scoop that draws inspiration from forced induction hot rods from 30 years ago. The tank is also in a new position and the swingarm mounting point is new – shortening the wheelbase by 10mm to 1510mm over the Street 750.

But the Street Rod hasn’t just passed though the art department at H-D HQ, those pesky spanner twirlers wouldn’t allow it, and additional performance comes primarily from the engine and suspension. In the Street Rod, the single overhead cam four-valve 750cc ‘Revolution X’ V-twin engine has received some attention from Harley, and now produces 20% more power and 10% additional torque. It’s all down to the new 42mm throttle body, new high-flow cylinder heads containing new high-lift cams with longer duration, plus shorter two-into-one exhaust. However, at 238kg ‘in running order’, it does weigh more than the 233kg Street 750.

The result is plenty of punchy, torquey power from the moment the throttle is opened to about 5,000rpm, with peak torque of 47.9lb/ft hitting at 4,000rpm and motor is happy to keep pulling while it lazily revs higher. Peak power of 69hp arrives at 8,750rpm, but by the time it’s spinning that fast, it’s time for another sturdy feeling change from the six-speed gearbox.

Even though it pulls nicely as the revs climb, the engine’s torquey character meant I was rarely inclined to go much beyond 7,000rpm; riding the wave of torque is where it’s at, dude. With the revs around 4-5,000rpm, making progress on a twisty bit of road is a pleasurable experience because there’s always plenty of shove at hand to punt you out of a corner. It’s up to you whether you shout ‘Ye har-ley’ inside your helmet.

But the Street Rod’s frequent inability at finding neutral is less of a reason to cheer. This ’Rod needed to be hot to be in with a chance of getting the green ‘N’ to light up, but problems hooking neutral were compounded by the fact that the Neutral light wasn’t always playing ball. I rode a couple of different bikes – an ‘Olive Gold’ one (a foul colour, or is it just me?) and a much cooler looking ‘murdered out’ black one. On both bikes the neutral light soon started working intermittently and by the end of the day, it had packed up on the ‘Olive Gold’ ’Rod.

Still, that didn’t eclipse the fact that the engine is friendly and accessible, with good fuelling and a throttle that’s just-so. It would be nice if the new exhaust (which on my bike had some pretty messy welding) made a less underwhelming sound on the power, but if I owned one of these, its gentle burbling on the overrun would be alluring enough to have me hunting for an aftermarket exhaust so it was as loud as a redneck at a Trump rally.

 

 

SUSPENSION performance for the most part is soft and comfy; most of the time the Street Rod had a planted feeling, but it wasn’t totally averse to becoming unsettled.

That’s partly because the fork is a mixed bag – get on the brakes and although the response is soft, it moves through its travel plushly enough. But each time I released the brakes, the sensation of the front rebounding was unsettling and hard to ignore, especially on the way in to a corner. Over bumps, the twin piggy-back shocks are also prone to bouncing like Pammy’s pre-implant puppies and the result could be an animated rear end on anything less than a beautiful surface. Hitting a bump in the middle of a corner could easily see the Street Rod losing its shit like Charlie Sheene on charlie at the Playboy mansion.

A smooth and swooping arc through a corner is where the Street Rod is most at home, and it’s a lot of fun to carve through a series of bends on it, with the small blobs decking out as satisfying reward for nailing a turn. Overall, the Street Rod turns into a bend agreeably enough, but mid-corner corrections could elicit an irritated reaction from the suspension.

The Michelin Scorcher 21 tyres aren’t up to much, offering little feedback and feel. They also get fazed when on anything less than a lovely surface. I never had much confidence in them, especially at any kind of lean angle, with the maximum being 40.2 degrees on the left side. On several occasions when I tried braking sharply or suddenly, the front tyre was keen to lock up in the dry and briefly chirp before the ABS reigned things in.

Speaking of brakes… the pair of new front sliding calipers and 300mm discs feel powerful enough through the cheap looking and non-adjustable lever. There’s enough power available, but it can take a bit of lever squeezing to bring it all out, although I only found myself wishing they were a tad sharper on a couple of occasions

On the other side of the wide handlebar, which gets vibey at about 60/70mph, the clutch lever also looks a bit cheap. And that wide bar gives excellent leverage but with the effective mirrors on the end, it means the Street Rod is as wide as a Big Mac munching American. People like that probably aren’t much cop at squeezing through tight gaps, and while trying to pick past the Bentley-driving, on-the-run Scouse drug dealers in Marbella’s rush hour, I was always careful to keep an eye on my clearance past cars. I think it’s something that’ll make it difficult to get through really dense city traffic, which is contrary to what Harley says about it offering great urban performance.

There’s a single-face clock mounted smack-bang in the middle of the bar. At first glance, it looks super basic – just a speedo and odometer, but a jab at the function button reveals a digital rev counter and gear position indicator.

The switchgear and buttons are less of a pleasant surprise because they feel cheap. Using them - the indicators in particular - give little in the way of decent feedback. I also couldn’t help but notice rough plastic edges of the switchgear assembly, where they’ve been taken out of a mould and not tidied up enough.

The 765mm-high seat is comfortable and the ride position at the less extreme end of H-D’s spectrum, with feet only a little bit forward thanks to the mid-mounted foot controls, plus an easy reach to the bar. I had to stretch every now and then to stop my hips from becoming uncomfortable because of the way my legs were slightly splayed out, but for this Harley first timer, jumping on the Street Rod didn’t feel too alien.

As an introduction to Harley-Davidson, which is exactly what the Street Rod was for me, it was an agreeable package – a nice mix of good torquey power, easy handling and performance. And even though this is a Harley that’s easy to get on with and ride, there’s plenty of attitude and charm present. It’s a badass-but-manageable step into the marque from Milwaukee.

Model tested: Harley-Davidson Street Rod

Price: £6,745 in black and £6,995 for colour

Engine: 749cc SOHC four-valve ‘Revolution X’ V-twin

Power: 69hp at 8,750rpm

Torque: 47.9lb/ft at 4,000rpm

Frame: Steel tubular, MIG welded

Suspension: Front - 43mm non-adjustable USD fork / Rear – Twin pre-load adjustable piggyback shocks

Wheels: 17 inch black split seven spoke open cast aluminium

Tyres: Michelin Scorcher 21

Brakes: Front – Twin two-piston calipers with 300mm discs / Rear – Single two-piston floating caliper with 300mm disc

Seat height: 765mm

Fuel capacity: 13.2l

Weight: 238kg ‘in running order’

Colours: ‘Vivid Black’, ‘Charcoal Denim’ and ‘Olive Gold’

 

Photos: Stefano Gadda & Lionel Beylot