Bikes we love The Journey

Street Bob Journal: Week 6/7

Singing the praises of the 'Lego bike'

Week six of my time with the Harley-Davidson Street Bob started with returning home from Prague, whereas the seventh week saw me riding to North Wales to visit the Tryweryn Reservoir in hopes a record dry spell would have exposed some of its secrets. More on both those adventures, as well as the event in Prague, in the not too distant future (coming as soon as I can write them up), but I thought I’d focus this week on an aspect of Harleys that used to really piss me off.

BE THE WIND BENEATH OUR WINGS: Become a Patron of The Motorcycle Obsession

I didn’t used to be a fan of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. One of my primary complaints about the bikes before Project Rushmore, before the Milwaukee Eight engine, before the Softail overhaul, was the fact it seemed as if Harley was selling incomplete bikes.

You can unscrew the seat bolts by hand

As recently as three years ago, some bikes just weren’t fit for purpose. However, if you criticized the MoCo’s product in a forum or comments section a dogmatic follower of the Church of Harley-Davidson Latter-day MoCo would pop up, insult your family, and insist Harleys were good bikes – while unintentionally confirming that they weren’t. The person would do this by telling you about all the modifications he or she had made.

The comments usually went something like this: “I switched out the stock seat for a Mustang ButtMaster BulletRider, installed new forks and new shocks, got new tires and new rims, installed a Stage 3 kit along with a Heavy Heavy MonsterSound filter, threw on a Screamin’ CityDestroyer exhaust, moved the pegs, got a Memphis Shades batwing fairing with SuperTourer screen, got new ‘bars, upgraded the headlights, taillights, and signals, and, man, now she’s runnin’ real sweet.”

I would read this sort of thing and think: “Well, yeah, of course you like the bike now, you fool, because you’ve effectively rebuilt the damn thing, probably spending as much or more than the original asking price on making it not suck.”

That red flag means my plans to ride through an Army firing range were abandoned.

This kind of thinking made me angry; I wanted to walk into Harley-Davidson HQ and slap people around for selling what appeared to be an Assembly Required motorcycle.

“You don’t get that with a Honda,” I’d pontificate into the air. “I want a bike that works properly ‘out of the box.'”

READ MORE: Check Out Previous Street Bob Updates

Digressing somewhat, I feel that “works straight out of the box” thinking is something motorcycle companies need to be focusing on as they move forward and try to cater to the next generations of motorcyclists. Consider this: when was the last time you bought a laptop or phone that had a full instruction manual? If you are of a certain age you may remember when new computers required excessive and error-prone set-up/installation processes; now all you do is plug the thing in and turn it on. This sort of ease of use is what the vast number of consumers under the age of 40 expect: you push one button and it works.

The Milwaukee Eight is very good straight out of the box.

Xennials, Millennials, and the forthcoming Generation Good (my own nickname for Generation Z, based on the fact it has record low numbers of teen pregnancies, drug/alcohol abuse, and criminals, while – in the United States, at least – being the first generation to actually try to do something about gun culture) generally expect all their big-ticket purchases to work this way. You pays your money and you walks away happy.

Earlier this year, I was having a conversation with Triumph’s UK and Ireland general manager about how the company is overhauling its dealership experience. He explained they are increasingly finding that customers do not want to work on their bikes – the idea of such a thing can actually be a deterrent to sales. Customers want the bike to work all the time; if it doesn’t work they get angry and they want the issue to be rectified quickly; they want visits to the garage to be similar to visits to the Apple store. You can lament all this if you want, but it’s a thing that is. Just like Tuesdays and flatulence.

Anyway, steering back to Harleys, to the company’s credit it has in recent years eliminated most of the complaints I used to have about its bikes. They still cost too much, but at least now you do get a good bike, one that is “out of the box” useable. Awesome engine, good brakes, decent suspension, reasonably comfortable ergonomics, plenty of power, etc.

There’s definitely room for discussion here, considering the Street Bob’s £12,295 starting price, but some part of me likes that unseen bits look to have come from a hardware store. That means their replacements can also come from a hardware store.

And, you know, other manufacturers’ bikes aren’t perfect from the get-go, anyway. For example, I paid more than the Street Bob’s starting price for my Triumph and not only have I sunk money into add-ons like engine bars and floodlights, I’m eager to throw more money into things like a new screen and handlebar risers to resolve fundamental problems with comfort. That old Honda example, meanwhile, is actually comical; I really like Honda motos (I still say the affordable CBR650F is more bike than most of us will ever need) but I can’t think of one model that I wouldn’t want to sink at least £1,000 into “improving” after the point of sale.

DON’T LEAVE ME, GIRL: 2018 Harley-Davidson Street Bob – First Ride

So, you can buy a Harley and be happy not doing anything to it. But, you know, you definitely can do stuff to it. Head to a dealership and ask to see the physical catalog of official Harley-Davidson accessories; I am not exaggerating when I tell you it is at least 4 inches thick. And that’s just official stuff. The aftermarket is pretty close to infinite.

The charming thing about all this is the fact most of the stuff is surprisingly easy to install. Thanks to decades and decades of people customizing its bikes, Harley builds machines held together with simple and robust bolts and screws. I’ve started referring to the Street Bob as a Lego bike because it is so easily changeable. And since you don’t have to do it, I’ve started to see this aspect of Harley ownership as something of a selling point.

Here you see the easy bolts for the sissy bar, as well as where I’ve attached the loop straps for Kriega bags. This fender section would be where panniers attach, so I felt confident they would be secure enough to keep my bags in place; I had no problems during the 2,200-mile trip to Prague and back.

Suddenly I understand that habit of Harley owners to simply name the make rather than model when you ask what kind of bike they have. Ask me what bike I ride and I’ll tell you it’s a 2017 Triumph Tiger Explorer XRx – very specific and clear – whereas a Harley owner might just say he or she has “a Harley.” I now realize that they may be saying this not because they’re dismissive or unfriendly, but because a Harley-Davidson can change so dramatically in an owner’s hands.

With the Street Bob I have added a passenger seat, sissy bar, and (removable) screen. I’m considering asking Harley for a new rider seat. There is a part of me that would, in an ideal world, like the pegs moved forward just an inch or so. If I kept going down this route, at some point it wouldn’t really be a Street Bob anymore, would it? It would be my own thing – a Harley, but not one that you can get right out of the box.

There’s something mildly appealing about that: the idea that you can effectively create a custom motorcycle piece by piece. If you’ve got the money, honey, Harley’s got the time.