As a mom, I’m still not done teaching the kids to ride bikes. My youngest is still learning. One of the things that helped the most with my older kids was balance bikes. Once they learn to coast along and maintain balance, the rest of the bicycle experience is a cinch. Add an electric motor, and a balance bike becomes a lot more than just a learning tool, and that’s what Harley-Davidson is doing.
When teaching my kids to ride, I started by improvising my own balance bikes. A friend told me to take the pedals off, lower the seat, and have a kid use it like a scooter. To my amazement, it worked. My oldest figured it out in about 30 minutes, and days later we had the pedals back on and he was riding all over the place.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I had created a vehicle for them that actually has a long history.
Balance bikes were once known as “dandy horses.” The “dandies” were the early adopter hipsters of their day, and were the early adopters of balance bikes. Their inventor, Karl Drais, lived through the 1816 “year without a summer,” caused by a volcanic eruption’s global ash cloud. The growing season was ruined, and many horses starved or were eaten. At the time, people were very dependent on horses for transportation, so that was a real problem that needed alternatives.
Eventually inventors improved the machine further by adding a crank to the front wheels, and then later created a chain system to drive the rear wheel. Other improvements, like casettes and multiple gears, led to the bicycle we know today, and are still improving upon. Karl would probably be quite impressed with today’s e-bikes and motorcycles.
While balance bikes are usually just learning tools today, Harley-Davidson saw their potential. By giving young kids a learning tool with some power, kids can get not only into cycling, but get a small taste of what a motorcycle is like. At the point I would have thrown the pedals back on, they gave kids something they could have fun with for years.
According to a press release, the goal is to “Help your child learn to push, balance, coast and brake in the non-powered mode before graduating to the powered mode – and the throttle. The Limited Edition IRONe12 and IRONe16 electric balance bikes are geared toward instilling a lifetime love for riding on two wheels from an early age.”
Harley-Davidson’s struggles in recent years to appeal to younger riders is probably a big part of this. While its sales were good among baby boomers, generation X and millennials just weren’t interested in riding Harleys. The company is trying to change its products up to appeal to younger riders, but doing something to appeal to children is definitely important.
The bikes are available with both 12″ and 16″ wheels, with a higher powered brushless version available in the 16″ size. The bikes have a small mid-drive motor driven by a 20 volt lithium battery pack, similar to what you’d find on a cordless drill. Range isn’t listed, but Harley says it will run for 30-60 minutes on a full charge. The seat is adjustable, and a tapered footrest allows the bike to be used both as a learning tool and more like a motorcycle as the child advances.
The 12″ model comes with a 2 amp-hour battery pack, while the 16″ model has a 4 amp-hour pack. Both have twist throttles, and have different power modes with speed limits for riders to progress through as they learn, for safety.
The only real downside, from what I can tell without testing, is the price. They start at $649, with the fastest 16″ starting at $849. Compared to premium e-bikes I’ve tested, that’s not a very high price, but many parents would obviously hesitate to spend that much on a bike a kid will likely only ride for 2-3 years at most. With a mid-drive motor and quality parts, it’s still a good deal in most ways.
Because I still have 2 kids who would fall within the age range for these bikes, I’ll be contacting Harley-Davidson to see about getting some test units to give them an in-depth review. At that point, we will know for sure whether they’re worth the money.