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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

The week that showed just how badly Harley-Davidson have failed with the Street 750


This is an exciting time of year for motonerds. Around the world, a number of trade shows are taking place and manufacturers are in the process of unveiling their latest, greatest products.

If, like me, you are a motonerd with a soft spot in your heart for hipsterism (I still contend that hipsters have saved motorcycling), this week in particular has been very exciting because it's seen the unveiling of no less than five new Triumph Bonneville variants, as well as the launch of the super sexy Yamaha XSR700.

At the presentation event for the latter motorcycle, Yamaha project manager Shun Miyazawa joked that in light of Ducati's success with its Scrambler model his company were "jumping on the hipster bandwagon." According to Visordown editor Tom Rayner, the joke fell flat –– in part because everyone knew it was true.

The style of bike that Triumph refers to as "modern classic" is where the tastes of many lie at the moment, regardless of how much it upsets the balding dudes in leather onesies, or their dads on SOLAS-tape-covered Honda Deauvilles. Personally, I love the modern classic bikes.

There's not much doubt that Triumph is at the heart of the current trend, and I'll admit to being pretty excited about everything they're bringing forward. That thing that I thought was the new Thruxton has turned out to be a new Thruxton and it is beautiful; a new, more powerful T-120 Bonneville has eliminated every complaint I had about the old Bonneville and added a few awesome things I wouldn't have even thought of; and an all-new catch-all base model known as the Street Twin has been unveiled.

I'll swoon for all of these in more detail in future posts, but it's the Street Twin in particular that set into motion a train of thought recently.

Triumph Street Twin

Prices haven't been released yet, but the Street Twin's 900-cc engine (all the others have been boosted to 1,200 cc) and single front disc brake suggest it will be the cheapest of the new Bonneville line up. My guess is that in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, its price tag will slot in somewhere between £6,250 and £7,250, the former being the price of the Yamaha XSR700 and the latter the price of a Ducati Scrambler Icon.

Also between those prices is the £7,135 Moto Guzzi V7II Stone. A bike that's relevant to this discussion because it, the Ducati Scrambler, the Yamaha XSR700 and the Triumph Street Twin all fall into the category of affordable, retro-inspired modern motorcycles designed to tie into a lifestyle that encourages you to spend more money buying custom accessories and gear.

To make it easy for you to do this, Triumph and Moto Guzzi offer fancy customization kits that transform the bike to fit a number of current styles, including urban racer, scrambler and street tracker. Ducati offers four variants of the Scrambler (and has strongly hinted that more on the way at EICMA) and a growing accessories catalogue. Yamaha only launched the XSR700 a few days ago and already it boasts an accessories catalogue of more than 40 items.

Now, think about it: all this lifestyle and factory-provided accessorizing is straight out of the Harley-Davidson playbook. But in looking at the aforementioned bikes I am overcome by the realisation of just how badly Harley-Davidson bungled (and continues to bungle) its Street 750 model. Because, really, the Street 750 (and Street 500) should be a part of the above group. It should be, but it's not. It's not even close.

Let's start with the fact that it does not look good. The Street 750 is an ugly, aesthetically lazy motorcycle from a company that has not one other ugly, aesthetically lazy motorcycle in its line up –– a company that is renown for making beautiful motorcycles. There is no way you can claim with a straight face that Harley-Davidson did their best with this thing.
Harley-Davidson Street 500

And even if it didn't look like something you'd get on the cheap from Direct Bikes, the fit and finish of the Street 750 is known to be poor. The brakes were a particular target of derision when the bike was originally launched in the United States. That issue had been addressed somewhat by the time the bike was launched recently in Europe. (Or, well, it was thought to have been addressed. Until German magazine Motorrad found the brakes failed completely in an emergency stop test.) But other problems remain. Wiring is untidy and the plastic Harley-Davidson badge bends when pressed.

Meanwhile, the Ducati Scrambler and Moto Guzzi V7II are beautiful bikes in person –– the latter especially. The Triumph Street Twin and Yamaha XSR700 aren't yet in dealerships, but I have no doubt they, too, will far exceed the Street 750 in fit and finish.

Beyond the issue of aesthetics, though, is discussion of bike features, and that's where the Street 750 really gets walloped. Putting out just 56 hp, it is underpowered compared to all but the Moto Guzzi. It is the only one without anti-lock brakes (something that will have to be rectified very soon in Europe if Harley-Davidson wants to continue selling here). It is the only one without a gear position indicator. It is the only one without a fuel gauge. It is the only one without a clock. It and the XSR700 are the only ones without traction control or a 12v plug under the seat. (Possibly to compensate for this, the XSR700 is the only one of the group to have dual front brake discs) Not to mention the Street 750 weighs up to 30 kg more than the other bikes.

When compared to the Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Triumph and Yamaha, the Harley-Davidson attempt at capturing this market is an unmitigated failure (a). But what's more frustrating is the fact it's a letdown even without competition. Even if you judge the bike solely on Harley-Davidson terms it is a disappointment.

Moto Guzzi V7II Stone

As I said above, the other brands are attempting to take a page from the Harley-Davidson playbook in trying to create a lifestyle brand of easy customisation. So, it is baffling that Harley-Davidson's own efforts toward the Street 750 are so sub-par. There are no multiple versions of the bike, as Ducati has done with the Scrambler Icon, Classic, Urban Enduro and Full Throttle; there are no "inspiration kits," a la Triumph and Moto Guzzi; there are not even the number of accessories available as those for Yamaha's XSR700.

There are strong rumours that BMW is set to offer its own version in the not-too-distant future. Quite possibly we'll see it unveiled at EICMA in a few weeks. And I'm willing to bet that they, too, will do a better job at playing Harley-Davidson's game than Harley-Davidson has.

Meanwhile, you'll probably have seen the recent news that Harley-Davidson's sales and share price are in slow decline. Partially that's because the bikes are again gaining a reputation for being unreliable (the company has had to recall 312,000 bikes this year and has recalled an average of 94,000 bikes a year over the previous decade). But Harley-Davidson readily admits that one of its biggest problems is its woeful inability to connect with a younger audience, while its older audience ages out of its riding years.

Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Triumph, Yamaha and, soon, BMW have shown (will show) that Harley-Davidson were essentially right to develop the Street 500/750. It makes a whole lot of sense. But those companies have also shown that Harley-Davidson just doesn't get it. Harley-Davidson is so rooted in what it has always done that it is seemingly incapable of doing anything else.

____________________

(a) I use "failure" in a broad sense, not necessarily referring to its economic performance. I don't actually know how the Street 750 is faring financially overall. I would argue that if it is selling respectably that is solely because of the name on its plastic badge, rather than as a result of the bike itself.

Comments

  1. I rode a street 500 for 8 hours and was dissappointed from the beginning. When I turned the key the sound was pedestrian, nothing exciting. The fit & finish lackluster, bare wires, brake & toe shifter cheap & plain metal, not chrome. There was an issue getting it into gear & it would slip into neutral. Brakes were mediocre at best. My shoulder was killing me by the end of the day from having to roll them forward to contort so I could see in the miniscule useless stock mirrors. The ride was ho hum and when I cornered really hard my heel caught the pavement. I also felt that it was overpriced comoared to other bikes in its class and didn't give me a good bang for my buck. I walked away, it just wasnt cutting it. It could have been a really goid entry level bike appealing to hipsters, new riders and petite female riders.

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  2. It wouldn't surprise me if HD saw the Streets as purely entry level machine without all the bells and whistles with a view that, if you want that stuff, you need to get further up the range. Everyone else has taken the different view of having a legit good entry level bike that is aspirational through style and all the extras. Different ways of tackling an entry level machine but, as you have said above, HD got it wrong, pure and simple. It's a real shame too, but hopefully they see this as a 'must do better' rather than a 'screw you, Europe' outcome.

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  3. Spot on with the Streets...honestly I think they look like cheap garbage and I was shocked that HD, that company that is so much into appearance over substance, ever signed off on these. They must have thought along the lines of "breaking into 3rd world markets means we dont have to try too hard" or something along those lines. Chinese brands make better looking machines. They may not hold up, but it speaks for itself when it comes to how hard you have to try to get aesthetics right.

    My only nitpick with your post is Moto Guzzi. The V7 is an ancient bike, woefully underpowered and the "updates" to reflect the "II"-series are lazy, especially in light of the more recent competition. Why anyone would pick one of them over say a Duc Scrambler or a Triumph is beyond me, unless its merely about the MG label. I am pretty sure it doesnt have a gear indicator either, though on these kind of bikes you really dont need that. Increase displacement, shave off a bit of weight and they would start looking a better deal.

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