Harley-Davidson is a classic example of a brand trapped by its success. Its bikes are Western culture’s quintessential freedom machines. With their unique looks, big sound and soft ride they’re the preferred transport for bikies, wannabe rogues and empty nesters.
So whenever Harley-Davidson wants to capture a bigger audience — one that doesn’t necessarily want to give society the middle finger every time it hops on a bike — it has to convince people that the brand can translate to more practical urban riding.
The Street Rod is the latest attempt to do just that. As the most powerful member of the Street family with a 750cc engine, the Street Rod’s selling point is that nothing could be better than skipping through the traffic with a touch of adrenaline on your way to work or the gym. At $12,995 the Street Rod is an affordable entry point into the brand.
We tested the Street Rod and can vouch that no other commuter bike has the same street presence and cred. Looking more like a cool café racer than the urban sport standard bike it actually is, the Street Rod has a more aggressive stance than a normal Harley, but still with various cruiser and 1970s street racer cues in the design.
But does it look like a Harley? Not so much. On the road to the office, it definitely tells people you’re someone who hasn’t settled for ordinary, but the sound, for instance, isn’t the “potato potato potato” rumble of the traditional Harleys, even though it makes a nice enough rasp.
That’s probably a good thing for a commuter bike (and your neighbours), but it shows Harley-Davidson still has some work to do on the design and noise engineering side to make this thing instantly recognisable as a Harley.
Does the Street Rod work as a commuter bike? Absolutely.
The Street Rod’s water-cooled Revolution X engine is smooth and delivers power in a delightfully linear way. The brakes are fantastic: the dual 300mm disc brakes in
the front and single 300mm at back have great stopping power, and the ABS system is world class. The suspension is also well tuned: the 43mm inverted forks and dual piggyback rear shock absorbers make for excellent handling that manages to avoid a harsh ride for city riding.
So, here’s our verdict: you get a Street Rod because it’s a good commuter bike experience. A cruiser, it’s not.
Instead of the rider sitting back on the Street Rod in a traditional Harley position, the bike’s design forces you to sit forward, with your knees up around the fuel tank and your body stretched up top. With the tank sitting well forward and being quite wide, you can’t really get into a position designed for comfort on long rides.
It’s almost like Harley-Davidson wants the Street Rod known for its city credentials rather than as a substitute for a cruiser. And that’s the whole point of the Street Rod: it’s not about riding more than 100km at a stretch. It’s about looking cool in the city.
FF mag reviews team.