Harley-Davidson Street Rod 750 2017 – FIRST RIDE REVIEW

Harley-Davidson Street Rod 750 2017

H-D TAKES ANOTHER CRACK AT THE “URBAN” MARKET WITH A HEAVILY REWORKED STREET 750

Harley-Davidson has a plan. A big one. Two million new riders in 10 years and 50 new models over the next five years. That’s the line glowing on the PowerPoint presentation in front of the assembled group of journalists in Daytona Beach, Florida. This is no small feat, the company admits. To accomplish it will take more than getting the faithful to buy more bikes, it will take people who don’t ride Harleys. And in some cases, those who don’t like the brand. At all.

Harley has tried to reach this group before. From the XR1200, to Buell, to the V-Rod, to the Roadster, to the Street 750, every few years and decades Harley-Davidson takes a swing at cracking the “urban” market. And every time the market responds with varying levels of enthusiasm. Or outright disdain.
But like Sisyphus, Harley-Davidson isn’t going to just stop trying. And to roll that rock up one more time it went all-in with a brand new model based on the Street 750 platform, the Street Rod.

THE LOOKS

The Street Rod has been so thoroughly revised over the Street 750, Harley-Davidson claims, that it is really an all-new bike. The scope of design changes make a compelling case.

Aesthetically, the Street Rod has been revised with a shorter subframe, new tailsection, headlight, fairing, LED lighting (except the headlight), longer swingarm, and a significant degree of quality enhancement. These enhancements included bar-end mirrors, higher quality footpegs, tucked-in wiring, and improved fit and finish.
Only the fuel tank (which has been raised and placed farther forward) and some frame sections are shared with the Street 750.
The Street Rod has presence where the Street 750 struggles because of its “universal cruiser” looks.
Styling Lead Chetan Shedjale emphasized that this was the intent from the start. The seed was planted in 2013 with his Street 750-based design concept called RDX 800. Shedjale’s fundamental notion was to make the Street 750 into an “Urban Bulldog.” In the following years, Harley-Davidson would embark on marketing meetings, surveys, and research into the global marketplace, and what it came back with was what riders have been asking for for years: a sport standard. Turns out, Shedjale’s bike would be a good starting point.

To execute this vision, the design team started with the riding position. Instead of sitting back in the cruiser position, you sit up on the bike in a forward stance; the fuel tank was moved forward to facilitate this. The rest of the design itself reflects this bullish intent. It shares the same tank as the Street, but the rest of the bodywork is a casserole of flat-track heritage, streetfighter cues, American muscularity, and classic Harley-Davidson touches. It’s not a retro bike, but it’s still a Harley.

In conversations with Shedjale, he explained that this was always the dilemma. To attract new riders that wanted a sporty standard and make it clearly a Harley-Davidson. Originally from India, but a designer in Italy before moving to Milwaukee, Shedjale explains the Street Rod had a split design directive. On one hand, it had to be aggressive and new to reflect the evolving urban riding aesthetic. On the other, it still had to look like a Harley.
The tailsection, he mentions, is reminiscent of the 1977 XLCR Cafe Racer.
And I would tend to agree. It has presence, even shrouded under the dim lights of a beige Florida conference room. Its stance reeks of rideability, and tinkers with the part of your brain that suggests you go for a ride. Mission accomplished on the design standpoint.

THE GUTS

Looks are one thing, but engineering a bike that’s fun to ride is another. But unlike, say, the Sportster-based Roadster where changes were principally aesthetic, the Street Rod is thoroughly revised for improved performance.

Chassis changes are thorough. Rake is significantly steeper at 27 degrees vs. the Street’s 32 degrees. Trail is reduced 0.6 inches to 3.9 on the Street Rod, while wheelbase goes from 60.4 inches to a sportier 59.4. A beefier non-adjustable 43mm inverted fork carries dual 300mm brake discs with two-piston calipers, while a pair of gas-charged, preload adjustable piggyback-reservoir shocks work on a longer swingarm. Travel at both ends is 4.6 inches; the cruisier Street offers 5.5 at the front and 3.5 at the rear. The Street’s 17-/15-inch wheel combo becomes 17s front and rear on the Street Rod and the new cast wheels also accept wider, sportier 120/70 and 160/60 tires. All of this helps increase cornering clearance from a grindhouse 28.5 degrees on the Street to 37.3 (left) and 40.2 (right) on the Street Rod.

The Street Rod also has more power to exploit these handling improvements thanks to a host of changes to the 750cc liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-twin. New pistons bump compression a full point to 12.0:1, while revised intake ports, higher-lift cams improve power output.

To work with these changes, a drag-racing inspired, larger volume airbox feeds dual-throat, 42mm-diameter throttle bodies (vs. 38mm single) connected separate intake manifolds and it all exhales through a revised, shorter muffler. Engine rev limit bumps up from 8,000 rpm to 9,000.
The results of this finagling are 68.4 horsepower at 8,750 rpm and 47.2 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm, an 8% improvement in torque across the rev range and 18% percent more peak horsepower. It is now called the High Output Revolution X.

It’s more than numbers though, remarks Brian Dondlinger, Product Development Technical Lead. Adding more personality to the powerplant was a major goal as well. Hence more intake and exhaust noise were important, and more noise for more people. Unlike the Street 750, which has one NVH configuration for all sales regions, the Street Rod has multiple, region-specific configurations, meaning they don’t need to certify to the strictest standard. The result is more (good) noise and a bigger boom for certain customers. Such as us.

THE RIDE

So where would we test Harley’s most performance-oriented model? Southern California, with it’s twisting switchbacks and legendary riding roads? Nope. A RACETRACK?! Nope. Florida. Daytona to be specific. During Bike Week. As the spring break of both the motorcycling industry and partying college kids, it makes sense from a youth-focused angle. But Florida is devoid of anything resembling a corner. But that’s where we’d be riding it.

So away we went.
First impression sitting on the bike: ergonomic changes are readily apparent. You sit taller on the 30.1-inch-high seat, more hunched over the tank, and your “fists are in the wind,” in Harley’s marketing speak. Only Harley would write wind fisting as a marketing point. But I digress.
The tank is a holdover from the Street 750, and is raised and moved forward to work with the new, more aggressive rider triangle, but coupled with the mid-mounted controls (3 inches rearward vs. Street) it spoils the riding position. Being so wide, the tank doesn’t allow you to cinch yourself on the bike like you would riding one of Harley’s benchmarks, the Yamaha FZ-07.

Couple that with the drag bars, and your body sits in an odd position, stretched over and taxing your hip flexors. It’s not as naturally comfortable as an FZ-07, Triumph Street Scrambler, or Street Twin. But it It is more aggressive and does put you in the riding mindset of “Talk s__t, get hit.”

And, there’s a smart heel guard on the exhaust so you don’t burn your boot heel, unlike on the Roadster.
More noise is apparent too, especially exhaust pops on deceleration. This was a key touch that was debated in the development department, Dondliger notes. There isn’t much more exhaust noise though. All this talk of a bigger boom fell flat when throwing revs at the Road King Specials that we were also riding that day. It was akin to a yipping chihuahua wearing an “I’m Bad” collar next to a barking pitbull.

But the H.O. Revolution X engine is pleasantly smooth and linear in delivery. Increased power is especially noted through the midrange, and it is a rewarding lump to wind out. I did find initial throttle snatchy and blunt, but this was debated and chalked up to how the throttle cables were adjusted on our press bike. We’ll find out more when we get a testbike.

One thing the extra power cannot overcome is the weight of the Street Rod. At 516 lbs. wet, it’s more than 100 lbs. heavier than FZ-07 in similar guise. It’s also heavier than more direct competitors like the Street Twin and Ducati Scrambler. Although it doesn’t feel heavy at speed, those power and torque gains can only do so much to motivate the machine. It’s also not as lithe and nimble as you expect a modern sport standard to be.

Speaking of the handling, it can be said there is more of it. The only semblance of “testing” we did was making turns from stoplights in low-speed maneuvers, and hitting the occasional pothole. That being said, even these situations would have you grinding pegs on other models, and we did not on the Street Rod. Hitting a pothole resulted in harshness, but I’ll take that over mushy fork dives any day.

It’s a bike that we can say is wasted on a non-curvy road, and we’re looking forward to putting it more through its paces.
As for the brakes, what an awesome upgrade. And we did test these. A lot. Florida is a dumpster fire of traffic situations and this trip would be no different. It would throw both stop-sign-blowing pickup trucks and trash cans in our path. And the brakes came up strong every time. In every situation, I found lever feedback vague, but braking power exceedingly strong, and the optional ABS is tuned nicely to be there for you in an emergency without being intrusive. It doesn’t just kick you off the pads like the version on the V-Rod.
We rode a 150-mile loop on the Street Rod, and I focused intently on midrange and touring performance. The mill is not a low-range pounder, and is the most rev-friendly of the entire Harley lineup, and a touring bike this is not. The small fairing is fine but obviously not meant for touring-level protection, and the ergonomics will not encourage long stints on the highway.
That being said, Harley never said this was a touring machine meant to devour wide-open spaces. This is an urban-focused sporty twin. And Harley is mostly right in its design here. The Street Rod felt most at home and happy in the traffic of Daytona, squirting between cars, launching from stop lights, and crawling in line. It even has presence in the eyes of the Bike Week attendees, Harley loyalists who still look down on Sportsters seemed to gaze at it.
Which brings us to…

SO SHOULD I GET ONE?

To be brief, the Street Rod is the most thoroughly designed Harley-Davidson today that answers the question, “Do they have one that handles?” It’s a complete effort, not a revision, to give the sport-oriented rider an option at the big orange-and-black motorcycle dealership.

Harley-Davidson has solved this problem before. In 1957, facing increased competition from foreign bike brands, an increasingly old-school lineup, and failing to capture the youthful zeitgeist, it released a sporty standard to retort. The Sportster.
The Street Rod is very much in that original Sportster vein, it’s a standard, sporty platform to customize. And just like back in the day, it’s also bulkier than the competition.
Unlike some of Harley’s past efforts in this space, the Street Rod is a value-heavy proposition. At $8,699 it undercuts the Bonneville family and has better components. Compared to the FZ-07, however, it’s heavier, and more expensive, but in my eyes, gets the nod aesthetically. Whether you like it, well, that’s up to you.
A straight up comparison test will be an excellent piece.
Is it a perfect package? No. Many may find it uncomfortable, or heavy, but Harley has succeeded in building the Street Rod to attract a customer who wouldn’t look at the brand previously.
From our first ride I can say confidently that the days of waiting for a sport-standard Harley-Davidson are officially over. And if Harley-Davidson really aims to attract two million more riders to the brand, this bike will have to be a major piece of that goal.