Livewire - a specific design.
Tuesday January 15th 2019

January 15, 2019

Livewire - a specific design.

Introducing the motorcycle built to cruise Wall St. 

I must give our friends in Milwaukee kudos for slogging through and delivering what (in part) has needed to happen for some time. How does the most famous motorcycle marque in the world begin to re-shape it’s brand and product range in a way to appeal to new and different riders? It takes a significant shift to make this sort of change. Ironically with bikes that don’t shift. Four years ago when Harley first pimped Livewire prototypes globally (arguably the most collectible modern motorcycle) and made a huge (sometimes sponsored) splash with every moto outlet and damn near every non-endemic media outlet, they were doing far more than dipping a toe in the new product waters. 

To understand the gargantuan task you have to look at the recent timeline that includes sales trends, said Livewire prototypes, heavily revised traditional models, the stunted announcement of the Atla partnership, a new line of liquid-cooled bikes percolating in the future, opening a studio in Silicon Valley, shifting production capabilities, absorbing tariffs and early flaunting very globally-styled concepts all point to the significant efforts being made to rebound sales and draw in converts to the brand. It’s been a rough 1/2 decade. 

The larger issue of increasing the volume of riders in the next decades will fall on products such as Strider Balance BikesStayc, and who knows what other new brands in that space. Harley would do well to co-op that sub 8-year-old world of potential new riders, but that would not reduce the immediate sting of the downward sales trends, and the scrutiny of motorcycle enthusiasts, dealers and those on Wall Street enthusiastic about one thing only - profits. 

H-D have stated that the Livewire is just the start of more production electric bikes as we cruise into 2022 - but the Livewire’s most critical mission is to triumphantly cruise down Wall Street with enough fanfare and attention to show investors and financial influencers that they are serious about changing the product range and brand (note the blue bar and shield logo associated with the CES presentation) and thereby refresh the stale potato soup they have served up for decades. H-D is an icon of American freedom, community and vast American expanses. For generations it was a dream product to own, to make into your own ride and to chalk up desirous analogue experiences. But that gen is getting way old, the next was ignored, and their kids are as familiar with motorcycling as a bowl of Quisp. Motorcycles can be a great tool to Instagram your analogue awesomeness.

There IS a generation ignored by Milwaukee and by the industry in general - that being my Generation X. We were treated as a collateral gain to the boomers, but the opportunity for today’s 50 year old whose kids are set free into the world is immense - and an electric scooter, small motorcycle, or power assisted hybrid bike is enticing. Accessibility to the fun of 2 wheels can be increased from the current 3% to 4%…yeah, motorcycling is that small in the US population. There are two major factors that Harley can lean on to draw in a generation that invented the modern internet, but grew up climbing trees and riding bicycles.

While the buzz (n.p.i.) was about Livewire the true energy (p.i.) for me are the smaller concept drawings and full-scale models that have been presented. 1) Harley has access to consumers like no other motorcycle brand in the US with dealers every 100 miles on major interstates. With the ability for an electric bike to have enough range to zip about town, cruise out for a coffee or divorce court, or ride to the volunteer charity gig etc - they have a great op in front of them. 2) The ability for electric motorcycles to be speed / acceleration limited via Bluetooth (as is my Zero FX) is an IDEAL scenario for older new riders, training schools and for dealer demos. Yes they will need to get these product OUT of the dealerships - AND train dealers nohow to be profitable with these new customers without alienating HD loyalists. Aligning with brands cooler than Panasonic is critical. (yeah yeah…they had the booth already I get it). Ok - so there is more than two factors.

Lastly (for now) - the true power of these smaller electric bikes is to be an addition to the fleet with the existing big-twin posse. Once you ride an electric motorcycle you will “get it”. I have said many times that my Zero is not the bike I put the most miles on - but it is the one I turn on the most. Many riders will appreciate the ease of use for short trips, and choose to gas up for the overnights etc. Pushing the message that adding to your fleet is the cool thing to do…that’s the path for loyalists. More can still be better.

Integrating electric motorcycles into the consciousness of existing enthusiasts while not alienating prospective riders is the pathway. Harley-Davidson is the brand that could do this in the most compelling way. Yamaha started by bringing in Power Assist Bicycles this year. KTM has a spiffy E-Ride available. However our friends at Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Indian, Ducati, Triumph and even Royal Enfield, had better lean in before Harley tears past Wall Street, and finds it’s success on Main street - again. 

P.S. - I predict there will be a few new traditional air-cooled bikes announced soon to placate those who still fear inevitable change. But for now - I want that electric mountain bike looking thingie really bad. And the link for the FIRST Livewire - here you go: https://www.motorcyclenews.com/news/2016/june/mcn-plus---picture-story-harleys-original-live-wire/

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