On the first go, the Harley-Davidson Street 750 is not the most classically inspired ride. But there’s something interesting going on beneath its Black Stealth exterior
The Harley-Davidson Street 750 and I did not begin our brief time together on a good note. The day was soggy, foggy, and slightly chilled: classic Vancouver in early fall. Why I selected an open-face lid and cheap dark shades for the occasion is still beyond me, because they kept fogging up and there was nothing I could do about it. Then I made a thoughtless turn onto the wrong freeway as the afternoon rush hour gathered force, and wasn’t that ever special with impatient gravel truck drivers and irritated cabbies barreling down while I struggled against my poor equipment choices and a hectic, unfamiliar road. Happy times!
Some bikes will rise to the occasion, making a bad road, a wretched day, or a so-so rider that much better. Others won’t. And in truth, I wasn’t getting much positive feedback from this one.
The 654mm (25.7 in.) seat height with mid-mount pegs is simply too short-coupled for a six-footer like me. I felt awkwardly mounted, out-of-sync with the 750’s un-Harley-like ride characteristics, and certainly having trouble with the poorly placed mirrors that offer no useful field of view.
The simple act of changing gears compounded the situation. While the liquid-cooled, 749cc Revolution V-Twin is crisp enough the six-speed transmission carries short-geared first and second ratios. The tendency is to want to short-shift through first and second and jump straight into third, though the trip is often interrupted by an unwanted neutral if you fail to give the shift lever a good, hard prod. It’s ironic that neutral is so easily found when on the fly, but maddeningly difficult to engage at a stoplight. Moreover, the throw of the hand control lever seems quite long which makes feathering the clutch through a short-shift a little bit awkward for riders like me with stubby fingers.
A thought crossed my mind. “This is supposed to be an entry-level bike?”
If so, why am I in a fight with it?
It occurred to me that the problem might be my own mindset. On this rain-soaked highway my preference by far would have been for the limitless torque, the deep gearing, the perfectly sorted controls and the comfortable familiarity of a conventional Big Twin.
That’s the problem right there, I decided. I was making too many operational references to the more familiar motorcycles from the Motor Company even though Bar & Shield badging is all the Harley-Davidson Street 750 has in common with any of the countless Harleys I’ve ever ridden. To appreciate the bike on its own terms, I needed to forget about the various members of Harley’s five families—and even their close cousins once removed, the quirky bikes of Buell—and keep the focus on the here and now.
Priced at $8,999 and dressed in Black Stealth livery, the Harley-Davidson Street 750 was built to “conquer the urban world,” and that it was “designed with thousands of hours of input from young adults in cities around the world.” There’s a new buzz phrase for this urban demographic: “global rider.”
Meaning of course, anyone who isn’t a boomer and doesn’t reside within Harley-Davidson’s traditional bases of power—the United States, Canada, Australia, and parts of northern Europe. India is a prime target with a Harley plant already established in Bawal in the state of Haryana. It needs pointing out that production for North American models is carried out in Harley’s Kansas City factory.
The “urban world” cited in Harley’s marketing language is, presumably, different than the “open road” and occupied by young hipsters, students, and others who live in vertically-stacked polyglot communities typified by high-rise condos and municipal zoning code-mandated “green spaces.”
The Street platform (the Harley-Davidson Street 750 and stable mate Street 500) was unveiled last year at EICMA in Milan, and that alone says something. EICMA is the world’s most important motorcycle show—for everyone, that is, except the traditional Harley community, which turns eyes toward Sturgis for news of critical developments in the V-Twin sphere.
In the context of the “global rider” and his forthcoming conquest of the “urban world,” the Harley-Davidson Street 750’s four-valve Revolution motor produces a factory-spec 53 hp at 8,000 rpm and 47.9 ft/lb. torque at 4,000 rpm. The Mikuni-fed, single overhead cam mill is mounted in a steel tube frame that sees the radiator perfunctorily bolted up to the down tubes. It’s not an inspired fitting but then again, neither is the overall style of the Street 750 especially stirring. Which needs to be a point of discussion here.
Much has already been made by some of our colleagues in the motorcycle media about the bike’s bland and even sloppy presentation. However, I tend to think they’re missing the bigger picture. I don’t believe for one moment that this is meant to be anywhere near its final form. What I see here is a trial balloon of a quite complex nature.
In my view, what’s really happening with the Street models is a program to gauge the reaction of the public toward mid-displacement, liquid-cooled Harley-Davidsons. The minor details such as fit-and-finish can be dialed in as the program develops so, for the time being, who really cares about a few bundles of awkwardly dangling wires, flawed mirror placement, cramped seating positions or paint work that is nowhere near the high specification Harley has for its other families? I don’t think Harley does. Not right now anyway. What the Motor Company really wants to know: how do “they” (meaning all of us) like the new motor? Let’s be realistic. It’s all to the good for Harley-Davidson if it can expand its holdings through a more aggressive presence in India and Asia, but the company ultimately lives or dies on the strength of the home market. So, the reaction of North Americans is critical as Harley looks into the future where liquid cooling is all but inevitable. The Street platform allows Harley-Davidson the luxury of time to develop engines beyond the air-cooled, external pushrod, big-cube variety without compromising its current families of Sportsters and Big Twins.
So, if the first Streets to emerge from the factory aren’t particularly lustrous, they are a budget-conscious way to open doors to a new way of thinking about Harley-Davidson without simultaneously closing doors for long-time H-D buyers who might feel betrayed if they believed their beloved Glides were being sacrificed on the altar of the American Environmental Protection Agency.
My guess is, as public acceptance of the Revolution motor grows, Harley will ramp up its own level of commitment on the styling of future models. That won’t take long, I expect. Riders will soon discover that the Revolution is a fun motor—those who aren’t saddled with the preconceived notions and expectations from years of Harley ownership will especially get a kick. Make the jump up into third gear and the Street 750 really comes alive. Even in sixth gear, throttle response is strong and continues to grow as the revs build. Whack it open and triple digits will rapidly appear on the round analogue speedometer that is centered between the bars.
The stock 206-kg (455-lb.) package is fitted with seven-spoke 15- and 17-in. wheels and Michelin Scorcher tires that are lively responders. A light touch of the bars has the front end moving in a very controlled fashion but with a near coltish enthusiasm.
This past January Harley rigged-out a Street 750 with steel screws for the tires and put the bike in the hands of AMA Pro Grand National flat track champ Brad Baker. His mission was to put on a demonstration of ice racing madness during the X Games in Aspen, Colorado. The idea being, if enough people were suitably impressed by the exhibition, perhaps motorcycle ice racing would be added to the regular roster of X Games. At the very least, the exercise would bring vital media attention to the Street 750’s inherent potential and exposure of the brand to a wholly new demographic.
It was worth a shot because, as the Harley stock photography supporting some of this story shows, obviously smaller young men and women are Harley’s intended customers. The Street 750 won’t light up many cranky older traditional guys like me, but that shouldn’t be a huge concern.
The Harley-Davidson Street 750 is not meant to feel familiar for those who already have a long-standing relationship with Harley. Rather, it’s intended for an entirely new generation and demographic that has its own unique preferences, and reference points and will develop its own relationship with the Bar & Shield brand. If there are a few warts and growing pains in the early going, well, that’s Show Biz Folks!
-John Campbell, Issue #307: December 2014