Shocking news from the Motor Company: A prototype electric motorcycle

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A company known for celebrating and nurturing its traditions is setting off on a historic U.S. highway to test public reaction to a very non-traditional motorcycle: the LiveWire, the first Harley-Davidson electric motorcycle.

Harley-Davidson's LiveWire prototype is an electric motorcycle it says offers "tire-shredding acceleration and an unmistakable new sound." The Project LiveWire Experience tour begins on Route 66 and will visit more than 30 Harley-Davidson dealerships through the end of this year and continue in 2015 in the United States, Canada and Europe. A limited number (no doubt limited by the demo bikes' range) of customers will get a chance to ride the LiveWire and offer their feedback. Dates and locations will be posted at a new Harley website.

Harley President and Chief Operating Officer Matt Levatich called Project LiveWire just the most recent "reinvention success" for Harley-Davidson, following the Project Rushmore touring bikes and the Street 500 and 750 models.

While the LiveWire is not going on sale or into production right away, the prototype appears to be a polished motorcycle with all the details needed to make it street-legal. Harley did not reveal specifications as part of the announcement (See Sean MacDonald's commentary for some additional details.), but the photos show a motorcycle with belt final drive, an inverted fork, single disc brakes front and rear and radial tires in sporty sizes.

The motorcycle will have the spirit of an electric guitar, more than an electric car, promises Mark-Hans Richer, Harley's senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "It's an expression of individuality and iconic style that just happens to be electric," he said. "Project LiveWire is a bold statement for us as a company and a brand."

It's not surprising that Harley-Davidson, a company that once tried to trademark the sound of its engine, actually paid attention to the sound of its prototype electric motorcycle. Typically, electric motorcycle manufacturers only mention the sound of their products when talking about the lack of it.

"The sound is a distinct part of the thrill," said Richer. "Think fighter jet on an aircraft carrier."

More importantly, think big departure from tradition for that most traditional of motorcycle companies.

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