Imagine you are a big moto manufacturer. Times are not the best, and you’ve just spent millions on building an electric motorcycle from scratch. You think it’s a good machine, but wonder how to show the world that it is.
Getting the LiveWire word out
How would you go about getting the good word out? Sure, you could take out a bunch of advertisements and toot your own horn, saying how wonderful your product is. But in today’s social media-obsessed world, influencers seem to attract the most attention to a brand.
So you set off in search of a good influencer or two and ask them if they would be willing to promote your brand/product. If you’re lucky, perhaps an influencer will come knocking on your door asking to use your product for a fee and free product. One of those two things could be what happened to Harley-Davidson, and it snapped up the opportunity.
Harley scores MacGregor and Boorman
Regardless of who contacted whom, Ewan MacGregor and Charlie Boorman decided to use Harley-Davidson’s electric LiveWire motorcycles for “The Long Way Up.” It would be a journey covering approximately 13,000 miles from the tip of Argentina to Los Angeles. And that can only be a good thing for Harley-Davidson.
The duo’s two previous motorcycle travel series, The Long Way Round and The Long Way Down, were media hits and were seen by many millions of people. And not just once, but for several weeks in a TV series. The series is still a hit many years later.
But for those trips, MacGregor and Boorman used BMW machines. And BMW benefitted greatly. Whether it was the quality of the GSs, the media attention, or a combination of the two, the BMW GS series of bikes has been a huge success for the German brand.
So when Harley-Davidson snatched up the opportunity to show their bike to the world on a similar ride, they needed to make sure the ride was a success. Without getting into the additional assistance that MacGregor and Boorman would receive during the trip, Harley needed to make sure that the bikes could physically make the journey.
LiveWire not designed as an adventure bike
After all, the LiveWires were not built as “adventure” bikes. They were built for paved urban riding or short burst apex strafing. Harley’s designers and engineers probably never even thought about making the bikes capable of riding thousands of miles on dirt and gravel roads in 2nd and 3rd world places.
But the opportunity was there, and Harley knew it would have to up the LiveWire’s game to navigate the planned on and off-road route successfully. So they embarked on an engineering and modification journey to do just that.
According to electrek, Harley performed several modifications to help the LiveWires deal with the conditions they would encounter. First, Harley brought out its first LiveWire prototype and gave it to Charlie Boorman to test on a track.
After ripping it up on a track for a while, Boorman reportedly came back with a smile on his face along with a list of suggestions on how to better the machine for its new intended mission.
Volunteer Harley employees
Surprisingly, a team made up of Harley employees, who mostly volunteered their time after regular work hours, started the customization process. Some of the changes were easy fixes for the accessories you find on many adventure motorcycles.
The bikes got crash bars, handguards, and a bash plate. As a naked machine, Harley fabricated some small clear windshields. Other equipment like soft luggage didn’t require much in the line of modification.
But from there, things would get trickier. Harley got to work. A new rear suspension setup was grafted into the bikes. The change would give the rear of the bike an extra inch and a half of travel and two inches of ground clearance. While that might not seem like a lot, the Harley team wanted to give the bikes their best chance of success. That small amount could mean the difference between success and failure.
Using the Pan America
Luckily, Harley was (and is) still working on its own adventure bike called the Pan America. The LiveWire engineering team decided to use the Pan America’s larger wheels, brake rotors, and tires to better the LiveWire’s off-road chops.
But to use those parts, Harley engineers had to make some significant changes. Ultimately, they built an entirely new steering head and front end assembly. The new setup provided the appropriate geometry and clearance required for the larger wheels, increased ground clearance, and suspension travel.
With these modifications, made by a mostly volunteer team, Harley-Davidson hoped that the LiveWires could make the trip. It was a risk, but it was a risk that the MoCo was willing to take. A risk that another well-known performance biased manufacturer refused to accept. Harley deserves credit for taking on the risk where another wouldn’t.
Risk and success
By now, we all know that the trip was successfully completed. The breadth and depth of support, repairs, and assistance MacGregor and Boorman received are only known by a few. But for Harley-Davidson, the story is one of taking a risk and succeeding.
The LiveWires used in “The Long Way Up” aren’t the bikes you or I could purchase. But for Harley, that really isn’t that important. People now know more about its LiveWire. The exposure can only help spur sales of the electric bike. Perhaps it can also lead to sales of Harley’s Pan America when it is released.
So kudos to Harley-Davidson and the mostly volunteer team that toiled after hours to make the LiveWire’s journey a success.
All photo credit: LongWayUp.com