Harley-Davidson’s new Street 500 & 750 are a departure for The Motor Company in more ways than one. They are an attempt to capture a new market that is younger, less wealthy, and more diverse, and a recognition that the largesse of Boomer fantasy-life is not an inexhaustible trough.
The Street is the most visible and most important part of HD’s “Project Rushmore,” which is not, despite the name, a staging of the play “Heaven and Hell” by Max Fischer with motorcycles, which would be awesome. Project Rushmore is a tricky maneuver, because it is an attempt to redefine the brand without undefining it. By far the most important feature of the Street is its price, which is wonderfully competitive for an American bike. If this machine is fun to ride, this may be what makes their elusive Rushmore goal attainable.
Everyone is talking about the marketing, specs, and strategy of this bike, but right now I want to focus on design and how the Street departs from the expected Harley aesthetics. Three things in particular:
1: The 60-degree, water-cooled engine. The V-Rod has a 60-degree, water-cooled engine, but we all know that’s not really a Harley, right? We all knew water-cooled engines were coming, but we were still in a little denial. Well, here it is, and it kind of looks like all the other non-HD cruiser engines. The 60-degree angle allows the machine to be a little lower, but it dilutes the distinct heartbeat rhythm.
2: The subdued styling. Most recent Harley styling adventures have been more extreme, hypertrophied versions of normal HDs. Consider the 72, the 48, V-Rod Muscle, or the ill-fated caricature Cross Bones. These go way out on the limb, but the Street stays closer to the trunk. The Street’s styling doesn’t scream and is very lightly branded, presumably an intentional move to make the bike more appealing to a broader market, who don’t necessarily equate riding with the spreads from 70s issues of EasyRider.
3: The Line. This is the most significant move. The typical Harley design has a compositional axis that is low in the back, high in the front. This is exemplified most clearly in the Softail, as shown in Fig. 1.
This gives the bike its relaxed stance. It is an angle of repose. From the rear axle, through the upper part of the swing arm, under the seat, and up over the dashboard, this ties the elements of the bike together. It’s something the imitator cruisers lack, and it is distinctively Harley.
Now consider the Street.
The primary line of composition here runs from high in the back to low in the front. The line runs from the rear seat framing, across the top of the side panel, through the exhaust header, and points to the front axle. This is a line that impels forward motion. It is not relaxed. This is the line of a sport bike, and it makes it visually more active, light, and nimble.
Of course, this is no sport bike, but this compositional shift changes the whole attitude and balances the more cruiserly elements for a well-rounded whole, something that could be called a “standard.” This will go up against the Bonneville, the Honda 500s, and others to help fill out a real new standard class, and that’s a good thing for riders.