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Harley-Davidson to launch 500cc learner bike ... and maybe an electric?

By Loz Blain
September 1, 2013

12 Comments

Iconic American manufacturer Harley-Davidson is releasing a 500cc v-twin learner motorcycle and considering building an electric Harley


Just checking … no, it's not April 1. During its 110-year anniversary celebrations, iconic American manufacturer Harley-Davidson has dropped a couple of brand-twisting bombshells – firstly that it's building a 500cc learner bike, and secondly that an electric Harley is under serious consideration.
Here's an interesting tidbit: if you search Google, you'll find 12,700 results that contain both the word "Sportster" and the defensive phrase "not a girl's bike." Try the same search using the Honda Shadow, another mid-level cruiser, and you get just 965 results.
The Sportster, of course, is the current mid-capacity cruiser line in the Harley-Davidson range, with 1200cc and 883cc engine models. That's bigger than most sportsbikes, but not big enough to escape the ridicule of certain big-bore Harley owners (1400cc and upward) who seem to think 883cc isn't hairy-chested or noisy enough to be considered a "real bike."
And that's the market into which Harley-Davidson is planning to release a 500cc learner machine, ostensibly to replace the excellent 492cc Buell Blast which was scrapped, along with the entire innovative Buell brand, back in the depths of the global financial crisis in 2009.
Despite any flak new riders might face, the move opens up several new markets for H-D including restricted-license riders throughout Europe and Australia, and aspirational customers through India and Asia, where a cheaper, 500cc Harley would still be bigger than most things on the road.
H-D's COO Matthew Levatich, speaking at the company's 110-year anniversary celebration in Milwaukee, said the as-yet-unnamed bike is "nimble, light weight, has a low seat height and supple throttle and braking. I’ve ridden it – it looks great, sounds great, it’s a Harley, and it’s priced right.
“We want to get it out as soon as we can, but it’s got to be right. New engines are complicated, and we’ve got to get everything right from a durability, reliability and confidence perspective. On the other hand, chassis and other things are a lot more straightforward.”
He also hinted that it would likely be built in India: "The American qualities of a Harley are very important to people,” said Levatich. “The literal ‘where does that shock absorber come from’ part of it is less significant, but it has to have the spirit and soul of America. We have Harley-Davidson factories in India and Brazil – can we leverage those facilities and expertise so it can get to the, for example, Indian consumer, faster?
“These are things we are becoming more open-minded to, but we understand the importance of ‘made in America’ – the American quality, spirit and integrity that matters to the customer."
And if a 500cc Harley-Davidson wasn't enough of a brand-twisting bombshell, Levatich went on to talk about the possibility of an electric Harley that ditches the combustion engine altogether.
“I am sometimes asked … whether there will be an electric Harley,” said Levatich. "People would say ‘hell no’. But why not: our engineers are quite intrigued with the idea of what an electric Harley would look like, sound like and feel like. And would it be visceral, would it be emotional, would it be luscious. And there’s a way to do that I believe, and it would be very exciting.”
Baby Harleys … electric Harleys … if Milwaukee pulls this off, it'll be a bigger shift in brand perception than when BMW shrugged off its old-man-bike reputation with the S1000RR. What are your thoughts?
 

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In India a 500cc bike is considered big so for that market it will probably be a good seller. Not sure how it would do in the USA and I'm not sure they will be importing them from the factory in India or possibly make some here. It takes a lot to tool up so maybe they will just import some to see how the market does. I guess we will find out soon enough.cheers
 

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Just had a thought. If these bikes are made in India and HD makes them; are they an Indian Harley?
EPIC thumb up
 

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Another product for the Motor Company to put out there for a while and then dump, as they have done so often.
 

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light + nimble ??????

having owned a 1200 sportster that weighs same as an 883 the words light and nimble never entered my mind in 7 years of ownership, i added $5900 in upgrades searching for better handling which i got some, but still top-heavy with fork flop tendencies the stock 13 hammer i purchased surpasses any harley in that price range IMO!!!!!!
 

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I can see it going the way of the triumph bonnies. They may as well advertise as the harley cafe racer kit. A day off the floor, they will be Chopped, straight piped, flipped bars. Then harley starts selling retro greaser harley gear.
 

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Why are they worried about reliability ? They don't worry about with there early 1900s technology on there big 103 pooch.


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And silly me, I thought that with Victory and Indian on the market, HD was going to get serious about business. Instead they've gone crazy... If another american made cruiser shows up, HD might introduce a 50cc scooter, not just electric, but solar powered. :D
 

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Those bikes will not do anything for them here but overseas it should do alright for them . Just seems funny to me that harley guys look down on Vic and now there beloved harley will have some true metric and outsourced bikes.
 

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They already look down on the V-Rod, and it's just as metric.
 

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Why are they worried about reliability ? They don't worry about with there early 1900s technology on there big 103 pooch.
http://www.motorcycle.com/mobile
Because those are for sale and use for us in the USA. Over there it won't sell unless it is reliable. They have Royal Enfield and a host of other small bikes to compete with.

Here's a link to a sneak peek on the new 500.

http://www.iamabiker.com/motorcycle-news-desk/2013/india-asia-specific-harley-davidson-spotted-testing/

I really do hope they send some over here but I don't know if they would pass our crazy EPA laws. It's kind of ridiculous how we, with 300 million people, have to contend with this crazy EPA considering how many bikes there are here when they have billions of people in India and China who have millions of bikes on the roads all the time without nearly the same kind of laws we have to deal with. :crzy:
 

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Yeah, that article pretty much told me what I thought it would. In North America the trend certainly leans toward "beginner bikes" being in the 750-900cc range these days. Honda still makes the Rebel and Yamaha has a 250 V-Star, and those are our offerings for Training Wheel Bikes. HD has their work cut out of them to pull customers away from those offerings, I think, even in Asia.
 

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They used to have the Buell Blast with 1/2 a sportster engine that was a great starter bike & very nimble-don't see many around but they used them in all the HD Rider's Edge programs and a lot of MSF classes from 2000-2009.
 

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IIMHO I think HD has part of the equation right. Imagine if your first bike was a 500 cc HD and you had a good experience and loved the bike. Your upgrade bike would probably be another HD. If you were already a die hard HD fan and your son or daughter was about to start riding what would you look at for their first bike? Probably a 500cc Harley. Not a bad idea on how to build customer loyalty from the start. Too bad it is not being built in the USA. Don't get me wrong I love my Victory. My son wants a bike in the next year and at 16 years old I cannot put him on a Vic for his first bike. He has only ridden dirt bikes up to now. Just sayin there is a place for entry level bikes. HD may be on to something.
 

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starter bike

the original starter a harley sportster has grown to almost 600 lb i would not want a new rider on one, besides the weight they handle poorly, i owned an 06. beside my hammer i have a 2012 base bonneville with 17" factory mags talk about easy to ride at 440 lb dry, lighter bikes that the rider can flatfoot are best regardless of brand, used small metrics are cheap and plentiful!!! so many brainwashed people about harley's coolness!
 

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IIMHO I think HD has part of the equation right. Imagine if your first bike was a 500 cc HD and you had a good experience and loved the bike. Your upgrade bike would probably be another HD. If you were already a die hard HD fan and your son or daughter was about to start riding what would you look at for their first bike? Probably a 500cc Harley. Not a bad idea on how to build customer loyalty from the start. Too bad it is not being built in the USA. Don't get me wrong I love my Victory. My son wants a bike in the next year and at 16 years old I cannot put him on a Vic for his first bike. He has only ridden dirt bikes up to now. Just sayin there is a place for entry level bikes. HD may be on to something.
+1. That's why I've always thought Victory should do the same. All three of my 20 something sons are on Japanese starter bikes because Vic's and HDs are too big and too expensive...
 

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It seems like a market is there. New riders or the ladies that can't handle the weight of even the smallest Harley. I doubt too many new men riders would buy one, seeing how much crap the Sportsters gets.
 

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IIMHO I think HD has part of the equation right. Imagine if your first bike was a 500 cc HD and you had a good experience and loved the bike. Your upgrade bike would probably be another HD. If you were already a die hard HD fan and your son or daughter was about to start riding what would you look at for their first bike? Probably a 500cc Harley. Not a bad idea on how to build customer loyalty from the start. Too bad it is not being built in the USA. Don't get me wrong I love my Victory. My son wants a bike in the next year and at 16 years old I cannot put him on a Vic for his first bike. He has only ridden dirt bikes up to now. Just sayin there is a place for entry level bikes. HD may be on to something.
Just a suggestion, but take a look at the Suzuki SV650. It is a V-Twin & is a great bike for learning on, light weight, good handling. It is been around for quite a while now & there is a lot of aftermarket stuff available for it.thumb up.
 
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