The future of Harley-Davidson is not a menacing roar but an explosive whoosh.
On Monday, June 24, Harley-Davidson will kick off of a 30-city tour across the U.S. promoting its newest gambit: an electric motorcycle. Part of Harley’s Project Livewire, the motorcycle is not yet for sale and the company is looking for customer feedback as part of a long-term vision of electrifying the industry.
“America at its best has always been about reinvention,” Matt Levatich, President and Chief Operating Officer at Harley-Davidson, said in a press release. “And, like America, Harley-Davidson has reinvented itself many times in our history, with customers leading us every step of the way.”
Currently there is virtually no market for full-size electric motorcycles, with electric scooters and small bikes paving the way for electric vehicles (EVs) in many sprawling urban global centers.
“We think that the trends in both EV technology and customer openness to EV products, both automotive and motorcycles, is only going to increase, and when you think about sustainability and environmental trends, we just see that being an increasing part of the lifestyle and the requirements of riders,” Levatich told the Associated Press. “So, nobody can predict right now how big that industry will be or how significant it will be.”
The manufacturers are considering every aspect of the ride in an attempt to re-imagine the free-spirited, independent-minded experience that brought the now iconic machine into vogue half a century ago — and create a signature Harley-Davidson look, sound and feel for the 21st century.
“Project LiveWire is more like the first electric guitar — not an electric car,” Mark-Hans Richer, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Harley-Davidson, said in the press release. “It’s an expression of individuality and iconic style that just happens to be electric.”
As far as the sound, “think fighter jet on an aircraft carrier,” Richer said.
Harley-Davidson’s engineers worked hard to provide enough battery power in the body of the bike to get it accelerating from zero to 60 m.p.h. in four seconds. It can go up to 92 m.p.h. and has a range of 100 miles, with about a three-hour recharge window. The exoskeleton is cast-aluminum and it has a smaller wheelbase with 18-inch tires.
“What’s it like to ride?” asked Bill Saporito of TIME, who visited the company’s development center in Wauwatosa, outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “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, even if the engine growl lags.”
A third of Harley-Davidson’s engineering is now focused on innovation and advanced technology.
“We’ve been very silent up to this point about our investment in EV technology,” Levatich told the Associated Press. “… But now that we’re public, and we’re in this space, we expect to be involved and a part of leading the development of the standards, and the technology and the infrastructure necessary to further the acceptance and the utility of electric vehicles.”