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Harley-Davidson unveils an electric motorcycle, and worlds collide

Project LiveWire brings the company’s first electric on tour

Published: June 19, 2014 11:00 AM

Harley-Davidson has unveiled its first electric motorcycle as a concept that is about to go on tour. Dubbed Project LiveWire, this ultra-modern bike combines V-Rod  styling cues, with EV simplicity and sci-fi intrigue. Conceptually, this is a radical departure from the big-bore, vibrating bravado this American institution is known for.

This is a concept motorcycle to gauge consumer interest, to collect feedback, and to prep the market for an intended future product. Harley will take it on tour down Route 66 and on to 30 dealerships across the country this year, expanding the reach to Canada and Europe next year.

Technical details are non-existant, but Harley describes acceleration as “tire shredding.” It is the latest innovation from a company known to embrace tradition, following the launch of the Street 500 and Street 750 entry-level motorcycles. Combined, those new bikes and a future electric could break into new markets, both Stateside and overseas.

California-based Zero Motorcycles has paved the path to this emerging niche, iterating and improving their electric motorcycles with each passing year. Representing the current state of the art, they set the expectations, with over 100 miles of real-world range, ultra-low maintenance, and quiet, easy operation. Other companies are developing electric motorcycles and scooters, as well, including BMW, KTM, and Yamaha.  

Learn more about riding in our motorcycle hub, buying guide, and in our reliability and owner satisfaction report.

Extrapolate those virtues to a Harley product, and you have a very interesting motorcycle indeed. Electric motorcycles, for now, are practically limited by battery capacity to commutes and afternoon rides, rather than open-road touring, although range continues to improve with each passing year. It may take biker bars, or more likely dealerships, to offer recharging to truly stretch the range for future electric motorcycles. (Read: "Riding the rumble-free Harley-Davidson electric motorcycle concept.")

Maintenance has been a concern for Harley owners through the years. Despite word on the street being that there have been significant improvements, Harley still ranked below several Japanese brands in our last motorcycle reliability survey. With an electric motorcycle, that could significantly change, as maintenance focuses on simple wear items, like brakes, tires, shocks, and belts. Valvetrains, starters, fluids, and other common touch points just don’t exist.

What this Harley-Davidson concept is missing is the mechanical soundtrack that is such an integral part of Harley ownership. That deep, thunderous exhaust turns heads and forces smiles. Would it be a Harley without that distinctive burble? Check out the video below to hear the LiveWire in action. Where Zero sounds like a simple electric motor, the Harley sounds like it is crafted. To me, it sounds like it could double for Darth Maul’s ride.

The idea of riding a great-looking, powerful motorcycle that’s made in America, with low maintenance is appealing. And it looks like riders may have another such choice coming down the road.

Jeff Bartlett

   

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