Harley-Davidson Unveils Its First Electric Motorcycle

Posted by on June 27, 2014 in Tech

Harley_LivewireI’ve written a number of articles here on the subject of electric vehicles. At the time I wrote them, whenever I mentioned EVs, it was pretty clear that I was talking about electric cars. As of today, that presumption can no longer be taken for granted. Harley-Davidson just announced the launch of their first electric motorcycle (video).

The bike, which is not yet available for sale, is what the company is calling Project Livewire. It took off this week on a 30-city demonstration tour. While scooters and small electric bikes have already carved out a niche in America’s transportation ecosystem, there has not been, as yet, a full-size electric motorbike from a major manufacturer. No doubt the tour will be used to gauge public interest while providing the public a sneak peek at what could be a major new transportation option.

It will be difficult to assess the market. Even Harley’s president, Matt Levatich said, “…nobody can predict right now how big that industry will be or how significant it will be.”

In keeping with H-D’s renegade image the press release says, “Project LiveWire is more like the first electric guitar — not an electric car.”

Based on the specifications, it sounds like the bike is intended primarily for city commuting. It can go a hundred miles on a charge and requires three hours or more to go from empty to a full battery. But it can go from zero to 60 a lot faster than that, four seconds to be precise, courtesy of its 75 HP electric motor that can also deliver plenty of torque for quick take-offs. The bike has a maximum top speed of 92 mph, which should be enough for city commuters, if not everyone else.

In fact, Jeff Richlen, Harley’s lead engineer on LiveWire, said, “Some people may get on it thinking, ‘golf cart,’ and get off thinking, ‘rocket ship.”

Reactions have been mostly positive, if mixed. Bill Saporito of TIME, test drove one at the company’s development center in Wauwatosa, outside Milwaukee. “The beauty of all electric motors is that you get torque — the force that turns the wheels — on command. You don’t have to go through the gears. Twist the throttle and LiveWire responds like an impatient New Yorker.”

But as the Saporito notes, the growl is missing. While that might be a relief to those who like to sleep with their windows open, there are complaints for reasons other than the obvious image problem. Member of the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) claim that the loud noise associated with the bikes is actually important for safety reasons. It’s an issue that has also come up with respect to electric cars, driving some manufacturers to add artificial sound, particularly for the safety of visually impaired pedestrians.

The new electric Harley, is far quieter than its older brothers, but it is far from silent. Due to the reduction gearing employed in the bike’s drive train, the “futuristic whirr” is louder than other electrics.

The bike also has no clutch, which makes it easier to drive, though it might also detract from that quintessential Harley experience.

Harley Davidson has long been committed to both sustainability and innovation, devoting a full third of their engineering budget to advanced research. And while the overlap between those who drive Harleys today and those who consider themselves green might be small, in a world where everything else is changing, that could certainly change too.

– See more at: http://www.justmeans.com/blogs/harley-davidson-unveils-its-first-electric-motorcycle#sthash.Ek7w1gIO.dpuf

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. He has been published in business and technical journals and has written three books. His third, co-authored with Roger Saillant, is Vapor Trails, an eco-thriller that is being adapted for the big screen. RP is a professional engineer – and a prolific inventor, with 50 patents, numerous awards, and several commercial products. He is president of Rain Mountain LLC and is an active environmental advocate in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y. In addition to Justmeans, he writes for Triple Pundit, ThomasNet News, and Energy Viewpoints, occasionally contributing to Mechanical Engineering, Strategy + Business, and Huffington Post. You can follow RP on Twitter, @RPSiegel. 


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