The Serial 1 line of e-bikes being sold at select Harley-Davidson dealers is a mediocre entry into an already crowded field of excellent e-bikes. Mediocre, at best, it should be said. What’s worse is that, just a few months ago, a mediocre e-bike offering from a brand as technologically backwards as Harley-Davidson pretends to be would have been welcome. Hell, it would have been celebrated, even — but, no. The new Serial 1 is bullshit, and we only know that it’s bullshit because H-D themselves showed us a glorious vision of what the Serial 1 could and should be.
Before we talk about the Serial 1 as it could have been, though, we need to understand what it is — at least, what it will be in March of 2021 when production officially begins. What it is, then, is this:
Harley is calling this bike the MOSH/CTY, which it translates into something that’s supposed to sound like “mosh city” to the focus group who, doubtless, gave it the nod.
If the MOSH/CTY looks like anything at all, I think it looks like a mid-level urban hybrid comfort bike aimed squarely at young urban professionals who might ride the bike a few miles from their condos to their offices. It’s certainly not a road bike (the seating position is far too relaxed), and it’s not a cruiser (not quite relaxed enough), and it’s not a mountain bike (handlebars are too high, among other things), and it is most certainly not a BMX stunt bike — which, you know, might make sense for something called MOSH/CTY, even if the $3399 starting price did contribute to making the name seem laughable.
In other words, it’s a bike for people who Harley’s core riders might derisively call “yuppies” … and I think you’d be hard-pressed to get enough of the Pumpkin Spice Latte/IPA crowd into a Harley dealership to buy one of these when a Trek, Giant, or Specialized dealer might seem much more welcoming. And, while we’re at it, when something like a Super73 or Monday Motorbikes e-moped might seem more on trend.
It didn’t have to be this way, though. Feast your eyes on what could have been, people. Stare into this once possible future for Serial 1, and weep along with me at the missed opportunities that lie therein.
Introducing Serial 1 eBicycles, by Harley-Davidson
Look at it. The Serial 1 shown in the official Harley-Davidson intro video above is very much the same bike, mechanically, offered for sale in 2021. It has the same frame, the same electric motor, the same wire wheels, even the same tires … only it’s not the same, is it? That “same” frame, instead of being economically powder coated with a dull, matte finish is positively dripping with deep, black gloss. Is it lacquer, like the first 1903 Harley-Davidson serial number 1? There are brass touches here and there, too, as on that first 1903 bike. The crankset is the same, only it’s polished to a brilliant shine in the launch video. In production? More lifeless matte black coatings. The tires on the Serial 1 shown are a brilliant white, just like the very earliest Harleys — which had pedals, too! — and the grips and seat, instead of being covered in more generic black materials are a gorgeous, chestnut brown leather. The biggest mechanical difference between what we could have had and what we do have seems to be a Brooks sprung bike saddle.
And yet, here we are. The bike shown in the hype-building video shown by Harley is so aesthetically different, so alien in terms of its philosophy from the production Serial 1 that I’m sure a competent attorney could argue a case of bait-and-switch. And win.
That initial homage to the 1903 Harley would have been more expensive, of course. It might have been a loser at twice the MOSH/CTY’s $3399 asking price, even — but that shouldn’t have mattered to Harley Chief Executive Officer Jochen Zeitz, whose restructuring plan for H-D is all about the brand’s focus on superior paints and finishes and commanding a premium price for a limited product. It’s about supply and demand, and ensuring that Harley builds the bikes its customers demand.
Nobody demanded another generic, mid-range e-bike — and certainly nobody with a Harley tattoo. And that’s the worst part. The Serial 1 is a failure, not because it probably won’t sell (by the way: it probably won’t sell). It’s a failure for H-D because it represents a victory for some accountant up in corporate who managed to shave a few dollars off the build sheet, or some recent college grad who compiled reams of market data on e-bikes and pitched the name MOSH/CTY with more than a little bit of pride in its cleverness. What it could have been was a statement piece. A statement piece that Harley-Davidson so desperately needs, and a statement the Motor Company desperately needs to make. That statement is: We get it, and we know how to bring it into the future.
Whoever designed and approved the $3399 MOSH/CTY instead of the $9999 Serial 1 retro concept may get Trek and Giant and maybe even RadMission, but they don’t get Harley-Davidson. And, thankfully, I was able to get my deposit back.