The Deadwire Departs

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Harley—Davidson just admitted that a Harley without an engine is like a beach without the ocean. Not many, apparently, want to go there.

So the DeadWire – the Harley without an engine – will go somewhere else. Putting lipstick on this pig – which could never be a Hog – the iconic motorcycle manufacturer says the Deadwire will be “spun off” as a “stand-alone” brand.

To get it out of Harley-Davidson showrooms. Which will henceforth be “virtual.”

In part because almost no one was buying it in Harley stores. Because who would? The Deadwire isn’t even a motorcycle, let alone a Harley. Motorcycles have engines, first of all. And Harley motorcycles have V-twin engines. These engines make a very specific sound, generate a very specific rumble.

A trademarked sound.

It’s a sound that many have tried to imitate but which remains the beating heart of a Harley. Not the chrome, not the bags. The potato-potato-potato sound of the Harley-Davidson engine.

It is what defines a Harley. You hear it coming. You know your neighbor just fired his up.

Everyone knows what it is – because it doesn’t sound like anything else.

Without that sound – and that feel  – you have  . . . something else. Something not-Harley. Something anodyne. Like a man without testosterone.

A strange thing, indeed.

And without a clutch and a transmission to shift, you haven’t even got a motorcycle.

You have a scooter pretending to be one.

In this case a very expensive scooter – without the scooter’s usual merits, especially its usefulness as a way to get around. For well under $10,000 you can buy a scooter that averages 70 MPG that is capable of being ridden across the state in one day – because it does not take all day to recharge one.

The Deadwire can go maybe 70 miles – from a Harley store, where you must return to if you need to recharge in less than overnight, due to the Deadwire’s finicky electrics. Seventy miles being the extent of its best-case halfway-to-empty maximum range of 140 miles.

A real Harley’s range is about the same – but it can go all the way there – because it can be refueled anywhere and in just minutes.

Its range is effectively unlimited. Which gives its owner the freedom to ride wherever he wants, whenever he likes – and as far as he likes. A $30,000 scooter pretending to be a motorcycle that restricts your freedom? Yeah, that’ll sell. 

Like Bibles at Mecca.

Scooters also have capacity – because the available space is not taken up by a massive battery. This makes them very practical – even more so than motorcycles, which generally have limited space for stuff because of the way they’re laid out – even if they have bags attached to their flanks.

A couple of years ago, BMW sent me one of their big scooters – a C650 – to test ride. My write-up of that one is here. Not only was this thing capable of traveling several hundred miles in a day, because it didn’t make you wait before you could go – and could go in one direction, because it didn’t make you return – it could carry several full bags of groceries under its seat, where there was almost space enough for a passenger.

The Deadwire hasn’t even got that – because bags add weight, which reduces range and . .  well, you know what’s next.


The C650 wasn’t a motorcycle – and didn’t pretend to be. It was a scooter – and sold itself on those merits.

Harley has been trying – and failing – to sell something that isn’t a motorcycle as a Harley, which is both preposterous and insulting.

What biker worth his leathers wants to be seen on a scooter pretending to be a motorcycle? Bikes aren’t like cars. Including electric cars, which are fundamentally transportation appliances. Motorcycles are fundamentally different. They do serve as transportation. But transportation is secondary to the ride.

To the experience. To the sound and the feel and freedom . . . the not-being-a-scooter.

If ever there was a case of a company having lost touch with its history – and in peril of losing touch with its customers – the Deadwire Debacle is it.

“Harley Davidson is interested in letting its electrified models stand on their own terms,” reads a statement released earlier this week.

Italics added.

At least Harley appears to understand that a model is not a motorcycle, much less a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Then again, not so much. HD chairman, president and CEO Jochen Zeitz says “Deadwire”  – the new line of Harley models – “will pioneer the future of motorcycling for the pursuit of urban adventure and beyond.”

More italics added.

“Urban adventure”?

For reals, as the Millennials sometime say?

Yeah, there’s all kinds of “adventure” to be had on a motorcycle in an urban setting. Put-put-put from light to light. Then to a dead stop, to plug. Forget the open road. Forget freedom.

That’s an adventure, all right – just not the kind that people who ride motorcycles are into.

There are scooters for that, Herr Zeitz.

.  . .

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  1. You see, Eric, what you and the marketing department at HD miss is that what is hip now it “Retro”. That is, we make the old, new again. Naturally, we make it up to “today’s standards”. So, what needs to be done is make the new E-Harley look like the old style but, with electrics instead of polluting, exploitive, destructive IC engine.

    We also need a media tie-in. To that end we remake a tv show for Netflix. That, of course, would be to re-boot “Then Came Bronson” but, instead of Michael Parks we get at trans man (Michelle Parks?) to be on the E-Harley. I know if we tap into that then new intro will hook the audience as it did with the 1969 original…think of all the adventures you could have within a 70 mile radius of LA!!

    • Can hardly get one with a kick starter any more.

      If I can ever get a place to park it, I would love to get a Kawasaki W650.

      • I can tell you from experience that as it was designed for the Japanese market you had better be closer to their height to be really comfortable riding one. I’ve owned one for almost twenty years and being over 6 feet tall makes long rides a little painful but I still take them.

  2. Imagine being the guy who rolls up to the weekly Hell’s Angels meeting on one of those things.

    I don’t think it would be possible to live that one down.

  3. I see the same thing happening in the bicycle world WRT e-bikes. It’s hard to see sales figures because bicycles are hot in general right now, but there’s a fair amount of complaining about e-bikes in the community, although for very different reasons. Most cyclists see them as a crutch for fair-weather riders, and many of the more extremist types want laws passed to keep them off bike trails, speed governors (and posted speed limits with enforcement), and generally think they need to be though of as mopeds or scooters. But I imagine there are many octogenarian riders who are still in the saddle because they get the boost up hills, and people who otherwise wouldn’t ride at all. I know first hand, getting passed by a casual tourist on the road up to the Maroon Bells is a bummer, even if they’re assisted and you’re not.

    I’m sure some marketing wank at Harley Davidson did a bunch of focus group testing on electric motorcycles. They probably found that amongst HD owners the idea had all the allure of a root canal. But I’d bet cash money that the ignorant non-biker population (which outnumbers riders by a very wide margin) probably said they thought an electric motorbike was a good idea. And that they liked the idea of charging at home. Because if we’re just dreaming and looking at bullet points an electric vehicle sounds fantastic. And I’ll also bet that 150 mile rage was probably some arbitrary compromise that sounded good to the test subjects and was reasonably achievable with available engineering.

    • RW,

      “Most cyclists see them as a crutch for fair-weather riders, and many of the more extremist types want laws passed to keep them off bike trails, speed governors (and posted speed limits with enforcement), and generally think they need to be though of as mopeds or scooters”

      You are obviously not a cyclist as “we” cyclists (I ride 10K+ / year) see the use of ebikes as simply another form of cycling. Cycling includes all forms of transportation on wire spoked wheels; triangle bikes, recumbent, tandems, etc. Here, in The Villages, Florida, which includes, probably, the healthiest population of retired folks, cycling is a huge component of physical fitness. The three club membership approaches 1,500 people.

      RW, come visit us, then pen an informed opinion.

      • Ebikes come in different forms. Our local clubs differentiate between ebikes and scooters either as devices that require pedaling to trigger the “assist” mode or not having to pedal, we call them scooters. Some municipalities nationwide have tried to regulate ebike use on public, taxpayer funded right-a-ways. To my knowledge, all such uninformed regulations prohibiting passage of ebikes (not scooters) have been voted down.

      • Sure. But I’m not yet old enough to get past the gate. I’ll give you a call in 20 years (when I’m certain my view on e-bikes will be more aligned with yours).

        That 10K miles per year is at sea level, on flat land. Try 10K/yr at altitude and 15% grades, then we’ll see who’s the better cyclist.

  4. Re: The trademark Harley sound.

    A couple years ago I was at the “Wheels Through Time” motorcycle museum in Maggie Valley NC. They were running a 1915 Harley in the parking lot (all their bikes run). Remarkably, it sounded just like a late model Harley V-Twin!

  5. On the other hand, their new Pan American adventure bike is getting very favorable reviews and is a real contender in the high end adventure bike class.

    • Indeed, Robbie!

      It ought to maybe tell the management something, eh?

      I’d really like to see a big-cube standard Harley; a minimalist machine – but a man’s bike – they could sell for around $12k or so.

  6. I understand that their main clientele are getting older and they need to revitalize their brand for newer markets, but when you do a complete 180 by bringing to market products that nobody wants (but adhere to your woke ideology) and lose track of who you are and what made you successful in the first place, you are doomed to fail. And good riddance.

    My hope is that there will be a huge void left in the open market for new (non woke) companies to step in and successfully build products tailored again to what the market demands. When enough of these companies who decided to hire woke CEOs and HR departments fail, maybe it will spark a new free market capitalist renaissance. One can dream.

    • Hi Philo,

      Harley has boxed itself in, as I see it, by (on the one hand) building motorcycles much too expensive for most new/young riders (as well as being too proprietary to work on oneself) thereby largely excluding new riders from becoming Harley riders and – on the other hand – going with this Woke electric scooter nonsense.

      I may be wrong about this, but few people – of whatever age – who ride motorcycles want to ride a pretend motorcycle. One that you just sit on and rotate your right wrist to go; nothing to shift – nothing much to do. One that is much more expensive and which limits you in ways no motorcycle does.

      If I were in charge at Harley, I’d try to take the brand back to its roots – with simpler, cheaper and easier to work on bikes. Not little bikes, either. Just more elemental – as Harleys once were.

      I suspect young riders might be interested in that!

      • Good afternoon Eric,

        I agree with you on your assessment of what they are doing wrong and what they should do going forward if they want to survive. I am willing to bet that won’t happen and they will eventually fade away. The market will be ripe for someone to step in and fill the void.

        If there was ever a company that I thought might resist this green nonsense, I thought surely it would be a company such as Harley-Davidson. Such a shame. Let them reap their reward for caving.

        As for pretend motorcycles… As a kid, me and the other kids rode around the neighborhood on bicycles with a banana seat, ape hangers (no tassels), and a card in the spokes. I’m thinking I had more fun on that pretend motorcycle than I ever did on my real motorcycle that I rode around for a decade!

        When I see kids today riding a bike dressed out in full safety gear with their parents in tow everywhere they go, I get the distinct feeling that the motorcycle will eventually go the way of the dinosaur.

      • These under 35 twerps cant operate a clutch and want soy latte coupons with their micro fag transporters. I see zero motorcycle interest in the under 40 crowd. Add to that they are broke plus boring.

        • Amen, Hoggmama –

          It’s sad – and it makes me mad – because to a great extent, these kids have no clue, having been raised like veal calves. Saaaaaaaaaafety first!

          • I remember feeling a lot of pressure to make my kids wear helmets when they rode bikes, etc., when they were little. I grew up with no such thing, and learned to be careful. (No seatbelts, either, in the cars I rode in as a kid, as they weren’t available then :).) And a few skinned knees and assorted bumps and bruises is a good teacher.

            So, although it was not easy to be surrounded by the judgmental crowd, looking back I am glad that my now late teenagers learned to protect themselves. They wear helmets when they see fit, e.g., skateboarding, but it is their choice based on their assessment of their own ability, conditions, and risk. Me forcing it would only lead to them taking it off as soon as they were out of eyesight, anyway.

            • No helmet when I rode around LA with a pair of head phones on and a Sony Walkman on my hip.

              I doubt one can get away with such today in LA. Probably illegal to use headphones and bike without a helmet.

          • This part is truly sad. I’m GenX and my parents didn’t care what I did, or mostly where I went, or anything so long as I did not get into any trouble and was home by dark for dinner. My first car was actually a 10 speed bike in Los Angeles. Prior to being 16 and able to drive, I could go almost anywhere on that bike, and I did.

            The funny thing was I told my mother recently that I used to bike all over LA and she freaked out on me. “That’s too far”, “what if something happened to you?” (no cell phone for kids or lay people those days, usually no quarter either). I had to remind her that I am pretty sure I survived it all many years ago.

            If smart phones existed back then, I likely would not have been able to explore as I did.

            • Same here. Did a lot of exploring on my bike with friends. Never worried about a phone or having to get in touch with somebody 24/7, and definitely didn’t expect to make immediate contact unless I was on their front porch, ringing their doorbell.

        • I’m 33….I would say there is 30% of us in our early 30s who would disagree, but the trend is bad overall. Supposedly the younger generation is better though, but we will see. I do my part to spread mechanical wisdom. I’m never getting a new Harley unless it has a carb from the factory and is simple looking like the WWI era bikes with brass fittings. But I am an fxr rider myself wich I think is on of the best they made, with an ’80 kz1000 waiting to be reborn when I get the time.
          ALso, if any of you ever have a chance to ride a moto guzzi from the 70s take it! Those are like the harleys of Europe and they have their own lope and unique sideways vibration, plus they don’t mind hot weather at high speed

          • Hi Anchar –

            My ’76 Kz900 is basically the same as your ’80 – these are great bikes! I’ve had mine since I was your age and plan to have it when I’m Biden’s age!

            • For sure, they look great too, but I might get it working good and leave it cosmetically a barn find ‘rough’ state so I can call it mad max and ride around with the no baffle kerker and some football pads on to scare the mask cult slaves lol

  7. ‘So the DeadWire – the Harley without an engine – will go somewhere else.’ — EP

    Take back your carbon slander
    Take back your IC engine ban
    Take back your ups and downs
    Of electric bikes in raisin-land

    Take back Vanessa Redgrave
    Take back Joe Piscopo
    Take back Eddie Murphy
    Give ’em all some place to go

    You’re jammin’ me, you’re jammin’ me
    Quit jammin’ me
    Baby you can leave me charging in a corner
    Real bikes roar away, but it’s not over

    — Tom Petty, Jammin’ Me

    • Hi Mister.


      I’m not a Harley guy myself, but I am a motorcycle guy – and so I respect Harleys for being part of the family. I certainly would never respect an electric Kawasaki. May it never happen while I draw breath!

      • I see motorcycles going away in the future. They just won’t be safe because of riders falling asleep on their self-driving Tesla-bikes and getting killed by other self-driving cars.

        Once they take away your ability to control your vehicle, motorcycles will go because they will be deemed dangerous to be operated in a computer controlled traffic environment.

        Relegated to off-road only.


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