Harlan Flagg’s Hollywood Electrics Has Been “Transforming How LA Rides Since 2009”

Inside the red building at Fairfax and Willoughby in West Hollywood sits a gleaming collection of the most dynamic motorcycles in Los Angeles, a selection of the latest, most technologically advanced two-wheeled electric vehicles. This is Hollywood Electrics, the “World’s Leading Electric Motorcycle Dealership” and a success story that has just celebrated its 10th birthday.

Harlan Flagg at the summit of Pike’s Peak with a Zero. [Hollywood Electrics]
Electric bikes seem like an easy sell; who wouldn’t want a stealthy, responsive, emissions-free vehicle in a city crowded with treacherous, toxic traffic? Turns out the challenge to selling ebikes lies is the collective mindset of riders, and shifting hearts towards electric is an endeavor that requires a great amount of courage, endurance, and a passion for adventure. Founder of Hollywood Electrics, Harlan Flagg, possesses all these necessary attributes, plus a devotion to helping riders understand why owning an electric motorcycle is the best choice.

“The world would be a better place if everyone rode a motorcycle.” – Harlan Flagg

The Vintagent had a chance to chat with Flagg about what inspired the idea for the store, what has evolved in the world of two-wheeled EVs, and what needs to happen next for the burgeoning e-bike industry to maintain, and gather momentum. Flagg’s interest in electric vehicles started years ago when he and his father, both electrical engineers, decided to dig in and experiment.

The Hollywood Electrics racing team for the Pike’s Peak Hillclimb. [Hollywood Electrics]
“The simplicity of an electric drivetrain made us curious as to what the challenges were and why more companies weren’t trying to build an electric car. After the first-hand experience converting a car to electric, we realized we should have started with something smaller, a more powerful motor and batteries; we should have started with a motorcycle! Around that time, I had heard of a couple of electric motorcycle companies that were announcing products, including Zero. I went to an EV event and saw the early, off-road Zero model and was hooked! I figured I couldn’t be the only person that wanted one and knew LA would be the ideal location for an electric motorcycle shop.”

I asked Flagg about those early days, and what has changed.

“10 years ago [an electric vehicle] was a novelty item. The people that were coming in then were early adopters. They were EV enthusiasts who could afford to spend $10,000 on an electric motorcycle, but maybe not $100,000 on TESLA roadster. These days there is more of a traditional motorcycle crowd; people who ride every day, people who are looking for a different kind of transportation to commute to work on.”

With a converted Zero racer at the Pike’s Peak Hillclimb. [Hollywood Electrics]
“What is most exciting is people that are interested in getting into motorcycles for the first time. It’s exciting for them. They’ve literally had no interest in riding a gas bike before, but this electric motorcycle, that’s interesting! Then you’ve also got your returning riders. [F]or some reason this new technology has sparked their interest. They didn’t have an interest of getting back into biking until they saw this electric motorcycle and said, ‘Hey, you know, that sounds cool. Maybe I want to do that.’”

What, needs to happen, for even more people to feel comfortable with this new technology?

“I think that we’re at such an early stage for electric vehicles that people are still trying to wrap their heads around it. We’re also, I think (just human nature), a bit inflexible, and set in our ways. We’ve been so accustomed to gas vehicles – it’s part of our routine – that we can’t understand doing it a different way. I ride my [electric] motorcycle every day, it’s so convenient. I don’t have to stop for gas. I don’t have to do routine maintenance, like oil changes. I literally go home, and I plug the bike in, and it’s got a full charge in the morning. Nobody’s got a gas filling station at home. You have to go out of your way to fill up on gas, but it’s an inconvenience that we take for granted.”

The questions of range also seem to be a sticking point for prospective customers, one that fires him up a bit. It seems that gas riders are holding electric bikes to a higher standard.

“Anytime someone tells me, ‘Hey, I’ll buy an electric bike when the range is 500 miles’, I look at them and say, ‘What gas bike are you riding that you have a 500-mile range?’ It’s not that the bike needs more range, it’s about the infrastructure. We need to invest in the infrastructure.”

So, it’s not the bikes, it’s the power infrastructure?

“Gas stations didn’t just pop-up overnight. 100 years ago when people started driving gas vehicles, there was no such thing as a gas station; you had to stop at the hardware store to pick up a gallon or two. Compared to the gas vehicle infrastructure, it is trivial. You know what it takes to set up a gas infrastructure? It’s a logistical nightmare. You need a gas station. Then you need trucks to drive this explosive liquid from one station to the next, after they’ve picked it up from a refinery. Where does the refinery get oil? It’s amazing that it works as well as it does, and it only works as well as it does because it’s had 100 years to mature.”

Redfoo of LMFAO after reflecting on the utility of an ebike after the Malibu fires… [Hollywood Electrics]
“10 years in, it (already only) takes us 20 mins or so to charge up a car [and still] people are already driving their TESLA cars cross country. Some see this as an inconvenience; others see it as an opportunity to get out of their cars and smell the roses.”

What do you say to people who think the shift is taking too long?

“Here we are, barely a decade into this nascent EV industry and there are already manufacturers that are meeting and beating those (high) expectations, like Zero Motorcycles. They’ve got a motorcycle that can do over 200 miles on a charge and is able to exceed 100 mph. 0-60mph in 3 seconds. These are pretty good benchmarks for what you can expect from a useable motorcycle. Just imagine what the next decade will bring!”

Flagg is himself contributing to the research and development of electric motorcycles. Hollywood Electrics tests its high-end aftermarket parts line by modifying race bikes. In fact, one of Flagg’s fondest memories involved the Hollywood Electrics Motorcycle Racing Team at the 2013 Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb.

“We had little experience racing or tuning the bikes at that point and were very ambitious, having brought six bikes with us so that PPIHC would allow us to race in our class. Somehow all six bikes finished the race and all in respectable time, a testament to the quality of the bike and our preparedness as a team. I knew at that point that we needed to continue with this effort and show the world that if these bikes can handle a race as challenging as this, it would be more than sufficient for their commute to work.”

Harlan Flagg inside his WeHo dealership, Hollywood Electrics. [Hollywood Electrics]
All this technology sounds great, but how do they ride?

“Every single time somebody takes one of our electric bikes out for a run, they come back with a huge smile on their faces. Grown men giggle when they ride these bikes. The delivery, the acceleration, it’s like being thrown out of a catapult. It comes on instantly. It’s exciting every time you hit the accelerator; and it’s so smooth. You’re always in the right gear [and] you’re always going to feel all the torque that you want.”

Won’t riders miss the growling of their engines?

“A new client called me after doing his usual canyon run. He thought he heard a funny noise. It was near dusk, and he didn’t want to be stranded in the dark, so he pulled over. When he did, he realized that the sound he was hearing was of the frogs and the crickets – the wildlife you hear when you’re not on a gas bike. It’s like you’ve been deaf your whole motorcycling career.”

“…the sound he was hearing was frogs and crickets.”

What first inspired Flagg continues to astound him – the potential of the electric drivetrain to support all the latest and greatest riding technology from traction and stability controls to various rider assists, all advances that make motorcycles more accessible. If electric motorcycles help convert more riders then the world will indeed be a better place and Los Angeles will have Harlan Flagg and his Hollywood Electrics to thank. “I want more people to love motorcycles, so if an electric motorcycle is what got you to throw a leg over a bike, I think that’s awesome.”

 

Sophia Vassiliadis [@she.rides.fast] is a writer based in Toronto, and EV Editor at TheVintagent.com.