2015 Harley-Davidson Street 500
By Chuck Hawks with Rocky Hays
Rocky Hays and I arranged for test rides on actual production versions of the Harley-Davidson Street 500 and Street 750 motorcycles for Motorcycles and Riding Online. The two motorcycles are identical except for the displacement of their new Revolution-X motors, so the two reviews, necessarily and unavoidably, repeat much of the same information and comments. This is the first review of the pair and covers the Street 500. See 2015 Harley-Davidson Street 750 for the companion review.
Harley-Davidson's (www.harley-davidson.com) Street 500 and Street 750 are the first totally new motorcycles introduced by the Motor Company in over a decade. They are made (including the motor) in H-D's Kansas City, USA plant for the North American market and in a new factory located in Bawal, India for the rest of the world. Harley's Indian plant is the first ever off shore Harley Davidson factory.
The Street 500 and Street 750 are actually the same motorcycle. The only significant difference is the displacement of the new Revolution-X power plants.
The Revolution-X is a liquid cooled, counter-balanced, chain driven SOHC, four valve per cylinder, 60-degree V-Twin based on similar technology to the 76.1 cu. in. Revolution engine that powers the hot V-Rod bikes. The Revolution engines are quite different in every way from the Evolution motors that power the Sportster line or the Twin Cam motors that power Harley's Dyna Glide, Softail and Touring lines.
Those are OHV torque monsters with self-adjusting valves, while the Revolution motors are designed to emphasize horsepower over torque, much like contemporary European and Japanese motorcycle engines. Despite its modern trimmings, the Street 500's 30 cu. in. (494cc) Revolution-X motor is a genuine Harley-Davidson V-twin and a very refined one at that. However, it does require valve adjustment at 12,000 mile intervals.
Since the demise of the 500cc Buell Blast, H-D has not had an entry level motorcycle in their line. In addition, the Blast served as the trainer bike in Harley-Davidson's riding schools. Now, the Street 500 will assume that role. H-D is very aware of the need to attract new, younger riders to our sport.
Harley's Evolution and Twin Cam motorcycles are easy to ride, but they are undeniably big, heavy motorcycles that beginning riders find intimidating (for good reason). They are very high quality motorcycles, produced in the USA with great attention to detail, from the brake lever to the paint finish, and they can only be produced at a price point beyond the means of most entry level riders. This explains why most of the riders buying new Harley-Davidson motorcycles are older, more experienced and financially successful individuals.
Enter the relatively low priced (base 2015 MSRP $6799) Street 500. Traditional, die hard H-D owners are going to find fault with the new bikes, for it is not possible to build to an entry level price point with traditional H-D components. The switch gear, wiring harness, control levers, handlebars and other small bits and pieces are akin to what is found on entry level Japanese motorcycles, with which the Street 500 will compete for market share. The foot brake, for example, is a steel stamping, rather than the elegant castings and forgings used for such parts on Harley's big twins.
On the other hand, the style and finish of the Street bikes is pure Harley-Davidson and done right. The buyer in the market for a reasonably priced, 500cc class city bike (cruiser) is no longer limited to an imported copy of H-D style, they can have the real thing.
The Street 500 and 750 are good looking bikes in the blacked-out cruiser style initiated by Harley-Davidson and subsequently copied by nearly everyone. About the only visual difference between the two models is the polished silver edges of the air cooling fins on the 750's cylinders; the 500's fin edges are left black. (See photo at top of page.)
Our test bike was supplied with the standard Vivid Black paint job on its tank, fenders and fork mount bikini fairing. The engine, cases, pipes and mufflers, lower fork legs, wheels, side cover, chain guard, handlebar, headlight nacelle, mirrors and most small parts are black. Black rubber fork gaiters protect the front fork sliders. If you want more flash, Harley already has some chrome accessory parts available.
The gas tank and fenders are steel and there is no unsightly seam around the lower edge of the tank that disfigures the great majority of European and Japanese motorcycles. The black, mild steel frame is a conventional double down tube design. Being a modern motorcycle built to a price point, there are a number of black plastic bits and pieces, but they are used discreetly. An LED taillight and small, bullet turn signals are standard equipment.
There is really no way to disguise the radiator on a liquid cooled cruiser; it is what it is. However, the Street 500 radiator is tucked against the front down tubes and doesn't stick out to the sides. Stylistically, the radiator is handled as well as any and it is relatively unobtrusive. Neither Rocky nor I were offended by its appearance.
The seven spoke cast aluminum wheels are fitted with tubeless tires. Cast wheels are stronger than laced wheels and do not require attention to keep them running true. Tubeless tires are safer and less likely to blow-out when punctured than tires requiring inner tubes, so cast wheels and tubeless tires are definitely the way to go.
Like all Harley-Davidson motorcycles, the final drive is by a quiet, lightweight, extremely durable and long lasting belt. Maintenance free belt drive has proven even more trouble free (not to mention less expensive) than shaft drive and far superior to old fashioned chain drive.
Street 500 Features
NOTE: No horsepower rating is given in the H-D Street 500 specifications.
H-D may consider the Street 500 a cruiser, but the riding position is pure standard. The standard curve handlebars with moderate rise and mid placed foot pegs (neither forward nor rear set) put the rider in a comfortable position that allows good control of the motorcycle, whether moving or stopped. It is an easy reach to the ground from the pegs. It is an easy matter to loosen the clamp and rotate the handlebars forward/higher or rearward/down to any position the rider prefers.
The handlebar width seemed about right to Rocky and me, who are both guys within the average size range. However, if a wider, narrower or flatter handle bar is preferred, this bar is the common Japanese/Euro 7/8 inch diameter and easily replaced.
Because it is not the one inch diameter bar used on other H-D motorcycles, the handgrips are proportionally smaller in diameter. I have never felt the need to change standard H-D rubber handgrips, but I would replace these skinny grips with fatter ones.
The standard, bucket type seat positively locates the rider's rump, restricting movement when riding. However, it is unusually comfortable for a stock seat. I suspect that most urban riders will approve of the seat design. There is also a good looking accessory cafe' solo seat.
Although the stock seat is advertised as suitable for carrying a passenger, I seriously doubt that most passengers will find the thin, rearward sloping pillion comfortable. This will probably not matter much, as the bike's 500cc mill doesn't produce enough torque for satisfying rides with a passenger, anyway.
The riding position is clearly designed for short riders. At a modest 5 ft. 9 inches tall with a 29 inch inseam, I found the riding position a bit cramped. Rocky, somewhat taller with a longer inseam, agreed. We would spring for the tallboy seat that moves the rider up 1.25 inches and back 2.5 inches. This seat also looks to be a bit more comfortable for the occasional passenger.
In order to experience the new Street 500 and Street 750 first hand, Rocky and I requested test rides on both machines from Team Latus Motors Harley-Davidson of Eugene, Oregon. Latus Motors (www.latus-hd.com) is Oregon's premier H-D dealership, with branches serving the Portland and Eugene/Springfield metro areas, which includes well over half of the population of the entire state.
Team Latus built the University of Oregon's famous Duck Bike, which carries the Oregon Duck mascot and leads the Oregon football team onto the field for every home game. It is familiar to college football TV fans across the nation. The custom Duck Bike is a beautiful Harley Fat Boy designed cooperatively by the U of O, Nike and Team Latus.
These were brand new machines that had been delivered to Latus Motors in Eugene only a couple of days previously with zero break-in time on the motor and brakes. Consequently, we took it easy on both, as should any rider on a brand new motorcycle. We never hit the rev limiter, but were told it is set at 8000 RPM.
Nevertheless, we were able to get a reasonable impression of the Street 500. After all, even after a machine is well broken-in, you are very seldom going to be riding at the edge on the street. (At least, not if you want to live long enough to enjoy your new motorcycle.)
Our test ride included stints on an interstate freeway, two lane highway and country roads with short straights and tight corners. I started off riding the 500 and Rocky the 750; we switched mounts about half way through the ride.
The ignition key is located beneath the black handlebar riser. Turn the key to switch the ignition on or off and also to lock the forks. The handlebar controls include a rocker switch for high and low headlight beam, kill switch, horn button and a single left-off-right turn signal switch of the Japanese style. The turn signals are not self-canceling, a serious convenience and safety oversight that should be rectified immediately.
Our first impression upon starting the Street 500's Revolution-X motor is that it is very quiet and smooth. At idle the motor was so quiet it was hard to tell it was running and just the faintest vibration reaches the handlebar. Snicking the ultra smooth and quiet transmission into gear reinforces that initial impression. This is obviously a new breed of Harley-Davidson.
We would consider the Screaming Eagle Nightstick accessory muffler a necessity. A louder pipe would keep the rider better informed about what the motor is doing, especially since the Street 500's sparse instrumentation does not include a tachometer.
The engine management and electronic fuel injection system worked perfectly. There was no surging and no stumbling off the line. The motor pulled smoothly, if not impressively, right off idle and it builds RPMs quickly if you roll it on hard. It had been years since I had ridden a 500cc motorcycle, let alone one weighing upwards of 685 pounds with me and all my riding gear aboard, so I was somewhat dismayed by the lack of torque. The Street 500 will go right along, but it takes time to get up to cruising speed. Rowing the six speed gearbox to keep the engine revving helps, but I was reminded of the old adage: 650cc for the road.
The clutch lever pull is light. Shifting is extremely smooth and quiet. So much so that, without the usual H-D click to which I am used, I had trouble finding neutral at the first stop. (My personal ride for the last 14 years has been the same H-D Super Glide Sport and I haven't owned a Japanese bike since my 1978 Yamaha XS-750)
Shifting the Street 500 is positive and exceptionally easy, once one becomes accustomed to the nearly silent shifter. This was not a problem for Rocky, who rides both Japanese and H-D motorcycles on a daily basis and it will not be a problem for riders moving up to their first Harley from a Japanese or European motorcycle. Neither of us missed a shift on our test ride and after that first stop I reliably engaged neutral at every subsequent stop. (Old dog learns new trick.)
The Street 500 handles easily at low speed and there is plenty of steering lock for parking lot maneuvers. The low seat height, narrow frame and low center of gravity help, making the bike feel more maneuverable and lighter than its specified 489 pounds might suggest. It is definitely not intimidating; indeed, in most respects it is a confidence inspiring mount.
The supplied Michelin Scorcher tires provided adequate grip and a smooth ride, assisted by the compliant, 37mm diameter front fork with 5.5 inches of travel and rear shock absorbers with 3.5 inches of travel. The dealer had set the shocks at their minimum (full soft) preload setting. An average weight rider will need more preload. If it were my motorcycle, I would immediately increase the preload to reduce the chance of grounding on bumpy corners.
The motorcycle responds quickly to sudden counter steering inputs, making it easy to swerve to avoid potholes or debris on the road. On the other hand, it was easy to set and hold the desired lean angle when cornering. Overall, the bike handles nicely, at least until something grounds.
With only 28.5-degrees of lean angle, aggressive cornering will quickly drag the undercarriage. I took turns easy, mindful of the restricted lean angle, but Rocky carried a bit too much speed into a posted 20 MPH, 90-degree left hand corner on the Street 500 and briefly touched-down. Being an experienced rider, this was not a problem for Rocky, but even lightly grounding parts in a corner can startle a beginning rider into over correcting and going off the high side of a curve. Grounding hard parts aggressively can lift the back tire, washing out the bike and causing a crash. Either way, all too often the rider becomes another statistic. The most common type of solo motorcycle accident is going off the high side of a curve.
The Street 500 and Street 750 have identical ground clearance and lean angle and both need more cornering clearance to provide a reasonable margin of safety on a winding road. Replacing the small 15 inch rear wheel with a 16 inch wheel (not currently available) would certainly help, as would taller suspension components.
High speed stability is good, at least up to about 75 MPH, the highest speed we achieved. The speed limit on Oregon highways is 55 MPH (60 MPH on city freeways and 65 MPH on interstate freeways) and other traffic is usually present, so there is a practical limit to how fast one can safely ride on public roads. No tachometer is provided, so we could not check the engine RPM at cruising speed. (Every motorcycle should be equipped with a tach.)
Normal braking was not a problem and we did not engage in any panic stops, which should be avoided with new discs and calipers that are not broken-in. The front single disc with its twin pot caliper got the job done, but did not seem particularly impressive. Braided steel brake lines would probably be a worthwhile investment.
The rear brake lever is placed below the right foot peg, rather than pivoted inboard and slightly above the foot peg, as on Harley-Davidson big twins. The result is that the rider's foot must pivot uncomfortably far down to activate the brake. Coupled with excessive play in the system, I found the rear brake awkward to use.
Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise, as inexperienced riders in panic stop situations tend to over brake on the rear, causing a rear wheel skid that "lays down" the bike and causes an otherwise avoidable accident. ABS eliminates this problem, but unfortunately ABS is not available, even as an extra cost option.
Perhaps the most immediately obvious shortcoming in the Street 500, aside from its restricted lean angle, is the rear view mirrors. Unlike some motorcycles, vibration is not a problem, so the mirror image is clear. Unfortunately, what you see is primarily a reflection of your own shoulder. The mirror stalks are too short to allow most riders an adequate view rearward. Replacement mirrors with longer stalks, or bar-end mirrors, are desperately needed and should have been provided by the factory.
Harley-Davidson owners are famous for personalizing their bikes and the Motor Company offers more accessories for their motorcycles than any other brand. As new as they are at this writing (August 2014), a number of factory accessories are already available for the Street 500 and 750.
These include fancy wheels; reduced reach handlebar; short, tall and solo seats; Circulator and Road Zeppelin (inflatable) rider and passenger seat pads; rain seat covers; quick detachable sport windshield; replacement rear view mirrors; parcel racks with or without sissy bars and back rest pads; sissy bar packs; a tail bag; throw over saddlebags; tank bag; engine guards (crash bars); center stand; an assortment of brake pedal pads, shifter pads and accessory foot pegs; handgrips; universal helmet lock, a variety of trim parts in both black and chrome finish.
H-D Screamin' Eagle performance parts for the Street line include a performance (lower restriction) air cleaner kit and the (freer flowing) Nightstick 2-into-1 slip-on muffler. These SE parts are 50 state street legal and work with the stock ignition module without recalibration.
In addition, plenty of generic after market accessories will work on the Street 500 and Street 750. Being Harley-Davidsons, after market Street line specific accessories will be available ASAP.
Suggestions for Improvement
No motorcycle is perfect. The Street 500 is no exception to this rule. There are areas that need improvement and features that should be added, or at least made available as extra cost options.
By far, the most serious (and dangerous) oversight is the lack of cornering clearance (lean angle). 28.5-degrees simply is not adequate, even for a city cruiser. Without re-engineering the whole design, the problem could be ameliorated by fitting a 16 inch rear wheel and taller suspension. Another inch at the front forks and rear shocks would probably do it.
This would raise the seat height accordingly, but it would still be commendably low and the short accessory seat would still be an option for very short riders. Average size riders (anyone over about 5-foot 8-inches tall) would undoubtedly find the taller bike more comfortable to ride than the current model.
H-D could easily offer two models straight from the factory, a standard (taller) model with increased ground clearance for normal size riders and the current (Low or Hugger) model for very petite riders. This would be a win/win situation for everyone.
ABS should at least be available on every street bike. Actually, it should be a standard feature on entry level motorcycles. We know that the Street 500 is built to an affordable price point, but we also understand that it is intended primarily for novice riders. These are the very people whose lives are most likely to be saved by an ABS braking system.
While we are on the subject of brakes, change the shape of the rear brake lever to raise the brake pedal to a more comfortable and easier to reach (higher) position in relation to the right foot peg. This change would not increase manufacturing costs and should be immediately implemented at the factory.
The Street 500's turn signals are not self-canceling. This is dangerous, particularly for novice riders and those accustomed to other H-D motorcycles, all of which come with self-canceling turn signals. Other traffic, thinking that the motorcycle is going to turn, is very prone to pulling out in front of a rider who has forgotten to cancel his turn signal. Automobiles (and trucks!) turning in front of a motorcycle are the biggest single cause of motorcycle accidents, so this is no small matter.
Another safety concern is the short rear mirrors. The mirrors need longer stalks to provide an adequate view astern. This change would cost H-D nothing and should be made immediately. Alternatively, equip the bikes with bar end mirrors at the factory.
Those changes are related to rider safety and should be implemented ASAP. Other improvements would enhance the riding and ownership experience.
Primary among these is improved instrumentation. The top priority in this context is the addition of a tachometer. As stated previously, every street motorcycle, without exception, should come with a tach.
The other priority instrument is a simple gas gauge. This is a great convenience for any rider, cheap and easy to install in the gas tank itself. It would add little to the price of the Street 500 and pay big dividends in terms of customer satisfaction. Fuel injected motorcycles do not have a reserve petcock, so they need fuel gauges.
Lower in priority, but still a significant improvement, would be making one inch diameter handlebars standard equipment on the Street 500 and Street 750. These are, after all, Harley-Davidsons, not Asian or Euro-trash motorcycles.
Not only would the one inch handlebars be stronger and more comfortable, they would allow fitting standard H-D switches and controls. The latter are far superior to the cheap switch gear currently supplied on the Street motorcycles and would be greatly appreciated by Street customers. Again, the difference in cost would be low in relation to the benefit to the consumer.
Product value is not just a low price, it is good quality at a reasonable price. The Harley-Davidson reputation and mystique is built on superior quality and this should be evident across the line, including Harley's entry level motorcycles.
Least important are minor cosmetic details that are not actually related to the functional aspects of the Street motorcycles. Certainly, it should be possible to neaten the wiring harness. Every reviewer has commented negatively about the zip-tied bundle of wires at the steering head. Take the hint and fix this unsightly mess.
Another purely aesthetic concern voiced repeatedly by reviewers is the plastic tailpiece and mounting configuration of the tail light, rear turn signals, license plate bracket and light fixture below the rear fender. This plastic, all in one assembly is unsightly. Surely, the stylists at H-D could compact and compress this into a neater fixture that would be no more expensive to manufacture. Ditto the lower belt guard, which is poorly shaped and ugly. This is really simple stuff that, while it does not impede the forward progress of the bike, probably does impede sales.
We think most novice riders will be pleased with the total Street 500 package. The Harley-Davidson Street 500's overall performance lends itself nicely for use as a city bike, but not so much for use as a road bike. If you are an experienced rider contemplating considerable highway/freeway riding, as well as urban commuting, consider the much more powerful Street 750.
Copyright 2014, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.