Harley-Davidson is a brand so iconic as to be known worldwide, and by people with little or no interest in motorbikes. For H-D to break with tradition in any major way, therefore, would be to make waves. Today, it has done just that by unveiling Project LiveWire, its first ever-electric motorbike.
The idea of an electric Harley was publicly floated by the company's COO Matthew Levatich speaking at its 110-year anniversary celebration in Milwaukee last year. "I am sometimes asked … whether there will be an electric Harley," said Levatich. "People would say 'hell no.' But why not? Our engineers are quite intrigued with the idea of what an electric Harley would look like, sound like and feel like. And would it be visceral, would it be emotional, would it be luscious. And there’s a way to do that I believe, and it would be very exciting."
And lo it has come to pass. From next week, the Project LiveWire Experience will tour Harley dealerships in the US, offering people the chance to test-ride the new LiveWire bike. The tour will be expanded to Canada and Europe in 2015. The bike itself will not be available to buy. Instead, the tour is aimed at gauging public response to and expectations of an electric Harley, before deciding if and when to bring an electric Hog to market.
Harley is keen to emphasize that consumer feedback will shape any such commercially available electric offering. "Project LiveWire is another exciting, customer-led moment in our history," says 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."
Few technical details have been released about the LiveWire. Harley says that it will feature a longitudinally-mounted electric motor and will be shaped to allow the rider to "hug" the bike. According to the company, the Livewire "blends the company’s styling heritage with the latest technology to deliver a new expression of the signature Harley-Davidson look, sound and feel." It promises quick acceleration and, intriguingly, "an unmistakable new sound."
Those keen to experience the LiveWire but who do not have a motorbike license will be able to try a simulated experience of it called JumpStart.
The video below provides an introduction to Project LiveWire.
Update 20 June 2014: Harley-Davidson has now shared some of the bike's specs with us.
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).