Harley trades V-twin rumble for electric whine in its shocking LiveWire ebike

For years now, after witnessing the startup efforts of electric motorcycle makers such as Zero, Brammo, Mission and many others, we’ve been waiting for a major market player to show a potential truly mass-market, high-performance ebike for the U.S. market. Who would be first out of the gate? Honda? Yamaha? A dark horse such as Ducati?

No, apparently it’s Harley-Davidson. Satan just bought a parka.

Literally out of the blue, the most red-blooded of motorcycle brands, known more for their nostalgic and generally low-tech (although lately, that’s a misnomer) approach to building heavy-weight manly machines, has stunned the motorcycling world with what appears to be a ready-to-ride electric bike prototype called the LiveWire that looks great, sounds… interesting… and may go like a scalded dog.

The uncertainty about performance parameters comes from Harley’s slightly hyperbolic press release about the bike, which contains no hard numbers, but apparently the folks over at Wired got an early sampling of the LiveWire and say it specs out as having a 50-ish mile range, 74 horsepower and 52 foot-pounds of torque. Wired speculates the LiveWire is powered by a 10kwh battery pack, which would, at this point, put it down on electrons compared to the top-shelf Brammo and Zero machines, which have batteries ranging up to 17kwh for ranges closer to or above 100 miles. However, the LiveWire is still a prototype, so that could certainly change if the bike makes it to production.

Harley-Davidson LiveWire eBike

Close examination of the photos and video of the LiveWire released by HD are revealing. The prototype bike, which looks very, very close to production trim, features an aluminum frame, adjustable rear monoshock suspension, upside-down style front forks, rearsets, a single disc brake up front (and in the back) and a street-fighter riding position, so it should be comfortable. The LiveWire rides on sportbike rubber and HD has smartly stuck with their quiet and simple belt drive, which appears mated to the liquid-cooled single-speed electric motor. That motor appears to mounted longitudinally at the bottom of the frame, another departure from ebike convention. Up top, the classic tank-mounted round gauges are gone in favor of an LCD info panel, the technical details of which are apparently TBA.

Let’s ballpark the weight at about 500 pounds, assuming HD decided to forego building the LiveWire out of carbon fiber and pixie dust. That should give it performance on par with its rivals, meaning 0-60 times around 4 seconds. Wired states the Harley has limited the bike to 92mph at this point, but I’d guess that if it does come to showrooms, expect a 100+mph top speed just as a point of pride.

The most red-blooded of motorcycle brands has stunned the motorcycling world.

One interesting aspect is a variant of HD’s Daymaker LED headlight, which looks normal but features light emanating from a vertical strip from within the headlight bell. LED marker lights and turn signals ride in the rear view mirror stems, which are below the handlebars, a la vintage BMW. The rearview mirrors are polished metal and give the bike something akin to Mickey Mouse ears, painting them black should further clean up the bike’s already nice lines. Out back, LED turn signals brace the license plate frame, which rides on a less-than-glamourous hugger-style mudgaurd. Use carbon fiber here, HD.

The bike appears to be compact and even somewhat minimalist in design, something going electric, which dispenses with exhaust plumbing, oil lines and such can engender. Overall, the LiveWire has a clean, powerful look, with strong V-Rod cues in the fake “tank” (no word on if there’s any storage there), seat, lights and switchgear. From the rear quarter, it actually bears a fairly strong resemblance to Ducati’s burly Diavel power cruiser.

While electric bike makers have so far been content to let whatever sounds come from their bikes be the result of whatever mechanical things are happening, Harley has apparently massaged the sound signature of the LiveWire to resemble that of a fighter jet landing on an aircraft carrier, according to their press release. The more-than-just-a-whir sound signature is a far cry from the chest-compressing beat of their big-bore hardware of course, and judging by an HD video (below) that features the bike, is more pleasing than the sonorous song of a dental drill that can be endemic to electric motors. For now, the jury is out until we can hear it in person.

“Project LiveWire is a bold statement for us as a company and a brand,” Mark-Hans Richer, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Harley-Davidson said in their press release, and he is exactly correct. For Harley to undertake this project and bring it to this level, a project that is diametrically opposed to what their traditional and very hard-core buyer base wants, shows the Motor Company is taking a huge gamble, far larger than they did with liquid-cooled V-Rod line and the new lightweight, hipster-targeted Street machines.

The LiveWire project (and to some extent, the Street and Rushmore projects) shows that Harley-Davidson is no longer solely focused on preserving and repackaging the past to an ever-aging and slowly shrinking hardcore fanbase. They have seen the future and are reaching out, perhaps better than most any motorcycle maker at this time, to a new group riders who are less concerned with cache, cool and even brand loyalty, but who instead want innovation and efficiency combined with a modern sense of style.

How’s that parka fit, Beelzebub?

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