Harley-Davidson used the youthful stage of the Summer X Games in the great American city of Austin, Texas, to debut the Street 750, its first clean-sheet motorcycle in 13 years. Purists may fear it’s the beginning of the end, but the Motor Company is filling a need with this inexpensive liquid-cooled motorcycle, which has more in common with a typical metric cruiser or standard than it does a Sportster. The Street is lightweight and agile, quiet and smooth, discreet and efficient. From its appearance to its performance, from its sound to its price, the Street is brazenly unlike any Harley ever made. This is not your father’s Harley-Davidson—and the Motor Company is betting that an entire generation of motorcyclists won’t give a flip.
With approximately 40 percent of the U.S. population under the age of 30, and more than 70 percent living and/or working in an urban setting, Harley set out to create a bike that would appeal to that demographic’s sensibilities—and budgets. From $7,499 in gloss black, the Street 750 hit showrooms last June at nearly a thousand dollars less than the cheapest Sportster. The 500, which we did not get to ride, starts at $6,799, and the bikes are identical except for displacement and price—Harley says they even weigh the same. The price point alone should be enough to garner attention from young and beginning riders seeking sensible two-wheeled transportation. But is it enough to draw a generation of customers not beholden to brand identity into Harley-Davidson dealerships? It should be, as long as that target customer isn’t dead-set on owning a traditional Harley.
The XG750 is powered by the new Revolution X engine, a liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-twin that foregoes grunt and rumble for smooth and efficient power. It utilizes a chain-driven, single overhead cam as well as mechanical lifters and rocker arms to operate its four valves per cylinder. A 38mm Mikuni throttle body delivers the juice on the 750; on the 500 it’s a 35mm. Redlining near 8,000 rpm, about 2,000 rpm higher than a Sportster 883, the Street 750 makes more peak horsepower but not quite as much torque at a claimed 44.5 lb-ft (29.5 on the 500). While there’s still plenty of low-end grunt for riding around town, like the Sportster, power tops out quickly at highway speeds. But the Street’s constant mesh 6-speed transmission changes gears without a hitch, doesn’t announce its shifts with clunks and never fails to find neutral when asked. The single-sided pipe is politely hushed, and the motor remained relatively cool on a sweltering Texas summer day.
Contributing to the Street’s modest and amenable personality, the bike zips with remarkable agility thanks in no small part to its narrow chassis, slim footprint and 27.9-inch seat height. The 140-series rear tire and 17-inch front wheel augment the bike’s agility, and it leans eagerly and steers effortlessly, with only slight pressure on the wide handlebar. Despite the bike’s 5.7 inches of ground clearance and generous lean angle, I managed to grind the rubber footpegs a few times, and one hard scrape bit directly into the lower exhaust heat shield. Still, it’s the first Harley I’d describe as “flickable.” Preload adjustment on the 37mm fork would be appreciated by experienced riders who like to even up their suspension load in turns, but overall the stock setup, particularly the dual shocks out back, is vastly better than any Sportster’s. As surprising as the suspension is, though, the brakes are a disappointment—the squishy front lever requires plenty of assist from the rear pedal even under normal riding conditions.
Harley designed the bike to slant forward aggressively; note the sloping rear fender and the super-low fuel tank. From the saddle the bike feels even smaller than it is, and I never got used to seeing my knees above the gas cap. The flat stock seat allowed for plenty of movement fore and aft, but the soft, pliable perch I enjoyed in the morning felt spongy in the afternoon heat. Combine these factors with the bike’s mid-placed foot controls and the rider triangle on the Street 750 was cramped for my 5-foot, 11-inch frame, but should be just right for smaller riders and newbies. Among the more than 100 items already available from the accessories catalog is a Tallboy seat that positions the rider 1.5 inches up and 2.5 inches back from the stock position—an option taller owners will likely crave.
Clearly the Street 750 is a departure in many ways for Harley-Davidson. But in pursuit of the bike’s low price point, the Street’s designers curiously chose to do without a few key Harley traits that may not directly affect the ride quality, but nonetheless contribute to the brand’s iconic character. Beyond its docile purr and liquid-cooled engine, don’t look for a turn-signal switch by each grip—the Street features a non-self-cancelling, single thumb switch near the left grip like most motorcycles to make it globally compliant. I also noticed some inexpensive-looking components and an assembly line approach to fit and finish: galvanized steel bolts and connectors, zip ties on the handlebar, hurried frame welds and a few cosmetic flaws.
Fortunately, not all tradition has been cast aside. The cool headlight cowl and fork gaiters certainly lend custom cred, both fenders are steel and the bike’s cast wheels look as if they could have been lifted straight from Willie G.’s ’77 XLCR café racer.
Harley effectively invented the cruiser genre, but the Street 750 is just as comparable to a standard such as a Triumph Bonneville as it is to a Honda Shadow. It simply doesn’t look, feel, sound or ride like a typical Harley-Davidson.
Considering this extreme departure, the Street 750 is, for the most part, a pleasant surprise: fun, light and easy to ride. Whether young, urban America embraces the new Harley-Davidson remains to be seen—but the Street has undeniable potential in the worldwide market. Give Harley credit for offering something completely new and different.
Harley-Davidson Street XG500/XG750
Base Price: $6,799/7,499
Price as Tested: NA/$7,794
(Mysterious Red Sunglo paint)
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 60-degree V-twin, SOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 2.7 x 2.6/3.6 x 2.6 in.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Belt
Wheelbase: 60.4 in.
Rake/Trail: 32 degrees/4.5 in.
Seat Height: 27.9 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 489 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 3.5 gals., last 0.8 gal. warning light on
Claimed MPG: 41
(This article Street Sense was published in the September 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)