World Exclusive: 2014 Harley-Davidson Street 500 Review

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.

2014 Harley-Davidson Street 500
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.

RideApart’s Take:

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.

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