Harley-Davidson is testing a 500cc V-twin motorcycle for learners and emerging markets such as India and China.
Chief operating officer Matt Levatich today confirmed that he had ridden the bike, but would not say when it would be released.
“It’s nimble, light, has a low seat and it will have supple throttle and brake response for learners,” he says.
“I’ve ridden it and it looks nice.
“We want to get it out as soon as we can, but with the right bike.”
Matt says the right bike will not be a single, but have a V-twin engine.
“People love a beautiful V-twin so we are very excited, but we have to get it right.
“There is a lot of testing still to be done.”
While it has been suggested that Harley will unveil the bike at the Milan show in November, Matt will not confirm timing, but says the smaller bike is “not years away”.
Matt says the bike is needed for learners as well as emerging markets such as China and India.
He says the US has one of the easiest bike licensing systems in the world.
“You can do two weekend car park tests and go and ride a hyperbike without a helmet,” he says.
Harley dealers in the US have a “Riders Edge” training program for young riders which would requires a bike under 500cc, he says.
“We are going to make a Harley-Davidson Riders Edge bike under 500cc. We are in development of that bike.”
This is big news for Australia where leaner-approved bikes are the top sellers.
Currently, Yamaha’s XVS650 is the biggest-selling cruiser, followed in the top 10 by nine Harleys.
A Harley learner bike therefore has the potential to be a huge sales success.
Harley Australia marketing manager Adam Wright says they are “extremely excited” at the prospect of a learner bike.
“It opens up a whole new market segment for Harley in Australia and we look forward to attracting more younger adults into the Harley family,” he says.
Matt didn’t announce a name for the bike, but did say that past Harley names could be used “if we still have the rights to the name”.
MotorbikeWriter has previously suggested the post-war model name Bobcat would be suitable for a lithe Harley bobber.
When I suggested the name to Matt, he raised his eyebrows, but didn’t comment.
In an open and honest interview with international press gathered at Milwaukee this weekend for the 110th anniversary celebrations, Matt also says liquid cooling will be extended to other models and would not rule out an electric Harley in the future.
“Why not!” he says.
“Our engineers are quite intrigued with what it would look and feel like.
“There is a way to make it feel and look good.”
He suggested the bike could be made in existing assembly facilities in India and Brazil.
Matt says the need to produce a smaller capacity bike and an electric bike are not driven by emissions controls, but more by fuel economy targets.
“I’m talking 10 to 15 years,” he says, regarding an electric Harley.
One thing seems certain; Harley will do what it takes to maintain its current strong growth, so long as their products retain the company’s traditional values.
(Matt has been the president and COO since May 1, 2009, and joined the company in 1994.)