2013 Harley-Davidson Street Bob First Ride

September 3, 2012
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

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Check out the 2013 Harley lineup, including 110th anniversary models and the updated 2013 Street Bob, in our 2013 Harley-Davidson First Ride video.

Barreling down British Columbia’s Highway 99, life is good. Steep forested mountains shoot up from the river valley, with the two-lane tarmac meandering through the scenery. Seeing new country is a privilege, experiencing it from the behind the controls of a motorcycle doubly so. Pitching through the corners, rolling on and off the throttle, our Canadian cruise is sublime. But despite our location north of the 49th Parallel, this ride has a definite American bent as we motor along aboard the 2013 Harley-Davidson Street Bob.

The Motor Company marks 110 years in the motorcycle business with the release of its 2013 model line. This year’s crop of Harleys features special anniversary editions, as well as a modest refresh of our Street Bob mount. It also debuts the flashy Hard Candy Custom styling campaign. So, passport in hand, MotoUSA headed north, way north, for a three-day tour of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia to see what’s new from Milwuakee.

Harley-Davidson celebrates its 110th year in the motorcycle business with its 2013 model lineup  including a refresh of its Street Bob.
Harley-Davidson celebrates its 110th year in the motorcycle business with its 2013 model lineup, including a few tweeks to its popular Street Bob.

The only bike in the 2013 model line with any substantial changes is the aforementioned Street Bob, which gets a modest refresh (the sole all-new 2013 design is from the CVO line, the Softail Breakout – Read our 2013 Harley-Davidson CVO Breakout First Ride). One of five bikes this year in the Dyna family (joining the Switchback, Wide Glide, Super Glide Custom and Fat Bob) the Street Bob’s makeover includes cleaning up the rear fender with new taillights and relocating the license plate holder to the left-side of the fender. Up front the distinctive mini ape handlebars remain, but are mounted onto new triple clamps to facilitate easier customization mods (more on this later…). H-D also relocated the ignition key from the steering head column to the fuel tank console.

Though Harley mixed things up on the Street Bob, it retains the 2012 price tag of $12,999. This is important, as the Bob represents H-D’s most affordable entry into its Big Twin lineup. Thus it is a key strategic model for the young riders that Harley (and the rest of the motorcycle industry) desperately need to cultivate.

Seeking to capitalize on the younger rider theme, H-D formally debuts its Hard Candy Custom (HCC) campaign for the 2013 model year. Featuring bright metal flake paint colors, the HCC line is the flashy doppelganger to the Motor Company’s popular Dark Custom series. The Street Bob figures prominently in the HCC plans, offering all three metal flake colors, two of them through the H-D1 factory customization program.

And that’s the other big news for 2013, expansion of the H-D1 program from the Custom 1200 to the revamped Street Bob (and, presumably, to more models in the future). H-D1 allows consumers to order their bike from the factory with various ergonomic, aesthetic and performance upgrades already installed. Options include handlebar, seat, foot controls, wheels and paint schemes, as well as an ABS/Security system package. Another H-D1 upgrade is the 103 Twin Cam engine, a $350 or $750 option for riders, depending on whether they want black or chrome.

For a cruiser  the H-D Street Bob is slender and is lighter on its toes than most of its Big Twin siblings.
Mini apes, slick leather jacket, a store called The Lucky Dumpster… just cruisin’ along up north.

We spent most of our Canadian tour aboard the Street Bob, the majority of that seat time piloting the 103-equipped version. The larger 45-degree air-cooled V-Twin delivers more thrust, though the standard 96 Twin Cam offers pleasing enough torque for standard cruiser duty. Harley opted to retain the older 96 as standard Street Bob kit to keep MSRP under the magic 13K marker, but the bump in power from the TC103 is enough to warrant the H-D1 upgrade. (Expect the 96 to gradually phase out entirely, as more and more of the model families get powered exclusively by the 103 – like the Touring and Softail models already do – with the 96 the exception rather than the rule in the Dyna class.)

The six-speed transmission in both engine versions performed the same, at least by our measure. Clutch lever pull is moderately stiff, with smooth engagement. The gearbox features deliberate shifts, clunky by Japanese standards, smooth and quiet in comparison to its lone American competitor. Our only transmission gripe is finding Neutral, which proves elusive at times.

H-D savants may be able to discern the sound differences of the 103 from the 96, but to our ears the tones are pure Harley Twin. That “potato-potato” cadence pops out, loud and clear, with the near-trademarked tune of the lumping single-pin crank loping along. It’s the most uncompromising aspect of the H-D package, as the Twin delivers rider-grinning character as it throttles down the road – less so when the engine shudders at idle, rattling vibrations up through the peg, bars, mirrors and, yes, the rider.

Customers can upgrade the 2013 Street Bob to 103 Twin Cam enging as part of the H-D1 program.
The H-D1 program allows riders to modify the Street Bob straight from the factory with upgrades like the 103 Twin, as well as ergonomics tweaks – like these pull-back bars, which completely transform the bike.

The Bob does an admirable job tossing its claimed 672-pound curb weight around the bends, but the 64.2 inch wheelbase and 29 degree rake hinder it from ever being rated a truly nimble mount. That said, its slender for a cruiser tire profiles (100 front and 160 rear) offers reasonable turn-in and predictable handling. It’s fair to say the Street Bob is lighter on its toes than most of its Big Twin siblings, and it seems to enjoy more ground clearance too, though its pegs soon scrape on spirited jaunts nonetheless.

While the standard issue mini apes look cool, they get tiring for long-haul rides and beg more effort to manhandle the Street Bob into a corner. The problem is exacerbated with the optional forward foot controls, as the rider feels even more like they are hanging from the bars. H-D reps promise fine-tuning the angle of the apes to suit rider dimensions will improve the ergo package. As far as the handling deficit goes, form often trumps function in the crusier class – it is only a matter of degree.

It is surprising how much a single H-D1 change, like handlebar or foot control, can transform the Street Bob’s character. In fact, after riding one with the $180 pull-back handlebar we mistakenly thought it was a different bike model altogether. The same can be said for swapping mid-controls for the more cruiserly forward position. Our personal preference was for the pull-back bars and mid-controls – though we got along with the standard apes just fine. We also found the stock solo seat comfy, though not as cush as the sofa-like perches on the H-D touring mounts. At 26.7 inches the seat height makes for an easy, flat-footed reach to the ground as well.

The 26.7 seat height made it easy to reach the ground  flat-footed. 

Braking on the Street Bob isn’t anything to write home about, particularly the single disc four-piston caliper front. Riders must combine a stout pull at the lever with a firm rear pedal daub to bring things to a brisk(ish) halt. Thankfully, ABS comes as an H-D1 option on the Street Bob, packaged with the security system at $1195. It benefits greatly from the safety enhancement, and we can’t help but speculate that by packaging ABS with the security system H-D is doing its best to politely nudge its ridership into that brave new ABS world… (And if there’s a class of bikes that benefits more from ABS than big, heavy cruisers with single-disc front brakes, please enlighten me in the Comments below!)

We rate ABS upgrades beneficial enough to be just an eyelash shy of mandatory, though it would jack MSRP up past $14,000. And speaking of price, keeping the Street Bob’s MSRP under $13K is laudable. It’s also, arguably, a necessity if H-D wants to graduate its Sportster demographic into the Big Twin ranks, like it says it does. And while thirteen Grand is a good chunk of change to be sure, it does manage to undercut all but one of the offerings from Victory (Vegas 8-Ball $12,499, with next cheapest the $13,999 Judge). From Harley’s side of the coin, that $12,999 asking price is just a solid base from which its customer’s will build – many Street Bobs figure to roll off the assembly line costing more.

The Street Bob certainly doesn’t look cheap. And relocating the key to the tank console, while a minor change, yields a big boost in fit and finish. Other small H-D traits, like self-cancelling turn signals, help in this regard too. However, we weren’t huge fans of the instrument console – other than the easy to read analog speedo. The LCD info screen, inset under the speedo, is small and the information displayed less than ideal. A good example is the inaccurate Range option, instead of a fuel gauge, which counts down the reserve to 10 miles – then displays Low. The two times we coasted around on fumes during our tours we’d been well in excess of the 10 mile warning. The numerical tach isn’t much use either, though the accompanying gear position indicator is.

H-D mixed things up on the Street Bob but retained the 2012 price tag at  12 999.
H-D mixed things up on the Street Bob but retained the 2012 price tag at $12,999 in an appeal to younger riders. This bike features HD-1 options like the drag bars, 103 engine, optional wheels and the Lucky Green Flake paint scheme.

As far as looks are concerned, the distinctive apes set the Street Bob apart in the H-D lineup (along with the Seventy-Two Sportster). It’s also a shiny attention-grabber when decked out in the new HCC colorways. The Hard Candy Big Red Flake comes as a standard issue on the stock bike, with the Lucky Green and Coloma Gold Flake offered as H-D1 options – two of 14 total paint options from the factory for a cost ranging between $400 to $1000. The more traditional two-tone Pearl Blue/Vivid Black colorway, a standard option, spoke to our inner styling muse. But then again, our haberdashers of choice are Walmart or Target… so readers are forewarned! (however, our Roland Sands Designs leather Ronin Jacket donned in the photos – pretty damned spiffy, no?). The HCC campaign will no doubt win over at least some of its target audience (see sidebar).

Scything down Highway 99 to Whistler, BC, ruminations about Hard Candy Custom is far from my mind. Same with prestigious 110-year anniversaries, or talk of bike prices, new markets and customization programs. Instead, my mind focuses on the next corner, how my Street Bob grumbles along, the pegs scraping, here and there, through the ribbons of asphalt… Life is good.

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