When did fun get so serious? Don’t we ride motorcycles because they are fun? Motorcyclists’ online discussions and t-shirts are rife with comments defining “real” motorcycles and their riders.
It seems like if your bike doesn’t confer instant respect among the grizzled graybeards at the rowdiest campground in Sturgis, threaten to snatch pole position at the next MotorGP race or look capable of trekking to Patagonia, it is dismissed.
Dismiss the Harley-Davidson Street 750 (or its less-expensive sibling, the nearly identical Street 500) at your own loss, because it delivers the fun that is the reason we start riding.
Harley is hoping that fun is the bait that will attract a new group of consumers to revitalize its aging customer base. The company operates in a world with more unwritten rules than baseball that dictate what it can and cannot do with its products. This code has the unfortunate side effect of locking out the newcomers Harley needs. Those rules say the a "real" bike needs a really big engine, that it must be an air-cooled, 45-degree V-twin with a loud exhaust and a cantankerous attitude, and that even small details like an oversized handlebar diameter are absolutely mandatory.
The company's solution is to keep building the traditional machines those rules dictate, while breaking out of those constraints with a new line of bikes dubbed “Street.” Saddle time on the all-American Street 750 revealed it to be a fun plaything that will feel familiar to riders accustomed to foreign bikes.
The differences in are the details. The ignition cylinder for most bike migrated to the top of the front fork around 1980, and that is where the Street 750’s ignition resides, in contrast to the rest of Harley’s models.
Turn signals? Everybody uses a single lever on the right handlebar to switch them on. As does the Street 750. But “real” Harleys have separate turn signal buttons for left and right on each side of the handlebars.
The engine is a V-twin, in the traditional Harley manner. But it is a smooth 60-degree V-twin rather than the rougher 45-degree layout in other Harleys. And it is water-cooled rather than air-cooled, so the engine runs at a consistent temperature and can make more power for its size without overheating. Such are the details that disqualify the Street 750 from “real” status in the eyes of the old guard.
But the old guard is, well, old. Harley needs to appeal to the sorts of buyers who have flocked to Yamaha Star, Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki cruisers, and the Street 750 is just the bike for the job.
It could even appeal to some would-be Triumph or BMW shoppers too. With its own recent switch to liquid cooling, the Triumph Bonneville manages to integrate its radiator more gracefully than the Street 750’s somewhat thick and clunky appearance.
Compared to the Sportster Superlow, Harley’s erstwhile starter bike, the $7,549 Street 750 is $1,000 cheaper, and the Street 500 is even less expensive, at $6,799. It is also much quieter and much smoother. The Street 750’s plush suspension soaks up pavement imperfections that hammer the Sportster rider, and even its seat is softer than that on the Sportster.
Braking power from the single front disc brake is strong and progressive, but the back brake feels a little grabby and over-sensitive. The Street 750’s suspension is well controlled, with none of the dramatic fork dive under braking that is common among cruiser bikes with their raked forks.
The rear shocks seem a little on the soft side, so an enthusiastic rider might prefer an aftermarket upgrade to them, but at the front, the fork’s valving seems spot-on.
The Sporty’s rough-and-ready feel is a cultivated taste, like scotch, while the Street 750 is a smooth craft lager anyone can enjoy.
One shortcoming on the Street 750 is long shift throws, possibly a result of the linkage for its forward-mounted footpegs and controls. In a world where bikes like the BMW S1000RR shift more by pressure than actual movement of the lever, the long, ankle-flexing shifts of the Street 750 seem out of place. Especially when even the Sportster’s shifts are much shorter.
The test bike was finished in a stunning Superior Blue paint, with blacked-out trim. Harley dresses the bikes with a mini bikini fairing around the headlight and retro rubber gaiters over the fork sliders, but I think the bike looks better with them both removed.
Overall, the build quality of the made-in-USA Street 750 seems excellent, but the test bike did have a lump of excess weld right at the front of the gas tank by the steering head. I wondered whether I was being finicky noticing it, until a friend stopped by on his Sportster. After studying the Street for a few seconds, he wordlessly reached out and touched the weld, confirming my thought that if it were my bike, I’d have the dealer swap the gas tank for another one.
That tank, incidentally, is wide and flat, in contrast to the toy-like peanut tank of the Sportster, so it holds a practical 3.5 gallons that carry the Street 75, which is about 135 miles before the fuel light comes on. It is also the perfect shape to support a tank bag, the motorcyclist’s all-purpose snap-on luggage for everyday items.
The only difference between the Street 750 and the 500 is the engine displacement. The 750’s engine is rated at 44.5 lb.-ft. torque compared to 29.5 lb.-ft. for the 500. It feels plenty quick, even with an adult passenger on the back seat, so the 500 should be fine for regular solo riding with the occasional passenger too.
It does seem like the 750 is geared with the 500’s smaller motor in mind, because the gearing is a little short, making the bike quicker off the line at the expense of making it rev at highway speeds. The gearing is also awkward around town, as the bike seems between gears at 25 mph, with second gear turning too many rpm, while the engine chugs at a steady 25 mph in third gear.
I’d like to change drive sprockets to let the 750 turn its engine a little more slowly. But that tweak, along with taking off the fairing and fork gaiters, would start the Street 750 down the path to building my own personalized bike. Which is almost as much fun as riding it.
Photos by Harley-Davidson Motor Co.