Imagine a Vincent Black Shadow that doesn’t try to kill you, a Moto-Guzzi that starts reliably and doesn’t leak oil, a Harley-Davidson sans thumping V-twin, sans assertive exhaust note, sans internal combustion itself — a Harley-Davidson powered by electricity.
It sounds like a ludicrous idea. Heck, it probably is a ludicrous idea. But Harley’s doing it anyway, and it’s called the Livewire. Right now, it’s just a concept — you can check it out on the Project LiveWire Tour, but they don’t plan to sell it just yet.
Consequently, we’re not sure about how much it would cost. But photos give us a good idea of what it looks like: a streetfighter with a retro profile resembling something from the Storz Performance garage, without the scrambler pipes — no fire, no smoke. Its exposed frame terminates in a monoshock swing arm rear suspension.
It is a radical departure for Harley and that’s before you even get to the powertrain. According to Asphalt and Rubber, it packs a three-phase induction motor good for 55 kW — slightly less than 74 hp for us old-school types. Torque sits at 52 lb-ft; 0-60 is estimated at a rapid 4 seconds.
Range is paltry — a disappointing 50 or so miles. That’s probably OK for this concept, but it won’t fly on the market. Part of the Harley fantasy is hopping on your bike and leaving your problems/alimony payments behind as you cruise off into the night.
We suspect the LiveWire will generate a lot of buzz but not among Harley purists. Maybe the purists are Harley’s biggest problem. With its current lineup, the motorcycle manufacturer is having a tough time reaching the youth. Part of it is the Harley image — half Hell’s Angel, half weekend-warrior poser. The other part is money, especially for the next generation of debt-ridden young riders. Harleys aren’t cheap, although the new Street 750 aims to remedy that.
What remains to be seen, though, is who would put a substantial down payment on a production version of this piece of machinery. Electric motorcycles can be blisteringly fast – you’ll find no shortage of ambitious electro-crotch rockets out there.
Yet Harley, at least in its current incarnation, has never aimed to be the fastest, super-efficient cutting-edge thing on two wheels. And that’s fine — just as you would be off base criticizing a Miata for not putting down 600 hp stock, you would be wrong to criticize a Softail for not being an Isle of Man TT contender.
It’s a gamble for a brand battling high costs — a brand known and loved for its deliberately old-school appeal — to make a splash with what would certainly be a costly, performance-driven model–if it ever makes it to production.
But remember: Harley didn’t always used to be about the so-called biker lifestyle. Harley-Davidson made its name building rugged bikes that could win races — in 1921, in fact, a Harley was the first to win a race at an average speed of more than 100 mph. Perhaps Harley is willing to swap its trademark brap-brap for a Jetsons-esq whirring if it allows them to contend once more for a spot at the head of the innovation pack, at the very least.
Viewed from that perspective, maybe the LiveWire represents Harley’s attempt to return to its groundbreaking roots. Or maybe they’re just jumping on a trend, trying to grab headlines (and succeeding).