With the motorcycle industry shrinking worldwide, Harley-Davidson has pulled out all the stops to attract new customers, reports GAVIN FOSTER.
The press release was abundantly strewn with corporate references. It mentioned retail channels and missions to keep existing Harley-Davidson riders engaged and riding for longer. But, in-between all the lines of corporate speak, the American bikemaker rather abruptly dropped some interesting news.
It will launch a new range of middleweight motorcycles ranging between 500 and 1,250 cc. The new liquid-cooled double-overhead camshaft V-twins will come in a range of four displacements. The range, of which the first is scheduled for launch in 2020, includes a variety of custom-styled motorcycles and street fighters.
MIXED HARLEY-DAVIDSON LINE-UP
Among them is Harley’s first-ever adventure tourer, the Pan America 1250. It will, according to Harley, also become available with a 975 cc engine at some stage, but before that, in 2019 to be specific, Harley-Davidson is set to launch something somewhat more future-proof.
It’s called the LiveWire and, as the name suggests, it will be Harley’s first-ever electric motorcycle scheduled to shake its covers in 2019.
While this is all adventurous territory for the factory, the decision to also develop a new range of 250 to 500 cc motorcycles for the Asian market is somewhat less so. Harley purists may recoil in horror at the very idea, but such tomfooleries are an old hat for Milwaukee.
The American company sold copies of the pre-war DKW RT125 as their Model 125 between 1948 and 1965, and when those were finally pensioned off, imported Italian Aermacchi single-cylinder two and four-stroke motorcycles were sold as Harley-Davidsons.
They even won four 250 and 350 cc Grand Prix world championships for Harley Davidson between 1974 and ’76 with Walter Villa. The 1930s DKW clone, by the way, was also built in the UK as the BSA Bantam, and in Japan as the 1955 Yamaha YA125 – the Japanese manufacturer’s very first motorcycle.
America is America and Asia is Asia, but here in South Africa, Harley-Davidson’s most significant new model will undoubtedly be the Pan-American touring adventure motorcycle that’ll likely be unveiled in late 2019 in a build-up towards 2020.
UNEASY FOOT IN THE DOOR
If Harley wants to be taken seriously, though, the new dual-purpose heavyweight will need to be a worthy rival to BMW’s ever-so-popular R1200GS and KTM’s harder-edged 1,290 cc adventure bike. BMW is not going to make it any easier for Harley by launching what’s rumoured to be a new 1,250 cc version with variable valve timing next year.
The new Beemer is unlikely to match the 260 km/h KTM 1290’s 160 hp and 140 Nm though, while Harley-Davidson is also likely to settle for significantly less punch.
BMW will probably wring around 140 hp from the engine which is more than enough for most people and, if Harley comes out with a wimpish 80 hp V-twin in an overweight chassis, they’ll have lost the war in the first skirmish.
The Japanese manufacturers, however, haven’t wholeheartedly taken to the big hyper-adventure bike thing in the way that KTM and BMW have, but the bikes they offer are pretty useful, albeit somewhat underrated in the eyes of the buying public.
The 1,000 cc Honda Africa Twin delivers 95 hp and weighs 232 kg, while the Yamaha Super Tenere 1200 uses 112 hp to scoot its 257 kg (wet) down the road. Harley, as a result, should aim at fitting in at least somewhere between the two.
It’s stacking up to be quite the challenge for Harley, but we think that if they can get the nitty-gritties like electronic driver aids and weighting (factors they have never paid much attention to in the past)
One question remains though: How far are they truly willing to move on from their traditionally stolid, rumbling heavyweight cruisers?
Other models like the Harley-Davidson Streetfighter and more traditional Custom models will be followed up over the next couple of years by a wave of about 15 derivatives displacing between 500 and 1,200 cc which are likely going to mean the demise of the air-cooled 883 and 1,200 cc Sportster models.
One thing is certain, though. We’re going to see a lot more Harley-Davidsons built outside of the US in the near future and, well, many of them will be as different as salt and pepper to the Harley-Davidson moniker as we know it today. And for Harley? Well, they have done it before, haven’t they?
Report by GAVIN FOSTER | Images © HARLEY-DAVIDSON