These New Harley-Davidson Electric Concepts Are Total Game Changers

These concepts might be Harley’s biggest announcement in years

A walk through any one of our cities shows how quickly transportation is evolving in America. Electric scooters clog curbs in Los Angeles. In Manhattan, vividly colored bike rental racks fill and empty to the pulse of the commute. City-to-city electric car sharing services are available for cheap in San Diego, while autonomous electric buses elbow their way into traffic in Detroit. When it comes to alternative transportation, now’s the time to show you’re up for a fight; and with these concept renderings, Harley-Davidson just came out swinging. The concepts come in four flavors, all unnamed, so far as we can tell, and all four are interesting takes on existing mobility solutions. Don't write off these renderings: Harley has announced the company will follow up on the 2019 debut of the LiveWire with a range of electric motorcycles through 2022. That makes every machine shown here a serious candidate for production. The first is a stylized electrified bicycle concept.

Harley-Davidson electric bike concept
Harley-Davidson’s take on an electric-assist bike would put The Motor Company in competition with Yamaha, as well as bicycle manufacturing giants like Specialized and Trek.Harley-Davidson

Never mind that The Motor Company was spawned by fellas shoehorning an engine into a bicycle: The following 115 years were spent driving a wedge between the motorcycle and human effort. Harley’s core products are at their best when the going isn’t athletic. Simple as that. So an electrified bicycle that requires user effort is a massive departure. And arguably a very wise one.

The electric-assist bicycle market is going gangbusters. Major players from a broad swath of industries have placed bets on this 21st century re-imagining of the moped. Manufacturing behemoths like Yamaha and Bosch vie for technological supremacy with bicycle manufacturers like Specialized and Trek—all while startups nip at their heels. And the numbers are impressive. Research firm Navigant estimates that pedal-crazy Germany will buy 720,000 eBikes, giving electric-assisted machines 20 percent of the pedal-bike market. An estimated 16 million bicycles are sold in the US annually, but Navigant's research suggests eBikes claim just 1 percent to 1.5 percent of that market share.

The eBike industry is the Wild West, in terms of legislation. Rules for top speeds, helmet usage, and how the machines interact with traffic vary wildly across jurisdictions. Harley-Davidson's leadership, brand identity, and lobbying power could be a tremendous boon to the business. There's one more arrow in the eBike quiver: A good electric bicycle makes you feel like a superhero. It takes a great motorcycle to do the same.

Harley-Davidson electric bike concept
Occupying a middle ground between a sporty electric motorcycle and a bicycle, this Harley-Davidson concept would have wide appeal to riders with backyard tracks or access to open spaces where quiet is key.Harley-Davidson

Move up a peg in the electric-mobility food chain and you’ll find Harley-Davidson’s next concept, which looks to split the difference between eBikes and existing electric motorcycles. With a shape that’s flat-track derived, and no pedals to fuss with, we’re quick to imagine backyard circle-track dog fights with the neighbors.

Once again, Harley might have its collective eye on a useful market. The reality is, we lose miles of open space and riding areas daily. Whether it’s due to development, or environmental concerns, or just private landowners getting tired of the racket we make, that’s the unfortunate reality of riding today. This hybrid machine might be intended as a fun intermodal commuter—road-legality is a tough call, based on these renderings—but we see it as a righteous way to spin laps in relative quiet, with only your speed-drunk laughter to give you away.

Another step up the ladder appears to have H-D in the hunt with an existing ecosystem of electric motorcycles. Think Alta and Zero. To us, that means sporty lines, street plates, and competing directly with everything internal combustion has to offer. The jump from an electrified plaything to a bona fide street-going motorcycle is a giant one. But the payoff for a company like Harley-Davidson—which is desperate for an infusion of younger riders—might be giant.

Small electric motorcycles have a lot to recommend them. They're not just efficient commuters and pleasantly quiet two-track hustlers, they make fantastic instruction tools as well. Power delivery is easily remapped to accommodate new riders. Sticking to a direct drive means there's no clutch actuation to learn, clearing another hurdle for first-timers. Being nearly silent means the machines aren't especially intimidating, and it means coaching can happen in a speaking voice rather than in tense shouts across the tarmac. And speaking of tarmac, you don't need that either. Because there are no emissions to worry about, rider training could take place almost anywhere. Think about warehouses or indoor garage spaces. Even sports venues and shopping centers could get in on the act.

Harley-Davidson electric bike concept
The sportiest of the four concepts, and the most appealing, this electric-bike rendering shows a headlight and road-going intentions. Its XR750-derived looks and full-sized motorcycle hardware offer a glimpse of a machine that might compete with Alta—or assist in the training of a generation of future Harley-Davidson riders.Harley-Davidson

But the advantages don't just go to the newbies. The latest generation of electric motorcycles covers a range from seriously entertaining, like the latest Alta Redshift EXR, to genuinely frightening, like the Lightning LS-218. This concept suggests a small, athletic machine, in the Redshift vein, with rendered battery packaging much smaller than that of Harley-Davidson's forthcoming LiveWire.

harley-davidson electric bike tire options
Another screen grab of the same machine, this time rendered in the flesh, shows a wide assortment of tire options, suggesting that this lithe electric bike might be as much fun on a kart track as it would on single-track.Harley-Davidson

That similarity might not be a passing one: The Motor Company has taken an equity stake in California-based Alta Motors. Dial this concept up to maximum attack, with its depicted inverted fork and proper motorcycle disc brakes, and Harley might have a hit on its hands. With quiet on their side, it’s easy to imagine a pack of these XR750-styled machines sliding around an impromptu parking-lot track—or even the polished concrete of two-story parking garages—closed just for the occasion, of course.

The last of H-D’s concept bikes is another reflection of the company’s past. You’ll be forgiven if you’ve forgotten the mid-century lines of the Harley-Davidson Topper. The company’s one and only scooter certainly doesn’t retain the admiration of its contemporaries. With pull-starting and a two-stroke engine, it wasn’t destined for the future outside the 1960s. So the Harley faithful have gone decades without the charms of a scooter in the lineup. This little electric machine might redeem the Topper’s ghost, once and for all. It’s lines are charming and contemporary, and they unquestionably owe a debt to its predecessor. Forget any aspirations of crossing the American west, hair blowing free: A reborn Topper would be best dangling from the back of an RV and nipping pleasantly around campgrounds.

Harley-Davidson Topper style bike
A capture from the same video shows another take on what might be a reborn Harley-Davidson Topper, with luggage racks installed and lights further improving utility.Harley-Davidson

No matter your take on these Harley-Davidson’s concepts, there’s no question they’re a radical departure. Whether investing in a broad swath of next-generation electric bikes will be enough to drive a new generation of riders into Harley dealerships, only time will tell.