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STREET ROD TESTED, The Converter !

2nd April 2020
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The Street Rod may not be everyone’s idea of a Harley-Davidson, but not all of us are ready to step up to ‘going the whole Hog’ so to speak.

I’m a pretty inviting target for the Harley-Davidson sales cannon, to be fair. With a history of riding Japanese all my life by choice, but seeing a dwindling number of bikes I want to own (yeah, yeah, the 80’s are gone and won’t be back); I’m going through a mid-life crisis – and I don’t mean my ever-expanding waistline. I happily hold a reasonable credit rating, with the high probability of an incipient cash windfall – not Lotto, a REAL one – I have limited family commitments and I’m still clutching at a hint of ‘cool’ from bygone decades. Yup, that’s me.

After that self-assessment, any H-D salesperson worth their salt would be dropping sales brochures at BRM towers faster than Don Trump drops Tweets, but I’ll save them the trouble. Out of H-D’s latest and greatest product selection to date, the bike which will move me to a Milwaukee machine in the shortest space of time, is the750 Street Rod. This is the H-D virgin converter. Not what you were thinking, the Street Rod is the bike to take riders off whatever brand they are used to and put them onto American Iron for the first time and – just quietly – it does it pretty damn fine job of it.

Oh, it’s not perfect – far from it, but that’s part of its appeal. You see, I’m of the opinion that Harley-Davidson could – if it wanted to – produce a bike technologically capable of taking on any manufacturer.

“The Street Rod has elements of being both a Sports bike and a pure tourer.”

Imagine a line of Harley-fied Hondas, or Davidson-derived Ducatis or some other contrived brand blend – the end result being an Americanised clone of ‘the other bike’. Of course, you’d lose the H-D individuality, which is definitely not going to do it for the company shareholder’s, and the reason we won’t be seeing the aforementioned motorcycle mashups. Instead, we are presented with the 750 Street Rod, an imperfect – but very much genuine – Harley-Davidson, with many desirable aspects comparable to those found on your brand of choice.

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BLEND-A-BIKE

Personally, I ride a sports tourer. Now, the Street Rod is not one of those per se, but it does give me the power and acceleration I expect of a sports tourer (perhaps not as dramatic, but comparable), and, to be fair, decent levels of comfort too. From this, you could suppose the Street Rod has elements of being both a Sports bike and a pure tourer, and you’d be right. It has the inherent manoeuvrability of a sports bike and it has the ability to kill kilometres comfortably with the best of the mile munchers.

The Street Rod is not a foot-forward cruiser, but again, there are visual and styling elements of such, and these are quite pronounced; a long wheelbase, a seamless flow from tank to tailpiece, reasonable front rake and even a little flyscreen, which seems to be the Japanese contribution to cruiser-esque machines. Linking any Harley to an adventure bike is going to be drawing a massive bow, but the Street Rod’s somewhat remarkable 205mm ground clearance – smaller V-Stroms are only 175mm after all – makes it a prime candidate to become a Scrambler, if nothing else.

NOT ALL ROSY

Of course, being the ‘all bikes to all comers’ model does come with compromises – those imperfections I mentioned earlier.Take the right foot position for instance, an issue which by now, surely Harley-Davidson must be aware of since everyone has lambasted this bike for it.

We’re going to throw a bouquet first though - stating categorically that the pod-shaped air box on this side of the bike, while contributing to the somewhat awkward position H-D’s designers have shoehorned buyer’s legs into – does give the Street Rod a cool factor of 9 million and one, and that goes a long way to offsetting the peculiar arrangement for the right foot. Peculiar arrangement? Yes, well, I’m being kind. Orange you glad it’s there?

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The brake lever and footpeg are level with each other; not great, but we can live with it. If you keep the barest tip of your boot on the – improved over what it was on the 500cc model, apparently – brake lever, you don’t run the risk of riding the brake. As a result of this however, the heel of the foot has to come into contact with the exhaust by virtue of the pipe’s design; and someone at H-D rightly concluded that this was not a good thing. The solution – albeit contrived by an engineer with no appreciation for biomechanics – was to bolt a heel ‘pad’ onto the pipe to prevent boot meltage. This makes the right leg position for the rider feel extremely unnatural and uncomfortable.

You can overcome it by pointing your toes out to the side, but this does make getting back on the rear anchor a bit of a ‘where the hell is the lever’ mission; by which time, it’s likely to be an academic consideration anyway. This is possibly the biggest sin of the Street Rod and really comes under the term ‘design flaw’ rather than ‘compromise’. Someone needs to look again at the pipe/catalytic converter design and put a human on-board to get it right. On the actual compromise front, I felt the Street Rod needed a little attention spent on the front suspension. I was left with the impression that the newly upgraded 43mm USD fork arrangement didn’t seem to know what sort of bike it was set up for. Too aggressive for a tourer or cruiser, which would soak up bumps and lumps nicely, the front suspension was not aggressive enough for a sports bike (I had a sports bike on hand to compare) which deals to bumps and lumps with ruthless efficiency. The Street Rod’s setup didn’t really fall into either camp, and as such there were some teeth jarring moments which could have, and should have, been no problem. Combine the right foot ergo’s and the front- end suspension, and you might conclude that I was ready to write off the Street Rod as a try-hard attempt to sway me from my ride of choice that could never succeed, but......and it’s a big but, a proper ‘Jennifer Lopez’ to coin a phrase. The Street Rod has an undefinable something that makes you a: want to own one based on first appraisals, or B: at the very least, ride it to see what all the fuss is about.

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REDEEMERS

Harley’s are all big-engined symbols of freedom. The thought that a ‘great’ Harley-Davidson could have an engine measured in anything other than cubic inches is just laughable, right? Well, no. Not anymore. The Street Rod has, at its heart, a liquid-cooled, V-Twin, 750cc motor which can’t imitate a 107 or a 114cu inch air head for aural presence, and even the baby 883 Sportster has a ‘proper’ Harley soundtrack.

The Street Rod – and its lesser 500cc sibling – do not. Oh, they have a noise all their own for sure, but it’s not ‘try hard’ Harley or Honda for that matter, it’s somewhere in the middle, which is clearly acceptable to the H-D marketing machine, as there isn’t a Screamin’ Eagle alternative for the exhaust. Yes, there are aftermarket pipes, but nothing genuinely H-D.

On this point, the Street Rod is remarkably subdued when it comes to post-purchase, factory accessories. A performance air cleaner and Pro Tuning kit are all the options you get for power enhancing.

The rest comes down to cosmetics for the most part, the exceptions being a reach seat, LED headlight and Bungee bars; suggesting that H-D thinks it has the package right; leaving the aftersales department free to focus on other Harley models for personalisation, performance or a combination of both. As far as the engine’s performance goes, well, I was aware of the inherent ‘unstressed’ character found in other Harleys.

There was an impressive sense of torque whenever it was asked for. Sure, I couldn’t keep up with the 0 to 100 mumble mumble acceleration of a 1000cc sports bike, but at the top end of the legal-plus-a-bit-for-passing spectrum, the Street Rod could, and would deliver. The Street Rod, in stark contrast to what its name suggests, comes into its own when it comes to corner carving out in the country. Of course, that ridiculously high clearance came to the fore here. Swooping in and out of even tight twisties was something to relish rather than run from. And that was with the wide ‘drag bars’ our test machine was delivered with. Would I change these? At first, I thought ‘yes’ but after 48 hours and a few more ‘kays, I think I’ve changed my mind.

The wide reach bars help – believe it or not – to get a better-than-bearable riding position; the weird, right-leg-sticking-out notwithstanding. As to the transmission, there was nothing here I could actually fault either. The six-speed was happy to lug around town in pretty much any gear you wanted, though it was more agreeable to be in fifth at 50km/h than top. ‘Kicking down a couple’ didn’t deliver quite the expected reaction of a Japanese powerhouse, but the acceleration was still good enough to be useful. For those then, who thought they could never bring themselves to become a Harley-Davidson rider – let alone owner – or who want a handsome looking bike which stacks up as a practical and useful everyday ride with a hint of a Harley halo, the Street Rod might – surprisingly – be just what you’re looking for.

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