“You ain’t parkin’ that thing next to my hog!” growls the bearded, bandana-wearing, Bud-clutching biker. But what if the newfangled electric motorcycle is a hog? Bike Week will never be the same.
Yes, believe it or not, Harley-Davidson (NYSE: HOG) has built a prototype electric motorcycle, and starting this week, selected consumers across the country will be able to ride and provide feedback on the bike. Project LiveWire will visit 30 Harley dealerships, kicking off with an event in New York and a road trip down Route 66. The level of customer interest will determine whether Harley decides to produce an electric model at some point.
“America at its best has always been about reinvention,” said Harley CEO Matt Levatich. “And, like America, Harley-Davidson has reinvented itself many times in our history, with customers leading us every step of the way. Project LiveWire is another exciting, customer-led moment in our history.”
“Project LiveWire is more like the first electric guitar – not an electric car,” said Senior VP Mark-Hans Richer. “It’s an expression of individuality and iconic style that just happens to be electric.”
The LiveWire sports a 74-horsepower three-phase AC induction motor that generates 52 pound-feet of torque. It has an electronically limited top speed of 92 mph, and does 0-60 in under 4 seconds. Harley hasn’t disclosed the size of the battery pack, but it says that range is up to 53 miles, and Level 2 charging time is 3.5 hours. Wired calculated that, assuming the bike has a 3.3 kW charger, it’s probably a 10 kWh pack.
The new EV is all over the news this morning and, after the obligatory expression of shock and a clever quip about Hell freezing over or some such, the first question everyone is asking is, “What about the sound?” Wired tested the LiveWire and was impressed with its “blend of power and comfort. It doesn’t sound anything at all like a proper Harley – or ‘a fighter jet landing on an aircraft carrier’ as Harley brass say – but it’s got a futuristic sound that brings to mind an airliner taking to the air.”
The sound is not artificially generated, but apparently comes from the sound of the gears reverberating through the lightweight aluminum chassis.
The popularity of electric two-wheelers is taking off like a crotch rocket at a traffic light. While leading American builders such as Brammo (subject of a recent Charged cover article), Lightning and Zero aren’t likely to knock Harley off its throne anytime soon, sales are growing quickly enough that the world’s most famous motorcycle brand was bound to join the party (Zero’s yearly sales are around 2,400 units, Harley’s around 260,000).
Harley noted the environmental benefits of EVs in its press release: “As riding in the great outdoors is one of the best elements of motorcycling, sustainability remains a core strategic focus at Harley-Davidson.”
“Preserving the riding environment is important to all of us,” said Matt Levatich. “Project LiveWire is just one element in our efforts to preserve and renew the freedom to ride for generations to come. As a company that has seen success for 111 years, we think in generational terms about our great riding environments for the next 111 years.”