HARLEY-Davidson is known as a manufacturer of heavyweight motorcycles for experienced riders, and until now you’ve had to get that experience riding a different brand of bike.
Even the smallest Sportster models – displacing 883cc – had a capacity too big for the Learner Approved Motorcycle scheme, and let’s face it, they are too big and heavy for most learners to feel comfortable anyway.
That’s changed, as of now. The new XG500 Street 500 is aimed fairly and squarely at the learner market, but it will also attract other riders, because this is the most affordable Harley ever. Prices start at 10 grand.
The Street 500 ticks most of the usual Harley boxes – it’s got a V-twin motor, it’s raw, stripped down to the essentials and it carries the Bar & Shield badge.
But is it a real Harley?
To build a 500 at the right price for a world market, Harley couldn’t build it in the USA – so like many iconic machines, the badge is rolling out of a factory in Asia, in this case India.
The design is all new, and very modern – no separate transmission like in the big-bore Harleys, this is economic and reliable unit construction, where the engine and transmission live in the same housing.
Then there’s the liquid cooling, four-valve heads, the multi-plate wet clutch and 17-inch front wheel… so the Street 500 is different to any Harley before it.
Despite the differences though, the Street 500 is unmistakably still a Harley. The Revolution X engine, complete with its finning to make it look air cooled, produces a satisfying thump, although you’ll have to rev it harder than any other Harley. The air filter sits out and proud between the cylinders. The pipes snake their way from the pots into, well, a big, ugly pipe.
And customisation is built into the DNA of the Street 500. Harley-Davidson will offer an array of parts and accessories as long as your arm to make your Street 500 suit you as an individual, and custom builders everywhere will be able to make your Street 500 unique.
For the hipster crowd looking for street credibility, it starts here.
Harley’s already started with the bike we have here. Wheels, pipe, grips, levers… bits and bobs everywhere are from the accessory catalogue.
Heritage is the name of the game for Harley-Davidson, so it comes as no surprise to discover the stylists went back to the past to find inspiration for the future. They chose the 1977 XLCR Café Racer as the template for the Street range. With its blacked-out engine, low ’bars, tall wheels and high performance engine, the XLCR has become a cult classic – in many ways it was ahead of its time. Marketed as a performace/sports bike, it was too expensive for the Harley faithful and not capable enough to convince riders of Italian and Japanese machinery to switch, it wasn’t a sales success – so many would be surprised it was chosen as a template for the Street.
However, the Street is for younger riders looking for sporty style and the XLCR’s design fits in very well with the genre.
The engine’s the first Revolution X powerplant, Harley’s first all-new motor since the Revolution power plant fitted to the V-Rod machines. This one’s a fuel-injected 60-degree V-Twin, water-cooled and featuring four valves per cylinder and a six-speed gearbox. Interestingly it has vertical-split cases, a single overhead cam on top of each pot and screw-adjusted valves.
While some might have liked a more traditional Harley engine – 45-degree air-cooled V-Twin – existing noise and emission laws combined with customer performance expectations probably made that impossible.
So the engine is thoroughly modern, and it’s a sweet motor, although you have to rev it more than larger Harleys, which affects the exhaust note – it’s firing more often than every second lamp post. Vibes are there, adding to the character and not annoying – they are tamed but not eliminated by the engine balancer shaft.
Performance is relaxed, although with judicious use of the clutch and a few revs you’ll never lose a traffic light drag to a car. The Street 500 will scoot up to freeway speed limits promptly, and sit there comfortably all day long. Top speed? Difficult to say, but maybe around the old 100mph (160km/h) if there’s a long enough straight.
Chassis, Suspension and Brakes
The Revolution X motor is wrapped in a new steel perimeter chassis which is narrow and built to be nimble in traffic and confidence-inspiring.
This means a low seat height, with the Street 500’s coming in at 709mm – low but not really low. Getting one’s feet to the ground was pretty easy, although it’s certainly not the lowest seat in the business.
The seat could be lower if Harley had reduced suspension travel, but luckily they didn’t – the suspension performance provides a comfortable ride even on bumpy surfaces. It’s not sports-bike tuned, so it can be made to wallow and buck, but by then you’re pushing the bike to its handling boundaries and beyond its design brief. You’re unlikely to do this in the bike’s native environment of urban blasting, although scraping the footpegs through fast roundabouts is fun.
The suspension itself is a set of non-adjustable forks, complete with gaiters – those pleated rubber sleeves which hide the chromed fork leg. Originally these were used to protect fork legs from dust and stone chips, but I suspect they’re used here for form rather than function – part of the way Harley keeps this bike as blacked-out as possible.
At the rear there’s a pair of preload-adjustable shock absorbers, which for most people means set-and-forget – but your bike will handle much better if you increase the preload when a passenger jumps aboard, for example.
Stopping the Street is a disc brake at each end with twin piston calipers. Anyone with small hands will be disappointed Harley didn’t fit adjustable levers, and anyone who has experience with modern, high-performance brakes will wonder why the Street 500’s brakes are wooden and lack power. They aren’t bad, but this is one area where experienced riders will notice the penny-pinching Harley had to do to get this bike on showrooms at under 10 grand. That said, most buyers will get used to the brakes and not have a problem with them, for they work fine once you get used to them.
There’s no ABS on the Street 500, another cost saving, and that means this is the only bike in the Harley line-up without ABS. It’s a shame the only learner bike is also the only one without ABS, but it’s no surprise the cheapest one doesn’t have ABS.
The important but boring bits
The fuel tank is small but the fuel economy’s good (3.7l/100km, claimed), so range is fine. The tyres are Michelin Scorchers, so they’re fine too, and the switchgear is international standard compliant, which means the indicators are on the left and push to cancel. They don’t self cancel.
The instruments are all housed within one circular dial – an analogue speedo with an LCD odometer/trip meter. There are lots of idiot (warning) lights which are only visible when lit. The mirrors are too short and give a great view of your elbows, just like most bikes these days.
The transmission has six gears and final drive is a low-maintenance, clean-running toothed belt.
Warranty is two years and you get a year of complimentary Hog membership.
At 222kg ready to roll it’s a heavy machine for its category, but it’s a Harley, anyone expecting it to tip the scales much lower doesn’t get it. They use lots of steel in these!
This means it’s a little harder to push around the garage than a sub-200kg bike, but beyond walking pace you’ll not notice the weight.
The upright riding position and mid-mounted footpegs offer heaps of control and confidence – you can even stand up on them comfortably when going over speed bumps, potholes and prone pedestrians.
An (almost) blank canvas
Wheel a Street 500 out of the showroom and you’ve got a nice new bike. But really, it’s a blank canvas, ready to be turned into a work of art. You can choose to simply switch out a plethora of parts with custom style accessories from the H-D catalogue, or you might get radical and modify your Street into something like nothing else.
Harley-Davidson has commissioned a number of these machines, some of which were on display at the Moto Expo in Melbourne when the Street 500 was shown off for the first time to the Australian public.
If you follow Cycle Torque’s Instagram feed you’d have seen a shot or two from the event for they were some of the coolest machines at the show.
For young, creative urban people, the Street 500 will be the basis for their bike – their styles, their ideas, their personality.
Urban riders who’ve avoided Harleys in the past because they’ve been too big, too heavy and too expensive should be wowed by the Steet 500, too. This is urban friendly, powerful enough and light enough to be urban transport. It’s designed to get you through city streets with speed and confidence. Dump the quiet, huge standard muffler for a more open pipe and you’ll really start to enjoy the Harley rumble – but it’s not as deep as bigger Harleys, because physics plays a part – to make the 500 perform Harley had to fit four-valve heads in a short-stroke design and make it rev hard, which means it doesn’t sound the same as a Sportster or Big Twin.
Learning on the Street
Learning to ride is all about confidence – don’t have any and motorcycling is simply terrifying. The Street 500, while bigger and heavier than most ‘learner’ bikes, is slim and confidence-inspiring. You’ll feel ready to take on the urban grind in no time, and getting through the traffic on a Street 500 is a lot more fun than doing so in a car or bus!
The steering is light and direct, so the bike goes where it’s pointed. The power is moderate and delivered gently, so there are no surprises. The clutch is very light and the six-speed gearbox effortless to use, so it’s a good package for a learner.
It’s got soul
Of course, buying a bike because it’s a good learner or commuting machine is all very well, but at the end of the day you want a bike because it satisfies the soul. That’s where I wonder if the Street 500 works – sure, you’ll be satisfied, for a while. The machine looks good, rides well, gives a satisfying throb and this will be ok for some.
For the others it won’t be enough. After a while – a year, maybe a couple – they’ll be back at their Harley dealer, throwing a leg over a Fat Boy and thinking how the repayments don’t seem that high, how the extra grunt will make carrying a passenger that much easier…
The Steet 500 is an awesome entry into the Harley-Davidson lifestyle. You’ll probably want more eventually, but it’s a fun ride until you do.
Harley-Davidson Street 500: New Ideas
THE beginnings of the Street 500 – and the Street 750, which isn’t coming to Australia this year – go back a few years. Harley’s research showed real growth for the company wasn’t going to come from building big bikes in the USA, where the company already has a huge market share, and it simply wasn’t going to be economically feasible to build smaller bikes for a small American market and big international market.
So the obvious thing would be to build the smaller bikes overseas… which is what’s happening, with the Street 500 and 750 being built in India, in a factory controlled by Harley-Davidson.
However, for the local USA market and research and development, Harley-Davidson is also building the Street models in the USA.
Someone will get a USA-built bike and an India-built bike together and compare them one day, but I doubt they will find too many differences.
Rumours of a smaller-capacity Harley started years and years ago (Cycle Torque published a rumour about the engine in 2009!), but by mid-2013 it was one of the worst-kept secrets in motorcycling. In December 2013 Harley-Davidson Australia hosted all the bike journos in the country to a lunch and the announcement of the bike – and they didn’t even have one to display, and it wasn’t going to be available for another 15 months…
The Street series is the first time Harley has built anything other than heavyweight bikes since the mid 1970s, and it’s the newest platform for the company since the first V-Rod – that’s 14 years! Having tried to expand under other brand names (Buell and MV Agusta were bought and respectively closed down and sold in recent times), it seems Harley’s biggest asset is its name, so marketing the new bikes as Harleys was essential to their success.
New bikes were required, because Sportster and Big Twin models, even built in Asia, would not have suited the markets and been affordable anyway – and given the Indian motorcycle market is around 30 times larger than the USA’s, you can see why Harley-Davidson would like a machine which will appeal to relatively wealthy Indians – and then there’s Japan, China, Malaysia, Indonesia…
For the West, the Street 500 will be seen by many as a stepping stone bike until a full licence or budget is acquired. I reckon that’s underselling the Street 500 though – many riders who are looking for a bike which isn’t intimidating, expensive or complicated will love the Street 500, and may never consider moving to a larger machine. Harley-Davidson has been well aware the average age of buyers has been getting older and older with the Baby Boomers being the biggest buyers of Harleys – but that won’t last too much longer with that age group starting to move into their 70s. The company needs to attract a younger audience, and the pictures being used to promote the Street models are hipsters in their 20s.
No Street 750, yet
AT THE same time as the Street 500 was announced a bigger-bore sibling, the Street 750 was also launched – but it’s not coming to Australia, yet.
Visually the same, Cycle Torque suspects the Street 750 would be too close in price and capacity to the existing Sportster range to make it viable to import, while being too big for the LAMs market.
Engine-wise the 750 simply has a bigger bore with the same stroke to provide the extra engine capacity, so it’s likely to rev pretty hard too – in fact it will be interesting to see how the real-world performance is compared to an 883 Sportster, where I suspect the smaller bike might do very well indeed…
The Street 500 could easily handle more horsepower, so the 750 might be an even sweeter ride – and if the 500 is successful, expect to see the 750 in showrooms in a year or two, where I suspect people will be trading up from their Street 500s. n