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Tina Casey headshot

The Great Rewiring Of Harley-Davidson, Now With Sustainability And E-Bikes

By Tina Casey
Harley Davidson e-bike

Under a 2020 business strategy called The Rewire, Harley-Davidson is out to streamline its operations while closing in on an impressive fuel economy goal of 50 miles per gallon for its iconic lineup of gas-powered motorcycles. That could be just the tip of the sustainability iceberg in the company’s 117-year history of manufacturing two-wheeled mobility for the masses. Last week, Harley-Davidson teased out a burst of media fireworks over its stylish new Serial 1 pedal-assisted electric bicycle concept, as a precursor to unveiling the production version of the e-bike on Nov. 16.

Harley hatches secret plan to grow a new generation of e-bike enthusiasts

The very idea of pedaling a machine that sports the Harley-Davidson imprimatur may come as a shock to some. However, followers of the company took note last year when Harley-Davidson announced it was acquiring a startup called StaCyc, maker of the E-Drive electric two-wheeler for children.

Though it does not come with pedals, the 12eDrive two-wheeler meshes perfectly with Harley’s renewed focus on adventure-seeking and outdoor fun. The 12eDrive may also help grow the next generation of Harley loyalists by introducing very small children — ages 3 to 5, to be specific — to the skill involved in motorized two-wheeling.

“The StaCyc 12eDrive is the perfect choice for little rippers with little or no experience on a balance bike,” StaCyc claims in marketing materials. "Your child can learn to push, balance and coast in the non-powered mode. Graduate them to the powered mode (the holy grail of fun) as they show proficient use and understanding of the brake and the ability to coast and brake while standing.”

Pedal-assisted e-bikes open the door for more drivers

Harley’s ability to court the next generation of gas-powered motorcycle buyers has been the subject of media debate for years. The StaCyc acquisition and the new Serial 1 e-bike venture demonstrate that the company is serious about rewiring its business model for the era of electric mobility.

In the conventional motorcycle area, competition from other legacy brands and startups has made affordability a key issue. Many up-and-coming young motorists have little or no extra cash on hand to invest in a premium branded motorcycle, especially so for touring models that are pitched as recreational vehicles.

More broadly, the entire vehicle-buying landscape has shifted. That’s partly due to a decline in the number of young people seeking driver’s licenses, with affordability again playing a role.

Ride-sharing has already taken up some of the slack, and now e-scooters and e-bikes are offering new alternatives that appeal to a tech-savvy generation of vehicle buyers. That’s where the pedal-assist for Harley’s first e-bike venture — and its new startup Serial 1 Cycles — comes in.

The electric motor in a pedal-assisted e-bike only kicks in while the rider is pedaling. That provides it with some significant advantages over fully motorized two-wheelers, whether gas or electric. In the absence of any local restrictions, pedal-assisted e-bikes fall squarely into the bicycle category. They do not require a motorcycle license, or any driver’s license at all. They can also use bike paths and other infrastructure normally reserved for bicycles.

Serial 1: Pedal-assisted power with fun and style

The rising popularity of e-bikes alone provides Harley with ample reason to grab a foothold in the pedal-assist market. The company’s experience in attaching cargo holders to two-wheelers could also come into play, especially in the emerging fleet vehicle market.

In addition, Harley may be eyeballing the potential for attracting avid bicycle riders to the motorcycle market by introducing them to the fun and convenience of motorized power. 

Harley also apparently intends the new Serial 1 e-bike to provide the next generation of potential motorcycle riders with an introduction to the company’s history and adventure-seeking culture. Though the production model may go in a different direction, the Serial 1 concept is styled after the company’s first known motorcycle, introduced in 1903 as the Serial One.

“When Harley-Davidson’s founders put power to two wheels and created their first motorcycle in 1903, they changed the way the world moved forever,” reads marketing material for Serial 1 Cycles. The spinoff company claims it will offer “premium e-bicycles guided by intelligent, human-centered design and crafted using the most advanced bicycle technology available, to create the easiest and most intuitive way to experience the fun, freedom and instant adventure of riding a pedal-assist electric bicycle.”

Pedaling into a more sustainable future

The Rewire is Harley-Davidson’s 2020 runup to a soon-to-be-announced, five-year re-organization plan it calls The Hardwire. Aside from shedding inefficiencies in marketing, personnel and manufacturing, the new plan seems poised to leverage the sustainable mobility trend through Harley’s new LiveWire electric motorcycle as well as Serial 1 Cycles. 

Meanwhile, the company has been zeroing-in on sustainability for its gas-powered fleet as well. In addition to supply chain and manufacturing improvements, last year Harley announced a 2027 fleetwide fuel economy goal of more than 50 miles per gallon, representing a 25 percent improvement over its 2011 average. Harley already hit the 44 miles-per-gallon mark in 2018, so it’s possible the fleetwide average will far surpass 50 miles per gallon within the next six years or so.

The sustainability angle is a delicate balance for a company that has long cultivated a core customer base of older, you’re-not-the-boss-of-me men. However, Harley appears to be well aware that a younger, more diverse cadre of consumers is driving the mobility market of the future, one that still values freedom while recognizing the importance of collective action and the allure of new clean tech.

One interesting example is Harley’s new marketing campaign featuring actor and environmental activist Jason Momoa; actor Ewan McGregor, who is also known for activities in the environmental area; and travel writer and adventurer Charlie Boorman, who has become an enthusiastic ambassador for electric mobility and sustainable travel.

The campaign is highlighted by Harley Davidson’s The Long Way Up touring video powered by the electric LiveWire motorcycle — and if you’re not quite ready to ride the LiveWire, the Serial 1 e-bike may be just the place to start your own electric mobility journey.

Image courtesy of Harley-Davidson via PRNewswire

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey