Harley Davidson has been in the motorcycle biz for 111 years now. Going from a global leader in motorcycle technology, to supporting troops in both world wars, from AMF buying the company in 1969 and causing lower-quality craftsmanship, and then being bought back by 13 investors in 1981 - one of which who was Willie G. Davidson, who re-invented the company and made it what it is today. The history is actually pretty interesting even if you aren’t a moto buff. Read more here and here.
When you think of Harley Davidson you immediately think of the loud (sometimes obnoxious) rumble, a big chromed up mean chopper, and some bad ass dude riding it.
But the stereotype is changing. Just recently Harley Davidson announced Project Livewire: a 100% electric motorcycle with zero emissions. They are evolving their whole customer base with this innovation. Check out the deets here. They debuted the prototype in the film Avengers: Age of Ultron. Black Widow took it for a spin. Check out the featurette on it:
Right now there are a couple of 100% electric motorbikes on the market. The first one is Zero Motorcycles. Pretty damn cool.
The closest competitor to Zero is Brammo (yellow bike). Although Brammo’s electric motorcycle business has been recently acquired by Polaris, the maker of Victory and Indian motorcycles. Harley Davidson has decided to jump on the electric bugaloo bandwagon and bring the Livewire to the masses.
Back in January 2015, my first experience with this new Harley was at the Calgary Motorcycle Show. Harley had what they called ‘The Jumpstart Experience.' It was a stationary mounted prototype motorcycle with the rear wheel on rollers. You just jumped on and really revved her up.
It was an eye-opener. The Livewire has no room for bags or a passenger. They are for a single rider only. It has a very aggressive sitting posture much like a sport bike. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that you don’t shift gears. Therefore, no clutch is needed. Also, when you throttle down it would manually slow the bike; not like on a normal motorcycle when you just release the throttle and it slows over time. This push back was called regenerative braking. When you braked, the braking energy is stored and reused. This was really weird to me and I really wanted to hit the road with this new bike and see how it works. So immediately I signed up to get updates on when this prototype would be launched. Here’s my run on the Livewire Jumpstart experience at the 2015 Calgary Motorcycle Show:
In early June 2015, I received an email from Harley Davidson that Project Livewire was going on a world tour. They were taking about a dozen prototypes all over North America to major dealerships and motorcycle gatherings, giving test rides and asking only one thing in exchange: opinions. They just wanted feedback – positive or negative to make the bikes better. So I signed up at my local shop where I bought my Harley at Kane’s Harley Davidson Calgary via their Facebook page. A few weeks later, I received an email telling me I was selected to test drive the prototype. Killer!
On Saturday July 25, 2015 I headed down to Kane’s. They had about eight Livewires all set up underneath a tent. They had a massive semi-trailer parked on the street in front of Kane’s blocking off the whole block. You could walk inside the truck and there was a large display set up. They had the Jumpstart Experience, Harley apparel with heated gear, and this very cool display of the Livewire cast aluminum trellis frame just floating in a box and a video HUD overlaid on top. It was a pretty amazing display. So cool in fact, I took a video! Check it:
I was a little worried as it was raining earlier and I thought they might not let us ride and cancel due to weather, but the sun came back out and it was a go. They made me watch a five minute safety video before I went out. So I popped the headphones on and he pressed play on the DVD. I was so excited to get to ride on the new prototype that my mind was wandering (as it often does) as it started to play. I was thinking about such things as 'could I take it on deerfoot? Could I pin it and max out the speedometer? What if I wipe out and write this sucker off?' Then the video stopped playing and I realized, oh shit… I didn’t pay attention to any of that!
Oh well, be cool. How hard could this be?
My name was called and I noticed I didn’t get to take off on my own, but rode with six others. All good. We walked over to the Livewires.
I mounted the bike and the Harley demo guy started to tell us about the features. He mentioned that the engine was a longitudinally-mounted, 55 kW, oil-cooled, three-phase, AC induction motor inspired by the superchargers used on top fuel dragsters. Also, it was a direct drive (single speed), and a belt drive via bevel gear. The belt drive was just like my Sportster. It was 460 lbs (210 kgs) dry, about a 100 lbs lighter than my bike so it was nice and light for me.
He also mentioned that because there are no gears, the throttle is directly related to acceleration. So if we are stopped at a light, don’t rev the engine like you would a regular motorbike. If you did, you would get an instant 52 foot-pounds of torque hit you and the bike would take off underneath you. FUN!
Then he proceeded to tell us that these models weren’t productions bikes either. The prototype my ass was sitting on was roughly $120,000. Geezus!
The demo dude said “Start your engines.” I reached for the clutch, no clutch. Strange. So I flipped the switch… and nothing. The speedometer lit up (which was the size of a mini iPad) and I felt a slight vibration, but no sound. The bike was on, although it felt as though it wasn’t. The vibration, as mentioned by demo dude, was the liquid cooling of the battery. Quite a shock from starting my Iron 883. This would be a nice way to start the moto in the morning rather than me flipping the switch at 7 am and waking the entire neighbourhood.
I have REALLY loud pipes on my Sportster and there has been many times my loud pipes have been heard by drivers and they KNOW I am beside them. Being this whisper quiet could be a bit of a detriment in the carnage of Calgary drivers.
The demo dude had us select either Range Ride or Power Ride. The Range Ride averages around 88 km (55 miles) and around 53 km (33 miles) in Power Ride. He said it doesn’t matter which option we choose on our short ride, but I chose Power Ride.
The ride was life changing! Think electric guitar – not electric car. Think Tron light cycle – not electric scooter. This was a thing of beauty. Technology turned into art.
The ride started off and the whir of the engine was hypnotizing. The power was noticeable right away and the instant (and I mean instant) torque had a very responsive acceleration. My Iron has the about same peak 52 foot-pounds (71 Nm) of torque, but it’s a different, more graduated feel. I hit the throttle on the Livewire a few times and it has go! It can do 0-100 km in under four seconds with an instant 74 horses (55 kW) kicking you back in the seat. However, it is electronically limited to a top speed of 148 km/h (95 mph) but I’m sure you could clip, flash, or reprogram the PCM to get well past that.
It was definitely a shock pulling up to a red light. You reach for the clutch and there is nothing there – no shifting involved. You also don’t have to use the front or rear brake, just push forward on the throttle and the regenerative braking kicks in. The only reason I used the brake was to light up my tail-light so the guy behind me knew I was braking and didn’t run into me (the regenerative braking doesn’t light up the tail-light). It’s almost as if you don’t need the front or rear brake unless there is an emergency.
We took a nice 10 minute, 5 kilometer ride around Inglewood and Ramsay.
We pulled back in to the semi-truck tent and I wanted to go back out right away. Check out the full video at the end of this blog.
Apparently the 7 kWh battery takes three and a half hours for a full charge from empty and you’ll get on average a range of 85 km (53 miles). I did ask price and the demo dude said they are getting feedback from the demos for price. So far there is no set price, although they are rumours that Harley is going to charge about the same price as one of their cruisers, about 30K. If they sold them right now, it’d supposedly be 50K just at cost. The demo guy did say it will be another two to three years before these will be in production. Another rumour is that Harley Davidson is waiting for battery technology to catch up to make the distance range to cost ratio more viable. But that’s just all hearsay.
In the end, I was VERY impressed with this bike. You aren’t worrying about the clutch or shifting, you are just riding. It’s so fun. It doesn’t make me want me to sell my Harley and get this one, it is so different in every way. I want to have both. One to burn liquid dinosaurs and one to plug in at the end of the day. There is nothing like the sound of a fuel injected combustion motor rumbling between your legs, but the futuristic whir of this AC induction motor makes you feel like Kevin Flynn whizzing by on a light cycle leaving a jetwall in your wake. It is a head turner and a whole new way to ride.
The only questions that remain are: when, and how much?
Check out my entire Livewire test ride below: