The idea of electric bicycles is far from new, with some patents dating back as early as the 19th century. But in a year that’s seen us finding new ways to avoid public transport in the name of social distancing in the city, the electric bike is very much front and centre.
Even major brands, such as Harley-Davidson, have got in on the action. Well, the company’s original prototype project split off into this e-bike series, the Serial 1, which remains under the control of a team of former Harley engineers.
It’s fair to say that a Harley has never been aimed at the keen cyclist. And with engineering expertise in two-wheeled precision, is the Serial 1 – which comes in four different models – an ideal way to deliver you to your destination with reduced effort, without going whole-hog motorbike?
Types of e-bike
Electric bikes, or e-bikes as they’re more commonly known, offer one obvious giant benefit over their manual cousins: motorisation.
While travelling at 15.5mph (25kmph) or more on a regular commuter bike is possible, it can take some serious leg power and more than a little perspiration. Meanwhile you can be keeping up with traffic on an electric bike while barely breaking a sweat.
There are different grades of e-bike depending on the power and propulsion on offer.
• Class 1 pedal assist e-bikes (or pedelecs) provide additional power from an electric motor of up to 250 Watts (while pedalling) and are capable of modest speeds (under 20mph/32kmph).
• Class 2 e-bikes provide power-on-demand (without pedalling) in addition to pedal assist.
• Class 3 pedal assist bikes (S-pedelecs) have motors greater than 250 Watts and can reach speeds of 30mph/48kmph or more. In some regions, such as the EU, these are not classed as electric bikes, instead moped – and require a licence to ride them.
• Class 4 e-bikes are power-on-demand only and usually classed as mopeds.
Born a Harley
The name Harley-Davidson is one you probably associate with brutally loud motorbikes and not one you might expect to see on any electric vehicle. However, the company’s recent Livewire electric model changed all that and was recently seen being tested to its limits by Ewan McGreggor on his latest Long Way Up series.
While developing this revolutionary Harley electric motorcycle, the company had a separate team working on an electric pedal bicycle. However, somewhere along the line, a decision was made to break this project off into its own company. Thus Serial 1 was formed.
The name is a reference to the first motorbike Harley-Davidson created back in 1903 – known as Serial Number One – and each bike also carries the “powered by Harley-Davidson” tagline on the chain stay. So it’s not precisely a Harley, but it’s rooted in the history.
Serial 1 officially launched in November 2019 with four models. These range from the stripped-down Mosh/cty, to the 28mph/45kmph Class 3 Rush/cty Speed. These will all be available later in 2021 (some as early as spring) with pre-orders now open via the website for US and Europe – noting that, region by region, different speed caps may apply.
We were luckily enough to try out prototypes of all four to get an idea of how they handle. This review is based on hands-on time with these.
All models include front and rear hydraulic brakes, a carbon-fibre belt drive and Schwalbe Super Moto-X tyres. A powerful front LED headlight features on all models, while rear LED lights (and brake lights) are built into the frame. The Serial 1 front badge also lights up when the bike is powered on.
The battery unit (either 529Wh or 706Wh) is removeable to allow separate charging if required. The 250W electric motor is a mid-mounted Brose TF MAG motor that produces 90Nm/66 ft lbs torque. This power is delivered as a pedal assist with four modes in increasing strength: Eco, Tour, Sport and Boost. There is also a walk-assist function to help if pushing the bike up an incline.
Though we didn’t have the bikes long enough to test their range or charging times, the specifications suggest a broad 35-100m (56-160km) range, depending on usage and terrain, and a charge time of 3.5 hours to 75 per cent (6.5 hours to 100 per cent) for the larger battery and 2.6 hours to 75 per cent (4.75 hours to 100 per cent) for the smaller unit. In practice, for an average commute, this probably means an overnight charge every three to four days.
Depending on the model the frames come in a choice of three or four sizes with a choice of colour finish.
The Mosh/cty is the most affordable of the range – at $3,399 (£2,529/€2,789) and looks the least like an ebike as we know it. Finished in matte black, the bike has been stripped of many of the accessories seen on the other models, apart from the kickstand and powerful LED front headlight and rear lights. An alternative version adds a small accent of blue to the finish.
The bike features a single-speed freewheel hub, which makes the pedalling feel very responsive and easy to ride over different terrain. The 529Wh electric motor is controlled by a subtle rocker control on the handlebars that displays a series of one to four lights depending on whether in the Tour, Eco, Sport or Boost modes. This will allow you to maintain speeds of up to 20mph – though we were able to get a little more out of it on a straight. No doubt this will be limited to lower speeds for other markets, such as the UK.
The Mosh, in many ways, looks and feels the most ‘Harley’ of the four models. The stripped-down design makes it lighter than the others and although it lacks the larger 706Wh battery or the Class 3 speed, it was the most fun to ride. ‘Lighter’ is of course a relative term for a bike that weighs in at 48lbs (21.9kg) though – although that’s about the same as many non-electric casual rental bikes in major cities.
This is also still very much a city bike as, aside from the chunky Schwalbe tires, there is no suspension here.
Priced at $4,499 (£3,349/€3,695) this mid-range commuter model comes with all the necessary gadgets – from a digital speedometer and larger 706Wh battery to a storage compartment, panniers, mud guards, and a bell. It comes in a black finish, but this time with more of a gloss, or alternatively in a light grey (which is referred to as matte ‘vapor silver’) with black and orange accents.
Unlike the single-speed Mosh, the Rush features the Enviolo Automatiq intelligent automatic transmission. This provides a constantly variable gear ratio that adjusts to maintain a constant cadence. Using the Serial 1 mobile app you can adjust your revolutions per minute (RPM) as well as get a range of stats on usage.
The variable gears can feel a little strange on first use, as they start off on a high gearing before dropping down as you build speed. With the added power of the motor, this means you can actually stay seated as you approach a hill or go from a standing start.
Another benefit of this transmission is that once you build up speed it is easier to maintain it, even with the motor on a lower setting. Though the specs state a maximum assist of up to 20mph/32kmpmh, this bike is more than capable of keeping up with fast-moving traffic if you put a little work in. Again, depending on territory of release, don’t expect such speed upon release.
Priced $100 (£75/€80) less than the regular Rush at $4,399 (£3,275/€3,610) the main difference of this model is the lower step-through frame. This is more unisex in its appeal and much like many European-style bikes, or the pay-by-the-hour bikes that have become a common feature in cities across the globe. It also features the smaller 529Wh battery to avoid a protruding bump on the step-through frame.
Like the standard Rush, it features panniers, mud guards, a bell, and a digital speedometer – which also gives visual control of the electric motor mode. There’s also a storage compartment big enough to fit a folding bike lock, such as the Abus Bordo.
In addition to a gloss black option, this model comes in a white and black finish that gives it a more modern ebike feel. This is likely to have more of a universal appeal than the black and grey options. Though there is little difference in the handling here, the step-through frame is likely to carve out its own audience.
Unlike the other three models here (which are Class 1 bikes), the Rush Speed is a Class 3 bike and offers motor assist up to 28mph/45kmph. This is a notable distinction in countries where these ebikes are treated as mopeds, and therefore require certain safety features to be included. In the UK, Class 3 bikes require motorcycle insurance and tax, a driving licence and a motorcycle helmet to be worn. Currently in the US there are no extra regulations for Class 3 bikes.
Aside from the extra power, the $4,999 (£3,720/€4,100) Rush/cty Speed is very similar to the regular Rush. It includes the front and rear panniers/mud guards, the larger 706Wh battery, and the constantly variable gear ratio. Models for Europe and the UK will include the required safety features, such as the licence plate holders and horn. Like the Rush Step-thru, this model comes in a choice of black or a white a black finish.
The additional speed is noticeable here when you place the motor into the higher Boost or Sport modes, and you can quickly build up to a cruising speed of over 25mph/40kmph with little effort. Given the relatively small $400 (£300/€330) price increase for this model, buyers in the US are likely to opt for this model, while those in the UK and Europe might be put off by the legal implications – as it’s not really an e-bike.