NEW ENTRY LEVEL HARLEY-DAVIDSON: ROAD TEST
Harley-Davidson’s latest entry-level machine, the Street 750, has been available on the other side of the Atlantic for a year but now the iconic American brand has bought it across the pond, given it a few upgrades and launched it in Europe.
Bike Social was in Barcelona to be among the first to ride it.
Priced very accessibly from only £5795 and available in UK dealerships from 18th September, the bike is firmly aimed at a younger audience in a bid to get them engaged with the brand earlier in their motorcycling life. That’s ‘Young and Urban’ in Harley-speak.
The bike slots into the Dark Custom range alongside the also newly revised Iron 883 and Forty Eight (both have new styling, wheels and suspension). At the launch, Harley-Davidson’s European PR Manager, Michael Carney, explained the theory behind Dark Custom, “It’s the underground contemporary face of Harley-Davidson, a movement. Don’t just think black, think blank canvas for customisation.”
A colourful array of vivid paint, brushed metal, plenty of carbon fibre and aftermarket goodies dressed on a dozen customised Street 750’s and Forty-Eight’s were the Dark Custom evidence surrounding us during the launch presentation. The skills on display were fresh from a European wide customising competition for 150 European Harley dealerships called ‘Battle of the Kings’.
Back to the star of the show. Other than its appealing price, the headline feature of the Street 750 is its all-new engine platform. The liquid-cooled 750cc Revolution X V-Twin is the first new engine in 14 years from the Milwaukee-based manufacturer and is the smallest capacity in the HD range. But don’t be fooled into thinking it lacks power and grunt compared to its siblings. The terrifically torquey twin is punchy enough from the low to mid rev range and is equipped with a tidy, close-ratio 6-speed gearbox. More of that later.
It also happens to be the lightest bike in the current range, weighing in at 229kg when wet and ready to roll, another tick for the target audience as well as credible thinking from Harley. The upgrades from the US model introduced last year include new front and rear brake systems, new clutch and brake levers and revised positioning for the rear brake pedal and horn.
Despite Harley-Davidson’s recent global sales struggles (down by 1.4% in the second quarter of 2015), the Street 750 represents a fresh new approach to the younger European crowd and easily undercuts other lightweight cruisers such as Kawasaki’s 650cc Vulcan S, released earlier this year, at £6049. It also shares a target audience with the Ducati Scrambler which starts at £6995 and, according to the Motorcycle Industry Association’s (MCIA) latest new registration figures, is already in the Top 10 best sellers of 2015.
“Screw It, Let’s Ride” says HD’s marketing gumpf. So we did.
Covering a combination of Spanish city streets, narrow and hilly twisties and finishing with a motorway cruise, the V-Twin powered Street 750 quickly comes across as a very easy bike to ride. User-friendly particularly with the new engine and easy, basic controls, there’s no doubt Harley are focused on turning the younger rider’s attention and preconceptions away from the manufacturer’s more stereotypical customer.
At first glance it appears physically so much smaller than other models in the Harley range which adds to the appeal for the newer or less confident rider. The low (710mm) seat is 5mm higher than the Kawasaki Vulcan S but the Harley is shorter (85mm), narrower (60mm) and lower (42mm) making it a very easy bike to get on and off. The seat height and the design of the fuel tank which narrows between your thighs allows for both feet to be firmly and comfortably on the ground. This combination along with its light weight (229kg wet) also makes the bike a doddle to manoeuvre.
The riding position is a little alien with the top of the 13.1 litre fuel tank sitting beneath your knee height. So because you’re now gripping the tank with your inner thighs, your legs are positioned comfortably and not too splayed, certainly not as much as a Forty-Eight.
For those with feet larger than a size 8 then your options are to scuff the matt black silencer but have your foot in a comfortable position or stick them out like a duck while resting on the non-sprung foot pegs. The bars are ideally positioned and not once did they become uncomfortable with circulation and despite its cruiser DNA, your feet aren’t stretched out in front. The front fairing and instrument panel is also low enough to offer a very clear view although you can’t quite see the front tyre over the top.
What is less clear is the view from the rear-view mirrors attached to the handlebars which are a little ‘budget’ in their looks and are positioned too close together. Although thankfully not as odd as the underslung mirrors on the Forty-Eight where you have to act like a chicken flapping its wings to catch a glimpse. The Street’s mirrors are easy enough to adjust although it’s a case of finding a view where your own trousers don’t block 50% of what’s behind you.
Sitting on the one-piece rider/pillion saddle is comfortable enough for the shorter, sorry, should I say more ‘urban’ journeys which in truth is what the bike has been designed for. Any more than a 45 minute sitting and the plentiful padding will start to become uncomfortable around the lower back and coccyx. Either that or I don’t have enough natural padding which I can’t quite believe.
Up front the basic, one-clock, 3.5” instrument panel mounted to the pulled-back handlebars offers an analogue speedo in mph and kph plus the usual array of warning lights all above an electronic display with odometer and two trips. That’s it. No fuel gauge, gear indicator nor rev counter but then we must remember the Street 750 was built to fit a particular retail price.
The other switchgear is curiously positioned facing too far around the bars away from you. It became more than a little inconvenient after the sixth time of almost pressing the horn instead of indicating. You don’t want to look down and search for the correct switch, it just needs to be where it is on most other bikes. Thankfully, a normal slide-type indicator has been fitted to the Street instead of the self-cancelling type of one of each handlebar as found on the Iron 883 and Forty Eight.
The steering is light with a long lock-to-lock range made for town riding, weaving through traffic, manoeuvring and parking. The bike turns quickly thanks to the smaller-than-other-Harley’s 17” front wheel equipped with a Harley-Davidson co-branded Michelin Scorcher tyre.
The clutch on the Street 750 is also light and nicely predictable, handy for even the most inexperienced rider. It has a late bite point so the lever is almost fully out before traction is offered.
A 6-speed gearbox has close ratios through first, second and third gears allowing for easy town and city riding while four to six are for the higher speed cruising and really anything above 35mph. The Street is equally at home plodding along the motorway at 70mph as it is slicing through traffic. The gear change is precise, not too clunky yet remains mechanically firm enough to offer a reassuring change. Finding neutral however is a more delicate affair. Easier from second gear than first but requires a little patience to then be presented with a minute green ‘N’ on the dash. That said, the test bike we rode was one of the first three in Europe and only had 60 miles on the clock so there’s scope for running-in leniency here.
Front and rear brakes have been upgraded with bigger, 300mm discs and new Brembo pistons. They complement each other and are sharp and sturdy enough under duress although there is no ABS included and it’s not even an option.
In terms of economy, the claimed mpg (combined city/motorway) works out to be 49.3 which in theory offers a maximum of 140 miles per 13.1 litre tank.
Ultimately this new ‘Baby Harley’ offers an ideal package of a strong, versatile engine in a lightweight, nimble bike for those new to motorcycling, new to the brand, recovering some confidence or looking for a lighter and more flexible machine.
Working in its favour are its very accessible price and the fact that it is so easy to ride. The liquid-cooled v-twin is a gem. Torque where it needs to be which, while mellow low down, quickly yet smoothly adds beef through the mid-range. It does not disgrace itself in terms of off-the-line performance or even when rolling-on in a higher gear compared to equally powered alternatives.
Harley-Davidson should be proud of their creation and it will surely assist those falling sales figures as well as welcoming a potential new audience to the brand who they hope will become brand loyal through their riding lives. Ducati might have stolen a march on that demographic but the Street 750 offers a viable, cheaper alternative with similar customisability.
On the flip side, there’s evidence of why the price tag is below both £6k as well as its competitors. It could do with a rev counter and gear position indicator (just like the Iron 883 and Forty Eight) especially given the target audience. A metallic hero blob on each foot peg would save the rubber from being scraped away at certain lean angles. When the pegs meet tarmac there’s no metallic scraping noise to warn of impending frame damage! These little extras wouldn’t cause too much increase to the RRP but they would increase the overall riding experience.
The standard pipe delivers a rather un-Harley like rumbling sound which one journalist likened to a 1980’s rear-engineed VW Beetle. It wasn't quite as tinny but could do with a little assitance in the noise department.
One of Harley’s key selling points is the ability to customise the bike. Their claim is that 89% of Harley-Davidson riders customise their machines so with 113 years of experience who are we to argue. The Street 750 is to be seen as a blank canvas and this could go some way to forgiving the occasional scruffy finish such as the inside of the bikini fairing (headlight surround which protects the instrument panel).
We have already seen a couple of Street 750’s on these shores, both evoking the type of image Harley are keen on and proving the bike’s customisation potential. Back in May at The Bike Shed Show, the products of one Belgian and one Dutch customiser were on show, one clad in Denim and the other looking rather resplendent in brushed metal with high quality accessories.
These examples followed the European-wide competition where 150 dealers were invited to use either a Street 750 or a Forty Eight as a blank canvas to customise their own vision. Called ‘Battle of the Kings’, the idea was to offer customers an idea of what is possible.
Also, did you know:
Liquid-cooled, Revolution X V-Twin
44.5ft lbs @ 4000rpm
Front: 7-Spoke Cast Aluminium, 17” Michelin Scorcher ‘11F’ 100/80
Rear: 7-Spoke Cast Aluminium, 15” Michelin Scorcher ‘11’ 140/75
2-piston floated callipers front & rear, 300mm discs front & rear
Vivid Black, Black Denim, Superior Blue, Fire Red
£5795 (black), £5995 (other colours)
What do you make of the new Harley? or !