Vital Stats

Engine:
AC Induction Motor
Power:
74 HP / 52 LB-FT
Transmission:
Single-Speed
0-60 Time:
4.0 Seconds (est.)
Top Speed:
92 MPH
Drivetrain:
Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
360 LBS (est.)
Seating:
1
MPG:
60-Mile Range (est.)
Days before Harley-Davidson shocked the world with news that after 111 years of building increasingly larger, gas-powered V-twins, it was going all Tesla with its plug-in electric LiveWire, I had the chance to ride it.

The country's largest and most iconic motorcycle maker had set up shop on a remote strip of SoCal asphalt, a pair of top-secret LiveWires at the ready. The trailer that had carried them was unmarked, and with the exception of two Harley employees, no one was around to notice that the motorcycle silently blazing down the runway was from Milwaukee's finest. If it weren't for the black-and-orange color scheme or bar-and-shield badge, the LiveWIre's provenance would be a wild guess. It's just that different from the cruisers Harley has cranked out for decades.

Gone is the laid-back riding position, along with the bigger-is-better profile and long-haul-touring floorboards. In their place: a compact machine with an aggressive, forward-leaning stance and sporty centered foot pegs. Even the trellis frame is more Ducati than hog, hiding, as it does, a stack of lithium ion batteries instead of proudly showcasing a hulking, 103-cubic-inch V-twin. There is no gas tank. No exhaust. Just a bobbed tail suspended on a monoshock above a rear tire driven with a belt instead of a chain.

The LiveWire ignition is keyless and, like most Harleys, works in combination with a fob, but that's where the similarities end. Turning it on is a matter of flipping a switch on the right grip – an act that isn't greeted with the nearly trademarked, and now electronically programmed, potato-potato-potato exhaust note. Instead, there is a low-grade hum as an oil pump kicks in to cool the 74-horsepower electric motor bolted to its belly and a second pump that cools its ECU.
Harley-Davidson LiveWire

Before I could take off, I was prompted to make a decision: Power or Range? On a full charge, Power allows about 30 miles of riding with an unbridled 52 pound-feet of torque. Range mode Novocaines the throttle response but nearly doubles the distance.

Before I could take off, I was prompted to make a decision: Power or Range?

I made the only logical choice. I touched my gloved finger to the screen to select Power. The throttle was live.

While its useable range is an issue, Harley got a lot of things right with its LiveWire, including its name. Twisting the grip nearly jolted me from the saddle with acceleration similar to that of a Ferrari. While the torque rating of the LiveWire is about half of a gas-powered 2014 Harley tourer, it is instantly available. Harley claims a 0-60 time of four seconds flat. I wasn't wired to corroborate the claim, but my speedometer was calculating as quickly as Stephen Hawking as I got the LiveWire to its governed top speed of 92 miles per hour, with plenty of runway to spare.

The only sound from the bike was a slight whir that increased in pitch with speed. Harley custom designed the note to replicate a jet engine, but, to my ears, it sounds like the other two electric motorcycles that are currently duking it out in the market: Zero Motorcycles and Brammo. The "Loud Pipes Save Lives" Harley brigade is likely to have a tough time with LiveWire in this regard.

Compared to the existing electric motorcycles on the market, the LiveWire is similar in its responsiveness off the line to the 2014 models from Zero and Brammo, but it offers only half the range. Its motor and battery placement, dual ride modes and regenerative braking setup were clearly benchmarked, though the way Harley has chosen to disguise its powertrain is unique and probably the most attractive of the bunch. Even though this isn't a production bike, the LiveWire's fit and finish also far surpasses its rivals.


Harley-Davidson LiveWire | Autoblog Short Cuts


The "Loud Pipes Save Lives" Harley brigade is likely to have a tough time with LiveWire.

I've been testing electric motorcycles since 2000, and Harleys since 2000. I started with the Heritage Softail, a bike I rode with Hells Angels founder Sonny Barger. That relationship continued on to last year when Harley broke with its air-cooled tradition and introduced liquid cooling on some of its most popular models. Most recently, I've ridden its brand-new 2015 Street 750 – Harley's first all-new platform in 13 years.

The LiveWire doesn't just push Harley into the future with a bike whose character is radically different from anything else it's so far produced, it severs most ties to its past as the brand endeavors to reshape itself as a forward-thinking innovator instead of a trader in nostalgia.

In development since 2010, the LiveWire is designed to attract women, young adults, city folk and other brand-new non-riders to a marque that has long been dominated by male baby boomers. With the LiveWire, Harley has succeeded in making a bike so exceptionally easy to ride that even voluptuously petite Scarlett Johansson can do it. At least, that's how it will appear next summer in Avengers: Age of Ultron, which features the bike.

Harley-Davidson LiveWireHarley-Davidson LiveWire

Left hand and foot are officially free from shifting duty, negating the need to coordinate all four appendages.

The typical Harley is a cruiser, characterized by a long wheelbase that keeps it stable in a straight line at speed but makes it more challenging to turn. The LiveWire is shorter, more nimble and significantly lighter weight, so, while it accelerates like a dragster, it corners more like a Japanese sport bike. Lacking an enormous engine, there's no vibration transmitting to the handlebars, nor is there any heat to sizzle riders' thighs.

The lack of a transmission or clutch makes riding easy. On the LiveWire, the left hand and foot are officially free from shifting duty, negating the need to coordinate all four appendages.

Slowing down involves the usual throttle roll off, but it's enhanced. Closing the throttle activates a battery recharge system that harnesses the kinetic energy from slowing. The feeling is similar to engine braking, except there isn't an engine. Nor is there a downshift. To slow down more quickly or stop, riders still need to brake, and the LiveWire is happy to oblige with smooth, quick-acting discs that would be just as at home on a Gixxer.

Harley-Davidson LiveWire

Because the LiveWire is a concept, not a production bike, Harley isn't providing complete specs for the bike nor giving members of the media full-length test rides. However, the company has let slip that the bike weighs around 360 pounds, less than half the gorilla-ish 800 pounds of a typical Harley. It takes about 3.5 hours to achieve a full battery using the company's Level 2 charger.

Starting this week, Harley-Davidson will set off on twin tours with small fleets of the LiveWire to solicit feedback and decide when or if it will even go into production. Licensed motorcycle riders can test the LiveWire for themselves during 20-minute demo rides at 30 Harley dealerships around the country, as the company has built at least 22 LiveWires to split between the East Coast and the West Coast. Check out ProjectLiveWire.com for a list of dates and dealers. Reservations are required, but they're worth it.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 77 Comments
      gosoaring10
      • 5 Months Ago
      I am not at all a Harley fan but I have to say this is one fabulous-looking bike and the fact that it weighs only 360 pounds is terrific. If they can decrease the price and increase the driving range, I don't see how this machines can be anything but a winner.
      Cool people
      • 5 Months Ago
      ECycle is the immediate future, Great Idea! The price needs to come down..Mass appeal.
      SquareFour
      • 5 Months Ago
      Range is a definite problem when competitors offer twice as much of it. I guess they're planning on styling and brand image to make up for it. Other than that, pretty cool.
      waetherman
      • 5 Months Ago
      I saw a half-dozen of these cruising around Manhattan yesterday, and I have to say I was impressed. They are super sexy, and the sound is alarming and distinctive. Even though I knew Harley was testig these things, I didn't know they were in NYC so it took my brain probably 30 seconds to even put it all together; "Electric bikes! Harley wha? Oh, right - Livewire! [pulls out phone to take a pic]" I'd definitely be in the market for one of these if they brought it in at around the same price and specs as a Brammo or a Zero. I don't know that I'd pay that much extra for the Harley name, but the company has earned a degree of trust with me that might be worth a premium. Even if I know that just having HD on the "tank" won't get other MCs to wave at me...
      Kevin Potts
      • 5 Months Ago
      I am amused that they felt compelled to tweak the noise of electric motor to sound aesthetically appealing. I think a silent riding experience is something that needs to be enlightened among motorcycle enthusiast for them to appreciate and cultivate. We didn't all like Harley's loud pipes at first, but once we got used to it, we established a taste for it. So I really hope we give silent riding a chance. The world could do a lot by having less noise pollution. As for safety, there are technologies that can help pedestrians as well as other commuters that doesn't involve making loud noises.
        T. C.
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Kevin Potts
        Loud pipes = "Look at me, look at me, look at me!!! Why won't you look at me?! Look! Look!"
          Anonymous
          • 5 Months Ago
          @T. C.
          And they 'think' those people staring are doing so in admiration.
        KC
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Kevin Potts
        There are blind pedestrians, as well as others who act blind.
          tump
          • 5 Months Ago
          @KC
          Deaf people drive every day.
      BlackandMild
      • 5 Months Ago
      I like the design and would be onboard to actually purchase one, but the mere fact the this bike has the Harley name on it, I have no doubt the price is going to be astronomical as well as the cost of the replacement battery. I say this because, hell, even a simple cotton T-shirt with the Harley logo on it , cost 10x more than the same cotton T-shirt at a walmart and both T-shirts were made in China.
      Koenigsegg
      • 5 Months Ago
      I dont like fags so i hope this does well and replaces all the loud annoying obnoxious disgusting smelling bikes
        torqued
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Koenigsegg
        He's obviously using the British slag for cigarettes, since many Harley riders smoke and there's no stereotype of Harley riders being homosexual. Using it to mean homosexual would just be slinging crazy, bigoted, hateful slurs for with no reason or relation to the article. And I'm sure Exotic Cars is above that.
      Anonymous
      • 5 Months Ago
      But....but.....but......how will I get everyone to look at me without un-muffled exhaust? Bad news for attention ******. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_F_Word_(South_Park)
      Car Guy
      • 5 Months Ago
      Under the Harley name it will be a flop. They can't even move the V-Rod in decent numbers. Now develop a whole new brand outside of Harley then maybe there will be some chance of success.
        throwback
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Car Guy
        I agree. Unless HD can bring in a new type of buyer. I doubt many (any?) V TWIN fans will buy this. HD needs their dealers to be able to sell to a different type of buyer. I now understand why the long lead time for this bike.
        mookieblaylock
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Car Guy
        what i want to know is will harley also sell a new line of space age lifestyle accessories to go along with it, perhaps some chaps with little electric lights, the new for 2016 electro pirate line. Will electro pirates scowl at you or wave?
        throwback
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Car Guy
        I agree. Unless HD can bring in a new type of buyer. I doubt many (any?) V TWIN fans will buy this. HD needs their dealers to be able to sell to a different type of buyer. I now understand why the long lead time for this bike.
      Junkyard Willie
      • 5 Months Ago
      I want people to hear me coming.
        SteveM
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Junkyard Willie
        Oh I hear you, and the other hundreds of you, that "cruise" RT82 in CT every weekend. You seem to go out of your way to ruin everyone else's enjoyment of our beautiful area with the thunderous exhaust notes coming off of 10 to 20 bikes at a time. It's awful. I had to move because of "you". I've ridden for over 30 years, and I still hate the noise. Nobody can tell me it saves lives, it's nothing more than a juvenile attempt to look cool.
        cinilak
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Junkyard Willie
        Then leave your address and most likely time you'll be seeking rest, *******.
        BipDBo
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Junkyard Willie
        Then buy a regular gas bike and put a U bend in the pipes to point them forward. From inside of our cars, with the radio on, we're likely only to hear your obnoxious bikes after you've passed. Loud bikes don't save lives. They just make us want to run you over.
        Junkyard Willie
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Junkyard Willie
        I live in the city not the backwoods.
      Jim R
      • 5 Months Ago
      I see this being a near total fail. First, the traditional Harley crowd--the type that wear black leather and haul their bikes to Sturgis every year on the back of their RV--won't buy it. Because it's not loud enough and it's "not a real Harley". These are the same guys that screamed when Harley built a WATER-COOLED bike. (Think Porsche fanboy, but greasier and with more facial hair) The sportbike crowd won't buy it, because it's a harley. The eco-mentalists won't buy it because it's a Harley--which means it probably leaks oil everywhere it goes. Not exactly environmentally friendly. And nobody else will buy it because it's going to be well over 40 grand, and I don't know of even the most hardcore Harley guy willing to pay $40K for one.
        otiswild
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Jim R
        "And nobody else will buy it because it's going to be well over 40 grand, and I don't know of even the most hardcore Harley guy willing to pay $40K for one." You must not know many hardcore Harley guys then. $40k+ for a fully kitted/customed bike is not uncommon. $40k for a short-range commuter/scooter? I reckon I agree with you there then. This needs 40kWh usable and a Tesla Supercharger to be practical as an Electra-Glide replacement IMO.
          Timothy Tibbetts
          • 5 Months Ago
          @otiswild
          Got proof? Price has not been announced as far as I know and this tour is supposedly to gauge reaction so it may not even come to market.
        otiswild
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Jim R
        "And nobody else will buy it because it's going to be well over 40 grand, and I don't know of even the most hardcore Harley guy willing to pay $40K for one." You don't know many Harley guys then. $40k for a fully kitted/customed bike is not uncommon. $40k for a short-range commuter/scooter? I reckon I agree with you there then. This needs 40kWh usable and a Tesla Supercharger to be practical as an Electra-Glide replacement IMO.
      bullitt2605
      • 5 Months Ago
      No farting sound and no leaking oil! Blasphemy!
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