In case you missed it—and if you've visited our website, then you probably haven't—Harley just unveiled a streetfighter, an adventure bike, a custom, and a whole slew of electric bikes. Pretty radical, right?

I’m not so sure it is—at least when it comes to the internal combustion models.

There’s a segment of the motorcycle community that’s been asking Harley to branch out for decades, and I’m among them. So shouldn’t I be rejoicing—or at least cutting Harley some slack?

Excuse me for not thinking that a Harley custom, a streetfighter, and an ADV are that big of a deal. It's just that there's nothing too radical about the bikes themselves—except that they're Harley-Davidsons that aren't cruisers, baggers, bobbers, or choppers. Harley isn't making a revolutionary move, it's merely making a play for segments it hasn't recently invested in. And in these markets it'll join Honda, KTM, BMW, Yamaha, Suzuki, and other players. Not with a full model lineup, but with the start of one.

The V-twin prototypes seem like the latest in a history riddled with half-hearted attempts at change. When post-WWII riders were captivated by faster, lighter-performance machines from abroad, for instance, Harley's answer was to build the Sportster. And while the Sportster has a longer history than nearly any other motorcycle, and its success is irrefutable, it wasn't the answer to the question riders were asking. It was still a cruiser. Still a Harley.

Again in the '90s, when the motorcycle world went sportbike mad, Harley introduced the V-Rod. It was no VR1000 superbike—itself a half-baked machine that stymied some of the AMA's greatest racers. And ultimately, despite much hype, the V-Rod failed to become the platform for Harley-Davidson's future. Despite the massive engineering and marketing efforts, the V-Rod's 60-degree liquid-cooled Revolution engine was no revolution—and the new 60-degree liquid-cooled engine that Harley just announced won't be either.

For these new machines to look like anything but a grab for market share in a tough sales climate, Harley’s “non-Harleys” need to prove that The Motor Company can think outside of the 45-degree-motor/raked-front-end box. That it has the ability and the courage to redefine itself through ingenuity and innovation. The motivation to change should be based on a desire to create a new niche, tell a new story, or introduce an innovation. For a motorcycle company, motivation that isn’t product-driven, but market-driven, will be unlikely to set the world on fire.

While the new motorcycle lineup leaves me a little cold, it’s easy to see The Motor Company’s electric bike concepts as a chance for it to reinvent itself without the baggage of 115 years of pushrods and leather-clad stereotypes.

The plan is to create an entire pathway from basically-a-bicycle all the way up to the LiveWire. It would be a board of investors' dream for a consumer to say, "You know, I never intended to ride a motorcycle, but I loved my first Harley-Davidson bicycle so much, I just kept buying H-D-branded bikes with more and more motor. Before I knew it, I had a garage full of LiveWires."

If the plan works, Harley could have a baked-in method of creating new motorcyclists. By capitalizing on the inherent modularity of electric technology, Harley is blurring the lines between bicycle and motorcycle, and between recreation and transportation. Consequently, the bikes themselves are exciting, not only for what they represent, but because they’re different from conventional types of cycles.

The rapid development of electric/battery technology will make progress an inherent part of Harley’s electric DNA—which if history has shown, may be the only way Harley’s identity won’t be burdened by its own past.

Until this electrified world Harley envisions comes to pass, its internal combustion motorcycles will continue to be measured against bikes from other marques at the same time it’s criticized for not adhering to the company’s own blueprint for success. If the V-twin prototypes look half-hearted, maybe it’s because they aren’t part of the future Harley is banking on. Maybe The Motor Company wants a future free from stereotype, preconception, and tradition—and until it throws out the book, it knows it won’t get there.