Harley-Davidson Expanding into Adventure And Sportbike Segments
A Huge Step Outside The Usual Cruisers and Tourersby Allyn Hinton, on
New models and whole new segments from Harley-Davidson, this is historical in its scope for the over-a-century-old motorcycle manufacturer. In keeping with the push to attract new riders, Harley has announced, as part of its “More Roads to Harley-Davidson” campaign, plans to expand into adventure-touring and sportbike segments.
Continue reading for more on the Harley-Davidson expansion plans.
More Roads To Harley-Davidson
Harley has been busy registering new model names and we're starting to see some new concepts and some prototypes to put with them.
Amid all the hubbub of the announcement to close the Kansas City plant, I speculated at the time that clearing out the factory could be a precursor to retool the assembly lines for new models. Are these it? They very well could be. This is all new stuff in segments Harley-Davidson has only touched on with the Street line with it’s sporty-but-maybe-not-really-a-sportbike or never touched before as with the new adventure stable. Harley has been busy registering new model names, such as “Bronx,” “48X,” and “Pan America, and we’re starting to see some new concepts and some prototypes to put with them.
Harley-Davidson Pan America
At 1250 cc, it's the largest of the new generation of powerplants Harley has in the stable, and it looks to be a liquid-cooled V-Twin not entirely unlike the Street engines.
One could argue that Harley-Davidson’s original adventure bike was actually a Sportster with knobby tires and saddlebags, but the MoCo is coming out with a proper adventure bike in the contemporary sense of the word. The “Pan America 1250” is scheduled to hit showroom floors in time for the 2020 model year. Some of the particulars are still unknown, but from the fuel tank back, it kinda’ makes me think of Royal Enfield’s new adv, the Himalayan.
A wide front fairing and bar-style headlight steers the Pan America’s looks in a direction all its own with a windshield that extends the protection all the way up to your bucket. Looks like the front turn signals come integrated with the handguards, and while I really do like that, the powerplant is even more interesting. At 1250 cc, it’s the largest of the new generation of powerplants Harley has in the stable, and it looks to be a liquid-cooled V-Twin not entirely unlike the Street engines. Power and torque figures are still up in the air, but I expect the grunt numbers to be generous; just what you need for pulling steep grades and handling light terrain. I’ll be honest, I really don’t know what to expect since this is such a large divergence from the norm, but we gonna’ find out soon enough.
Harley-Davidson 975 cc Streetfighter
A nose-down/tail-up stance keeps the sportbike look on track, but a dearth of body panels leaves the beating heart plainly visible so I reckon it qualifies as a naked standard.
I could also argue that Buell was the first Harley-powered sportbike, and while the now-defunct V-Rod family was really more of a sport-cruiser, the upcoming 975 cc “future streetfighter model” (that’s the model type, not the name) is meant to conform more nearly to the sportbike criteria.
Inverted forks and a compact cyclops headlight start things out headed in the right direction. A nose-down/tail-up stance keeps the sportbike look on track, but a dearth of body panels leaves the beating heart plainly visible so I reckon it qualifies as a naked-standard. Jockey pegs and short-rise bars encourage the typical aggressive, forward-leaning posture, and the saddle comes pared down to leave room for you to throw around some body English.
Is it enough to compete against the current competition? Maybe so. Ducati powers some damn fine bikes with its L-twin, so the V-Twin isn’t necessarily a disqualifying factor, and maybe it’s just me, but the upcoming streetfighter has an almost Monster-tastic vibe about it that should certainly get it a slice of the action. The only questions for me is, will it be a big enough slice, and will this previously unexplored vista be the ticket to fix H-D’s declining “Boomer” business model. Time will tell, but already I like this sled more than the previous abortive attempts to break into the sportbike sector.
Harley-Davidson 1250 cc Sportbike
One thing is certain, calling it a “custom” is entirely appropriate, even if there will likely be thousands of them made.
At the top of the new sportbike pecking order is what is thus far referred to as the “future custom model.” The FCM has a sort of Frankenstein look about it that makes it difficult to pigeonhole; the fat tires and cut-down fenders bring to mind the gassers of old while the inverted front forks pull the bike back to the present. A shotgun exhaust and pan-style solo seat work with the tapered tailpiece to give it a definite café-tastic flavor. It is its own machine, and not something you could easily replicate with aftermarket parts and a Sportster. One thing is certain, calling it a “custom” is entirely appropriate, even if there will likely be thousands of them made.
Harley doesn't mess around with a clunky old gearbox like some bikes, but instead delivers twist-and-go operation with a direct drive and no need for a clutch.
Ah yes, and then there’s the long-anticipated LiveWire, Harley’s all-electric crotch rocket that would almost blend in with a group of go-fast bikes and is set to release for MY2019. This thing has been in development for a while now; I hope H-D didn’t miss a golden opportunity to help shape the burgeoning EV-bike market with this late release. Seems like there’s a new player every month or so, and what was a wide-open market just a couple years ago is now a crowded field.
The MoCo has some steep competition that is well-established (think Zero, Energica) with some damn impressive torque numbers that is sure to torture the sidewalls of their rear hoops. Harley doesn’t mess around with a clunky old gearbox like some bikes (Empulse), but instead delivers twist-and-go operation with a direct drive and no need for a clutch.
Of course, looks and operation is one thing, top speed and range will be the deciding factor here, and in a genre that keeps getting bigger/better/faster/smaller at an amazing rate, the competition will be fierce.
New Harley-Davidson Electric Models
Now, the LiveWire release is great news, but it's not as interesting as the fact that H-D has no plans of stopping there.
Now, the LiveWire release is great news, but it’s not as interesting as the fact that H-D has no plans of stopping there. The factory is teasing us with some concept drawings for two more electric bikes. We don’t even have a generic name for them yet, but I can tell you that one of them makes me think of the old Italian-made Aermacchi Sprint, just with a café tail instead of the bench seat. The other, well, it’s very sparsely appointed, and really strikes me as more of a commuter in the same kind of areas you might run a 150-plus cc scooter. It’s hard to get much from the concept art, but it does show that Harley is (finally) thinking outside the box in an increasingly important sector.
Where To Go From Here
No doubt, something has got to give since the Boomer sales are just about done and the vacuum they leave behind is an aching void.
OK, I have to give H-D credit. When it came out with its “100 new models” initiative, I figured we’d see more variants on the four existing chassis, maybe see something to continue the FXR/Dyna progression, but I had no idea Milwaukee would go off on a tangent quite like this. No doubt, something has got to give since the Boomer sales are just about done and the vacuum they leave behind is an aching void that could potentially suck the company right down the tubes.
You know what else will kill them, and probably sooner rather than later? Electronics, or the lackthereof. Traction control, power modes and cornering ABS is becoming more ubiquitous every day, as are many other subsystems, and this is definitely one area that H-D apparently ignores at their peril so far. Oh yeah, adjustable suspension too. C’mon guys, for Pete’s sake, you don’t even have to design/test/build the stuff. Hell, you don’t even build the hydraulic stems you use now, never have, so why not buy some adjustable forks and shocks and slap ’em on? Surely you realize that you suffer from an image problem with the tech-thirsty masses, and the longer you resist the fandanglery, the less likely said masses will forgive you.
These new segments along with the recently announced push into Asian markets with smaller — one might argue more appropriate — models meant to appeal to the locals just might be the shot in the arm that H-D needs. They’ll be coming up against stiff competition with a home-field advantage, so it’ll be interesting to see how it pans out. Gotta’s say, the testicular fortitude it must have taken to direct resources on such a gamble is impressive.
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