Speak two-wheel Americana, and focus will quickly shift to Harley-Davidson. The brand surfaced in 1903, and had its part in history in every decade since.Harley-Davidson survived the Great Depression. It gained a bad boy reputation due to use by clubs like the Hells Angels. It symbolized freedom in movies like “Easy Rider” and “The Terminator.”
It even became famous in Vatican City when Pope Francis blessed hundreds of bikers in St. Peter’s Square in 2013 during Harley’s 110th Anniversary.All of this surely helped with sales; Harley’s peak years were in 2006-2007, when nearly 350,000 motorcycles were shipped worldwide. This number descended due to the Great Recession of 2008, and lack of interest from riders other than the Baby Boomers. In 2016, Harley sold 262,221 motorcycles, which was flat year-over-year compared to 2015.The Motor Company is out to change this with some audacious initiatives, such as growing ridership by two million in the next two years, and releasing 50 new models in the next five years. Yes, that’s 50 models in the next five years.This initiative started with the release of the 2017 Harley-Davidson Street Rod—a new bike based on the Street series, and no relation to the V-Rod VRSCR Street Rod. The new Street Rod is built for urban motorcyclists, not the ones seeking chrome, luggage space, or loud stereo systems.
The Street Rod is the third member of the Street family, which features the Street 750 and Street 500 cruisers. Thankfully, quality is way up over the first Street 750s and 500s, which felt very un-Harley like in regards to paint, wiring and, some welds.Harley-Davidson didn’t just think up the minimalist design and get to building; it talked to over 3000 riders worldwide before drafting up its first sketch.The Street Rod’s design is form over function, which was immediately evident from my first ride during Daytona Bike Week. This bike caters to the younger rider who wants to look stand out downtown.From its bikini fairing to the short Cafe Racer influenced tail section to the flat bars, the Street Rod carries some clout. The Street Rod certainly has that hip, urban-forward look, but we also care about the ride.Harley stuffed its newest machine with the all-new High Output Revolution X engine, which creates about 70 horsepower and is much different from the Street 750’s motor.Though not wheelie-happy power, the updated X 750 has 18 percent more horsepower and eight percent more torque than the base Street 750.
This increased power from the liquid-cooled, 749cc SOHC, 4vpc 60-degree V-twin derives from multiple engine tweaks, including a new dual-throttle body, a compression bump to 12.0:1, updated valves, and improved airflow. The power gains over the base Street 750 are noticed from first twist of the throttle.For maximum performance, you want to keep that throttle cranked. The Street Rod’s powerplant is best from 3000 to the 9000-rpm rev limiter, which is 1000 rpm higher than the Street 750. There’s more than enough power for highway passing in sixth gear, and there will never be power issues around town when cruising in third or fourth gear.We didn’t get to truly wring it out due to the lack of curvy b-roads around our Daytona Beach test site. Of course, this is a Street Rod, which indicates a preference for straight urban roads. The Harley-Davidson Sportster Roadster stands ready to take you through the twisities.Happily, there’s enough power on tab for serious straight-line fun. However, don’t expect any noise to match that fun; the stock two-into-one exhaust bored the hell out of me on the mostly straight roads.If you ever heard the Revolution X on the American Flat Track bikes, there’s certainly the possibility of uncorking the Street Rod for some serious tone. Until then, the sound is as powerful as Popeye without his spinach.The other issue with the exhaust is how it gets in the way of your right heel; Harley knew this would happen, and designed a rubber footrest on top that keeps your right boot awkwardly horizontal on the mid-control.Just as the engine provides more much-needed pep over the Street 750, the chassis was tweaked for better handling, though at the sacrifice of a harsher ride.Only a few serious corners were encountered in Daytona, but the 43mm inverted front fork provided just enough damping for stable chassis feel when riding aggressively. The fork could use a bit more rebound, but it is non adjustable.Also assisting in stability are the rear coil-over shock absorbers. Thankfully these have adjustable preload; my initial few miles were sloppy for my 180 pounds. Once I cranked up the preload, all was fine, though it contributed to a harsher ride. Of course, Harley’s urban-commuting intended audience likely won’t be quite so sensitive.One thing Harley-Davidson did for those who will push the bike is provide tons of lean angle; the Street Rod arrives with 40 degrees of lean angle on each side. I never scrapped a peg, even when making attempts around sharp corners.The upgraded handling helps cover the 30 pounds of extra weight over the Street 750; the Street Rod weighs 519 pounds (claimed wet), and is completely agile at low speeds. I had no issues completely locking the steering up from side-to-side while doing figure 8s with ease.I have zero complaints about the Street Rod’s braking, which consists of dual (thanks Harley!) 300mm discs up front, and a single 300mm disc out back, and non-switchable ABS.I replicated emergency stopping, and the ABS worked smoothly with barely any intervention. The feel at the lever under hard braking and emergency braking feels soft, but doesn’t interfere with stopping or slowing duties whatsoever.As much as I liked the Street Rod’s motor, the ergonomics simply didn’t work for my nearly six-foot frame. Like the Street 750, my knees are few inches above the gas tank, which psychologically messed with my head. The high-mounted mid-position pegs immediately cramped my legs. When I first sat on the bike, I thought the pegs were folded up, but I was wrong.I’m usually a fan of flat and wide handlebars, but these placed me in an awkward position. Also, the seat doesn’t allow the much room to move around and get comfortable. Overall, my threshold for comfort was around 30 minutes, and I begin counting miles and anticipating a stop.Still, the Street Rod was not designed long-distance comfort, even if you consider 30 minutes of riding straight roads long distance.Once off the bike, though, a smile returns. The Dark Custom styling items such as the supercharger-mimicking air cleaner and café-racer style tail brings out a muscular look. The small bikini fairing also adds to the look, though it does zilch for wind protection.There’s no denying the Street Rod’s aesthetic credibility, and looks better in person than in photographs. It simply works, especially here in America at events like Daytona Bike Week, and will stick out among Japanese and Italian nakeds.Unfortunately, these looks for me arrive with a major consequence—a lack of rideability. Harley’s designers definitely used the form-over-function thought process when designing the 2017 Harley-Davidson Street Rod, and never has discomfort looked so good.Photography by Brian J. NelsonRiding Style