Harley on the middle path with Street 750

K Hari Warrier, Hindustan Times
Vagator, Goa
First Published: 22:54 IST(20/1/2014)
Last Updated: 02:27 IST(21/1/2014)
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Smaller, nimbler, better suited for city conditions. These were the words used by Harley Davidson while unveiling its Street 750 at the second India Bike Week at Goa over the weekend. And the promotional video features a guy-next-door model, vastly different from the macho image that Harley has always portrayed.

“This bike was designed and developed based on inputs from one-on-one interactions with over 3,000 riders in different parts of the world, 600 from India alone,” said Anoop Prakash, CEO, Harley Davidson India. The feedback was that the people wanted a more usable bike, with good handling for city riding, he said.

The Street is a completely new product from ground up, and is the company’s first new design in over 14 years after the V-Rod, which was a collaboration with Porsche and which hardcore fans call the “most un-Harley bike from Harley.”

The Street, however, has been developed completely in-house at the Harley headquarters in Milwaukee in the US. The designers went through the design archives all the way back to the 1930s, adopting bits from different eras to try and keep the bike true to the heritage of Harley Davidson, said Frank Savage, Harley’s design chief.

A photo of Harley Davidson's Street 750 during its unveiling at the second India Bike Week in Goa. (HT Photo)

The result is the smallest bike to emerge from the Harley stable so far, a 750-cc V-twin that will shortly be joined by an even smaller sibling with a 500-cc engine that would however be identical in most other aspects.

The Street will make the Harley brand accessible for more riders in emerging markets.

Shorn of the rhetoric, however, the US bike-maker is reaching out to more potential riders in view of dwindling sales in the home market, as the traditional buyer of its massive cruiser ages out of the equation, and young bikers look towards Japanese and European sports bikes.

A decade ago the company had set off howls among purists when it introduced a range of small --- by its standards --- bikes with a 900-cc engine, primarily targeting the woman rider. This has had some success, with the range doing well in developing countries such as India where, starting at just over Rs. 6lakh, it brought the brand within the reach of more buyers, including the youth.

The Street will take this strategy to the next level, with rumoured pricing in the Rs. 4-5 lakh range – the actual figure will be revealed at the New Delhi Auto Expo early next month.

The Street will make the Harley brand accessible for more riders in emerging markets. (HT photo)

As for the traditional buyer, the middle-aged rider who has sown his wild racing oats and is now looking for a leisurely ride, he will buy the company’s big 1500-cc-plus cruisers anyway. “That is a captive audience,” said a Harley owner who refused to give his name. “No need to pander to us too much.”

That makes hard-nosed business sense.
 
Shod in India:
In a significant departure from norm, Harley has shod its Street bikes with MRF tyres. This is expected to bring the running cost of the bike down significantly, as tyre-changes are a major recurring cost for big bikes.

MRF worked with the Harley team for over three years developing the tyres for the Street. “Expect more interesting things from us in the coming months,” its marketing head Vijay Arora said.
 
The middle path:
The smaller Street 500 will be within jostling distance of India’s own iconic bike, the 500-cc Bullet from Royal Enfield, which recently launched a sportier 535-cc café racer, the Continental GT. Speaking at that launch, its CEO Sidharth Lal had said, “I think that the future of biking is in the middle range, with power and performance that is usable, rather than heavy bikes with huge power that you cannot really use.”

He forecast a convergence – from both smaller and bigger vehicles – towards the 350-500 cc range, in which the company is lording over in India and has global ambitions.

The Street is a completely new product from ground up, and is the company’s first new design in over 14 years after the V-Rod. (HT photo)

The words seem prophetic, looking at the Harley launch. But remember, Harley has been working at the Street for over three years. Its research finding – that people wanted a bike with better handling characteristics – was a tacit confirmation that its bread-and-butter big and bulky bikes were out of place on India’s roads.

The shift is palpable. Even among sports bikes, there is a focus on the middle range, especially in countries such as India: The 650-cc Kawasaki Ninja has been doing well in India, and the rest of the Japanese Big Four – Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki – are rumoured to be eying that space in the country.

BMW has tied up with TVS Motors to develop small bikes, and Korea’s Hyosung has enjoyed success with its small range of 650-cc sports bikes and cruisers. And Triumph, which entered India last month, has the Street Triple at the low end and the Daytona at the high end, both powered by 675-cc engines.

Said Vikas Chopra, a superbiker from Delhi, about the Ninja 650: “That is size you can use. You can even use it for commute. And when you want to rip, there is still enough power.”

Street 750 Tech Specs:
Engine: 749 CC Liquid Cooled Revolution X™
V Twin 60° 4-Valves per Head
Final drive: Belt
Wheel Size: 17” Front, 15” Rear
Weight: 217 kg
Price: To be announced at Delhi Aauto Expo


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