Somewhere To Begin

It may not be the largest or flashiest Harley model to hit the streets recently but it may well be the most significant. As for getting new riders into the whole H-D deal, it’s huge.

Words: Kev | Photos: H-D

For lots of reasons, there will be those who love it, others who don’t. There will also be questions about the whole learner-legal approach from H-D. To cut through the static that has been bandied around the web, here’s a crystal ball prediction; it will be the biggest selling Harley-Davidson in NZ this year…

Before you look for tomatoes to throw, here are a couple of interesting facts; H-D dealers in Australia have already received deposits (in many cases full payment) for over 300 so far – the bikes won’t arrive until late February. The fascinating thing about that is the demographics, as in 36% are young adults, as in LAMS riders. Then there is the 31% that are women. Add those two statistics into the calculator and the sum is – new customer base. These are not H-D owners buying a replacement for their current model, although Harley obviously want them to stick with the brand when they do trade up. With the whole range of ‘Street’ gear, from Street jackets to bags and every accessory possible, it’s not just the motorcycle they are marketing, that is for sure.


Small bike, big hopes

After chewing over the response since dates were finalised, and the pricing, it was time to don the wet weather gear and hit the streets. For some reason, leaving a sunny NZ and riding in a sodden Sydney amused me, so I was in fine spirits as we splashed south and headed to the coast. The first stage, riding through the city, was relevant to the urban marketing, and the Street 500 was predictably at home; it will make an excellent mid-sized town steed if that’s your environment for riding in. It’s surprisingly brisk away from the lights, has close cogs in the lower end of the slick-shifting gearbox for nippy town work and the neutral riding position makes life easy. The mirrors are a bit naff; spindly stalks and too narrow for good clear rearward visibility, and I’d be lying if I said I had broad shoulders…

Surprise number one was the suspension, and it was a pleasant surprise. The ‘Strayans’ roads are no better than ours, poor buggers, but the Street 500’s old-school looking twin springers at the rear proved to be compliant and didn’t give any kidney punches at all. All too often, cruisers are over-sprung and sorely lacking in the damping department but the Street’s suspension really is pretty sweet, if a little soft for me up front (bloody sportsbike riders- yeah, well). The package is targeted at newer riders, so aims at confident handling not razor-sharp. And the braking package, while appearing pretty underwhelming, is well up to the task without overwhelming new riders with ferocious bite. I would have liked to see a span-adjustable clutch lever (the brake is) for smaller handed riders but at least the clutch is nice and light, making traffic a breeze to deal with. It also has good feel, letting you rip away from the lights, leaving the cars dismally wallowing in your wake – satisfying with an L-Plate I’d imagine.

There isn’t a rev-counter, the Street 500 instead runs pretty basic instrumentation, which is fine. The all-new liquid-cooled V-twin has just enough pulse through the bars to keep you informed at lower revs and when you keep it spinning, you can feel it working. One of the test bikes had a Screaming Eagle muffler (sourced from Supertrapp for those who recognise the style) which not only alerted traffic to your presence but added to the whole riding experience. The exhaust note goes from muted to quite sporty, without being so loud you’d hate it before you stopped for fuel. With an average during the test of less than 4litres used to cover 100km, that does mean the other side of 350km before the cold sweat needs to form. Yep, pretty frugal and even when sitting a good 20% faster than the posted maximum, the tall last couple of gears mean it’s cruising comfortably, with a terminal velocity of around 160km/h, although on the monitored wet roads, we didn’t get the chance to lie prone on the tank and check. But that’s not what a LAMS bike would be used for, is it…?

Belt-drive not only keeps it in the family (the first new branch to the family tree in 14 years) but also makes for a smooth and forgiving power delivery. The look is part V-Rod and partially due to the influence of a model that was deliberately emulated by the Willie-G design studio; the 1977 café racer also known as the XLCR1000. The four-valve per cylinder Revolution X powerplant, being water-cooled, can’t replicate the look but the sweep of the pipes, the headlight nascelle/fairing and the rear section do show the tribute and help the new bike fit in the ‘Dark Custom’ side of the family. In other countries, this is followed on with a 750cc version that looks virtually identical, and in reality, it is. The Street 500 was chosen for our market heavily based on our LAMS rules. Obviously it does mean everything is designed to cope with significantly more torque and power, so the 500 ought to be pretty much bullet-proof. To answer the question at the front of many minds – yes, if there is enough demand for the open-class 750, it may make its way to our shores. For the Eagle-eyed observer, with the Street 500 having to pass ADR (Australian rules) the decision to run a rear brake with a remote reservoir had to be rescinded to avoid doing the process again – just in case you spotted the mounting above the master cylinder and were wondering… Not really a blemish on the finish, it’s more a sign of how stringent the ADR process is, for better or worse…


Ground breaker

It is a groundbreaking model from Harley-Davidson for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s the first time new riders have been able to legally ride a H-D, so that’s significant to lovers of the brand. Secondly, our market receives the first model from Harley-Davidson to be manufactured in India. Globalisation of brands is not new to many of us, but to H-D aficionados, it’s a leap of faith that raised some eyebrows. While it doesn’t have loads of chrome and bling, the actual build quality appears to be very good. The Americans get locally-made versions and you’d need to read the fine print on the frame label to distinguish between the two. The same quality standards are in place – and H-D are aware the motorcycling world is watching, so the bike is still very much built by Harley. That plant in India also gets around prohibitive tariffs on imported motorcycles, opening up the 1.2 billion people who inhabit the continent to new models, like this one, so you can see how important this new Street 500 is. Your local H-D store will have them from February (estimated) and the nice-handling, economical Street 500 may be just what you’re after. It’s relatively light, has easy handling, looks the part and as with all new H-Ds, you get complimentary membership of the Harley Owners Group (HOG) as well – clever marketing.

A learner’s Harley-Davidson – who would’ve thought?


Good Bits: Nimble handling, plush ride, economical, easy on the eye, lets learner riders skip the waiting period to feel they belong.

Not So Good Bits: The catalytic converter means my right boot was impeded slightly, mirrors are feeble, I didn’t have one when I was a learner!

Price: $10,995



Engine: Liquid-cooled Revolution X V-twin

Bore and stroke: 69 x 66mm

Displacement: 494cc

Compression: 11:1

Maximum torque (claimed): 40Nm @ 3500rpm

Transmission: Six-speed

Wheelbase: 1534mm

Weight (fuelled): 222kg

Fuel capacity: 13.1litres

Fuel economy: 3.7l/100km (claimed, combined city and open road average)

Tyres: Front 100/80 R17, rear 140/75 R15

Lean angle (max): 28.5degrees