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Motorhead Memo: I came, I saw, I pondered!

By Kip Woodring

As this is written, I’m still absorbing and analyzing my impressions of the first Street Rod 750 I’ve seen in person. First impression is, Harley probably should’ve done this in the first place. Then… fleetingly… I recall this thing makes more power than the first generation of superbikes. Back in those days a 750 was a big bike and one that made 60 hp was a veritable rocket ship. Now, a 45” V-twin is just a notch up on “entry level,” whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. Point is, no matter how you slice it, chances are the Street Rod is all the motorcycle one actually needs, or can use, on the congested highways and remote byways of today. It looks good, in a chunky, purposeful way, but is nothing like lithe. The biggest peeve I have is Harley (and Indian for that matter) still think a radiator needs to be adorned rather than integrated. They did it on the V-Rod… now this… and one look at a new Triumph Thruxton is all you need to see the right way to do it!

Ah! Suddenly it comes to this notion… Harley indeed builds a viable 750… but the competition (read: Indian and what’s left of Victory) do not. What to make of that?

Close… a lot closer, in fact! As a styling exercise I’d rate the Street Rod 750 as a solid 7.5. As an engineering re-work it’s more like 8.9! In case you weren’t aware, this is a Street variation with a bright future and possibly a lot more potential for—ah—“expansion” than meets the eye.

Cowboys and Indians

Oddly… Harley has tied the introduction of the Street Rod to their heritage and legacy in dirt track racing. Those who haven’t the faintest will be okay with that… after all the nifty little brochure you can procure from your local dealer when you check out the bike… speaks truth. It doesn’t, however, tell the whole story. Followers of flat track know immediately that this is hyperbole, because as it stands right now… Indian owns flat track racing. What’s wrong with the picture is Indian is doing this with a machine they don’t sell. More accurately, a purpose-built race bike, with no showroom counterpart. How funny! They win on Sunday and can’t sell on Monday! Harley sells all week long but can’t win… yet! Oh, the irony! Of course it a fool’s game to bet against The Motor Company in the long run, but that’s another story. In the meantime Indian, if they have a brain in their corporate head (and they do), is busy getting ready to spring a street version of their 750 flat tracker on the totally suspecting public. Likely within the next year… two at the most. First off, how else would they be able to capitalize on their success? Second, the Street Rod, nice as it is, is low-hanging fruit (or an easy target, if you’d prefer) for the company that has built the sweet Scout and the audacious Octane. Third, obviously not everyone who is impressed by the Scout or Octane follows flat track… and vice-versa! In other words… this scribe thinks it insanely odd that Harley builds a 750 and Indian doesn’t. It gets weirder…

Scouting up Sportys

Stay with me on this, OK? I believe a 750 from Indian is inevitable. It will be a fitting rival to the Harley Street. Bet against it… I dare ya!

So, if history really does repeat itself… then it shouldn’t be too long before we see a street bike version of this… the FTR750 dirt tracker. Lord hopes, if and when it arrives in Indian showrooms, it looks more like the Octane (only better)… than the Scout.

What’s a lot less clear is what Harley’s up to when it comes to a competitive replacement for the Sportster. Safe bet that whatever Indian does, it will be based on the advanced architecture of the existing Scout/Octane/flat track powerplant and drivetrain. Harley, on the other hand, has offered up not one solid clue as to if/when/where/how any soon-to-come Sportster is to be done. Sure, the existing X-engine still sells well, maybe better than ever, but it can’t last. So, option one, let’s say for the sake of argument, is to plant a new Milwaukee-Eight-inspired top end on the traditional four-cam bottom end. They did that with the Evo top a couple years after that Big Twin made its debut. Shovelheads had basically alloy versions of the Iron Sportster top end. There’s just a massive track record of engineering cross-pollination at The Motor Company, between little twins and big ones. This time it’s different. The folks at Polaris have ensured that. To butt heads with a Scout on a current 1200 Sporty is to court embarrassment… at minimum.

Mostly because they aren’t making the Victory Octane any more… or are they?

Perhaps H-D is contemplating a revival of the XR1200 variation of the X-engine? Stick that in a conventional Sportster chassis and you might have something… or not. One thing the XR1200 illustrated plainly is that its oil-cooling, patented air box, pancake pump and all the rest of the details that separate the XR from lesser X-engines… is the end of the line for development of what is now a 31-year-old design. Another intriguing implication is that the Street Rod 750 makes as much power as the 1200 Sportster… as it is! Since Harley’s favorite trick lies in increasing displacement, maybe the next iteration of the Sportster will simply be huge! How about an 80”–89” X-engine… perhaps even 96”? Would that give the beast a new lease on life? Could… but probably won’t… too many external factors to prevent it and it’s a short-term solution at best. No… sorry… sooner rather than later there will need to be an all-new X-engine.

Harley goes at it the other way around… always has, it seems. They make racers out of their street bikes… like this!

From bottom to top

For one thing, the four-cam bottom end is expensive to build. Several knowledgeable folks I hang out with are amazed it’s lasted this long, for that very reason. Glad, mind you… but amazed. Chances are a “clean sheet” replacement design will not feature that feature… at least as we know it! Then there’s the rubber-mount thing. It seems H-D, for understandable reasons, wants to move to balancer designs for vibration control going forward and the Sportster will go that route too… eventually. Air cooling is an ever-present issue as well. Not just for emissions and heat control and other hackneyed reasons we are well aware of, but because a water-cooled engine lasts three or four times longer, while supplying the above benefits. Yup, the next “X” will need that kind of long-term reliability to be on par with its rivals. An all-new Sportster “platform” could also be the golden opportunity to clean up peripherals that have begun to clutter up the sacrosanct “look” that sells most Sportsters. A lean, mean “sano” look! I mean, it’s all well and good that the current engine has managed to survive the wholesale onslaught of electronics and EFI… but have you looked at what they have had to do to hide the crap and clutter that goes along with it? All that black plastic molding under the tank “hiding” wires and hoses that weren’t there years ago… is F-ugly! As the Street Rod demonstrates, there are ways to make it a lot less obvious… and tons cleaner! Perhaps I digress…

Handsome old devil, ain’t it? But what meets the eye here is a street hero due for an honorable retirement. It’s been a great ride for the Sportster but the end of a long road is near.

Basically, the Sportster as a complete package has been the “bogey” with which other manufacturers have had to contend for decades. Indian is one clean re-style away from not only nailing it for the first time… but bettering the Sportster in every way. My guess is Polaris won’t just toss the Octane on the trash heap either. It will return as an Indian… quite possibly a mean, wiry, wicked Sportster crusher at that! The Scout might keep its cruiser look but an Octane-based “Sport Scout” should be the ticket. And it just might be available as a 750. In the meantime, will the Street (Rod) platform expand to include a Scout beater? Maybe… just might be!

The Octane was born from this… the Victory Project 156 Pike’s Peak racer. Indian seems to have a propensity for making street bikes out of racers

Super Sportster

I’d guess that’s precisely what The Motor Company has in mind. Not least because they discontinued the V-Rod. Sorta makes sense not to have two motorcycles in the lineup with similar configurations and power and such. Is that prelude to a “Revolution 3.0” engine of (say) 1000cc and 1300cc displacements (give or take)? Think so! This engine, big brother to the Street we know, while lighter and more compact than the V-Rod ever was, could easily go head-to-head with Scouts of both displacements. Given H-D’s propensity for add-ons, it’s not unrealistic to anticipate various “stage” big-bore kits to give the Harley engine a clear advantage over the Scout as well.1600cc ought to do the trick… don’tcha think?

OK… if someone knows where I can find this V-Rod Tracker, I can beat the rush in 2020.
Ha! Speaking of dreams…

I’d be tempted to say that after Harley gets done with its fleshing out of the Big Twin lineup in the next year or two… the inevitable will be set and staged. If Indian has the styling smarts to build a svelte Sport Scout (also in multiple displacements) the sooner we’ll see it (2020). If not… at latest… look for a new Super(b) Sportster by 2022. Harley doesn’t need to rush, but does need to get it really right, so taking their time is to be applauded, as is the successful and exciting continuation of the living legend, in all its forms, which by then will have been with us for 65 years! I look forward to future showroom shoot-outs between H-D and Indian!

Who’s to say what the next Sportster will look like? My hope is it will appear closely patterned after something like this… only with a big-inch, 100 hp-plus version of the Revolution engine. Hey… I can dream, can’t I?

Lastly and most importantly, whatever Harley comes up with also has to look like a renovated, uber-cool Sportster (or an “XL-NT” Street Tracker?), which may well be the hard part… particularly with that damn radiator!

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