Harley-Davidson goes electric with the LiveWire concept motorcycle
By now, we're all well aware that fueling cars and bikes with electricity is the way of the future, but if there's one brand that you'd imagine would vehemently oppose this change, it's America's own Harley-Davidson. Its customers are synonymously free-spirited "easy riders" – a far cry from Google Glass-wearing tech geeks — called to duty by the thunder from the V-twin engines. And yet here's Project LiveWire, the first ever all-electric Harley-Davidson motorcycle – proof that even the most traditional of brands cannot ignore the revolution.
Harley knows that it takes more than just a legendary name to sustain a company, and like many, it seeks a younger demographic to fill its voids. That's not to say the electric LiveWire turns its back on the company's loyal customers, rather it offers something entirely different: "We see this as a bike for more urban areas," Jeff Richlen, Chief Engineer of Harley-Davidson new products told Yahoo Autos. "It's something that's appealing to people that perhaps haven't considered a Harley before, but it still retains our core DNA."
LiveWire is powered by a 55-kW electric motor that produces 75 hp. Mix that with its 52 lb.-ft. of instant torque and it'll hit 60 mph in under four seconds. Regen braking on the rear captures electricity to recharge the battery during deceleration, with total range topping out at around 53 miles.
But as Richlen reiterates, those numbers will change because LiveWire isn't a production bike just yet – it's a test mule. A few dozen bikes will embark on a tour around the United States, and eventually Europe. The objective will be to see how buyers respond to the bike, and what might need changing if and when it goes on sale: "So far, riders have been stoked," Richlen says. "The response has been phenomenal, but the tech is still maturing. It's not there yet, and we don't know what kind of range will be expected – is 50 OK, or will we need 100, 200 or even 300 miles to make it work?"
Harley understands the demands of educating a customer base steeped in V-twin tradition, but thinks that the new bike's distinct feel will ensure current owners are excited by what the brand is doing: "It weighs just 460 lbs.," Richlen says. "People that have ridden it are amazed at how light and nimble it feels. Some people may get on it thinking, 'golf cart,' but they get off thinking, 'rocket ship.'"
While a lack of gears to shift through may be off-putting to some riders, Richlen thinks it perhaps opens the door for inexperienced bikers to hit the roads, offering a less intimidating twist-and-go riding style. He also says the whooshing of the wind noise makes for a truly visceral and new sensation; Harley claims to have created a new sonic signature for the LiveWire, which it describes as "fighter jet on an aircraft carrier."
Educating the public on these attributes, however, may not be an easy task, as Harley's own Facebook page already features a number of annoyed commenters:
"No No No Harley is not a Harley without a v-twin and the thunder!!!"
posted Mathew Law.
"Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!! We don't want electric bikes,"
said Mike Tingle.
The news did not meet all Harley fans with anger, though:
"This is America and if you don't like then don't buy. I applaud Harley and think for a commuter it's spot on!"
For Harley-Davidson, testing the waters with the LiveWire while making it clear that this is not a production bike, tends to point towards the concern of alienating its core buyers. It will be a slow and methodical process in education, but as Tesla has proved in the car world, it's something that can be overcome with patience and a good product.