By Nick Miles
Made famous by bike gangs and 60s films like Easy Rider, the Harley-Davidson motorcycle is most associated with its long handlebars and roaring engine. But the company hasn’t lost touch with the times, and knew it was due to produce a Harley Davidson hybrid.
But how to market an electric motorcycle to the bearded, denim-clad fans of the brand?
Rather than putting the bike on general sale, the firm has instead cherry-picked American customers to ride it and provide feedback first. The bike – dubbed Project LiveWire – will travel down America’s iconic Route 66, visiting more than 30 Harley-Davidson dealerships between now and the end of the year. Plans are to expand the tour to Canada and Europe in 2015.
Harley is keen to emphasise that consumer feedback will shape any such commercially available electric offering. “Project LiveWire is another exciting, customer-led moment in our history,” said Harley’s COO Matthew Levatich in a press release. “Because electric vehicle technology is evolving rapidly, we are excited to learn more from riders through the Project LiveWire Experience to fully understand the definition of success in this market as the technology continues to evolve.”
The LiveWire is powered by 3-phase AC electric induction motor, which produces 74 hp (55 kW) and 8000 rpm. Peak torque is 52 lb.ft (70.5 Nm). The bike maxes out at 92 mph (148 km/h) and accelerates from 0-60 mph (100 km/h) in 4 seconds. A full recharge takes around 3.5 hours and its average range so far has been 53 miles (85 km).
Feedback has so far been positive, including comments such as “it’s just so much fun to ride” and “it’s truly an easy ride”–but there is also general consensus that this model is completely different to the Harleys riders have known and loved. This is especially true in terms of sound: older models make that distinctive ‘potato-potato-potato’ thrum, but the new one has been likened to sounding more like a jet taking off.
Also, whilst some who are deeply into riding, maintaining and fixing up classic bikes have criticised the newer models for not having the same soul as a classic Harley, others have compared the newcomer to a digital download compared to vinyl records–it’s more efficient and cleaner, but may not have the individuality of the older technology.
Still, Harley is positive about the LiveWire, claiming it maintains the ‘rock’n’roll’ ethos of the brand: “Think electric guitar, not electric car,” they state. They’ve had this bike in development for around four years, after the brand became aware of increased demand for electric motorcycles. But ultimately, whether the LiveWire is produced commercially or not is up to the public, and Harley Davidson certainly doesn’t plan on throwing its history out the window: electric vehicles are merely a new opportunity for the brand, says Michelle Kumbier, Harley’s senior VP of motorcycle operations, “but we don’t see a time that they’re going to replace our traditional combustion engine.”