They say you never forget your first. So when Harley-Davidson suggested that I kick off my first H-D experience with the 2021 Harley-Davidson Street Bob, I found myself grinning like the Cheshire Cat. As a long time listener, first time caller, I’d long admired the softail range of motorcycles from afar. Clean and simple, for me the range always demonstrated what’s great about Harley-Davidson – American muscle delivered without ceremony.
The Street Bob arguably demonstrates this philosophy more than any other in the range.
The 2021 Harley-Davidson Street Bob is powered by H-Ds Milwaukee-Eight 114 cubic inch (1868 cc) engine. The ninth generation of Harley-Davidson’s “big twin” engines, the Milwaukee-Eight 114 is a 45° V-Twin, 8 valve, air- and oil-cooled engine. Torque rich, the Street Bob puts down 161 Nm peaking at 3000 RPM, and approximately 86 hp (64 kW) at the rear wheel (power is approximate as H-D rarely releases this figure).
The lightest frame in their 2021 Softail line-up fitted with the 114, the Street Bob is billed as the perfect performance base for customisation. It’s a no-nonsense, raw bobber with plenty of attitude and torque for days. But what’s it like to ride? City cruising, commuting and a 400 km tour later, I think I’m in a good place to answer that very question.
You can’t help but feel like a badass on the Street Bob. It’s loud(ish), black and brash with mini ape hangers and mid controls that force you into a position that says, “I’m aggressively comfortable, thanks for asking.”
Performance comes in the form of a tsunami of torque. But while there’s plenty of it, it’s not brutal. Instead, it progressively builds until reaching peak torque at 3000 RPM, holding to about 5000 RPM and then quickly dropping off. Bang it up a gear, rinse and repeat. Don’t get me wrong, though – if you give the Street Bob a fistful, you’ll be off the back in no time. The Street Bob rewards careful acceleration and quick shifting, and punishes the ham-fisted.
For a cruiser with mid-mount controls, I was expecting the Street Bob to handle a little sluggishly. Add to that the massive 114 cubic inch Milwaukee-Eight V-Twin and a curb weight just shy of 300 kg, and you could comfortably make excuses for the Street Bob. However, to my surprise it handled extremely well, even if on paper it really shouldn’t. With better than expected ground clearance – only touching the pegs a couple of times when pushing hard through tight country roads – the Street Bob was somewhat of a surprise package.
Braking is adequate, with the single 300 mm disc and 4-piston caliper up front, and 292 mm disc with 2-piston caliper in the rear, but it’s not the Street Bob’s strong point.
Around the city, the Street Bob’s suspension set-up does the job – the ride is firm without being uncomfortable – but with only 130 mm of travel up front and 86 mm in the rear, some large bumps and hard cornering through the twisties quickly uncovered the bike’s limitations.
For a large displacement V-Twin, the Street Bob is pretty smooth. Of course it shakes and rattles – it wouldn’t be a Harley if it didn’t – but for the most part, vibration is a non-issue. It’s only high in the rev range or highway cruising that it becomes apparent.
My biggest issue with the Street Bob is its saddle. With mid controls that are quite far forward and mini ape hangers, you’re firmly pushed into the back of a seat that’s just not big enough. I’m not a large guy and I found it uncomfortable after 20 minutes of riding, so I can’t image what it would be like for those with more junk in the trunk.
If you need a small arse to ride it, your pillion better be a child, because that seat is even smaller! One of the criticisms of the previous generation Street Bob was its lack of pillion seat, an issue that H-D claims to have addressed – seemingly in miniature. The pillion seat does work, but don’t expect it to be overly comfortable.
The clutch is also quite heavy and becomes a right nuisance through congested city streets. I’m sure you’d get used to the heavy clutch after more than the two weeks I spent on the Street Bob but your hand is going to ache early on. The reach and friction zone were spot on for me and paired well with the throttle response but it is worth noting that the clutch lever is not adjustable.
Part of the job of a motorcycle journalist is to find a bike’s limitations. On a day-long tour spanning more than 400 km, I certainly found the Street Bob’s. To be fair, none of this was surprising – after all it’s not called the Tour Bob – but I was curious to push the bike and see how it held up outside its comfort zone.
Through the city, the Street Bob is a joy. It’s a comfortable place to sit for short periods of time, the mini ape hangers aren’t too extreme and the suspension is well set up for urban riding. Hell, even the vibrations from the big V-Twin add to its character. However everything that’s great about the Street Bob around the city is (literally) a pain in the arse on longer country rides.
This is where the Street Bob excels. Cloaked in black with flashes of chrome and a tank worthy of a mantlepiece somewhere, the Street Bob is an exceptionally good looking motorcycle. The dash is minimalist perfection; it contains everything you need and nothing you don’t. It’s more what you’d expect from a customiser’s garage than the production line of a major manufacturer.
In keeping with the stripped back nature of the bike, the switch gear is clean and clearly presented. Functionality includes start and stop, lights, menu toggle and turn signals. Speaking of the latter, and given I’m new to H-D, the turn signal positioning takes some getting used to. This is especially the case on the right side as you’re forced to balance the throttle and turn signal switch. I’m sure after a while it becomes second nature, but I found myself alternating between dropping the throttle to hit the switch, and just not using it all together, especially for lane changes.
Keyless ride is seamless, right up until the point of applying the steering lock. I’ve said it before with BMW’s R 18 – why use a manual steering lock with keyless ignition? H-D, if you’re listening, I love the keyless ignition but please add a button for the steering lock. They exist; they’re out there; please use them!
As a package the Street Bob presents the perfect platform for customisation – a point that H-D are keen to stress, given their enormous parts catalogue. But to be honest, there’s not much I would change out of the box. With steel-laced spoked wheels, a slightly chopped rear fender and that brilliant 114 cubic inch Milwaukee-Eight engine framed perfectly within the chassis, it’s the epitome of understated refinement.
The Street Bob comes in standard Vivid Black and is also available in a number of paint options including Stone Washed White Pearl, Baja Orange and Deadwood Green, all of which will set you back a reasonable $345.
- You can’t help but feel like a badass riding this bike
- Power on tap, but it doesn’t rip your arms off
- Corners way better than expected
- Seat is wildly inadequate
- Manual steering lock is an unnecessary pain
- Clutch is a killer in congested traffic
It’s easy to focus on things that a motorcycle is not, rather than what it is. Unfortunately Harley-Davidson suffers this fate arguably more than any other manufacturer. The criticisms have become almost formulaic: slow, heavy, poor cornering, wildly impractical. Yawn.
Let’s talk about what the 2021 Harley-Davidson Street Bob is. It’s a a bike made for short blasts and those who want to look good doing it. It’s uncomplicated, uncompromising and for that, I can’t help but like it.
2021 Harley-Davidson Street Bob 114 Specs/Features:
- Engine displacement: 1868 cc (114 ci)
- Power: N/A
- Torque: 161 Nm at 3000 RPM
- Engine type: Milwaukee-Eight® 114 V-Twin, pushrod-operated, overhead valves, 4-valves per cylinder
- Clutch: mechanical, 10 plate wet, assist and conventional
- Gearbox: 6-speed
- Final drive: belt
- Fork: dual-bending valve 49 mm telescopic with aluminum fork triple clamps; dual rate spring; gaiter covers and 130 mm of travel
- Suspension: hidden, free piston, coil-over monoshock; 43 mm stroke; cam-style preload adjustment and 86 mm of travel
- Front brake: 4-piston fixed front on single 300 mm disc
- Rear brake: 2-piston floating rear on a single 292 mm disc
- Wheels: 19 inch front and 16 inch rear with Dunlop H-D Series tyres as standard
- Weight: 299 kg (wet)
- Fuel tank: 13.2 litres
- Seat height: 680 mm
- Instrument: 2.14 in viewable area LCD display with speedometer, gear, odometer, fuel level, clock, trip, range and tachometer indication
- ABS as standard
- LED lighting all round, with self-cancelling indicators
- Price as tested: $23,995 AUD (ride away – based on postcode 2000)
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