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Harley-Davidson Street XG750 and XG500—First Ride

Jon Langston
June 30, 2014
Filed under Featured Road Test, Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on Harley Motorcycles, Road Tests, Sport Standard + Standard Motorcycle Reviews, Top Stories

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Harley Street 750

Nimble and quiet, the new Street 750—Harley’s first all-new platform since the V-Rod—is drastically unlike any Harley-Davidson ever built.

Harley-Davidson used the youthful stage of the Summer X Games in the great American city of Austin, Texas, to debut the Street 750, its first clean-sheet motorcycle in 13 years. Purists may fear it’s the beginning of the end, but the Motor Company is filling a need with this inexpensive liquid-cooled motorcycle, which has more in common with a typical metric cruiser or standard than it does a Sportster. The Street is lightweight and agile, quiet and smooth, discreet and efficient. From its appearance to its performance, from its sound to its price, the Street is brazenly unlike any Harley ever made. This is not your father’s Harley-Davidson—and the Motor Company is betting that an entire generation of motorcyclists won’t give a flip.

Street 750 engine

The new 749cc Revolution X 60-degree V-Twin is liquid-cooled and features four valves per cylinder. Quiet and smooth, it purrs willingly around town but highway power tops out quickly.

With approximately 40 percent of the U.S. population under the age of 30, and more than 70 percent living and/or working in an urban setting, Harley set out to create a bike that would appeal to that demographic’s sensibilities—and budgets. From $7,499 in gloss black, the Street 750 hit showrooms last June at nearly a thousand dollars less than the cheapest Sportster. The 500, which we did not get to ride, starts at $6,799, and the bikes are identical except for displacement and price—Harley says they even weigh the same. The price point alone should be enough to garner attention from young and beginning riders seeking sensible two-wheeled transportation. But is it enough to draw a generation of customers not beholden to brand identity into Harley-Davidson dealerships? It should be, as long as that target customer isn’t dead-set on owning a traditional Harley.

The XG750 is powered by the new Revolution X engine, a liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-twin that foregoes grunt and rumble for smooth and efficient power. It utilizes a chain-driven, single overhead cam as well as mechanical lifters and rocker arms to operate its four valves per cylinder. A 38mm Mikuni throttle body delivers the juice on the 750; on the 500 it’s a 35mm. Redlining near 8,000 rpm, about 2,000 rpm higher than a Sportster 883, the Street 750 makes more peak horsepower but not quite as much torque at a claimed 44.5 lb-ft (29.5 on the 500). While there’s still plenty of low-end grunt for riding around town, like the Sportster, power tops out quickly at highway speeds. But the Street’s constant mesh 6-speed transmission changes gears without a hitch, doesn’t announce its shifts with clunks and never fails to find neutral when asked. The single-sided pipe is politely hushed, and the motor remained relatively cool on a sweltering Texas summer day.

Harley Street 750

The Street appears minuscule under this 5-foot, 11-inch, 185-pound rider, and it feels
even smaller than it looks.

Contributing to the Street’s modest and amenable personality, the bike zips with remarkable agility thanks in no small part to its narrow chassis, slim footprint and 27.9-inch seat height. The 140-series rear tire and 17-inch front wheel augment the bike’s agility, and it leans eagerly and steers effortlessly, with only slight pressure on the wide handlebar. Despite the bike’s 5.7 inches of ground clearance and generous lean angle, I managed to grind the rubber footpegs a few times, and one hard scrape bit directly into the lower exhaust heat shield. Still, it’s the first Harley I’d describe as “flickable.” Preload adjustment on the 37mm fork would be appreciated by experienced riders who like to even up their suspension load in turns, but overall the stock setup, particularly the dual shocks out back, is vastly better than any Sportster’s. As surprising as the suspension is, though, the brakes are a disappointment—the squishy front lever requires plenty of assist from the rear pedal even under normal riding conditions.

The retro sex appeal of the fork gaiters is tempered by the intrusive radiator.

The retro sex appeal of the fork gaiters is tempered by the intrusive radiator.

Harley designed the bike to slant forward aggressively; note the sloping rear fender and the super-low fuel tank. From the saddle the bike feels even smaller than it is, and I never got used to seeing my knees above the gas cap. The flat stock seat allowed for plenty of movement fore and aft, but the soft, pliable perch I enjoyed in the morning felt spongy in the afternoon heat. Combine these factors with the bike’s mid-placed foot controls and the rider triangle on the Street 750 was cramped for my 5-foot, 11-inch frame, but should be just right for smaller riders and newbies. Among the more than 100 items already available from the accessories catalog is a Tallboy seat that positions the rider 1.5 inches up and 2.5 inches back from the stock position—an option taller owners will likely crave.

Clearly the Street 750 is a departure in many ways for Harley-Davidson. But in pursuit of the bike’s low price point, the Street’s designers curiously chose to do without a few key Harley traits that may not directly affect the ride quality, but nonetheless contribute to the brand’s iconic character. Beyond its docile purr and liquid-cooled engine, don’t look for a turn-signal switch by each grip—the Street features a non-self-cancelling, single thumb switch near the left grip like most motorcycles to make it globally compliant. I also noticed some inexpensive-looking components and an assembly line approach to fit and finish: galvanized steel bolts and connectors, zip ties on the handlebar, hurried frame welds and a few cosmetic flaws.

Fortunately, not all tradition has been cast aside. The cool headlight cowl and fork gaiters certainly lend custom cred, both fenders are steel and the bike’s cast wheels look as if they could have been lifted straight from Willie G.’s ’77 XLCR café racer.

Street 750

Worldwide markets are hungry for an affordable Harley, and the Street 750 fits the bill. Light and agile, the bike is ideal for urban environments.

Harley effectively invented the cruiser genre, but the Street 750 is just as comparable to a standard such as a Triumph Bonneville as it is to a Honda Shadow. It simply doesn’t look, feel, sound or ride like a typical Harley-Davidson.

Considering this extreme departure, the Street 750 is, for the most part, a pleasant surprise: fun, light and easy to ride. Whether young, urban America embraces the new Harley-Davidson remains to be seen—but the Street has undeniable potential in the worldwide market. Give Harley credit for offering something completely new and different.

Harley-Davidson Street XG500/XG750

The bulbous rear end is ripe for customization.

The bulbous rear end is ripe for customization.

Website: harley-davidson.com
Base Price: $6,799/7,499
Price as Tested: NA/$7,794
(Mysterious Red Sunglo paint)
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 60-degree V-twin, SOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 2.7 x 2.6/3.6 x 2.6 in.
Displacement: 491/749cc
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Belt
Wheelbase: 60.4 in.
Rake/Trail: 32 degrees/4.5 in.
Seat Height: 27.9 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 489 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 3.5 gals., last 0.8 gal. warning light on
Claimed MPG: 41

(This article Street Sense was published in the September 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)

Comments

8 Responses to “Harley-Davidson Street XG750 and XG500—First Ride”

  1. David Duarte on June 30th, 2014 11:01 am

    Test ride the Street 500/750, then an 883, then decide: do you want a lighter bike with a smooth running engine, slick shifting transmission, or an 80 or so pound heavier bike with a clunky shifting transmission, and the feel of every combustion event through the seat? I did (for my wife, who is in the process of getting her motorcycle endorsement); we’ll be getting the next 750 that comes into the dealer.

    [Reply]

  2. Kevin on June 30th, 2014 1:26 pm

    It’s pretty much a given that the factory seat and suspension (and sometimes brakes) on built-to-a-price motorcycle models are crap.

    Even on many more expensive motorcycles, the stock seat is crap.

    Also a given on almost every model of motorcycle is that you have to find one that you fit on, because unlike cars, with very few exceptions motorcycles are not easily adjustable to fit the rider.

    Both long legs and short legs are frowned upon by motorcycle designers.

    [Reply]

    David Duarte Reply:

    I would bet that the brakes could be improved by installing higher quality brake pads (not a difficult job).

    [Reply]

  3. Bob Feather on July 1st, 2014 7:58 am

    This bike concept was tried once before. it was called “V-Rod” and it was a very cool bike. At $14,999 it was aimed at bringing in new customers who were considering Yamaha’s Warrior, Honda’s VTX, Suzuki’s M109, and such.

    But dealer greed and price gouging, quickly stung potential customers as they were not familiar with the concept of being deliberately over-charged $6000 to $8000 above MSRP for a motorcycle. The following year, unsold V-Rods were stacked to the rafters everywhere. The bike lacked the traditional appeal to long-time Harley riders, and the dealer’s priced it right out of the market segment it was supposed to compete in. This would actually make an interesting case study.

    Let’s hope the Harley dealers get this one right as corporate is making all the right moves to ensure the longevity of the company. Don’t screw this up guys! This what the company and market needs. Now!

    [Reply]

    Jonny Langston Reply:

    Hi Bob!

    [Reply]

    David Duarte Reply:

    I fail to see how the VRod, with a dry(!) weight of almost 600 pounds and over 100 hp compares to the sub 500 pound wet and less than 60 hp of the Street 750.

    [Reply]

    Bruce Reply:

    He’s not comparing the bikes themselves; he’s worried that the marketing strategy and release will follow a similar path.

    [Reply]

    clasqm Reply:

    V-Rods have sold surprisingly well in Europe, I’m told. But then you’re still trying to sell bikes to older, more affluent clients. Perhaps a more accurate analogy is when AMF-Harley bought Aermacchi in 1974 and for 4 years tried to sell re-badged small Italian bikes to attract young riders away from Honda.

    [Reply]

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