Project LiveWire is a concept motorcycle not currently available for sale.
Harley-Davidson is conducting focus groups throughout the country with customers and media to judge the feasibility of the bike as a fully supported product available for sale.
by Craig Fitzgerald
Photos by the Author
You’ll be forgiven if you don’t think “zero-emissions, silent, highly technical” when you first hear the brand Harley-Davidson. For more than a century, it’s staked its reputation on V-Twin, internal combustion engines with the simplicity of a claw hammer. When the Motor Company has decided to innovate — as it did when it unveiled the water-cooled V -Rod in 2001, the brand’s faithful nearly went into full scale revolt. Suffice it to say that I was surprised to get the call to ride a new electric motorcycle prototype and the number on the caller ID came from Milwaukee. But if Harley-Davidson DOES produce it? This thing is a game changer.
I like my bikes to turn and stop and not weigh 800 pounds. As of yesterday, Harley-Davidson had one bike I was interested in: the XR1200R, of which they’ve sold about 12. Now they have two bikes I want, if they ever decide to sell it on the open market.
Project LiveWire is a “naked” sportbike, meaning it’s got a fairly sporty riding position, but it’s also got a tubular handlebar mounted atop the triple-tree, rather than handlebars that clip on to the fork legs and have you leaning on the fuel tank. Your feet are under your body with knees bent, as the Good Lord Almighty intended motorcyclists to ride, and you’re riding alone because the seat only accommodates the rider.
Harley says Project LiveWire can fully charge in three hours with a 220-volt charging setup that would theoretically be an optional upgrade to your home’s electrical system, the way a charger for a Chevrolet Volt or a Nissan Leaf works.
The bike is equipped with two modes: ECO, which maximizes mileage to about 53 miles, and a SPORT mode — which I used exclusively — that trims mileage to about 35 miles.
It’s got an electric power plant with a single battery. The power equivalent is about 75hp. For a sportbike, that’s not great, but for a Harley-Davidson, it runs the bike to 60 miles per hour in 4.3 seconds, instantly making this the fastest Harley-Davidson streetbike ever built.
…nothing happens other than the screen lighting up to let you know that the bike is eager to accept your throttle input.
The bike partially recharges its battery using the bike’s brakes to regenerate power. Without regenerative braking, when you let off the throttle the bike would simply roll, because electric motors don’t work like internal combustion engines, where the engine’s compression helps to slow the machine down.
Like pretty much everyone who saw this thing on paper, I was skeptical. Within the first mile, that skepticism turned to pure joy. I had a lot of fun re-learning how to ride a motorcycle that simply takes off when you turn the throttle.
I wasn’t alone, either. I rode the bike with four guys who looked like they came right off the set of The Wild Ones, with HOG Chapter vests, tassels, conchos and ROAD CAPTAIN patches, who didn’t seem to think much of the fact that helmets were required to ride.
At the first stoplight, all four had wide grins and plenty of great things to say about the power, the handling and the experience. If you can convince those guys, there are a lot of other people who will like this bike, too.
I’ll say this about riding this bike around in congested cities: I’ve never been a believer in “Loud Pipes Save Lives,” but when you’re fighting for your lane with a guy driving a Lincoln Navigator with Pitbull blaring from the sound system, it’s disconcerting to not have some kind of sound letting them know you’re there.
You want to get out of that blind spot as quickly as possible, and you want to be intimately familiar with the location of the horn button.
Is it for sale? Nope. Will it be for sale? You got me.
The reaction to this thing has been almost hostile at first, but given the looks on the faces of the Sonny Barger wannabes I rode with, Harley-Davidson needs to get ready to put people on this thing as early and often as they can.