Opinion Signs I may have sold my soul

Is it Time to Reassess the Harley-Davidson Street Rod 750?

Is Harley’s entry-level middleweight a better bike than we give it credit for? It could be

The Harley-Davidson Street Rod 750 is a frustrating motorcycle. It is so close to being so much better – so much more desirable – but it just… ugh… isn’t. Nonetheless, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, wondering if perhaps I should reassess the model and start taking it more seriously. Perhaps it’s just a matter of putting in the effort to make it as good as it could be.

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I’m being too kind. I accept that. But the Street Rod 750 has long held a special place in my heart. Three years ago, when it first arrived on the scene, I was lucky enough to attend both the US and European press launches. The dual experiences gave me the opportunity to test the bike in a number of scenarios: riding mind-bendingly twisty Spanish mountain roads; riding mind-numbingly straight Florida highways; tackling traffic; crashing

Riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod 750 in Spain in 2017

Powered by a 749cc liquid-cooled V-twin, the Street Rod claims 70 horsepower and 65 Nm of torque. A Cycle World dyno in 2018 puts those numbers at 64 hp and ~60 Nm. Either way, they’re figures that place the bike more or less in the same field as the Yamaha MT-07 (73 hp and 68 Nm claimed), and Suzuki SV650 (75 hp and 64 Nm claimed). Pricewise it’s also in the same spot. Well, sorta. At £6,895 the Street Rod costs roughly £200 more than the Yamaha and nearly £900 more than the Suzuki. If we throw the KTM 790 Duke into the mix – priced at £6,999 at least until 30 April 2020 – its claimed 103 hp and 87 Nm of torque absolutely destroy the others. But normally the KTM would cost £9,000 and its bargain-basement price kind of suggests it’s going to be scrapped to make way for the £10,400 890 Duke R.

Anyhoo, the point is: I came away from my experiences with the Street Rod 750 holding a largely positive opinion and feeling that it could legitimately hold its own against (most) competitors. I wrote at the time:”Lemmy [formerly of Common Tread] has said he will be surprised and disappointed if this model does not perform well. I will be, too. This is the bike people have been asking for.”

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That Time I Rode Flat Track On a Harley-Davidson Street Rod 750

Meanwhile, since its initial release the bike has been improved in subtle ways. It’s been given better paint and slightly better brakes, and there’s now a spring in the pegs to ensure they don’t stay up if you catch them with the cuff of your jeans (something that happened multiple times when I initially test rode the bike).

So, let’s go back to roughly a year ago, when I was spending all my time pondering a new bike. At the same time, I had by then fallen into my rebarbative*-to-some habit of writing swooping prose about Harley-Davidson products. So why didn’t I even consider the Street Rod as my future steed? Well, I’ll point out that my initial list also didn’t include the Triumph Bonneville T120 that I ended up buying, but the real answer is my feeling that the Street Rod 750 does not look or sound cool.

That exhaust makes you want to cry, doesn’t it? It ruins the aesthetic of an otherwise decent looking motorcycle

Primarily the bike’s exhaust is to blame. It is huge, astonishingly ugly, places your right foot at an awkward angle that makes nuanced deployment of the rear brake difficult, and it sounds anemic. Throw in the overall takes-some-getting-used-to riding position and I wasn’t interested.

But here’s the thing. A few years ago I rode a modified (ie, they tore a few bits off and hoped for the best) Street Rod 750 at Dirt Quake and it was a blast. Then, earlier this year, I got a chance to ride a scrambler-fied Street 750 in Spain, taking part in a hill climb, and it was crazy awesome (except for the part when Tony Peries beat my time even though he had never before ridden off road).

In both cases, Harley had simply removed the bike’s colossal exhaust can, resulting in a sound that was wonderfully hooligan. On the scrambler, Harley had thrown on a chunky, beautiful-ugly brake set-up that managed to keep my boot from bumping into the exhaust pipes. The latter bike also had a better looking seat. What these experiences taught me is that Harley’s entry-level moto actually has the potential to to be shedloads of fun if you’re willing to put in a little bit of work/dinero.

I rode a stripped down Street Rod 750 when flat tracking at Dirt Quake in 2017

Admittedly this suggestion nods toward a frustration I used to feel about Harleys in general, in the days before Project Rushmore resulted in bikes with better suspensions, brakes and, ultimately, engines. Back then, when you’d speak to Harley owners about their bikes they’d tell you that all the bad things you’d heard about the brand were untrue but in the very same breath give you a laundry list of the suspension, braking and engine improvements they’d made.

As I mentioned earlier this week in talking about the Indian Scout Bobber Sixty, I like the idea of personalizing a bike through customization. But within that I feel the base bike has to be good in and of itself. Using that Bobber Sixty as an example, it’s a kick-ass motorcycle that you can enjoy and love for years and years, even if you don’t spend a penny toward changing things. OK, because the Street Rod 750’s exhaust (and, to a lesser extent, awkward tail section) is so ugly and troublesome, I wouldn’t fight you for disagreeing, but I’d argue that bike is also good out of the box. Good engine, good brakes, good suspension, etc. It’s not amazing, but it only costs £6,895.

So, uhm, here’s where I’m going with all this: the Street Rod 750 delivers roughly the same amount of power (though, not torque) as a Sportster 1200. One of the most popular platforms for customization is the Forty-Eight, but the most affordable Sportster in the United Kingdom is the Iron 1200, at £9,395. By that metric, a person wanting to buy a Harley gets at least £2,500 toward customization when buying the smaller-capacity bike. That should be more than enough to get an exhaust system that doesn’t suck.

Riding a Street 750 scrambler in Spain earlier this year

Admittedly, this is a weird mental exercise since the Street Rod 750 still lacks most of the ridiculously fun character of a Sportster, and even with an amazing exhaust it wouldn’t necessarily be better than an MT-07 or XSR700 (for which there is also a reasonably large customization aftermarket). But, you know, it’s a thing you could do.

More importantly, I wish it were a thing Harley-Davidson would do. As I said at the beginning, the Street Rod 750 is so close to being so much better. As the MoCo develops new platforms like the Pan American and Bronx 975, the latter in particular, I wish it would go back to the Street Rod 750 and give the bike the makeover it deserves.

And make a scrambler, damn it. The hill climb I did in Spain was one of the most fun things I’ve done in a while.

Dear Harley-Davidson, please make a production version of this. (With an exhaust that doesn’t suck)

* Oh yeah! Somebody’s got a thesaurus and he’s not afraid to use it.