The All-American Harley Hog Goes Electric

Harley-Davidson rolls out its first—and fast—battery-powered motorcycle.

Harley-Davidson riders reveal Project LiveWire, the first electric Harley-Davidson motorcycle, during a ride in New York City. (Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Harley-Davidson)

Jun 25, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Cale Bonderman is an editorial summer intern at TakePart. He studies Literary Arts at Brown University and hails from Colorado. He's interested in political reform and technology.

Harley-Davidson has rolled out its first electric motorcycle in a bid to attract younger, environmentally conscious customers. Called Project LiveWire, the battery-powered bike is easy to operate, eye-catching, and emissions-free.

Oh, and fast. Very fast.

“To us, it’s really important that we renew and preserve the freedom to ride,” said Michelle Kumbier, Harley’s senior vice president of motorcycle operations. “The great outdoors is where we live, and that’s very important to us.”

The bike is still a prototype, but it sports some impressive technology, including a touch screen that displays battery life, temperature, and voltage. There are no gears, so no gear changing; just twist the throttle, and off you go.

Then there’s the battery pack, which gives the motorcycle a range of just 50 miles on a charge. But it holds a lot of power: The bike can accelerate from zero to 60 miles an hour in under four seconds, three times the speed of most electric cars. If you’re imagining the diminutive hum of a Prius, think again—it sounds like a jet plane taking off. A “range” setting helps extend the battery life for urban riding, or riders can switch to “power,” which lets the bike rocket on the open road.

Some veteran Harley riders, though, are a bit skeptical about going electric.

“I like a little more noise,” said Louis Diaz Jr., a longtime motorcyclist and Manhattan resident. “It’s a good bike for those who want the experience, but I want more control.”

“I can see some people purchasing the bike,” he said. “It’s a good alternative.”

Harley executives acknowledge that the bike is not for everyone. “There’s always going to be a market for traditional motorcycles, especially within the Harley-Davidson community, [which] is very deeply rooted in tradition,” said James McGuire, a Harley service manager in New York.

For now, Harley is just testing the market. A 30-stop tour will showcase LiveWire across the country and gather customer feedback.

“This experience we’re bringing to the world, starting today, is about getting firsthand experience on a Harley-Davidson unlike that which has ever been known before but that is still a Harley-Davidson,” said Mark Hans-Richer, Harley’s chief marketing officer.