Ah, so here we are again. Harley-Davidson, with its century-old heritage and wisdom, needs to sink its hooks into another generation of young riders, thus bolstering the future of the brand by banking on customer loyalty, the bravado of the Bar and Shield, the familial feeling among Harley riders, and remaining the perennial cool kid on the block. Alas, the question plaguing many big corporations trying to tap into the youth remains–how?
When Harley announced the new Street lineup in 2013, subsequently introducing it in 2014, this represented a shift in thinking. The Street 500 and 750 were the first lightweight models to roll out of the minds in Milwaukee since the Sprints of the ’70s. (The Kansas City factory handles North American production and shipping, and the factory in Bawal, India, handles production for overseas markets. H-D outsourced production of the smaller-displacement models there as early as 2011.) The models featured the Revolution X motor, which, like the V-Rod’s Revolution, is liquid-cooled and employs a single overhead cam; the differences, however, span beyond displacement, including a single internal counterbalancer, vertically split crankcases, and screw and locknut valve adjustment. In a two-pronged strategy, H-D set its sights on two major demographics with distant but similar tastes, both of which demanded a larger chunk of The Motor Company’s attention: Millennials (specifically new riders) and the Southeastern Asia market.
And while the new Street family received more of a distant cousin’s welcoming party in North America, the overwhelming reaction from Asia remained positive. In a land where lightweight, maneuverable, cost-effective, 500cc-and-less motorcycles are the main mode of transportation and commuting, Harley seemed to have finally and successfully embraced the market overseas. And if those specific tastes sound like a lot of the scoots (hmm…cafes and scramblers) you see in your city, well Harley smells what’s cooking.
Welcome to the fray the 2017 Harley-Davidson Street Rod, this designation repurposed from the V-Rod’s discontinued model. That’s where the comparisons end, however, as this Street Rod is the third member in the Street family and the first to feature a new, updated motor, the High Output Revolution X 750. That’s right, another new Harley motor. Only this time around, the design team merely revamped the liquid-cooled Revolution X with a larger air box, dual-throttle body, revised four-valve cylinder heads and high-lift camshafts, and a more voluminous muffler. Plus, the compression ratio bounds up to 12:1. With the target market ostensibly 18-34 year-old city dwellers, the brand-new Street Rod, equipped with the new High Output Revolution X 750, should be capable in the midrange, bopping through the accordion of stop-and-go traffic and offering the necessary giddyup.
Rolling stock is new, too, with two fresh 17″ Split 7-Spoke black cast wheels, front and rear, wrapped in new Michelin Scorcher 21 radials. Up front, a 43mm inverted fork handles bumps, and coil-over rear shocks have an external reservoir to increase fluid capacity and improve control; rear travel increases to 4.6″. The seat was specifically designed for the Street Rod, a sporty piece that might call to mind something on, say, an XR1200. It’ll help achieve the leaned-over, aggressive riding style which many young guns employ carving through the city on brief jaunts. Couple that with a 29.4″ seat, 3.7″ higher, more gracious lean angle, and a drag bar, and you have yourself a sportier design capable of handling all the city terrors.
Harley has good reason to expand the Street lineup. This is an entry-level motorcycle, one that allows a new rider to flaunt the Bar and Shield and break into the sport with style. As a bonus, Harley can start to cultivate its next crop of riders who may eventually upgrade to cruisers and, later, Touring models. Funnel the young through the ranks, and start that process early. Figures actually back up Harley’s augmentation; as maligned as the Street 500 and 750 might have seemed, sales of Sportster and Street models increased from 23,396 in the first quarter of 2014 to 29,149 in the first quarter of 2015.
Consider this. CivicScience conducted a survey over the course of a year that compared adults ages 18 and up, regardless of gender, to adults ages 18-34 (Millennials, yo). A simple question: Do you currently own a motorcycle? Of those aged 18 and up, 11% answered either, “Yes, but I need a new one,” or, “No, but I plan to buy one soon.” Of the Millennial demo, 14% are in the market for either their first bike or a new one.
Can Harley finesse its way into the tight pockets of new riders? Offering a liquid-cooled, small-displacement package at a fair price point, one that represents enduring tradition, shows that Harley-Davidson is paying attention to all its markets and is starting to break from the norm while retaining standards that loyalists desire. Build from within, out. And tapping in to the Millennial market ain’t a bad way to expand your business model.