Ethan Emler isn’t a typical Harley-Davidson rider. For one thing, he’s two years old. But he’s become a poster child (literally) for the iconic motorcycle-maker’s push to attract the “next generation of riders.”
This week, Harley announced that it was acquiring StaCyc, a California-based company that makes electric two-wheel bikes for kids. (Terms were not disclosed.) Founded in 2016, StaCyc describes itself as “a fun, upbeat kids’ brand,” which is a far cry from the loud, macho, outlaw image of its new parent company.
Even so, the Harley team described the acquisition as one of shared vision and values. “The StaCyc team shares the same vision we have for building the next generation of riders globally and we believe that together, we will have a significant impact in bringing the fun and enjoyment of riding to kids everywhere,” the company said in a statement.
If this move seems a bit off-brand, that’s because Harley is trying to expand its brand. The company has struggled to attract customers for its gas-guzzling “hogs” beyond Baby Boomer diehards, while also suffering from tariffs imposed by the EU in retaliation for duties introduced by the Trump administration. Harley expects to ship as few as 217,000 motorcycles in 2019, which would be the lowest total in eight years. It shipped 229,000 worldwide last year.
Harley has responded with a plan dubbed More Roads to Harley-Davidson to try and attract 2 million new riders over the next decade. That includes setting up riding schools and launching dozens of new bikes with an emphasis on lightweight and middleweight electric models (it recently unveiled the LiveWire, a “premium, high-performance electric motorcycle”). It has set a goal of increasing overseas sales by 50%.
Parents may wonder where an electric bike will fit in the pantheon of stuff that kids accumulate. StaCyc sells its bikes for between $649 to $699, so it’s not exactly the price point for the first two-wheeler that a toddler learns to balance on. It isn’t the most eco-friendly way to get to the park or to school, and doesn’t do much for a kid’s need for nonstop exercise.
But it will no doubt appeal to many children’s need for speed, and may allow parents to run or bike with their kids before they are able to keep up on their own. Mercifully, the electric bikes are quieter than the piercing growl of the typical Harley. The sound that kids make when they open it up—the top speed on some StaCyc models is 11mph—is another matter.