Harley-Davidson, also referred to as the Motor Company, has often been criticized for its lack of innovation in the product development of its motorcycles. It seemed to many, that the bikes that rolled into dealer showrooms each new model year were only representative of cosmetic modifications, utilizing bold graphics and new “Bling” treatments., but with few mechanical enhancements. The first major innovation came in the form of the V-Rod, with a motor designed by Porsche. The V-Rod was, and is an incredible motorcycle, but it failed to find favor with traditional Harley-Davidson devotees who approach life with a “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. The Harley-Davidson Project Livewire was developed to hopefully change that perspective, and to open up new views, while carefully measuring potential consumer input and feedback, in the hope of creating a new customer base.
The scope of the Harley-Davidson Project Livewire and its massive consumer experience is in a word, “Mind Boggling”. Many vehicle manufacturers sponsor focus group programs to learn the likes and dislikes of potential consumers before developing and launching new products, but the H-D Project Livewire represents the most extensive and well organized use of resources that I’ve personally experienced.
Project Livewire is the result of long range planning and attention to detail in a program designed to determine the feasibility of producing a product that is futuristic and far removed from past new product ideology.
Harley-Davidson not only produced a fleet consisting of a couple of dozen Livewire electric prototype demonstrator motorcycles along with merchandise, collateral displays, riding simulators and electronic survey equipment, but organized an impressive national tour that would ultimately take in 30 cities across the country – most based at prime Harley-Davidson dealers. The purpose of the tour was to allow potential consumers and media to throw a leg over the Livewire and to actually test ride it, and to then provide feedback, opinions and suggestions for improvement by participating in a simple, but extensive survey.
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 both two and four wheels, so when the opportunity to experience actually riding the Harley-Davidson Project Livewire concept presented itself, I jumped on it.
I took my test ride at Harley-Davidson of Sonoma in Santa Rosa, CA, that roughly marked the halfway point in the tour, which was divided in to West and East coast divisions. According to Matt King, a Harley-Davidson spokesperson the tour had already logged 3,300 rider participants for the Livewire, and some 5,500 who also experienced the simulator.
Before mounting the Livewire, it was recommended that all riders take part in the simulator demonstration, and then view a mandatory instructional video. Obviously release forms had to be signed and proper riding gear checked out prior to the actual Livewire ride.
At first glance, the Harley-Davidson Livewire bears a slight resemblance in form to Ducati’s Diavel. 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 that delivers power to its rear wheel via a clutchless direct drive with two operational modes – Range and Power. This is done by a carbon fiber final drive belt. Horsepower for the Livewire concept is 74 hp at 16,000 rpm, and the torque delivered is 52 pound feet in a range from 0-92 rpm. The bike’s 0-60 mph time is claimed to be under the four 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. There is no ABS, but there is a strong regenerative braking function.
Instrumentation is in the form of a TFT LED dash. Turning the bike on displays 1 figure of 111 on the speedo, representing Harley-Davidson’s 111 years in business. Selecting either the Range mode (conservative) or Power (full output capability) renders a 0 display and the bike is ready to roll. There is also a range balance indicator. As already mentioned, there is no clutch lever, only a front brake lever and rear foot brake pedal.
The Livewire is very compact and serves up 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 also aluminum. It rolls on Harley-Davidson branded Michelin M/C rubber – 120/70-18 fore, and 180/55-17 aft. Both are mounted on black 6 “Y”-spoke alloy wheels with a red rim accent.
Since the Demo Livewires are all prototypes, actual measurements such as wheelbase, overall length and seat height, were not available as the Livewire is specifically a concept demonstrator. Figures were also unavailable for the overall battery capacity, number and individual voltage rating of battery cells as well as the kW range.
SUMMARY: So, what’s it like to pilot this new electric concept craft 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. There is no quirky throttle feel. Rolling on the throttle delivers power on demand and rolling off provides a smooth braking effect. There is no brake light activation provided 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 none-the-less. Suspension is compliant and handling is nimble and balanced.
Rear-view mirrors are down turned, under the grips and mounted off the trick, billet LED turn signals and offer good rear visibility.
The average range of the prototype bikes is 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 220V level 2 input port.
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 personally ridden so far. Test ride feedback 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 dollar 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 jet turbine engine, which is created by a bevel gear off the 90-degree offset drive that creates a high-pitched turbine-like whine. Not offensive mind you, but it’s unfamiliar to Harley-ites.
Kudos to the Bar and Shield team for looking into the future with a most interesting concept electric ride – the Harley-Davidson Project Livewire bike.
SPECIFICATIONS: Harley-Davidson Project Livewire
|Base Price:||$Pricing not available – Concept Demo|
|Price as Tested:||$Pricing not available – Concept Demo|
|Engine Type and Size:||Longitudinally mounted three-phase AC electric motor / lithium-ion battery pack __TBD____V cells – _TBD___kW range|
|Horsepower (bhp):||74 @ 16,000 rpm|
|Torque (ft./ lbs.):||52 @ 0-92 rpm|
|Transmission:||Clutchless direct drive with two operational modes – Range and Power.|
|Drive Train:||Final drive – Belt.|
Front – Showa Big Piston forks.
Rear – Cast aluminum swingarm.
|Brakes:||Single disc, pin slide, twin piston front / Single disc rear. No ABS. Regenerative braking.|
|Tires:||Harley-Davidson branded Michelin 120/70-18 M/C front / 180/55-17 M/C rear mounted on 6-“Y”-spoke alloy wheels with red rims.|
|Wheelbase:||Not available – prototype|
|Length Overall:||Not available – prototype|
|Width:||Not available – prototype|
|Height:||Not available – prototype|
|Curb Weight:||463 pounds|
|Fuel Capacity:||No fuel â€“ fully electric.|
|EPA Mileage Estimates:||Average range=50 miles|
|Seat Height:||Not available – prototype|
|0 – 60 mph:||Claimed under 4 seconds – Top speed electronically limited to 95 mph.|
Arv Voss is a Northern California based freelance motoring Journalist and member and past officer of several noted Automotive Journalist organizations who contributes regularly to a number of national and international media outlets. He reviews not only cars, trucks and SUVs, but motorcycles as well.