Harley-Davidson Unveils Project LiveWire Electric Motorcycle

Wisconsin-based motorcycle company Harley-Davidson this week revealed Project LiveWire, a concept for an all-electric motorcycle. Although many concept vehicles never leave rotating display stands, Project LiveWire is heading into the real world. This summer, Harley-Davidson will take the motorcycle to 30 cities around the country so potential customers can ride it and offer feedback.

Harley-Davidson chief engineer Jeff Richlen says that nearly every part of Project LiveWire is new, starting with the exposed, one-piece aluminum frame that weighs just 14 pounds. The cast-aluminum wheels are new, too, and are some of the lightest wheels Harley-Davidson has ever produced. The entire motorcycle weighs just 460 pounds. Lithium-ion batteries, which are said to offer a riding range of about 53 miles per charge in this prototype, are mounted snugly within the frame and under the seat. "We didn't want it to look like a box of batteries that has two wheels attached," Richlen says.

The motorcycle's electric motor was developed with a partner company and is mounted in the low-slung chrome area at the bottom of the bike. The motor is mounted longitudinally -- its output shaft is in aligned with the bike's overall length -- so that Harley-Davidson could install larger, more powerful motors without making Project LiveWire excessively wide. There is no transmission or clutch between the engine and the belt drive. Without the need to pause to shift gears, Richlen says, Project LiveWire offers a totally different Harley-Davidson riding experience: "You can go from zero to top speed from just rolling on the throttle, without any interruption at all."

The Harley-Davidson Project LiveWire has LED headlights, and uses a touchscreen in place of a normal instrument cluster. The touchscreen works with gloves and, among other information, allows riders to pick between a Range mode that reduces motor torque -- and is recommended for experienced riders -- and a Power mode for riders who want the full experience.

As is evident in the video embedded below, the motorcycle emits very different type of noise than traditional Harleys. "It sounds like a jet coming by," Richlen says. "As you hear this motorcycle, it's amazing how it evokes a whole new set of emotions."

This year, Harley-Davidson will take Project LiveWire to 30 cities, starting with New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, giving fans and riders a chance to test the bike and offer feedback. There are no confirmed plans for production so far, and Richlen admits LiveWire, "is a bit of a departure from what customers might expect from Harley-Davidson." He says the company is not abandoning its core, traditional bike model, but wants to explore possibilities for the future. "It is a balance between what our customers expect and our legacy," Richlen says. "It's one of those rare opportunities when you have a clean sheet of paper and start from the ground up.

Harley-Davidson isn't the first company to conceive of an all-electric motorcycle; riders can already buy battery-powered bikes from companies like Brammo, Mission Motorcycles, and Zero Motorcycles.

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