For the longest time, arguably the most iconic motorcycle brand of them all has been out of reach for young riders. Harley-Davidson was well beyond the old 250cc-and-below rule, and the introduction of the LAMS system didn’t help much either. Well, not at first.
Words: Nile Bijoux | Photos Nile Bijoux
In 2014 Harley-Davidson released the Street series, comprising a 750cc model and a LAMS-approved 500cc unit. The latter is what we’ve been tossed the keys to, and it just happens to be the first Harley-Davidson I’ve ridden.
Having the speedo needle point straight ahead at 100km/h feels like the bike is urging you on, to not really have a destination but to just enjoy the act of riding.
The Street 500 features a single-cam, 494cc V-Twin ‘Revolution’ engine with four valves per cylinder, offering a cosy 41Nm of torque. It’s also water-cooled, new to Harley and likely a step as popular to purists as Porsche faced when they implemented the same change. However the result is a smooth engine that won’t overheat in traffic, and retains the classic Harley-Davidson character.
Given it’s about the smallest Harley engine since WWII, it actually performs quite well, if on the quiet side. It hits a hundred in 8.1 seconds, which is fast enough, and when you get there the engine is humming at exactly 4000rpm with the speedo needle pointing straight up. This seems intentional. Harley’s have always been about embracing the spirit of riding, of getting out there and enjoying the open road. Having the speedo needle point straight ahead at 100km/h feels like the bike is urging you on, to not really have a destination but to just enjoy the act of riding.
Speaking of which, the Street 500 is a surprisingly good performer. It’s not going to carve corners like an equivalent sports bike, or even a naked like Triumph’s similarly named Street Triple 660, but it holds up surprisingly well. The idea that Harleys are straight line kings and not much more doesn’t apply any more. Sheer power is lacking, sure, but the long torque spread and friendly chassis mean you can throw this into corners with a degree of abandon, and at a speed that won’t lose your licence. It loves big long sweepers, meaning motorway on-ramps are your new best friend (as if they weren’t before). The cafe-styled windscreen helps deflect wind and creates a nice, steady ride at speed.
The seat and ergos are comfy enough too – it is a Harley-Davidson after all. The mirrors could stand to be mounted a little further outboard, but they work well enough, with barely a shimmer thanks to the smooth engine.
So we’ve covered most of the major bits but for 2017 the Street 500 has received upgrades to the brakes and security system. ABS is now standard, which is good because the rear brake is fantastic on Street the smaller, offering genuinely astonishing stopping power. The front is fine too, but I found myself using mostly the rear. ABS engages fairly quickly so it takes a little bit of restraint to brake effectively.
Harley-Davidson have elected to include the Smart Security System as standard for 2017, and unfortunately it wasn’t a good initial experience with the 500. The large key fob that is used to arm and disarm the alarm system stopped working, prompting me to enter a five-digit PIN to let me ride home sans the siren. You get one shot at entering it correctly, and with only one button on the dash to change and confirm digits, it’s a scary procedure. The fob itself is also a clunky design and there’s no button or light on it so there’s no indication it isn’t working until you realise you can’t start the bike. Thankfully each machine comes with two fobs so it was a simple matter of riding back to Harley and getting the back-up which worked perfectly.
The fob could do with updating to resemble a modern car key with lock/unlock buttons; it would improve the experience considerably; that way a rider could easily see if everything is working as intended.
Generally though, the Street 500 is a well sorted bike. It isn’t the fastest kid on the block, but it’s far from the slowest. It looks a treat, sells like hotcakes and at $ 10,995 it’s the least painful initiation to the H-D family/gang. Being so popular (104 units sold year-to-date September) it should retain value well as a second-hand proposition.
The only thing I would recommend – aside from keeping a watch on the security system – is a louder exhaust system. But it’s like every other Harley in that regard!
Model Harley Davidson Street 500 Price $ 10,995
Engine 494cc, liquid-cooled, fuel injected, V2, –kW / 41Nm
Transmission 6-speed, Vitals 8.1s 0-100km/h
6s (–m) 80-120km/h, –m 100-0km/h, 225.50kg