Having written about cars and motorcycles for more than a decade, there’s barely anything that surprises me anymore. Not to say I’ve seen it all, but I’ve become familiar enough with existing brands to expect certain products. Which is why when Harley-Davidson — known largely for producing classic designs — unveiled Project LiveWire, it came as quite a shock (pun intended).
Project LiveWire is Harley’s first electric motorcycle, a firm statement of performance and sustainability from the company that shed its lightweight Buell division and shares in MV Augusta to now compete in the ever-growing electric segment.
The concept bike sources power from a 3-phase AC electric induction motor, which produces 74bhp (55kW) at 8000rpm and 52 lb-ft (70.5Nm) peak torque. According to the company, the bike has an average range of 53 miles on a full charge of its lithium-ion battery. A recharge takes around 3.5 hours and performance is acceptable, with the bike achieving 60mph in 4.0 seconds and a 92mph top speed.
But these facts aren’t the most impressive aspects.
For more than a century Harley-Davidson’s been building motorcycles that are anchored into the core of America’s DNA. With a sonorous V-Twin sitting in the frame and acres of chrome, H-D bikes are a tribute to the American way of life, and they don’t go unnoticed.
Bikes from the Sportster, Dyna and Softail ranges all reference the glory days gone by, though they’ve now been fitted with modern belt drives and ABS. Even the recently launched Project Rushmore touring bikes and Street 500 and 750 models are classic in nature.
As of this year, the only forward looking bike in the range is the V-Rod — a powerful hunkered down beast that definitely lets its presence felt, albeit with slightly less chrome.
“Project LiveWire is a bold statement for us as a company and a brand,” says Mark-Hans Richer, Harley-Davidson’s senior VP and and chief marketing officer. “It’s an expression of individuality and iconic style that just happens to be electric.”
That Harley’s managed to successfully retain the brand’s DNA in a product that so effectively communicates the future is commendable. The LiveWire’s matte black frame set against contrasting glossy paint, faux gas tank and silver-colored, low-set electric motor all pay tribute to the brand’s hallmark design elements, as do the round LED headlamp, drag bar-referencing handlebars and wide rear tire. But the design also moves the brand forward aesthetically, with the rear wheel hanging out and a narrow brake light nestled beneath the seat. Even the characteristic side pipes are gone.
Given the fact that the sound of a Harley is so individual and essential as a brand identifier, it will be very interesting to see how the new powertrain affects the user experience. With the characteristic sound associated with the bikes no longer present, the company plans to provide an ‘unmistakable’ new sound.
“Think fighter jet on an aircraft carrier,” says Richer. “Project LiveWire’s unique sound was designed to differentiate it from internal combustion and other electric motorcycles on the market.”
The LiveWire isn’t available to buy (yet), however. Harley-Davidson is poised to begin trialing reaction to the bike starting with a tour down historic Route 66 next week. The company wants current and potential customers to ride and provide feedback on the bike to gain insight into rider expectations of an electric Harley. Dubbed the ‘Project LiveWire Experience’ the bike will be hitting 30 dealerships now through the end of the year. In 2015, the tour will continue in the US and expand into Canada and Europe.
Learn more about Project LiveWire and find specific dates and locations for the Experience tour at projectlivewire.com. Harley-Davidson also invites anyone who is interested in the possibilities of the future to follow and engage with the company on its social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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