Harley-Davidson has bought a stake in our favourite electric motorcycle company, Alta of California. Harley have experimented with electric bikes, making 30 or so Livewires, back in 2014 (see below) which they took on a world media tour, then seemed to mothball.
Alta have steadily developed a mightily impressive electric motocross bike, the Redshift and have entered big events like the Red Bull Straight Rhythm. They also developed a DTX-style flat track bike, and let us race it (see Sideburn 29 and also the debut of it in Sideburn Stories). They're also engaged with influencers in leftfield motorcycling, showing their bikes being ridden in skate parks, and the road bike Redshift SM (a road legal supermoto-ised version of the MX bike), ridden hooligan style through San Francisco in a way no major manufacturer would dare (it's a fun film, worth watching).
Harley's investment is exciting to us at Sideburn on a number of different levels.
1. H-D should be able to invest in battery tech to improve the Alta's range and make it more viable, to fastrack development in a way Alta couldn't alone without similar investment.
2. Harley can keep making their heritage bikes until they: A. Are finally outlawed by emissions regulations, B. No one wants them any more - while entering a whole new phase of their history. It doesn't matter how much people dig their heels in, alternative energy and regulations, whether they are fully thought through or not, is going to bring to an end the manufacture of petrol-burning cars and motorcycles in less than 15 years.
3. The concept at the top of this post, by Carbon Projects of Canada, shows a hastily mocked-up rendering that could easily be sold in current Harley dealerships (though perhaps that is part of Harley's diminishing sales, some of those solus dealers are so behind the times that they repel younger consumers). Ok, so the wheels seem slightly out of scale, but you get the gist. I rushed to post this image on Sideburn's instagram feed and it stirred up a lot of comment. See them at @sideburnmag (even if you don't have the app).
4. Harley should/could use the Alta basis to compete in the AFT singles with modern take on a framer, and put the electric bike against the 450cc singles. None of the 450 makers are supporting the championship with anything other than contingency (and I hope Sideburn has made it clear what we think of most of those deals), so AFT aren't going to lose any big sponsors, they will only bring Harley closer to their bosom. Imagine a team of Corey and Shayna Texter on electric Harleys in AFT singles 2019. Alta have the race tech ready to go. I've seen Jeffrey Carver absolutely shred on it.
In a dream scenario, then Indian, whose parent company, Polaris, bought electric manufacturer Brammo in January 2015, develop an electric flat tracker and before you know it AFT has a vibrant electric motorcycle class, where the new tech competes against petrol-powered 450s.
While Polaris bought Brammo outright the scale of the H-D Alta deal has not been disclosed, but it has been described as buying a stake in the electric firm. The subject of H-D's previous takeovers/partnerships has been brought up and reminded people of Harley's history with Aermacchi, Buell and MV Agusta, none of which ended particularly happily, but offered some fun and even glory along the way. I hope this is going to be different and it should be. Harley know if they don't get in the alternative fuels game their days are seriously limited.
ALTA'S CURRENT MODELS
Alta have just released the new iteration of the Redshift, the MXR, with a claimed 50 horsepower and a mind-boggling 147ft.lbs of torque. The bike weighs 259lb (117.5kg). Honda claims their 2017 CRF450 weighs 110kg. The Honda makes about 53bhp (at the rear wheel) and 33ft.lbs of torque.
The top of the range Redshift MXR retails at $11,995 in the US, with no European importers on board yet. The road legal SMR is $13,495.
I emailed Alta earlier this year and they said they were producing just 20 bikes per week.
Read when our tester Travis Newbold (above) raced the Death Spray-liveried Alta Redshift FT, at the 2017 One Pro Race, in Sideburn 29.
Read about the flat track debut of Alta in Sideburn STORIES