Harley have brought the Street Rod name back from the grave, but as Mat found out during a trip to Singapore, it’s a vastly different beast to its predecessor…
Words: Mat Pics: Zep Gori and Jason Critchell
The original Street Rod was a big brash American bruiser of a bike, as you’d expect from something built in the mid-2000s and based off Harley’s first-ever production water-cooled motorcycle – the V-Rod. In that same vein the Street Rod returns for 2017, albeit with some major changes in both base bike (the V-Rod is dead, get used to it), aesthetics, and importantly, the target audience.
With the entry Street 500 and 750 proving to be runaway successes for Harley – the Street 500 is their biggest seller in the Australasian market – the Street Rod steps in as the next step up the Harley ownership ladder. While many owners may opt to go for a Sportster, the Street Rod offers plenty of performance, combined with some of the easy-going traits that owners have come to love from their Street.
The new heart
With the V-Rod no longer with us – it’s engine was unfortunately far too dirty to pass Euro 4 – the water-cooled performance torch was passed to the Street range. I know what you’re thinking, a performance Street? Well, obviously the wheezy little 500cc Revolution X wasn’t going to cut it, and Harley decided that even the 750 wasn’t up to the job, so enter the new heart, the hot-rodded High Output version of the 750cc Revolution X. Harley have pulled off a number of alterations to the compact V-twin to increase power by 18 per cent and torque by 8 per cent over the original 750 lump. Compression has been bumped from 11:1 to 12:1, the fuel system is now a larger 42mm Mikuni Twin Port system – up from a 38mm Single Port on the Street 750 – the cylinder heads are higher flowing four value units along with new high-lift camshafts, which together have helped raise the rev limit from 8,000rpm to 9,000rpm.
All the changes have meant torque is now 65Nm, up from the 40Nm we have had from the Street 500, while power is vastly improved to the point where it’s hard to believe you’re riding a bike with the same engine architecture. Harley aren’t officially releasing the peak horsepower figure, which according to H-D is made right up near the redline at 8,750rpm, but rumour has it that it’s up near the 70hp mark. Going by the butt-dynamometer I’d believe it, as the Street Rod is a screaming hoot when the opportunity comes to really open it up and make use of that extra 1,000rpm. Plus, thanks to the new supercharger inspired air-intake, it sounds oh-so-good when you snap on the throttle and let the revs soar at full throttle – just like something called a Street Rod should.
In the styling department, Street Rod’s chief designer, Chetan Shedjale, went really wild on the new bike, especially when you compare it to the highly conservative base that is the Street 500 and 750. For a quiet designer, he has really pulled off a big coup with the aggressive transformation of the Street chassis. It’s almost like the Street Rod is what the Street was always meant to be as it looks that much better, with a far more aggressive stance and rider’s triangle.
Gone are the reserved cruiser-inspired lines, along with the majority of the visual components, with only the fuel tank carried over. At first I was slightly disappointed that the wide 13.2-litre fuel tank was carried over, but ergonomically it works brilliantly, offering plenty of real estate for the rider to clamp on and hold on tight. That’s a must with the near on 40-degrees of lean angle the Street Rod possesses (37.3 degrees to the right, and a full 40.2 degrees to the left), far more than any other bike Harley currently offers and up over 8.8 degrees from the original Streets. This comes from the new upgraded suspension that now calls the Street Rod home. Gone are the entry level 37mm forks found on the other Streets, and in comes big, inverted 43mm units up front, while out back the twin shocks are now longer with remote reservoirs. For the tinkerers out there, unfortunately the only adjustment you get in the suspension is preload on the new long-travel rear shocks. That said, on the Singaporean roads we were riding I didn’t feel a need to play with them, and with the new two-up seat, you’d likely only fiddle with it if you were throwing a pillion on the back.
Along with the suspension growing taller, so has the seat height which is now a cool 765mm. At 176cm myself, I’m no giant, but it felt like a perfectly natural seat height for me – neither too short or too high to comfortably reach the ground. Combined with a pair of 17-inch wheels with grippy Michelin Scorcher tyres, as a whole the Street has transformed from a small cruiser, to a muscular roadster with some serious handling ability. I’ve said it before, but this is a Harley-Davidson that well and truly breaks with the idea that the brand can’t make bikes that go around corners.
The Roadster (launched last year) is the closest bike the Harley-Davidson range to the Street Rod. Both enjoy copious amounts of lean angle, sporty ergonomics, and oddly, awkward footpegs. While the Roadster’s pegs are a little too wide, the Street Rod suffers from the opposite, with the right peg barely sticking out beyond the fat exhaust system. Mind you, due to the size of the catalytic converter in the exhaust, which is right behind the peg, Harley have placed a rather handy foot pad on the exhaust itself in addition to the peg to keep you from melting your boot. It is awkward at first, and even once you get used to it, it is still a bit weird – especially when you are trying to weight the right-hand peg for a corner. In August, we’ll see the full accessories list for the Street Rod, which will hopefully see a smaller de-catted exhaust system as one of the performance upgrades, which I would imagine would rectify this.
Despite the wide 870mm drag style handlebar, the Street Rod is nimble and finds its way through heavy traffic with ease. Lane splitting for the first time since I moved from the busy streets of Auckland to quiet Cambridge was a breeze, and my only worry was for the cool reversible bar-end mounted mirrors – which can be set either above or below the ‘bars – coming into contact with SUV mirrors. Despite its weight, the Street Rod was, in fact, quite easy to manoeuvre about at low speeds surrounded by traffic.
A Slow Start
Singapore is known for its schizophrenic weather, which can be clear one minute, and completely torrential the next. The ride day of the Street Rod launch was no different, and I awoke to one of the craziest thunder storms I’ve ever experienced. While it’s apparently a near-daily experience to have a thunderstorm in Singapore, watching the stairways in the nearby Fort Canning Park turn into waterfalls and the road out of the hotel transform into a river meant the start of our ride had to be put back for safety reasons. It doesn’t matter if you’re on an incredibly capable bike or not, if the conditions are too dodgy, you simply don’t ride here.
Finally, the time came to swing a leg over the bike and fire up the high output engine. Straight away you can tell there is a lot more soul to the new donk. If I had one major complaint about the Street 500, it was that the engine was too smooth, to the point where it just didn’t have that Harley feel to it. I’d wager it was the soft cams that did it, as the new engine with its tweaked engine has far more going on and feels a lot more like a pukka Harley engine. It was a good start to the ride, which only got better.
After riding to the centre of Singapore, which is home to a national park filled with monkeys, we got to put the cornering clearance to the test on some remarkably empty roads lined with jungle. This is where the Street Rod is leagues ahead of the rest of the Harley range, as you can really have fun throwing all 238kilos of machine around without touching the pegs down every five seconds. The tightening of the rake from 32-degrees to 27-degrees has noticeably contributed to making it quite a willing and nimble machine. Those monkeys on the other hand didn’t seem to want to be left out of the fun, and with one deciding that he needed a closer look right after I’d rounded a corner, jumping on the brakes to avoid the furry obstacle showed another vast improvement over the Street, with the front wheel now home to a twin 300mm disc setup with 2-pot calipers and a matching disc and caliper out back. They bite really nicely and even if you’re a bit ham fisted, are backed up by ABS that isn’t too intrusive. It’s almost like Harley saw where the Street 500/750 fell flat on its face and dialled everything up to 11 for the Street Rod. It really is that much of an improvement.
The original Street Rod was a hard-core cruiser based on the V-Rod platform. So, does the newcomer with its Street DNA stand up to the legend? Well, as Harley-Davidson said during our press briefing before our ride, both have water-cooled 60-degree V-twins at their hearts (which is one of the contributing factors to the new bike being called a Street Rod), although comparing the two “Revolution” engines is like comparing an apple with an aubergine. Sure, they are both fantastic straight line powerhouses, with the new engine sounding great on song as you rip up to the redline and far beyond the legal speed limit. Where they differ most however isn’t in their design, but in their target audience.
The new Street Rod is aimed at riders coming up through the ranks, mainly in the 25-35 age bracket while the original was definitely too much bike for that type of rider. It makes sense, the 2017 bike is a far more balanced all-rounder of a machine compared to the 1200cc original. But when you boil the two bikes down you come across a constant, the performance of both is unlike anything else in the H-D range. Both take into account the importance of cornering clearance, both are ludicrously fun, and most importantly, they give Harley a shot at a potential audience base that their traditional air-cooled machines didn’t have a chance at. Is the 2017 Street Rod worthy of the name? Most definitely.