- Serial 1 Cycle Company spun out of Harley-Davidson as an independent e-bike brand, but it still benefits from a partnership with the long-running motorcycle maker.
- I tested two of Serial 1's initial models — the $3,399 Mosh/Cty and the $4,999 Rush/Cty Speed — and found they both rode beautifully.
- The bikes are available to preorder now, with deliveries starting next spring.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
As electric bikes explode in popularity, car and motorcycle makers from Ford to Jeep to Ducati have hopped on the battery-powered bandwagon, launching their own offerings that are often nothing more than another brand's bike with a new logo slapped on.
Instead of a mere paint job, Harley-Davidson will enter the e-bike market with something completely new.
The manufacturer's e-bike program plans to launch four models this spring, but they aren't Harleys at all. Serial 1 Cycle Company began as a skunkworks project within Harley-Davidson and broke off into its own independent firm earlier this year, launching with the full spectrum of support from Harley: a space on its Milwaukee campus, a minority stake, an engineering and development partnership, and a name that pays homage to its very first motorcycle.
"We joke that we're the startup working out of its parents' basement," Serial 1 brand director Aaron Frank told Business Insider.
But the kind of living situation that may be a headache for a recent college grad is a boon for the upstart bike manufacturer, as it gets access to resources and manufacturing know-how from a larger and more established company. The brand is staffed in part by former Harley engineers, has access to its testing and development facilities, and gets the same battery technology as the LiveWire electric motorcycle, to name a few perks.
The result of that partnership is an initial lineup of commuter e-bikes that are built well, incorporate tons of high-end and custom-designed components, show extraordinary attention to detail, and deliver a smooth and balanced ride.
Four e-bikes, averaging around $4,000
Serial 1 will launch with four bikes: the entry-level $3,399 Mosh/Cty along with three Rush/Cty models that range in price from $4,399 to $4,999. The brand invited me out to Brooklyn to test out the Mosh/Cty and the range-topping Rush/Cty Speed.
All the models share lots of high-end features and components, and the philosophy behind many of the design choices was to let buyers — who, market research says, typically are new to biking — "just put air in the tires and go," Frank said.
They use a belt drive instead of a conventional chain, which means not only a quiet ride and no more black grease stains on your pant legs, but it also eliminates the need to clean, lubricate, or replace a chain. The bikes also have hydraulic disc brakes — with no potential for cable slack — along with cables that are routed through the handlebars and frame, which makes for a sleek look and cuts down on the possibility of anything getting snagged.
Some other nice touches: Serial 1 bikes come with a light integrated into the front badge, a headlight mounted to the handlebars, and brake lights embedded in the back of the frame. Rush/Cty models come equipped with front and rear racks, while the Mosh/Cty has mounts for them.
As for the drivetrain, each bike comes with the same mid-drive 250-watt Brose motor that delivers four levels of pedal assist. The top half of the model range comes with 706-Wh batteries while the bottom half comes with 529-Wh packs, but the batteries are interchangeable between models.
The key difference between the Mosh and Rush models is that the former has a single speed, while the latter make use of an Enviolo NuVinci automatic transmission.
The bikes are available to preorder now, with deliveries starting in summer 2021. If commuter bikes aren't quite your style, Serial 1 plans to expand into other types of e-bikes after the launch of the Cty lineup.
The riding experience
Whipping Serial 1's bikes around the bends and up the steep hills of Brooklyn's Prospect Park on a brisk, sunny December day was a blast, and not just by "I've been locked up in quarantine for nine months" standards.
The motorized bikes let me effortlessly do things I couldn't do on a regular bike — zip by Spandex-wearing cyclists, hit nearly 30 mph on flats, and easily power up climbs that would normally leave me winded — but they didn't take away from the joy and the connected feeling you get when riding a non-electric bike.
Serial 1 bikes don't have a throttle, and — whereas many electric bikes provide pedal assistance based on pedal cadence or wheel speed — the Brose motor uses a torque sensor and puts out power to match the effort a rider is putting in. Power comes on instantly and naturally; the harder you pedal, the more assistance you get.
The combination of a mid-drive motor between the pedals and a custom battery that slots in low on the frame — instead of being mounted up high like on some other e-bikes — gives Serial 1's bikes a super low center of gravity and makes them remarkably nimble. The bikes feel balanced and planted even at the Speed version's top speed of 28 mph — and I eagerly pushed the bikes' limits by carving corners at speed.
Frank said Serial 1's engineers made "mass centralization," a core tenet of motorcycle design, a top priority. They also developed Serial 1's frames to the same rigidity standards as Harley's motorcycles.
You might think all that Harley influence would produce bikes that ride like motorcycles, but — due to their balanced ride, natural-feeling motor, and comfortable upright riding position — cruising around on a Serial 1 e-bike feels surprisingly similar to riding a regular bike, even with all the added weight and tech.
The Mosh/Cty is engineered so it's easy to get going from a stop, and the lack of gears doesn't pose much of an issue for hills when you have an electric motor picking up the slack. But the assisted top speed of 20 mph doesn't come easily — in order to hit it, you'll need to pedal quickly.
The automatic transmission found in the Rush models really steps the ride quality up. All you do is set your preferred pedaling speed through a companion app and the transmission constantly — almost imperceptibly — reacts to keep you in the right gear.
The torque-sensing motor plus the continuously variable transmission means all you have to do is choose a pedal-assist level, and the bike smoothly takes care of everything else.
A break from the norm
It would have been much more straightforward — and probably a whole lot cheaper — for Harley-Davidson to cash in on the e-bike boom by licensing out its name or cobbling together a bike from off-the-shelf parts. But Serial 1, with Harley's financial backing and support, has created something worlds better than that.
Having ridden solid e-bikes that cost less than half the price of Serial 1's cheapest offering, I came in thinking that the $3,000 to $5,000 e-bikes might be overpriced due to their Harley-Davidson affiliation. But Serial 1 isn't competing with those budget-friendly or mid-market products, and it offers a lot more than just a "Powered by Harley-Davidson" label emblazoned on its frames.
Its price tags and components are in line with what you'd find from the high-end e-bike makers it's gunning for, like Trek, Specialized, and Giant, plus it benefits from wearing the Harley badge — something those brands can't say.
The Rush/Cty and Mosh/Cty make it clear that Harley-Davidson and Serial 1 are in it for the long haul, and they bring heaps more to the table than some of the badge-slap bikes on the market today. For Harley, that was the goal from the start.
"People have expectations from the Harley Davidson brand in terms of quality and execution and design and styling and originality, and all of that stuff is very important to us," Frank said. "We're taking this space very, very seriously."
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