By Surj Gish
Photography: Surj Gish & Angelica Rubalcaba
Rider: Surj Gish
We don’t really accept some folks’ conventional wisdom that first bikes have to be small singles or tiny twins—what they do need to be is easily manageable, in both power and physical mass. With that in mind, we looked at Harley-Davidson’s $8,699 Street Rod, the latest entry in H-D’s slightly-smaller-than-a-Sportster Street line, and one of 50 models planned for the next five years.
The Rod looks like a caféd-up Street 750, but changes abound—longer swingarm, shorter subframe, sleek tail section that hints at the shape of the XR1200X’s rear end, dual brake rotors up front, drag bars where clip-ons ought to be, and quite a bit more. The engine is updated for more power too. The two bikes are from the same neighborhood, but the Street Rod is cast as something of a Dallas to the Street’s Ponyboy.
It’s a decent-looking package overall, although the shape of the tank rubs me the wrong way—it looks vaguely like the tank from an Eighties’ Yamaha Radian from the side, a shape that didn’t look quite right to my eyes back in the Eighties, and still doesn’t today. But other than that, it’s an attractive assemblage of aspiring tough guy styling cues that doesn’t rely on Harley’s usual strict adherence to traditional looks.
Which gets it into trouble with some. The Rod doesn’t suffer from the “sure looks awful metric, son” blandness of the original Streets, but arguably lacks some of the quintessential Harley-ness of its bigger siblings.
I’m sure you’re as tired of hearing the grousing, “Those new Harleys are too Japanese,” shit as I am, but that phrase is representative of Mother Motor’s conundrum in trying to transition from old guys buying ultra-traditional, all-American Hogs with home equity, to younger riders buying [insert the model (models?) that “saves” H-D here] with their America’s-great-again paychecks from whatever industries millennials outside the Bay Area end up working in once they’re done self-centering their way into their thirties and trophies-for-everything stops paying the bills.
Anyway… now that those damn kids have gotten their disrespectful asses off my lawn, I’ll tell you how life with the Street Rod was. It didn’t involve a whole lot of actual riding at first—our Rod came to us from a car mag (can you believe that shit?!) and those guys had apparently toasted the clutch. So we dropped it at McGuire’s H-D out in the Far East Bay, where it waited patiently for parts. Eventually, it returned to World Headquarters, where we learned that in addition to deep-frying the clutch, the car guys—as convenient a scapegoat as there ever was—had apparently cursed it with some electrical gremlins that made the Rod a little choosey about which days it’d start on. After some poking and prodding and a whole bunch of swearing, it started starting again, and we got to ride it.
I’ll give you the good news first. The MoCo says the high-output iteration of the Revolution X 750 engine in the Rod puts out 18% more horsepower and 8% more torque than the run-o-the-mill mill, and it’s a likeable engine, as mid-sized V-Twins often are. It pulls nicely out of corners, fueling is decent, sounds ok. Braking from the dual rotors up front (300mm, just like the back one) is fine. At 516 pounds wet (claimed), it’s a bit porky, but everything from the non-adjustable 43mm inverted fork to the dual piggyback preload-adjustable shocks (and in between) works well.
Everything except the ergos, which immediately turned off every single person that sat on the bike. The bars are fine, if a little wide and straight, but the relationship between the seat and pegs seems unworkable for any normal human. I’m not particularly tall at 5’10”, and my knees were slightly above my hips, with my feet too far forward, too far apart.
Max earned a bit of infamy for describing the riding position of the Sportster Forty-Eight as “aggressive pooping” (“Peanut Envy – Harley-Davidson Sportster Forty-Eight” – September 2016) when we rode that “urban brawler” last year. The Rod puts you in a similarly uncomfortable squat that I’ve started calling “cat-holing.” If you don’t smell what I’m cooking (well, not cooking…) you’re gonna need to Google that shit. The cat-holing position is ok for hauling ass in the twisties, and the bike is capable enough for such antics. But everywhere else, that compressed squat is genuinely problematic, and exactly the wrong place to compromise on this bike.
Uncomfortable motorcycles are one thing—some of our favorites definitely are. But the Johnny’s-first-Harley nature of the Street Rod means that in spite of marketing that would have the potential Street Rodder believing that he or she too can be Ghost Rider, many of those mounting the Rod are going to be new riders. The position of the pegs makes it downright awkward to get on and off ‘em, and we predict that when Street Rods start showing up on Craigslist as their owners graduate to Fat Bobs or whatever, the ads aren’t going to have the usual “never dropped” claims. Not truthful ones, anyway.
It’s a damn shame that the Rod got the shaft in the rider accommodations department, because otherwise it makes a real nice ¾-scale Sportster Roadster, and we think there’s a real need for such a bike in the market.