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Common Tread

H-D's Project LiveWire takes the company in a new direction

Jun 19, 2014

When TeamZilla Editor Lance Oliver sent me the video below of an out-of-focus electric bike, followed by a Harley-Davidson logo and today's date, my mind was absolutely blown. I've just finished a 3,000-mile road trip on a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic in an attempt to understand the allure of the Harley lifestyle, and most of what I came to love had to do with the bike's classic looks, grumbling engine, and the Harley attitude.

Let me preface the rest of the information with this: Both the press release and my contact close to the company, who helped me procure some of the information regarding Project LiveWire, stress that H-D insists this is not meant for production. The press release offers few details (See our report here.), choosing instead to talk about the company's continuous dedication to customer-led reinvention — though I can't seem to come up with any models that lend themselves to that claim. The only actual information about the bike comes from a brief section claiming "tire shredding acceleration" and an "unmistakable new sound ... think fighter jet on an aircraft carrier." It's funny that "jet fighter" or "TIE fighter" have become the new go-to terms for describing the sounds made by electric motorcycles, but I'm pretty sure the Mission RS won that claim last year.

In addition to the press release, I have heard a few other things from some sources I find very reputable. Reportedly the project actually started in 2010 (take a bow, Mr. Beeler, for your article way back in 2011). Cutting weight seems to be a major focus on the electric Harley-Davidson. Yes, you read that correctly. The frame is cast aluminum and weighs just 14 pounds (for reference, the Zero S's frame weighs 19.5 pounds). They've even cored out the center of the spokes to save unsprung weight.

H-D brought in partners to help get this break from their routine right. Mission Motors is said to have helped with the motor controls. Harley is claiming the LiveWire will go from 0-60 mph in under four seconds, and will reach a top speed of 92 mph. It has a three-phase AC induction motor and lithium-ion battery, good for 74 horsepower and 52 foot-pounds of torque, and has a claimed range of 53 miles.

Harley claims that the purpose of the LiveWire project is to "preserve and renew the freedom to ride for generations to come." This could mean that they're just getting their R&D done early for when that day comes that internal-combustion engines are outlawed and the whole world is forced to use electric vehicles (except those with the money to travel back in time to ride the vehicles of the old world, obviously). Or maybe they really have plans to make something like Project LiveWire part of their lineup in the near future.

Personally, I can honestly say I love it. The 53-mile range is beyond terrifying, but all electric vehicles are still too new and niche to really judge them on price or range. Battery technology will continue to evolve as society becomes more and more reliant on phones and tablets and everything being connected to "the cloud." Prices will come down, as they have with every other new technology. I love the sound (even if not as much as the Mission RS' sound) and absolutely love the styling. Charging and range issues aside, I would totally buy a bike that looked like this and had the sort of engine performance this thing should have, if it were priced competitively.

The big question is, how will Harley fans respond? The Motor Company has recently made moves to focus on its core audience and products and this flies in the face of that more than anything they've done in the past. It was easy for Harley America to ignore the fact that the Motor Company owned other brands such as MV Agusta, because the faithful didn't have to see those sissies on bikes wearing the same badge. But this bike wears a Harley-Davidson badge.

For those of you who are Harley owners, what are your thoughts on this bike? Brilliant innovation or too much of a departure for the Motor Company? Customers will eventually decide the LiveWire's fate, but you can weigh in right now in the comments section.