I have a confession to make. Although I profess to ride all motorcycles, and I do, I have never been a fan of armchair-riding-position motorcycles. The odd motorcycle does strike a chord but none have quite been able to entice me as much as naked streetfighters do. So when Aatish came back from the media ride of the Harley-Davidson Street Rod, I found it hard to pay any interest in the bike. Up until he said the following, “It is a great motorcycle to corner on. Not just for a Harley, but in the overall sense.” This just sparked up the conversation as biking – to me, as I’m sure it is for you – is more about corners than straights. And then the second point of interest – the Street Rod does not replace the three-year old Street 750 in Harley’s India line-up. Really? Could there actually be that many differences for the two to sell side-by-side in the same showrooms?
The only obvious thing is to head out for the hills on the 2017 Street Rod, with the 2015 Indian Motorcycle of the Year for company. The Street 750, if you recall, is not just the cheapest Yankee you can buy but also the best handling – a trait that went a long way to clinch it the 2015 IMOTY. While the posture was still fairly armchair-ish, the cycle parts were light and modern and the engine was the most technologically advanced of any H-D, apart from the V-Rod’s Porsche-developed liquid-cooled twin. Sure there were niggles, primarily to do with obvious fit-finish and cost-cutting, not to mention the well documented brakes but those were (mostly) sorted out in last year’s update. And now there’s this – the Street Rod – a bike that many think the Street 750 should have been in the first place.
The thing to understand is that Harley wants younger riders to come into the fold. Riders who care about the aura and history of the American brand but also want something sporty. That is where the Street Rod scores massively over the 750. As lead designer Chetaan Shedjale – yes, an Indian lad from Solapur – puts it, “Here the customer is different. He is somebody who is an adrenaline-rush seeker. And once we start talking about the adrenaline-rush seeker, the lines have to change from the typical Harley line which is a cruiser to something like the Street Rod.” Ergonomics aside, the wide drag bars, dark brooding styling and chunky equipment (fatter forks, wider tyres) all deliver a sporty stance you don’t find on a Harley since the V-Rod. Don’t tell me you didn’t get the reference to the original beast in that ‘Rod’ moniker.
Swing a leg over the Street Rod and you are immediately in awkward territory. The knees are too close to your elbows, one foot sits slightly higher than the other, the bars are at quite a reach and you can’t really grip the tank. In these matters the Street 750 makes more sense. The relatively laidback stance is quite comfortable and you will be more at ease on the highways as well as in the cities.
But that’s not what I am looking for in the Rod. I want to check how much of a difference the sharpening of rake (five degrees) has made to the cornering ability. The first right-hander into the bowl of our Lavasa Hill Climb and a smile opened up on my face. Great job there, Chetaan. The sharpened geometry working in conjunction with new upside down forks, larger wheels (the rear goes up from 15 to 17 inches) and the forward-leaning and attacking stance certainly makes its difference felt in the hills. If the Street 750 is a good handler – remember how everyone who voted it the 2015 IMOTY said it was one of the best handling Harley there was? – the Rod is even better. And certainly more confidence inspiring. On the issue of the motor, I am still split between the two. While they are both powered by the same 749cc Revolution X engine, the performance delivery is noticeably different. The Rod gets the High Output trim, which makes more power (11 per cent more power taking it up to 69bhp) and torque (5 per cent more at 62Nm) than the one in the Street 750 (62bhp and 59Nm). This sounds negligible – and looking at the figures we initially were sceptical – but ride the two back-to-back and you can immediately feel the difference. The altered ECU mapping endows the Rod with better mid- to high-rev performance, aided by the taller gearing courtesy the larger rear wheel, and that means it pulls more revs and speeds in each gear. The compression ratio is higher on the Rod while the rev limiter has also gone up by 1000rpm and though it is too vibey after 5000rpm the higher cut-out does make the Street Rod seem more racy.
As for the Street 750, well, it actually has better bottom end, and that means there’s more urgency when you open the throttle at lower revs. It means you get (slightly) better acceleration out of tight corners but that’s more than made up by the Street Rod’s better dynamic ability and of course better power figures. Where the Street really scores is on city streets where the stronger bottom end and more relaxed state of tune makes it easier to ride through traffic. While we are on the subject of crawling through traffic, like all big-engined motorcycles, this liquid-cooled motor also delivers a roasting, the only difference being the Street 750 roasts your calves while the revised seating position of the Rod moves the roasting higher up to your thighs and man jewels.
Before heading back to office, we strapped on our Racelogic VBOX test gear on to the two bikes and here’s what we discovered. The 229kg (dry) Street Rod takes 6.39 seconds for the 0-100kmph sprint while the 223kg Street 750 takes 7.06 seconds. The difference of almost a second is not only due to the higher output engine but the tyres – the Rod running stickier and wider MRF Revz to the Street’s MRF Zappers (both can be optioned at the showroom with Michelin Scorchers retailing at `16,000 a pair). And thanks to twin discs up front and better tyres (ABS is standard now) the Rod has better retardation taking 30.88 metres to stop from 80kmph (42.23 metres on the Street) and 16.11 metres from 60kmph (to the Street’s 21.09 metres).
As for the 30-80kmph roll-on figures – a measure of in-gear flexibility and consequently how easy it is to ride in city traffic conditions – the Street 750 has the edge being 5 seconds quicker in 3rd gear, 6.5s quicker in 4th and 14s quicker in 5th. You can’t pull either in 6th gear at 30kmph.
So is the Street Rod better than the Street 750? Is the Rod the bike the Street should have been right at the start? Neither, to be honest with you. The Street 750 is the entry-Harley in every sense of the word: still the cheapest way to enter the world of patches on (expensive) leather jackets and H.O.G parties; a typically lazy, relaxed and laidback riding experience before you graduate to the even more lazy, relaxed and laidback motorcycles that the big boys ride. If you want a Harley you’re still better off sticking to the Street 750 and saving nearly 90 grand over the Rod. As for the Rod it harnesses the potential of the motor and modern cycle parts to deliver what enthusiasts seek from their motorcycles – more speed, sharper cornering and The Thrill Of Riding. The Rod is not a typical Harley, if that’s what you’re looking for, but it’s obvious what gets our vote.