Harley-Davidson's Serial 1 E-Bikes Are Better Than They Have Any Right To Be

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Photo: Raphael Orlove
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Harley-Davidson’s Serial 1 e-bikes are better (and a better value) than I ever expected. And more fun, too.

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Full Disclosure: Serial 1 rented a minivan and drove from Milwaukee to NYC with its full range of e-bikes jammed inside. I had only a few hours before an early wintertime sunset but still was able to rip around on the company’s most affordable and most expensive bikes.

Testing Conditions: Serial 1 set up its test ride next to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, so I was able to do some sustained riding on the park’s paved loop and some more idiot-brained riding on the park’s dirt paths. I got a sense of what the bikes are like to ride, but not exactly what they’re like to live with in terms of battery charging. There is a jump that I love dearly but joggers were blocking it every time I passed. Probably for the best.

Serial 1 Explained

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Photo: Raphael Orlove

Harley-Davidson, an American icon that sells luxury sofas to the elderly, has done something surprising. It has made a business decision that makes sense.

That is, a few years back it realized that the market for e-bikes was not only taking off, but it was wide open. The world of e-bikes is still in a Wild West phase, and Harley-Davidson has a lot of brand recognition compared with everything else out there. I had to look up the most recent other e-bike a colleague of mine rode to remember its name. It’s “Rad Power.”

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Here’s the trick of it, though. Harley lucked out with e-bikes, and was better suited to jumping into the market than any legacy motorcycle company had any right to be.

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Illustration for article titled Harley-Davidson's Serial 1 E-Bikes Are Better Than They Have Any Right To Be
Photo: Raphael Orlove

As Serial 1's brand director, Aaron Frank, explained to me the day of my test ride, it turned out that Harley already employed a few bicycle engineers who happened to be motorcycle enthusiasts. At the same time, Harley also had a few motorcycle engineers on staff who happened to be bicycle enthusiasts. They formed a small team and got to work designing what’s now the Serial 1 lineup.

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There are four bikes in all, but it’s pretty much two baseline models.

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Rush/Cty Speed (above, white), Mosh/Cty (below, black).
Photo: Serial 1
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Rush: This one has a slightly different frame and also gets a self-shifting CVT hub in the rear wheel so you can be pedaling at the same cadence even when the bike is going faster or slower. You can get it as a Step-Thru or with a conventional Cty frame, and you can get it with fenders and racks. You can even get the Cty frame version in a Speed model that has a slightly different motor for a higher top speed.

Mosh: This is the base version. It has no Step-Thru version. It has no gears. It has no fenders or racks. It has a lower top speed, but it technically has as much power as the fastest model Serial 1 sells. It’s basic, but it’s the one I’d get.

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I rode the basic Mosh/Cty, which I adored, and the Rush/Cty Speed, which was impressive but slightly strange.

Top Takeaways

I expected these bikes to be pretty low-quality copycat builds with a Harley badge slapped on the front. I thought they’d be expensive but poor value, coasting by on their name alone.

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As it turns out they’re actually pretty well spec’d with good components throughout. They’re also handsome, with a thoughtful design unique to Serial 1.

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Photo: Raphael Orlove
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Photo: Raphael Orlove
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Photo: Raphael Orlove
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A mid-mounted Brose motor hides at the bottom of the bike, and the removable battery pack is tucked in front of it. The bulk of the bike is low down, and the extra open space in the frame’s downtube is a lockable storage cubby. You also get belt drive, so there’s no chain maintenance needed — and no chain lube to stain your socks. An integrated light at the front makes this thing as clean as it is practical.

Before I get into anything else, I should say that there is no great way to say what the range is on these bikes. It depends entirely on how you ride. Serial 1 estimates that the Mosh/Cty, for instance, can go anywhere from 35 to 105 miles on a charge. It’s not specific, but it seemed accurate as I rode.

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The Mosh/Cty and Rush/Cty Step-Thru models get a 529Wh battery pack, while the Rush/Cty and Rush/Cty Speed get a 706Wh pack, which the Verge reports were designed by the same team that did the battery for the LiveWire. Serial 1 says it takes a bit more than two hours to charge the battery to three-quarters full, and another 2.5 hours to go all the way.

Standout Features

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What surprised me most about the Mosh in particular is that it’s a genuinely fun bike to ride. There is a ton of assistance available, but I found myself still working up a sweat pretending it was a rigid mountain bike. I was bombing up and down hills, pedaling as hard as I could.

I guess I sort of expected these things to feel like leaden cruiser bikes that had rockets strapped to the pedals. That this e-bike encouraged me to ride like a moron was a surprise.

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Photo: Raphael Orlove

What’s also nice is that the Brose motor does have really good response. This is a mid-mounted motor, unlike the more laggy hub-mounted motors you see buzzing those fast-food delivery riders around town.

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What’s Weak

Back to the main distinction between the basic Mosh and the higher-trim Rush models. The Mosh has a pretty straightforward single-speed hub. It’s fun!

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The Rush models, though have a CVT that makes the bike genuinely faster, but also makes it feel slower. Also it kind of spins out at the pedals when you hop on the bike.

The saddles that come stock on these bikes are fine but not great, and you’d be wise to do what I did: Bring a Brooks with you. These are leather saddles that still have their same shape from long before pro cyclists started wearing butt pads. That is to say, they’re designed to be comfortable even in your normal clothes. They also look great and retro. Serial 1 put a Brooks on its own demo bike, even. I would factor another $140 to $150 for a B17 (pictured in this shoot is a B17 short) or a spring-loaded Flyer into your Serial 1 purchase.

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I will also say that this is a matter of personal taste, but the matte black on the Mosh model was not doing it for me; a gloss paint job would do wonders, as it did on Serial 1's demo bike. Maybe a forest green? Buy some comfy skinwall 650b tires for it, too? Good look.

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Safety

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All of these Serial 1s come with disc brakes, which make them significantly safer than any creaky bike I have ever owned, making my fingers bleed trying to get any stopping power out of 30-year-old cantilever brakes.

I can’t really think of anything else that’s safety related other than one key point about how these Serial 1s are put together. They do not have a hand throttle, unlike other, even cheaper e-bikes sold here in America.

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Photo: Raphael Orlove

The thing is that e-bikes are big business in Europe, and in Europe anything with a throttle also needs a license. Here in America, it’s basically anyhting goes for e-bike regulations, and we’ll let you build or ride pretty much whatever you want.

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Serial 1 didn’t want to get caught out by American regulations catching up to European ones, so none of the Serial 1 e-bikes have throttles. The Brose motors are certainly punchy — punchy enough to take note of on any of its four power settings — but you’re still guiding and controlling the thing like a bike and not a motorcycle.

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I don’t know if that makes Serial 1s easier or harder to ride around slowly, or whether that’s safer, but I did appreciate that it gave these things a more natural feel.

Jalopnik Recommended Options

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The Rush models are better at commuting, but the Mosh feels more like a bike and was more fun. I’d get the Mosh with a Brooks, which puts you around $3,550 for an e-bike that goes just 20 miles per hour, but I don’t think I’m alone in wanting one. Also, I’d talk to a local powdercoating place to redo it in a good color.

Class And Competition

There are lower-priced e-bikes out there like Rad Power, which are fine machines, if not as stylish. There are also other e-bikes from legacy bike manufacturers priced around what Serial 1s cost, but there’s something kind of overly serious about them. I don’t want an e-road bike or e-gravel bike because I enjoy pedaling my own self out into the middle of nowhere. I’d really only want an e-bike for commuter/city riding, and at that point I don’t want some stern-faced Trek or Cannondale with lots of gears and highly optimized performance. I want something single-speed and silly, and getting an e-bike from Harley fits the bill.

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Verdict

Serial 1's e-bikes are better-priced, with better components, than I ever expected, and I hope that it’s not too early of a player in the e-bike boom. It deserves a lot.

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Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

DISCUSSION

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