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Customizing the Harley-Davidson Street 500 and 750

The Harley-Davidson Street 500 and Street 750 represented the seeds of a good idea. It was the execution of the idea that fell short. While two lower priced riding options featuring liquid cooled mills should have been, at the least, a moderate success, the two bikes failed to live up to the expectation that North American consumers have long expected of the bar and shield brand and the two Street models were instead clearly utilitarian. Perhaps starting with a premium offering and then introducing the basic models might have worked better. It is obvious from this story that the potential for the two bikes was vast.

Street Smart

Harley-Davidson dealers across the country face off in a six-week challenge to see whose custom Street will sit at the top of the podium.\

Early in spring, Harley-Davidson Canada challenged its 66 retailers to build the best custom motorcycles that money and time could buy, which would then vie for top honours in a nationwide custom contest called the Ultimate Street Battle. There was a hook—several in fact. With a budget cap set at $7,500 (labour not included) they wouldn’t have much capital to work with. Nor was there a lot of time: the dealers had six weeks to the June 6th judging deadline, no more. But the big caveat was that dealers could select only one model for the challenge: Harley-Davidson’s new Street 500/750. 

The intent of the Street Battle was obviously the promotion of a critical new model for the Motor Company, but also to illustrate what can be done using the Harley-Davidson Street models as a palette, and the OEM’s Genuine Accessories line of components for detail work. The rules of engagement mandated a 60/40 OEM/aftermarket component ratio, though fabrication was allowed.

Most dealers are old hands at the custom game, but primarily when the platform is a traditional air-cooled Big Twin or Sportster. The liquid-cooled Street is however targeted to a non-traditional Harley demographic and without doubt the least typical offering from the Milwaukee factory, arguably since ever. The talents, experience and artistic visions of Harley’s in-house customizers would be stretched to the max. And because the Street Battle was pitched squarely in the middle of the traditional Spring Silly Season for most motorcycle stores many found they simply couldn’t make time to throw it down against their fellow retailers. 

The upshot being, only 25 shops in the 66-retailer network entered the fray. But what each team accomplished in their six-week windows of opportunity is nothing short of remarkable. 

Consumers in regional areas had the opportunity to vote for their favourites before the challenge was moved to Montreal for the final decisions of a three-member judging panel that saw a wide array of designs varying in scope and purpose. But all entries had one thing in common—they carry on an ancient tradition. Decades ago the Harley-Davidson Motor Company realized it was pointless to resist the en masse customization of its carefully designed motorcycles—bikers were going to take their Harleys out of the factory ascribed stock form and personalize them to their own tastes and that was simply all there was to it. Smart companies go with the flow, and Harley-Davidson is about as smart as motorcycle firms come. Somewhere in all this, Genuine Accessories was born.

And so we come to the Harley-Davidson \Street Battle, in which some contestants focused on power, others purely on style, while a few paid tributes to the world of track sport and even legendary figures.

We believe we can see some Buell influence in the Street build presented by Peterborough, Ontario dealer Longley Harley-Davidson. But with aggressive controls set more rearward than stock, they say their inspiration actually comes from old school café racer styling. It features Sportster XR1200 front suspension, a rear monoshock, fat rubber, straight bars and wrapped pipes. 

Edmonton, Alberta’s Heritage Harley-Davidson looked to the venerable XR-750 flat track racer for ideas. The wire wheels come from Harley’s Dyna and Softail lines with custom fabrication on both hubs to fit the stock Street swing arm and forks. The exhaust system was also hand-made, while the bars, grips and footpegs are from the dirt bike world. Harley shovelhead and Ducati units donated sprockets for the chain drive conversion. The number plate pays tribute to the late Trev Deeley, a 1940s-era flat track great who would go on to even greater fame as the man with sole distribution rights for the Harley-Davidson brand in Canada.

His namesake dealership, Trev Deeley Motorcycles in Burnaby, BC, also pays homage to the man with their build. “We grew up racing in the dirt,” says a thumbnail sketch of the team and their project on the Street challenge website, “We didn’t build a ‘street tracker.’ We built a dirt track race bike. You won’t find a horn, turn signals, head light or a tail light; instead just three number plates, dressed in Trev’s racing number.” Wire wheels, chain drive and race compound tires are also in the mix.

Meanwhile Carrier Harley-Davidson in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec took a radically different approach. The team there envisioned a World War II fighter airplane theme with aggressive fibreglass custom bodywork. The majority of pieces were hand fashioned for a snarling presentation that is in direct contrast to what Jacox Harley-Davidson in Mississauga had in mind. “We have received a lot of female interest about the Harley-Davidson Street 500,” says Jacox, “so we decided to give it a feminine but tough look with a street tracker feel. The rear tail section was hand fabricated using the fender from a 2014 Fat Bob. We diamond-cut the stock wheels and pulley, fitted a set of tracker style handlebars and fabricated a straight-through exhaust using a tractor style end cap. 

“The bike was lowered in the rear with a set of Burly shocks and then painted in a purple metal flake with marbled silver flames and purple striping. Ultimate Biker-Chick chic!”

Redline Harley-Davidson in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Harley-Davidson of Winnipeg are two other dealers who took the “styling” approach, returning builds that employ subtleties of paint and pin-striping to bring out the best of the Harley-Davidson Street, which to this point is generally offered only in black (though it’s rumoured that a red version exists).

The Redline bike is black with red accents, painted calipers and pinstriped wheels. The original grill was removed from the rad and replaced with a red painted mesh while various plastic covers were given a buckshot look.

Over in Winnipeg, the team’s XG750 build carries a rich black and gold theme with several pieces powder coated in a gold-nugget finish. There are matching gold tones with flame graphics, stylized scripts, and airbrushed metal rivets while the crunchy bits include performance exhaust and MX bars.

Kitchener Harley-Davidson is another fine example of a team that went after a certain “look” that would lend their custom build curb presence. A big 21-inch front laced rim and old school whitewalls combine with ape hanger bars, Screamin’ Eagle 2-into-1 exhaust, custom side panels with aluminum metal inserts and a bobber solo seat for an effect that is bound to be imitated.

And then there’s the power crew, the teams whose builds riff on the Street’s big-inch brethren who’ve earned their stroker reps on quarter-mile tracks and impromptu light-to-light showdowns. 

The custom from Kane’s Harley-Davidson in Calgary reminds us that Kane’s boss Mick Cawthorn is a respected NHRA-level Top Fuel drag racer, fielding a team that once ran in the six-second, 200-mph range. “With our history of running a Top Fuel bike and V-Rod Destroyers, a drag bike was at the top of the list,” says the team at Kane’s, which set about extending the Street’s stock swingarm, converting it to chain drive, raking the front end to 45 degrees, and hand fabricating a seat and tail section. With the alterations and a little help from the NOS bottle, this tribute bike now makes 72 hp.

Quebec dealer, Shawinigan Harley-Davidson also turned to the bottle by introducing their Street 750 to the joys of NOS. In keeping with the drag theme, they installed a shift light to help switch gears at the right time, a custom exhaust system to “put the fear of the devil in all adversaries,” some Progressive Suspension parts for better takeoff and a more comfortable ride, LED lights, and a touch of carbon fibre.

No custom competition is complete without its share of eyebrow-raising moments—let’s face it, Harley people are mostly a little unpredictable. This may explain the path taken by Harley-Davidson of Edmonton, whose build team put forward a custom with a paint scheme paying tribute to Harley’s AMF years. The 1969-1980 era is not especially beloved among Harley enthusiasts but the boys from Edmonton have basically just gone for it. In truth, it’s an elegant look that is supported by some key Buell parts that bring a lighter front end and quicker handling to their project bike.

When the judging was completed, Quebec dealer Leo Harley-Davidson was crowned King of the Ultimate Street Battle, presenting a build that maintained a direction very close to the stock model. “Our inspiration was fueled from the foundation laid down by our founders, Leo Bouchard and Roger O’Grady,” says the team. “We firmly believe that less is more.” 

To that end the factory content of their build was above 90 per cent with all machining, fabricating and welding being done in-house. Only the powdercoating was subcontracted. 

“Our Street build is not a bobber, nor a dirt bike, nor a flat tracker,” says Team Leo. “It is an urban street fighter.” 

Say, was that a subtle shot at some of the other customs that most certainly did take on bobber, dirt bike, and flat track influences? A little trash talk from the 2015 champ maybe? Perfect! That means the scene is now set for 2016!

by John Campbell Canadian Biker Issue #314


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