Photography: Stefano Gadda & Lionel Beylot
Set against a background of Harley-Davidson continuing to restructure their business in the US, the advent of a new model that is a long way from the machines that we’ve come to expect from Milwaukee will be greeted with all sorts of wild speculation, but don’t get too carried away: this is the future of Harley-Davidson, but not necessarily in the way that you might think.
This isn’t a sign that Harley is reinventing itself so much as creating a broader and more diverse product range.
This is “a good thing”, because while nobody doubts that they could continue making Sportsters and Big Twins indefinitely, why should they limit themselves to that?
Indeed, to shift the context of that question, why shouldn’t they use their manufacturing experience, knowledge of the motorcycle market and one of the most famous brands in motorcycling to create new generations of bikes?
The XG750 Street was the first bike in this range and we can all see how much damage that has done to the Sportster range – none – and despite all of the protestations it is a toss-up, month-on-month, whether the Street or the Breakout is Harley’s third best seller in the UK behind the Iron and the Forty Eight.
Partly because it is the most affordable Harley-Davidson V-twin of all time, aided by the badge on the side of the tank, and the most accessible. It might not be a ‘real’ Harley to someone with a Pan or Shovel in their garage, but it will be the perfect Harley to a rider who finds a Sportster too intimidating – or too expensive.
An ideal first Harley, but also a very different sort of Harley.
The Street Rod builds on that to create a quick and agile sportster – with a small ‘s’ – that was designed for the urban environment, with enough in reserve to make it entertaining on open roads.
Tall in the saddle to give it the cornering clearance that customers told Harley they wanted from a street bike, it has got at least that in common with the original VRSCR Street Rod. And while it is significantly down in power compared to the 1130cc model, the Rod version of the XG Street is about half the price of the Street version of VR Rod, which should prove to be both a more accessible as well as a more usable package.
The chassis is stiff enough, the suspension – 43mm USD forks backed up by twin shocks at the back with piggyback reservoirs – compliant enough and the twin front disc with floating 2-pot calipers have plenty of bite to make it an exciting ride.
It’s not going to set the world on fire in terms of absolute performance but there’s plenty on tap for real world use, providing you keep the motor spinning – it certainly rewards the rider who discovers the digital tacho and gear indicator in the speedo’s LCD readout – and while peak power at 8,800 sounds busy to someone brought up on big twins, you’re only going to bury the digital equivalent of the tacho’s needle that deep it when your blood’s up, and when your sub-conscious self comes are on-cam it just adds to the sensory experience.
But no, it isn’t a Sportster – with a big ‘S’ – or a Big Twin, but so what? It is a Harley-Davidson that was designed by Harley-Davidson’s development team and is built in a Harley-Davidson factory. And as a further diversification to their main product lines it should be welcomed because it will put more backsides in Harley-Davidson saddles, and the evidence from nearly two years of the Street 750 is that it is a gateway model.
Full test to come in American-V 86.