World Exclusive: 2014 Harley-Davidson Street 500 Review

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.

2014 Harley-Davidson Street 500

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.

2014 Harley-Davidson Street 500

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. [the Sportster 883 makes 52 bhp and 52 lb.-ft. of torque]

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.

Read More, Page Two >>

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