If I told you Harley-Davidson had a racing history that spans over the course of an entire century, you would doubt my sanity. But it most definitely is the truth. Back in 1908, Walter Davidson, one of the founding members, and the company’s first president, rode a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to its first victory in the F.A.M. New York Endurance Run. Since then, Harley-Davidson has dabbled in different forms of motorcycle racing, with most success seen in flat-track racing. In recent times, however, the bike manufacturer has shifted its focus elsewhere, and you’d be forgiven if you found it hard to associate sportiness with the brand.
But now with the recently introduced Street Rod – a derivative of the Street 750 that deviates from the brand’s cruiser image – Harley has brought sportiness back into the picture. And although the Street Rod could have been created solely as a tribute to Harley’s racing lineage, it also has a lot to do with the bike maker wanting to rope in some younger riders. Well, whatever the case may be, it worked for us, as we managed to get the Street Rod to the Madras Motor Race Track to test its sporty credentials.
Harley-Davidson has really put in a lot of effort to ensure that the Street Rod has the performance to match its menacing appearance. Out on the track, the tall gear ratios work in the bike’s favour. Although it isn’t the smoothest gearbox out there, it never misses a shift or finds a false neutral. You can really wind through the gears and appreciate the abundance of torque on tap. During hard downshifts, there is a bit of lock at the rear tyre, but thanks to the weight of the bike, there isn’t any hopping and you don’t really sacrifice much stability.
The seating position is a bit strange though; you sit quite squat with the foot pegs below you. But since you’re already leaned into the handlebars, dipping deep into corners feels quite natural. The higher cornering clearance also allows you to find the bike’s limit. Once you’re into the corner, the Street Rod feels rather composed. In fact, I was quite surprised when the foot pegs started to scrape the track surface but it didn’t really destabilise the bike. You do have to contend with the large silencer scraping the surface on right-hand corners. And if you push it too hard, you might even have the rear-wheel lift off the ground.
However, while it’s a bike that’s immensely fun on a track, you eventually have to face reality. It’s not as nimble or intuitive around the racetrack as you’d expect a modern-day sports bike to be; directional changes take a while thanks to the 238kg heft. And for the same reason, you need to muscle it around a bit to get it to do what you want. What is commendable, though, is the front end. The amount of feel and feedback from the 43mm inverted forks, the dual 300mm disc brakes, and the MRF Revz-FH1 tyre, all come together to allow you to push the bike harder.
It’s reassuring to see Harley-Davidson take a step in this direction, and we hope to see even sportier machines from the manufacturer. The Street Rod isn’t the quickest bike around the racetrack, or the easiest to ride. Neither were we expecting it to set the charts on fire. It only emphasises what we’ve been saying for a long time now – the Street Rod is a properly fun bike to ride on a winding road. If given a chance, we’d spend a lot more time on the track with this one.