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Harley-Davidson Livewire: Bold Electric Motorcycle

By Arv Voss, August 22nd, 2015

Harley-Davidson has often been criticized for its lack of innovation in the product development of its motorcycles. It seemed to many that the bikes rolling into dealer showrooms each new model year were merely representative of cosmetic modifications, utilizing bold graphics, and new "bling" treatments, but with few mechanical enhancements.

So Harley-Davidson developed Project Livewire, the company's first electric motorcycle, to change that perspective and to open up new views while carefully measuring potential consumer input and feedback, all while also creating a new customer base.

The scope of Project Livewire and its massive consumer experience is mind-boggling. Project Livewire is the result of long-range planning and attention to detail in a program meant to determine the feasibility of producing a product that is not just futuristic, but far removed from past new product ideology.

Harley-Davidson didn't simply produce a fleet with a couple dozen Livewire electric prototype demonstrator motorcycles. The company also created merchandise, collateral displays, riding simulators, and electronic survey equipment, all while also organizing an impressive national "Experience Tour" that will ultimately hit 30 cities across the country before it ends in September -- most based at prime Harley-Davidson dealers. Harley-Davidson even placed the Livewire in a cameo in this summer's Avengers movie.

I personally own two Harleys, a 2002 Police Road King and a 2005 Softail Springer Classic, both modified to suit my personal tastes. I am also a fan of electric vehicles, with either two or four wheels, so when the opportunity to actually ride the Harley-Davidson Livewire presented itself, I literally jumped on it.

I took my test ride at a Harley-Davidson dealership near my home that roughly marked the halfway point in the tour which was divided in to West- and East-Coast divisions.

According to Harley-Davidson spokesperson Matt King, the tour had already logged 33,300 rider participants for the electric Livewire, and some 5,500 who experienced the simulator as well.

The Livewire is an incredibly good-looking bike that draws its motive force from a longitudinally mounted three-phase AC electric motor. Powered by a Lithium-Ion battery pack, it delivers motive force to its rear wheel via carbon fiber final-drive belt to a clutchless direct drive with two operational modes - Range and Power.

The Livewire concept boasts 74 horsepower at 16,000 rpm, with 52 lb.-ft. of torque. The motor produces peak torque at just off the idle rpm and a strong torque response at any rpm. The bike's 0-60 mph time is claimed to be under the 4-second mark and top speed is electronically limited to 95 mph.

Braking chores are handled by a single disc, pin slide, twin piston in front, and a single disc in the rear. While it does not feature ABS, it instead features a strong regenerative braking function.

The Livewire is very compact and comes with a low seat height, but it is actually larger than other electric bikes that happen to be currently in production, weighing in at 462 pounds. The electric Harley rides on Showa Big Piston forks up front and a cast-aluminum swingarm out back. The frame is aluminum, and the bike rolls on Harley-Davidson-branded Michelin M/C rubber, 120/70-18 up front, and 180/55-17 in the rear. Both are mounted on black 6 "Y"-spoke alloy wheels with a red rim accent.

Since the Demo Livewires were all prototypes, figures were unavailable for the overall battery capacity, number, and individual voltage rating of battery cells as well as the kW range, or the anticipated replacement cost.

So, what's it like to pilot this new electric concept two-wheeler from Harley-Davidson? Exhilarating comes instantly to mind, and it is definitely a very different experience, but it is still very much a motorcycle.

Power is instantaneous and comes in a smooth linear band without any quirky throttle feel. Rolling on the throttle delivers power on demand and rolling off provides a smooth braking effect. Brake lights do not activate under regenerative braking, so utilizing one of the brakes is highly recommended to alert followers of your action.

The Harley-Davidson Livewire could be a little larger to better accommodate taller riders, but it provides a comfortable, upright riding position nonetheless. Suspension is compliant and handling is nimble and well balanced.

Rear-view mirrors are down turned, under the grips, and mounted off the trick, billet LED turn signals offering good rear visibility.

The average range of the prototype bikes was 50 miles, dependent, of course, upon variables such as terrain and riding style. Ideal conditions can yield up to 78 miles. Charging time is 3.5 hours using a 220-volt level 2 input port.

strong>The big question is: "Will Harley-Davidson actually build the Livewire?" We think so, and if they don't, they're crazy. It definitely ranks as the best electric two-wheeler that I've ridden so far. Consumer test ride feedback from the tour will ultimately determine the future of the Livewire in terms of actual feasibility and in tweaks to a final production model. Pricing is, of course, another issue. A range somewhere between the high 'teens and low twenties seems appropriate on the monetary scale.

Everything on the Livewire works, and works well, the only drawback being the lack of a regen brake light for safety's sake. Okay, there is one other issue: the sound. It certainly doesn't sound like a traditional Harley-Davidson, but then it isn't a traditional bike and isn't intended to. The sound generated when accelerating is akin to a jet turbine engine, which is created by a bevel gear off the 90-degree offset drive that creates a high-pitched turbine-like whine.

Globally expanded testing is now scheduled to take place in other countries.

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