No one’s ridden the new Harleys yet. No magazine, no website, no journalist and no forum member - no one outside of Harley-Davidson, anywhere in the world. Except us, and we’re going to tell you all about it. This is the story you’ve been waiting for. It’s the world's first 2014 Harley-Davidson Street 500 review.
The significance of these new Harley's is not simply limited to the fact that they are the first all-new bikes from the company in 13 years. Rather, the excitement comes because they represent a change in attitude and a new approach from The Motor Company. No longer can it exclusively focus on selling extremely expensive throwbacks to increasingly aging Baby Boomers. It needs new riders in new markets who want a new kind of bike. Is this Street 500 it?
RideApart reader and MSF instructor Braden Poovey was given an early demo ride on the Street 500 by Harley-Davidson. We sat down with him shortly after to put his experience on paper.
RideApart: Who are you and what is your riding experience like? What bikes do you normally ride?
Braden Poovey: I’m an engineering student, intern and MSF Rider Coach in South Carolina. Motorcycling has been my sole form of transportation for several years and I’ve been riding continuously — rain or shine — for six years. Generally, I ride 15,000 to 20,000 miles per year, with an even split between in-town commuting, highways and touring on back roads. I’m currently riding a Moto Guzzi Griso 8V and a Ducati Monster 1100 Evo.
Braden was given an early ride on the 2014 Harley-Davidson Street 500 to evaluate its suitability for the MSF rider training program.
RA: How did you bag an early ride on the H-D Street 500?
Braden: Harley has been shopping the Street 500 around not only to those involved in their in-house training program “Rider’s Edge,” but also to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. The hope is that it could replace bikes in the current training fleet. A couple of H-D reps brought the new bike by the MSF South Carolina State Office as an introduction to its capabilities as a training motorcycle. As a Rider Coach, I was offered the opportunity to get an early look and take it for a quick ride.
RA: How close to production form was the bike you rode?
Braden: According to the H-D rep, the Street 500 I rode was, “99 percent ready,” as far as similarity to the production version. There were a few exceptions with this model, as it had been set up for a training environment. Hi-Viz orange-painted steel hoops — similar to “Highway Bars” — jut out down low to provide a drama-free end to a student toppling over. More protective orange bits adorn the handlebar ends, the tail, the swingarm and wrap the exhaust in a couple of places. Combined, this system made lifting the hefty Street surprisingly easy when layed down.
In addition to the physical protection provided for students, H-D has also made some tweaks to the Street’s ECU, reflashing it so a trainer can alter the fueling parameters. With that modification, the bike is restricted to 18 mph in 1st gear and 25 mph in 2nd. I rode with that training ECU flash in place, so my perspective on the gearing and fueling for 1st and 2nd gear would not relate well to the production version. The training version also comes with a kit that is able to determine if has been dropped, automatically killing the engine when that occurs. Since the Street 500 will be used by a wide variety of riders, there will be a choice of three seat heights, all complete with unique shapes designed to suit riders of varying heights.
The 2014 Harley-Davidson Street 500 Braden rode was set up for training, complete with protection parts (orange) and speed restrictions in 1st and 2nd gear.
RA: Did the Harley reps give you any info on the bike’s specs? Power and torque haven’t been released yet.
Braden: Power figures remained vague during the conversation. I did hear, “about half that of a Sportster,” at one point.
Some other points of interest: the gas tank holds four gallons of fuel; the 60-degree cylinder angle is designed to lower the center of gravity over the traditional 45-degree arrangement and the final curb weight will be north of 480 lbs.
RA: What was your ride like? What kind of route did you take? How long was it? Twisty roads, highway or surface streets?
Braden: I wasn’t able to experience any highway riding. Mostly, it was standard secondary roads and a great deal of low-speed parking lot testing to simulate the training environment. This was early on a sunny day, dry and somewhat chilly, with temperatures in the mid 20 degree range, Fahrenheit.
RA: What did it feel like to sit on the bike?
Braden: I should mention that, when it comes to cruisers, my experience is limited compared to most other bike types. An exception could be made for the small, nimble and, well, ancient Kawasaki Eliminator 125s and Honda Rebel 250s still in the local MSF training stable. Limited time on some of the larger Victorys and Harleys has given me a good grasp on what to expect from big cruisers.
First impressions sitting on the bike were good. Despite the 480 lbs + weight, taking the Street 500s weight for the first time belied that heft and gave the feeling of a much lighter bike. The reach to the bars felt natural; providing plenty of room and both good leverage and fine control. The standard mid-level seat did not work for me, leaving my legs uncomfortably bent. A quick switch to the “Tallboy” seat, which adds an inch or so of height helped fit my 34-inch inseam.
RA: What was your initial impression of the apparent build quality? It looks pretty ropey in the live photos from EICMA.
Braden: The best word to describe the build quality on this “99 percent production” model would have to be, “uneven.” During my time on it, I noticed a small oil leak, a coolant leak and a gas leak, all while tipped over for the protective equipment demo.
The switchbox plastic seemed of better quality than most bikes I’ve ridden, including my Ducati and Moto Guzzi. That quality continues through to any component on the Street 500 that you touch with your hands or feet; it all has a nice, hefty feel to it and is almost always made from substantial rubber or steel.
Little things, like the fork gaiters, however, looked incredibly cheap and insufficient as actual protection. The fasteners, cables, bodywork, speedometer and various panels were obviously built to cost. Surprising when you consider similar components on the Honda CBR250R — which costs two grand less — seem appreciably better in fit and finish.
There is also an unusually high amount of exposed wiring bundles apparent even just standing next to the bike.
The seat looked lumpy and the stitching sloppy, as if a friend of yours was kind enough to reform it for you, but didn’t really know what he was doing.
For a bike from a brand so proud of its uses of metal components for things like fenders, the Street 500 sports a surprising amount of chintzy plastic.
The needless repetition of logos is something that all brands are guilty of — something in particular effect on my Guzzi — but the Street 500 takes that to a whole new level. It looks as if someone handed a fiver-year old a stamp with the bar and shield on it, then turned them loose on the bike. The Harley logo is on literally everything. The overall shape, however, fits neatly into the H-D family.
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RA: How was the low speed handling?
Braden: Handling was, for the most part, neutral. Recreating the swerve and other low- to mid-speed exercises showcased how well the Street 500 performs. In these instances, it handled just as well as any of the other training bikes we use, which often weight 200 lbs less. The only time you really feel the extra weight is when attempting a very low speed, full-lock u-turn, where that weight wants to pull the bike down. Above about 8 mph, the Street feels as agile as a 250cc cruiser. Anything slower brings that immense and awkward weight back into the handling characteristics.
RA: How do the controls feel?
Braden: The clutch feel and friction zone was natural and intuitive. As good as most training-oriented bikes I’ve ridden. If the clutch hadn’t been so excellent, I would have been downright uncomfortable pulling full-lock u-turns with the weight issue I mentioned earlier.
The front brake felt smooth and controlled, providing predictable feedback at the lever. It helped with very light trail braking, where needed. But, due to what must have been a setup issue, the rear brake was strictly ornamental at speeds above 10-15 mph. I can’t imagine it will come from the factory this way; it was just useless.
RA: What’s the power like? Is there good low-down torque like you’d expect from a V-twin?
Braden: The expected low-end V-twin pull is certainly there, but not in a way that will be intimidating for a novice rider. Road feel, power development and throttle response could all be likened to a modern Japanese 250, as would the Street 500’s ability to keep up with traffic. There’s just enough hustle to get you through any situation you might encounter in a frantic rush hour commute.
The mid to high 40 mph range was probably the fastest I was able to ride the Street 500, which was legal on the roads I was on. I spent most of my time fiddling about with it at lower speeds in and around a parking lot. The biggest limitation on performance was the sluggish gearbox, which occasionally refused to find neutral. That could have been down to the cold temperatures.
RA: How’s steering feel? Do the front and back tire seem to work together, as on a non-cruiser bike or do they feel like they’re turning at different times, as on a traditional cruiser?
Braden: I would most certainly say the latter. The front and rear feel like they turn at different times and there is a small amount of uncertainty in making a 90-degree turn from a stop, such as when you’re at an intersection. For a cruiser of this weight, steering feel was pretty much spot on. Lower speed turning required substantial, but not exhaustive leverage on the bars.
RA: How did it do in corners? Was it fun to ride?
Braden: While there’s some initial hesitation before falling into a corner, the Street 500 generally held a true line once banked over. Sharp technical corners took a great deal more effort to properly wind through with sporting pretensions. Much more effort than I thought should be necessary and more than it took to do the same on an 1,800cc Victory I’d ridden two weeks prior. The Street felt more at home in lazy sweepers, sticking to an enjoyable arc, then pulling out of them with smooth, linear torque.
Braden with the two bikes he owns, a Moto Guzzi Griso and a Ducati Monster.
RA: Water-cooled, small-capacity Harley. Does it have the character?
Braden: I love the character motorcycles can have. I love the dancing valve noises and the little pull to the right my Guzzi does every time I blip the throttle. I love the mechanical vibrato and the noises my Ducati produces. I even appreciate many of the Harleys here in South Carolina. The character of a bike can be invigorating, even in its peculiarities and foibles.
So, let me be straight forward about the character of the Street 500: In both feel and sound, I was immediately struck by the lack of sensation. It felt as characterless as the Eliminator 125s we use for training.
That lack of character is great for a training motorcycle. Character is often something you can enjoy after you learn the ins and outs of riding; otherwise it will just be a distraction.
RA: What was your overall impression of the bike? Did the ride leave you wanting one or just wanting to ride something else?
Braden: Harleys and cruisers in general have always relied on the comfortable touring as a major selling point, but the Harley rep himself suggested that the Street 500 would be poor for that due to its diminutive engine size. Would you spend $6,700 on a bike for short, in-town riding?
The performance, utility, fit and finish and price of the Kawasaki Ninja 300 and Honda CBR250R is considerably superior in every respect over this near-500 lbs offering from an upscale brand. Those interested in the traditional cruiser virtues will be better served by models higher up the H-D range. But, as a training bike, providing confidence and good road feel at training speeds, the Harley-Davidson Street 500 works quite well.
Braden isn’t a professional motorcycle reviewer and the bike he rode may have been both pre-production and set up for the unique needs of a training environment. His impressions and conclusions should be considered with those factors understood. However, it’s our opinion that Braden’s background across a wide variety of motorcycles and years of riding, now in a professional Rider Coach capacity, makes his experience worth sharing with our readers. His impressions are in-line with the Street 500’s expected performance given the specs released by Harley-Davidson. We look forward to finding out if his impressions match our own when the media is given the opportunity to ride the bikes.
India vs Kansas City: Where at the Harley Street 750 and 500 made?
Riding Project Rushmore: 2014 Harley-Davidson Touring Range Review