The custom scene is changing. With Yamaha’s Yard-Built project – and others – stealing focus from Harley-Davidson, some custom builders have been shifting their allegiance to bikes that didn’t previously see customization beyond a set of new indicators and a tank pad.
The Dark Custom range was launched in the US back in 2008, but Harley declared its rebirth during a two-day launch in Barcelona. Described as the “underground contemporary face of Harley- Davidson,” it’s a very timely reminder that the American company has been the leader of custom bikes for 113 years. “It’s in our DNA” is a phrase used by many brands today, but it’s impossible to deny Harley’s heritage.
There are now over 10,000 parts and accessories in the H-D catalogue, with 89% of riders said to customize their machines in some way; “Don’t think black,” we were told in the presentation, “Think blank”. Dark Custom is a canvas for owners to create something that’s truly theirs. Custom builders around the world have huge experience with the platform, though it’s also possible for a customer to take their idea to an H-D dealership and ask the mechanics to build – or assist with – their dream bike.
Harley-Davidson is of course still very much growing – 83% of Spotter purchasers are new to the brand – but like the rest of the industry, it The return of The king Harley-Davidson is fighting its corner as the world’s biggest custom bike builder with much more than a few cosmetic tweaks. WORDS: John Milbank PHOTOGRAPHY: Harley-Davidson Street 750 understands that a younger audience is vital. In Europe, the Middle East and Asia (EMEA), 21% of all Iron 883 sales are to the 18-30 age group. The new (to the UK) Street 750 has the potential to grow that significantly; it’s a budget priced machine that retains much of the Harley look and feel, but really is crying out to be personalized.
Whether it’s as simple as ‘sticker bombing’ the tank, or modifying and replacing, repainting and refining, it seems unlikely that many of these machines will be rolling through cities with the same look as when they left the factory.
‘Reborn in Barcelona’ were several bikes from the H-D range, but we rode the three key ones – the Iron 883, Forty-Eight and Street 750…
The Iron was one of the early Dark Custom bikes, and is the entry point for many riders new to the Harley brand. For 2016 it gains new, preload adjustable rear shocks and fatter cartridge-damped front forks. The seat has been redesigned for comfort, and along with several cosmetic tweaks, it’s got lighter nine-spoke cast aluminum wheels.
It’s surprisingly cramped (I’m 5th 10th ) if – like me – you expect a laidback seating position. It soon feels right though, and even journalists over 6th found it easy to get on with.
As long as you have the keyless ignition fob in your pocket, just climb on and thumb the starter. Despite its sleeved-down capacity, the Iron has the distinctive, lazy Harley throb. If you like to be constantly reminded of your engine as you wait at the traffic lights, this is a machine to buy – shaking and hot, it feels alive. By inline four standards, that peak torque point sounds low, but the rev limiter cuts in at 5930rpm; in the city, and on tight twisty mountain roads I spent a lot of time in first gear – the 883 lump feels as if it could use an extra gear to break the step between first and second, but it’s still an enjoyably lazy motor to use.
It just needs working a little harder than the bigger variant in the Forty- Eight, or indeed the water-cooled Street 750 engine. The gearbox is pure Harley-Davidson; extremely positive, with every change accompanied by the sound of a hammer striking an anvil. Like dry clutches on old Ducatis, it’s an aural treat the owner will love.
At first glance many of the parts look quite basic, but the quality of finish is very high, with great attention to detail. The single clock looks right, while the small LCD manages to include two trips, an odometer, a clock and a digital rev counter, which also shows what gear you’re in. It’s got self-cancelling indicators (though I still prefer traditional ones, as I’m in the habit of thumbing the button constantly) and ABS – an option in Europe – is standard on the UK bikes. There’s no lock on the petrol cap, though of course one is available as an option.
The Iron is easy to weave through city traffic, and the suspension feels well balanced, smoothing out bumps well. The brakes are adequate by the standards of the latest tech, but this is a different way of life, a different pace; it might be a Spotter by name, but it’s no sports bike. To the uninitiated the Harley is ponderous, to fans it’s a relaxing, characterful ride.
Sat at the roadside, the Forty-Eight smelt of hot oil, and looked all of the solid 252kg of metal that it is. It’s everything I think of when I consider a custom-style street bike, and the seating position gave me the biggest grin. Forward foot pegs and a reach to the bars, it grumbles along, refusing to be rushed. It might not be the comfiest machine of the trip, but to me it just felt right.
It’s got the full-fat version of the Iron engine, while the tank is a tiny 7.9 liter ‘peanut’ style, and the repositioned pegs make for a bike that feels quite different to the Iron. ABS is again standard, and as on the 883, the sensor is neatly tucked away, looking more like a traditional Speedo cable drive.
The suspension felt a little more harsh than on the Iron – at one point on some particularly rough roads I was kicked clear of the seat (not helped by the fact you’re unable to use your stretched-out legs to absorb the shock as on a standard seating configuration).
In many ways the bigger brother of the Iron, while I’d probably want to swap that small tank, I love the attitude of this bike – the chilled-out body position, the fat tyres, and that glorious engine. Sure, the pegs still scrape if you get excited on country roads, and no, it doesn’t go fast, despite the capacious bores, but this just seems so right, and in Candy Red looks fantastic. While it’s been available in Europe for a year, now the Street 750 has made its way to the UK. We’re the first to benefit from the updated brakes–which now feature larger discs and Brembo calipers – neater, relocated wiring, new levers and brake pedal, and a relocated horn.
The 749cc Revolution motor is a first; it’s the only one in the H-D range – besides the V-Rod – to be fully water cooled, as the Project Rushmore engines found in bikes like the Road Glide Ultra are water-cooled at the head only. It doesn’t have the lazy signature throb, but it’s still distinctive and characterful, with enough of that American pulse from the 60° Vee to not feel out of place within the company’s line-up.
It also doesn’t shake at a standstill, and of course it doesn’t throw out all the heat of an air-cooled motor, which is great in town. What’s most noticeable is how eager it is to spin up, and that’s really clear on the road. Despite – on paper at least – being down on the Iron and Forty-Eight’s peak torque, it feels by far the most snappy and usable motor, both in the city and on twisting country roads.
On the motorway at around 60mph in top, it out-dragged the Iron, while the larger capacity of the Forty-Eight took a few seconds to catch up with the eager little 750.
The six-speed gearbox is much quieter and smoother than on other Harleys – it’s still pretty positive (more so on the up-changes), though some of us noticed the occasional slight difficulty finding neutral. The whole experience feels smoothed out, neutered as if in a duvet of water cooling. It doesn’t make for a bad machine – far from it – but to H-D traditionalists, it’s not same.
Indeed, the editor of American-V magazine put it to me that Harley had “now made a motorcycle”. Don’t see that as a criticism of the other bikes in the range, but to a purist, this is quite a different proposition. Hopefully one that will bring even more new riders into the fold.
The 37mm non-adjustable forks and preload-adjustable twin rear shocks are “tuned for the rough pavement”, with two-pot floating calipers front and rear biting 300mmfixed single discs. But there’s no ABS – not even as an option. The is seems likely to be a way of keeping the cost so competitive, and it’s certainly not an option that felt like it was needed during the test ride.
Harley says the Street is designed for use in traffic, with a ‘tight wheelbase’ of 1535mm. the is actually a fraction longer than the Iron, at 1515mm, but it is shorter than Kawasaki Vulcan S, at 1575mm, and certainly helps provide a bike with a good, tight turning circle.
This is a budget machine, but it’s been designed to be easy to ride, accessible, and fun. The target audience is ‘young urban adults’, and the company is keen to stress that the Street has all the H-D styling, but is intended to be more affordable. The 750 still has belt drive, a Milwaukee steel tank, and a 3Dchrome badge (though it’s not as solid feeling as the one on the Forty-Eight).
I don’t like to pigeon-hole a motorcycle, but this really is a great machine for new riders. It’s very unlikely that it’ll be bought by current owners of Harleys, but those new to the brand could also be tempted. Some of the parts do look cheaper than other machines in the Harley range – the shocks certainly don’t look as great as those on the 2016 Iron and Forty-Eight, and the top yoke and switchgear doesn’t have that high quality look.
There are only two trips and an odometer on the dash – a rev counter would have been nice, particularly with this more eager engine. The swing arm is a simple box-section design, but this is a bike that costs little more than a non-ABS MT-07 – one of this year’s bargain benchmarks. It’s even available on PCP for a £999 deposit, then just £79 per month.
That switchgear is a standard layout, which is more likely to appeal to riders new to the brand, as well as those who may have taken their lessons on another bike. It’s not got keyless ignition, though you do get a locking fuel cap. There is also a fair bit of plastic on the bike, but it’d be easy to remove, and again – this is all about the potential for customization.
We were all surprised by the Street 750; it’s an eager bike, incredibly easy to ride in the city, and fun out on the twisty roads. It is a cruiser, so the rubber-covered pegs do touch down if you start trying to hustle things – a couple of journo also scraped the side-stand bracket on the left and the exhaust heat shield on the right. There are no hero blobs, so it’s not as obvious when you touch the rubber sleeve down – I’d have preferred to have the metal pegs that give you that extra warning (and are easy to replace).
The budget suspension works fine, and appears to have been well considered. You don’t need to adjust it as it’s not going to be pushed beyond its limits on a track day, or raced across the mountain at the Isle of Man. The brakes are equally practical for most riding, though of course if you compare them to the latest radial monoblocs, then you’ll be finding you need to use four, instead of two fingers to stop in a hurry. But to rush things on a Harley-Davidson is to miss the point, and while this new engine is a triumph of US style, combined with a very easy nature, the attitude is still the same – relax, and enjoy the ride.
The turning circle is great; the steering quick and easy, and of course that very low seat inspires confidence. The pegs are set in such a way that they make paddling the machine more awkward, and I wish Harley would add springs to their foot pegs, but it feels a fairly natural riding position. I’d want to push the pegs forward, but there’s little doubt that’ll be an accessory option, particularly if more variants of this platform emerge.
The Street 750 is fast. For a Harley. It’s light. For a Harley. And it’s cheap. For a Harley. In fact, it’s cheap by anyone’s standards; it’s not got the go of an MT-07 of course, but it’s fun, it’s relaxing, and it’s got a whole lot of character. It’s an introduction to biking for some, a welcome to the Harley brand for others. Or it’s a reaffirmation of motorcycling ‘most established custom brand. Heritage stretching back 113 years in a bargain-priced bike that anyone can ride. Sounds like a great deal to me.
Some people say that there are bikers, and then there are Harley riders. Some others say that there are those who hate Harleys, and those who’ve tried them. I disagree with both sentiments; if you’re on two wheels (or three), you’re biker to my eyes, but the pace of life on a Harley-Davidson is different to that on a Fire blade, so it’s not going to be for everyone. You’d still be a fool not to try one though – you might well be surprised at just how much fun they are to ride, and once you’re in, the fantastic ownership experience, and welcoming dealer network will probably keep you loyal. During September and October, Harley is offering the chance to win your dream custom bike, designed with the help of Dais Nagao–H-D’s senior industrial designer – in the States. I strongly recommend that you take a ride to a dealer for a go on one of the original customs…Long live the king.