You ask yourself; if this is such a fine motorcycle, why would Sean need to preface this story with that opening paragraph? This is where it gets complicated. Depending on what they expect from their motorcycles, different riders will view the new StreetRod as different things. Accomplished cruiser riders will view it as a resounding success. "Standard" riders will see it as another large, solid motorcycle for commuting and weekend fun rides.
However, Sportbike riders will see this bike as a failure and just another example of Harley's inability to build a proper sportbike. Me? Well, I'm all f@c&ed up about it. I love all motorcycles (ok, so I sorta hate choppers and I'm really a "sportbike" fan) and I would be overjoyed to have a StreetRod in my (imaginary) stable of bikes. Harley is quick to point out that the StreetRod is NOT intended to be a "sportbike". Think of it as more of a Gentleman's Express that mixes a healthy dose of style into its basic engineering. Thus, I urge you to take my objective dynamic impressions with a grain of salt. I rode the bike as intended and it worked fine. However, I also rode it like I'd ride a standard or hooligan bike, because... lets face it, I have no self-control.
Along with the FX and Sportster "Sport" series of motorcycles, the StreetRod marks a slight departure from Harley's bread and butter "cruiser" product line. All three of those models offer a reasonable riding position and a willing (but still long and heavy) personality and it's no surprise that those three bikes are my favorite Harleys. However, they are still "Harleys" and this fact became evident in the technical briefing, which focused more on style and styling related compromises like the StreetRod's 32° effective fork rake, produced by a 30° steering head, + 2° triple-clamp offset (compared to the VRod's outlandish 38° effective rake from a 34° steering head, +4° offset triple-clamps) which is needed to allow clearance between the "stylish" 19" front wheel and the stylishly funky radiator placement. When we asked why they didn't simply switch to 17" wheels for better clearance, geometry and handling, they replied: "Because it wouldn't look right." Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
To their credit, Harley recognized the importance of good brakes when designing a fast Gentleman's Express, so they went to Brembo to help them with the new 4-piston Harley-badged brake calipers. Those calipers clamp a set of non-floating 300mm rotors and the bike is equipped with braided-steel brake lines and high performance pads.
It's a good thing Harley upgraded the brakes, because an aggressively ridden 650Lb motorcycle generates a lot of energy. On the road, I found the brakes to be sufficiently strong to deal with whatever I could dish out. However, the pads do bite aggressively around town, so riders will want to be extra observant for traction reducing substances when approaching intersections, lest they lock-up and tuck the front. The improvement in these brakes is particularly startling when compared with the rest of Harley's product line, which is known for dumbed-down brake tuning that offers a soft and friendly application at the expense of responsiveness and overall stopping power. Overall, I really like the new brakes and by the end of the day, their aggressive initial bite receded to the back of my mind as I subconsciously adjusted to them.
The revised chassis geometry is complimented by a new set of non-adjustable 43mm upside-down front forks and a relocated set of longer preload adjustable shocks in the rear. The revised suspension produces a taller ride height and when you couple that with the re-positioned exhaust and footpegs, you get significantly better ground clearance than a VRod. According to Harley, the VRSCR can now be leaned just over 40°, which isn't bad for a "custom" style bike.
The StreetRod's revised chassis is reasonably stiff and responsive; however, the luxury liner wheelbase and 19" wheels conspire to make tight corners and quick direction changes a bit slower than they should be. Furthermore, the 32° effective rake means that the front contact-patch is still way out there, so the tire's feedback is muted. Most of the time, this isn't a problem, but as I tried to approach the limits of the bike's newly enhanced ground clearance, I noticed a bit of chatter and an impending sense of doom from the front tire. However, at normal (or slightly faster) speeds, the bike behaves wonderfully, feeling solid and planted. That extra poundage actually helps in this case and doesn't prevent the StreetRod from being responsive to inputs from its rider.
The new riding position strikes a nice balance between sporting and standard, offering excellent control when probing the bike's limits. However, the revised frame is still long and low, meaning it's a bit too tight between the seat and the bottom frame rail. Thus, the pegs are about an inch higher than is ideal for tall-guy comfort. The bars are properly placed and offer a nice neutral arm position that never seems to fatigue, while the new thinner grips give a more comfortable place to hang-on.
The new seat is a bit too soft though, so it is quite comfortable for short trips, but the rider starts to develop pressure points after an hour or two. Towards the end of my long test ride, you were just as likely to see me standing dual-purpose style, as you were to find me sitting like a normal streetbike rider. Of course, this is easy to fix, and a revised (firmer/taller) seat would allow for more legroom as an added bonus. With the seating and legroom issues sorted, the StreetRod would be better equipped to capitalize on its new 5Gal. gas tank, which appears to be good for around 180 miles between stops. (The VRod has a smaller 3.7Gal tank that's only good for about 110 miles.)
When ridden aggressively, the bike's biggest problem is that it's just too long and heavy. When I first heard about the StreetRod, I assumed that it had an improved riding position, improved ground clearance, less rake, more horsepower and lighter weight than a VRod. Unfortunately, only three of my five assumptions were correct, as the horsepower is about the same and the StreetRod is actually 20Lbs heavier than a VRod, thanks mostly to stouter forks and triple clamps. When riding up a canyon road, the StreetRod can be a lot of fun, but when you start back down, the effect is akin to a freight train. It is perfectly controllable, as long as you don't expect to go charging into a downhill decreasing-radius corner hard on the brakes, while trying to shake off some squid on a sportbike. Keep a cool head and you can make good time on the StreetRod, just don't expect it to tear-up Deal's Gap like an XB-9S.
The wonderful engine is basically unchanged from the VRod, aside from a revised exhaust that Harley says ads 5Hp. However, we just dynoed an '05 StreetRod, and its 107.4Hp and 71.2LbFt don't compare very favorably with the last two VRods that we've tested ('03 VRod: 106.6Hp 72.6LbFt / '05 VRod: 110Hp / 75.8LbFt.) On the road, the power delivery is similar to a VRod, though it isn't quite as "impressive", since the new riding position better equips the rider to handle accelerative forces. Seems it's easy to feel fast, when you're already rocked-back on your tailbone. Of course, the VRod may be able to keep up in a straight line, but once you get to the slightest curve, the StreetRod will leave it in its dust.
As I trolled the roads surrounding Palomar Mountain, I found the Street Rod was happiest when kept in the 5 -7K RPM range.
This produced seamless thrust and enabled me to enjoy the delicious sounds, while taking advantage of the bike's improved ground clearance and brakes. That ground clearance isn't class leading, (if the StreetRod fits into a class) but it is sufficient enough that I had to make a conscious effort to scrape anything, and even then, it was only the outside of my boots and the peg feelers that touched down. As "standard" bikes go, StreetRod riders probably wouldn't want to pick a fight with an FZ-1, but old farts on Suzuki GS-1100Gs should look out! Besides, when's the last time a "standard" looked this cool?
Harley is offering the new Street Rod for $16,495. That certainly isn't "cheap", but this manufacturer seems to get away with pricing like that, so I assume it won't be much of a barrier for potential buyers. The VRSC is a damned fine engine, and the StreetRod is a fun bike to hustle around on. We're encouraged by the direction that Harley is taking with the VRSCR and hope it's a sign of things to come.