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.
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…
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?
Words: Bike Rider Magazine (www.brm.co.nz) Photos : Harley-Davidson
Welcome to North Auckland Harley-Davidson, Craig Andrew.
Craig has been a rider since he was 15 years old.
A relatively recent convert to cruisers, he spent many years grappling with sports bikes, however comfort won him over and he finally saw the light.
Starting his career as a cadet with Placemakers, Craig moved on and travelled for a while before settling into a new career with Auckland Council at Snapper Rock. Cemeteries and crematoriums were his specialist subject but now the clientele are far more lively.
All things must pass, so to speak and now he is on the sales team at North Auckland Harley-Davison and passionately settling in to the ways of Harley-Davidson.
Craig is keen to get seat time on Breakout, Sport Glide or Fat Boy so he has taste aplenty.
Call through and have a coffee with Craig at Barry’s Point Road.by Ian Ferguson
It’s easy to see why Harley-Davidson sees style as a bigger seller of its bikes than sporting appeal. If we track the 58-year history of the Sportster family and focus on two recent models – the XR1200 of the mid-noughties and the Forty-Eight of the early-teenies – we can see that the XR was a bit of a showroom wallflower while the 48 was, and still is, a rampant sales success. But times have changed for Harley-Davidson. Sales in its domestic market are steady rather than rampant, and Europe and Asia now represent the best opportunities for growth. So, cue the new Roadster model tested here. It’s a reprise of the corner-friendly values that once made the long-deleted XR my favourite Harley, but one that doesn’t stray too far away from the long n’ low styling cues that continue to make the Forty-Eight such a success.
Something has also happened to the marketplace since the XR was dropped (more than seven or eight years ago if memory serves). A younger generation of riders began customising their bikes on a various range of themes – Café Racer, Bobber, Flat Tracker, etc. – and posting the results on social media to attract as many ‘likes’ as possible. A custom-looking bike therefore quickly became as essential as a taste for craft beer, facial hair, and brown shoes to the urbane hipster lifestyle. So, there was further reason for Harley-Davidson to resurrect the more sporting theme of the XR1200 than just the motor company’s geo-economic shift in sales growth. The XR was arguably the right bike built at the wrong time, while the Roadster now arrives in our well-manicured Harley showrooms while surfing a trend. Essentially, Harley has created the Roadster by doing what any self-respecting customizer would do to the Forty-Eight. Fenders have been carved back for a leaner look, the instrument display is more minimal, and the headlight has been tucked more tightly into the bulk of the bike. The handlebar looks like it was stolen from some 1920s board-track racer in the company museum, and the new spoked alloy wheels retain a heritage look while allowing tubeless tyres to be fitted. These are possibly more important changes than the improvement of the Roaster in the suspension, brakes, and wheel/tyre departments. For they allow the Roadster to exude plenty of carpark-credibility when it makes its arrival outside the favoured craft brewery or men’s grooming establishment of the week.
The same couldn’t be said of the unloved XR. It was a proper attempt to stimulate the interest of riders normally attracted to European and Japanese bikes in buying a Harley-Davidson, and therefore had its own high-riding frame and equally-high operator position rather than a minor modification of a cruiser-oriented chassis shared with the rest of the Sportster range. But can a bike be both long n’ low and corner-friendly? The Roadster proves that it can, but only when rider comfort is compromised. For the pegs must be raised for the corners while retaining the invitational appeal of a 785mm seat height, and this is a perfect storm for a rider ergonomic package that cramps the legs. Worse is the positioning of those pegs right where most riders will want to put their legs down when coming to a stop. And when combined with the low-sited bars, I found myself riding the Roadster in some kind of foetal squat that while it wasn’t entirely uncomfortable made me glad that the Roadster’s trademark ‘peanut’ tank still only holds 12 litres (up from the eight litres of the Forty-Eight).
Fortunately, the Roadster’s seat is well-padded and can do a decent job of carrying most of the rider’s weight with sustainable comfort as there’s little opportunity to transfer any of that human mass to the pegs. And the suspension improvements do deliver better ride quality than other members of the Sportster model family when they’re operating at open road speeds. Up front, the inverted Showa fork actually feels a little too firmly sprung to me, but the longer rear shocks are right on the money with their dual-rate springs and extra wheel travel. Bumpy backroads will see the Roadster transferring quite a bit of the surface imperfections to the rider’s forearms, but the compliant and supple rear wheel control means there’s none of the posterior pummelling you get from a more cruiser-oriented Sportster model. There’s also none of the cornering clearance issues either, and the Roadster’s foot-pegs only touched down occasionally because Harley mounted them on wide spacers with generous warning feelers fitted. I found myself placing my feet on the mounts instead of the pegs, a position that felt both more natural and gave better access to the brake pedal and gear-lever.
With a 19” wheel and a generous amount of steering rake and trail, it takes a firm input on the handlebars to initiate a change of direction with the Roadster, although the geometry is the same as the XR’s. The Roadster feels less eager to turn due to the lower rider positioning and centre of gravity, combined with the larger-diameter front hoop.
But while negotiating the serpentine requires a deliberate and measured approach, the $20,250 Roadster is the best-performing bike on our winding backroads in the Harley catalogue, helped out by the extra front disc that it carries over the rest of the Sportster range. That you get a better-looking bike with more exploitable cornering lean angles and better brakes for just $255 more than the Forty-Eight places the Roadster precisely in the right context. It’s not a genuine substitute for the XR, but let’s not forget to celebrate that this is a new Sportster model variant that’s entirely capable of living up to the family name.
At a Glance:
Engine: 1202cc air-cooled 45-degree OHV fuel-injected V-twin; 97Nm of torque at 4250rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed sequential gearbox, belt final drive.
Frame: Steel tube double-cradle with non-adjustable inverted front forks and twin shocks adjustable for spring preload.
Bottom Line: A good-looking Sportster variant that offers a 30 per cent increase in cornering lean angles, improved ride quality, and more powerful brakes, the Roadster suits NZ well.
Gaye Elliott is the backbone of the Auckland Harley-Davidson motor clothing and gifts department. For the last 5 years and 3 more part-time before that, Gaye has attended to the busy side of branded apparel that includes specialist riding gear like Harley-Davidson FXRG collection although Tee shirts fly out the door.
Keeping the store range lively and up to date means Gaye has the enviable task of shopping trips to Singapore each January to buying conferences with the extensive licensed suppliers of Harley-Davidson exhibiting.
This year the big event is the annual dealer conference in Milwaukee, home of the brand. As well as ordering up big time, Gaye is keen to see the Harley-Davidson Museum.by Ian Ferguson