The new Harley Davidson Street 500 is like the Triumph Street Triple 660. Well, no, actually it’s nothing like the Street Triple, they’re totally different bikes. Although they both have “Street” in their names. What I mean is, they are alike in the sense that their manufacturers are using them to “capture the market” as I described it in my article on the Street Triple: they exist to get new riders onto their brand of bike. The manufacturers reason that what you start out with you might stay with: so if they can get new riders onto their brand of bikes by providing a learner-legal model, those new riders might then continue on with the brand once they hand in the P-plates. This is perhaps particularly the case when that brand is something a little out of the ordinary, like a British bike with an historic name, or the most iconic American image-making cruiser. Learners have long been able to buy one of the many copies of the famous Harley, but now they can buy the original! So, “capturing the market” as I described it with the Triumph; or in this case, we could say “hogging the market”! Rather than just being a smaller-engined, less-powerful, version of an existing bike, (as Triumph did with the Street Triple), Harley have produced an entirely new bike. And it’s not just aimed at learners. You see, this Harley is smaller and lighter than any other model in their range, so they see it as a good (Harley) solution for those of smaller stature who would find a bigger bike hard to handle. There’s also a suggestion that it might be suitable for riders at the other end of the spectrum – older people who are finding their big Milwaukee Metal a bit too heavy to manage. Now they can get a lighter, easier-to-ride bike, without leaving the Harley brand. Accordingly, for them, the new Street model comes in two engine-sizes: 500cc and 750cc. Australia will, however, only get the learner-legal model; which is a pity really. But wait, there’s more. Harley also have in their sights people who might have liked the image, but not the experience of traditional Harleys. So they have specifically engineered out some of the things that some people (I can’t imagine who!) have complained about – like excessive vibration and short-travel bone-cracking rear suspension. Ah, now this was sounding interesting – time to go check it out!
IN THE DRIVEWAY
The littlest Hog feels small and light – despite its weight of over 200kg. Like all Harleys though, it carries its weight low, so feels lighter than it really is. For a lanky bloke like me it feels a bit cramped. Sitting normally on the bike, my legs were sloping up – my knees being higher than my hips. I know this is often the way with cruisers – especially those with low seats – but it added to the slightly cramped feeling I had on the bike. Shorter riders wouldn’t feel cramped though. The bars are wide, and set fairly high: it’s typical Harley, but not extreme. I guess it gets new-comers used to the Harley riding-position, preparing them for a lifetime of Harley rider-style. To me it felt a bit sit-up-and-beg. The seat is low, well-shaped and comfortable. Well, it felt like that in the driveway, although I have to say that it began to feel a little less comfortable after some time out on the road. Pillions aren't well catered for, but then I guess it's not really intended for two-up touring. The foot-pegs are set slightly forward. It’s not forward with your legs sticking out front, it’s normal cruiser style, with your legs at about a 90-degree bend. (Harley describe it as “mid-mount”). The pegs are very wide and I found they hit my legs when paddling along at walking-speed. Since riding the bike I’ve seen this mentioned in other road-tests too. What I haven’t seen mentioned is that this often causes them to fold up, and, unusually, they aren’t spring-loaded, so they stay folded up. So if you’re paddling along at traffic lights and then take off, you could suddenly find you have no foot-pegs! When they do hit your legs, you’ve got to fold them back down again with your foot. The left peg seemed more prone to this than the right for some reason. There is just one blinker switch, mounted on the left switch-block – not one on each end of the handlebar as with most Harleys. I guess this makes it more familiar for learners who may have started out on other brands of motorcycle. The switch is mounted unnaturally high though, so you have to lift your thumb up to get to it. The horn button is underneath, and is about where you’d expect the blinker to be. I blew the horn to turn corners a few times! The clutch, brake and throttle are all light and easy to use. The mirrors are a decent size and a sensible shape, but they are mounted too close in on the bar. (Look at the photo under "Out On The Road" and you'll see this). They give a great view of your arms! I couldn’t see what was directly behind me, even if I leaned over to the side. They don’t blur at all though, so that view of your arms stays perfectly clear! In typical cruiser fashion, the instruments are pretty sparce. There’s a speedo, and an odo / trip-meter, and that’s it. A fuel-gauge would be nice to have, and being water-cooled, an engine-temperature gauge would’ve been a sensible inclusion I would’ve thought. “Water-cooled”? Yes, this is another unusual-for-Harley feature – liquid cooling. The V-Rod is about the only other model from Milwaukee that I know of with liquid-cooling, and I think this engine has some tie-in, engineering-wise, with the V-Rod. Only much smaller, of course. The other big attraction with the new little Harley is the price: getting a brand-new Harley on the road for under $10,000 is unheard of! Incredible! But there is a caveat to the low price. To get the price down to that level they had to move the manufacture of the bike off-shore. It is being built in India; and I reckon it shows. The paintwork was the first thing I noticed: it just didn’t seem to be up to the usual top-quality Harley standard. And the general feel of the bike seems to lack that quality American-made feel that Harleys usually exude. However it should be mentioned that the mudguards are steel, not plastic. Speaking of paintwork, you’ve got three choices: matt-black (as tested), gloss black, or gloss red. I reckon matt-black looks like an undercoat (on any bike), so I’d be going for the gloss black or red.
OUT ON THE ROAD
Start it up and immediately there’s a difference to almost any other Harley: your teeth-fillings stay in place and your glasses don’t shake down to the end of your nose. There are vibes there, in keeping with the V-twin layout, but they’re never unpleasant. The engine is actually quite smooth. And it sounds pretty good too, especially for a 500. Mind you, it sounds nothing like your normal Harley: there’s no “potato-tomato-potato-tomato,” just a “normal” twin-cylinder sound, with occasionally a bit of a burble thrown in to make it interesting. The name (“Street”) and the stated design intention suggests that this is a bike for the cities, not the highways and byways. But I didn’t do much city riding: I wanted to take it out on the open road. So it was mainly those highways and byways, with just a bit of suburban thrown in at each end. Around the streets, in the lower gears, it goes well, but even out on the open road it still goes well – again, remembering that this is only a 500cc bike. You’ve got to get used to using more throttle than you would on a bigger-engined bike, (and the throttle has a long travel too), but give the throttle a good twist and it gets up and goes pretty well! It’s happy to rev out too; well, up to a point anyway. Hold the throttle open for too long and the revs get to a point where some sort of rev-limiter kicks in and the engine coughs. But it’s a lot more freer-revving than the usual Milwaukee iron! Open-road hills, naturally enough, require more throttle. Even slight hills, that you wouldn’t notice were even there on a big bike, require winding on more right-hand. Of course it is a 500cc bike, and a LAMS-approved one at that, so you should expect this. The fact that it does seem unexpected at times I think is testament to the way the bike doesn’t feel like a “small bike” out on the road. It cruises pretty well too. It’ll sit on 100kph – 120kph happily enough, although it does require a decent amount of throttle to get it there and keep it there. The small fuel-tank points to Harley’s intention that the city streets is to be its natural habitat, but with excellent claimed economy, theoretical range on a tank is well over 300km. So here again, it’s quite happy to be taken out of the city on longer runs. The gearbox – again, unusually for Harley – is a 6-speeder; very sensible for a smaller-capacity bike. And the gears are spaced well enough that around town, in the lower gears, it's responsive and positive; but in top gear it’s high enough to cruise the highway with relative ease. When you change gear you don’t get the usual Harley tractor-like “clunk,” but a much smoother snick into the next cog. My only criticism is that I did get neutral instead of 2nd a couple of times. It’s not your typical Harley in the handling department either: it’s not exactly a sports-bike, but it’s probably closer to that than your typical cruiser. Despite the reasonably raked-out front, the Street 500 handles well! It isn’t at all reluctant to turn in: just a gentle pressure on the end of the bar and it turns effortlessly. Once you get used to the feel of it, it's easy, accurate and holds its line perfectly. You could almost (I stress “almost”!), call it “flickable”, without being in any way flighty of course. A lot of this would be down to having a 17” front wheel, instead of the more usual (for a cruiser) 19” or larger. It rides pretty well too. It’s firm, but not harsh. And much better than you’d expect from a small, under $10,000 cruiser! The brakes feel a bit wooden. They stop you, but don’t feel particularly powerful. Of course, being aimed at learners, you wouldn’t want an aggressive bite when you tug the lever, so in that sense they’re probably well-suited to the purpose. I’d just like a bit more feel, and perhaps a bit more grab on the wheel when you apply them. So there it is – a very unusual Harley! It’s a bike that is intended to grab the beginner and bring them into the Harley lifestyle and family. And when they feel a desire to move up, of course there is a whole showroom full of their now favourite brand to choose from. But you know what? I reckon they’ll need to be careful, because the bike they trade up to might just be disappointing – in some aspects anyway – after owning this one!
SNAPSHOT With its lack of vibration, smooth engine, 17” front wheel, even the location of the blinker switch, in some ways Harley has built its own version of the UJM – or elements of it anyway. Just enough that the learner who started out riding a Japanese bike will feel reasonably confident and familiar with it. It’s a bike designed to grab the beginner and bring them into the Harley fold: and it’s certainly good enough to hold them there. But it’s more than that. Especially in 750cc form (which we don’t get in Australia), it’s also a bike aimed at those who want a smaller, less demanding Harley: and it’s good enough to fill that role too.
Engine: 2-cylinder, 494cc. Power: N/A kW at rpm. Torque: 50Nm at 3,500rpm.
Suspension: Front: 37mm forks. Rear: Twin-shocks.
Fuel capacity: 13.1 litres.
Seat height: 709mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 100 X 17, Rear: 140 X 15
Brakes: Front: Single 292mm disc, Rear: single 260mm disc.
Price: $9,995 Ride-away