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Motorhead Memo: Speculation on the Streets

By Kip Woodring


As this is written the surprise introduction of not one, but two, all-new Harley-Davidsons is still a pretty fresh impression on my frontal lobes. By the time you read this much more will be known than is today. Simple things are on record, like 480-pound weight, bore (69mm/2.716″ for the 500, and 85mm/3.35″ for the 750) and stroke (66mm/2.59″ for both) at an 8000 rpm redline. Complexities like compression, gear ratios in the six-speed, approximate horsepower and much more are mostly a mystery at the moment… but won’t be for long. Largely because of this, and because I like to speculate, I’m gonna get out on my usual limb and pontificate a bit. Ready?

Even with absent hard data from sources like parts books, shop manuals or even a test ride… some basics can be derived. The short stroke and 8K redline implies an engine (family) that will drone along imperturbably all day, pretty much wide open. (Kinda scary for those of us used to longer legs and less “busy” powerplants from Milwaukee, but it’s a good thing just the same… particularly for the 500!) Chances are that li’l bugger will offer about 35 real ponies to the rubber in the rear and that means a top whack of about 95–105 mph (in 5th) since top gear is likely “overdrive” tall. Agile and quick… and fast? Oh my!

Harley-Davidson Street 750

Harley-Davidson Street 750

Caption: OK… I’ll grant you the radiator treatment ain’t sexy (at best), but there can be little doubt as to the signature Harley look of this new 60-degree V-Twin. To my eyes anyway, this looks like the legitimate offspring of a Sporty and a V-Rod—and that ain’t a bad thing, especially at prices starting at $6,700.

Since they are oriented towards “urban,” a prediction that both bikes will be commendably quick (with possible 0–60 times better than Sportys or Big Twins) but pretty much all done at much over 80… isn’t liable to be wildly inaccurate. The 750 will likely be geared a little taller, provide seven to 10 more horses, be 10 mph faster and able to leap tall hills a lot easier, especially packing double. Since, as a rule, to run best, the “sweet spot” on most contemporary water-motors is about two-thirds to three-quarters throttle with at least 150,000-mile reliability, this also bodes well for freeway flying without fear, albeit at the legal limit (and not much more) for the sake of fuel economy and range, if nothing else. Put another way… no matter what a ride on one of these turns out to be like in reality (rather than on paper), this ain’t no Four-Five compared to a Knuckle situation! These machines will deliver the intended goods to the intended audience.

The so-called “Dark Custom” iterations of the new Street 500 and 750 are a wise choice for the opening salvo of a model lineup that H-D fervently hopes will catch hold among an expanded demographic of buyers. Translation… they hope to hell women, smaller riders, older riders and younger riders (pretty much in that order) will be irresistibly attracted to the bikes The Motor Company keeps referring to as “urban,” among other things. (Synonymous with “urbane”—as in sophisticated—by any chance?) Y.U.B.’s (young urban bikers) are for certain gonna make or break this stab at an expansion of appeal into the midst of the 21st century. The real question is; where on earth? By that I suspect (speculating my butt off) that aside from trying to appeal to the young, small, metro-based and impecunious… they are clearly hoping to grab buyers from outside the U.S. Don’t get me wrong; there’s appeal galore for the above-mentioned crowd right here in America, but H-D is increasingly a global company in deed, intention and product—and the Street 500 and 750 are proof. Seems to me, to doubt that Harley expects these machines to sell well in Asia (particularly India and China) is to ignore economic reality and the global market. Harley is not about to do that! So, these bikes are here to stay.

Harley-Davidson Street 750

Harley-Davidson Street 750

Caption: Since (as you can plainly see) the barrels come off these new engines, it is entirely probable that soon enough Harley will do what Harley does best, namely offer conversion kits to bump displacement via simple top-end swaps. Soon-to-exist Screamin’ Eagle (and other aftermarket) exhaust systems will perk up and peak out that sound all H-D lovers want… though how it will ever be indistinguishable from a 45-degree V-Twin is beyond me. The Street twins will instead (hopefully) carve an auditory niche of their own among their owners and fans. Can’t wait to see what a set of cams will do for this overhead cam engine, either!

What’s in a name?
All that in mind… there’s lot to like and a lot to cope with regarding the two new “twin” twins. Traditionalists will likely not do either, preferring to reject these bikes with elaborate disregard or disparagement. Their loss, really. No loss to H-D because those folks aren’t the intended customer. I mean, let’s face it; there’s truth in the notion that not everyone who would like a Harley, wants one that weighs 600 pounds minimum, nor would they appreciate 900-pound dresser “dressings.” Mostly, the potential Street buyer is a backpack type, not a hard bags and trunk person, who does most of his/her riding within city limits, not trying to escape them. With that in mind, H-D has done well, offering a couple of enticements of their own to keep that customer from spending his money at the metric shops.

Honda NC700X

Honda NC700X

Caption: This 670cc “700” is the beast Harley is most aware (and wary) of right now… or should be! No… not because folks who want a Harley 750 might decide to swing the other way after all. Rather, it has to do with an option… perhaps a critical option… which H-D should keep a close eye on. In fact, I am willing to saw off the limb I’ve been out on, throughout this article, by declaring this specific option will turn out to be a necessity in Harley’s near future. One that would broaden the appeal of the new Street twins but, more importantly, also be geared to become a complete life saver for us Big Twin-loving baby boomers. Yet, this technology doesn’t seem to be on Harley’s radar at present. Can you guess? Tell ya what… we’ll talk more about that next month, but for now I’ll give you a hint… it’s initials are DCT (or maybe CVT).

First—there’s the caché of the Harley name—not to be underestimated, though many don’t really understand what earned that caché in the first place. Thing is, just a few months back Honda revealed their own eerily similar notion of what Y.U.B.’s want… a 500 and a 700! (More about that in a couple of paragraphs.) That said, H-D has just stepped into one seriously competitive arena and cannot count solely on their good name and brand recognition to lure sufficient clientele.

Second—the “hardware,” which is contemporary if not the least cutting edge. Granted the liquid-cooling and overhead cam layout might be “revolution”-ary as far as Harley is concerned, but quite honestly it’s no big whoop to the typical Y.U.B. They’ve just been waiting for H-D to catch up! (Fact is, metric makers, notably the above-mentioned Honda, had/have bikes like these on offer as far back as the 1980’s.) That said, Harley wraps this hardware up in a style that definitely says Milwaukee more than it echoes Tokyo.

Déjà vu all over again?
Mechanically… not a lot can be accurately spoken of as this is written, yet I predict (because of corporate culture, marketing mandates and a pretty fair EWAG) the presence of removable cylinders (unlike the other Revolution engine in the V-Rod) means Screamin’ Eagle big-bore kits will be in the P&A catalog in no time. (As will a flotilla of flotsam that lets a Harley owner be as individual as everyone else.) Honda doesn’t do that… and neither does anyone else in the business.

Third—the price point, which is critical and spot on! In light of the pre-2007 penchant for $60,000 checkbook customs… this is a direct about face in terms of “value for money” and sharply reflects conditions as they are in markets Harley wants to expand, including (and maybe especially) the one in North America.

There seems to be confusion and speculation about where these machines are to be “made.” (Personally I’m leaning towards assembly here mostly from parts manufactured in India.) To achieve reasonable profit margins on a cannily priced 500, in particular, this would seem to be the unavoidable reality. Another of H-D’s competitors in this segment is Triumph, who has been building “British” motorcycles in Thailand for some years now… and for exactly the same reasons.

Honda Shadow

Honda Shadow

Caption: Now, like it or not, it’s time for a little dose of history and the reality it foreshadows—in the form of a 30-year-old Honda Shadow! It’s obviously a platform and specification damn similar to Harley’s new Street twins. They say good fortune is built upon luck and timing rather than similarity and intention, so we’ll see if The Motor Company’s luck holds and their timing is fortuitous. Consider that, presently, Honda (again!) has had the benefit of those same 30 years to up their game with products in the same displacement categories aimed at the same customer and try to guess whether or not buyers will opt to buy on merit or legacy… or both?

21st century fox?
Further… it’s a safe bet Harley’s factory in India is poised to build the bulk of these Street 500’s and 750’s for the world… while Kansas City is likely capable of handling demand in America. My hunch is; it’s a good idea to release the new Street “twins” here first anyway, because we Yanks can break a rock. Thus, any sort of teething problems or “subject to change without notice” detail modifications to the platform can best be dealt with in the first few months of production, based on… ah… er… “feedback” from domestic rider/customers who will be harder on the hardware than anywhere else in the world. Once the kinks are ironed out and the bikes are trouble-free… the rest of the world will be welcome to take their best shot. It’s kinda the reverse of the way The Motor Company dealt with the XR1200, introducing a “sport” model in Europe to make sure it could handle the rigors of its intended buyer (and being tapped wide-open on the Autobahn) before they started selling them here in cruiser land.



  1. I always look foward to your interesting articles about the tecknical parts of harley motorcycles. Im wondering why they { harley davidson} are afraid to offer a truly modern water cooled engine in the big bikes. The twin cam engine is not as dependable as the evolution motor was. The evo, had its own limitations but if driven and maintained normally, it was a great design. That is my two cents worth. keep up the informative articles. I currently own a 2011 fltruse and 2015 fltrxs. Ed in Florida


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