Harley turns new page in history with LiveWire e-bike

Publish Date: 
Jun 20, 2014
By Bruce Steever

HARLEY-DAVIDSON this week unveiled a bombshell in the form of its first electric motorcycle, named Project LiveWire.

As the news broke across endemic and non-endemic media outlets, both consumers and powersports industry insiders began countless conversations discussing a myriad of topics, from Harley’s daring to risk entering a segment as far from its core product line as possible, to the bike’s radical design, to the machine’s proposed specifications.

Read the announcement HERE.

While Harley-Davidson has made it clear that the current LiveWire machine is built as a product demonstrator first and foremost, the highly finished package is leading many to suspect that, while some final specification have yet to be finalized, especially key figures like range, weight and price, the production machine will not stray far from the current package.

Still, responses were as varied as the powersports world itself.

Initial reactions to the announcement focused on Harley’s risk in leaving its comfort zone, and many of those initial gut reactions were far from favorable, calling the Motor Co. crazy in countless ways.

Robert Pandya, Indian Motorcycle’s external relations manager, was quick to refute these initial critics: “What naysayers see is a light switch. Evolution is a dimmer — with a jolting start. Maybe this is it. You guys underestimate their potential. The industry needs change. When a major player is in — that is just the sort of energy we all want. Lose the blinders, gain the market share.”

There’s clearly some built-up resistance to the idea that Harley-Davidson is prepared to dive into such unexplored territory. Sean Smith, a freelance motojournalist, echoed many folks thoughts on the announcement: “Is the potential to drive sales based solely on brand-strength, regardless of real-world performance or price? I just don't see Harley doing actual R&D and developing something high-tech like an electric motorcycle that works well. Not that they shouldn't, just that almost everything I can think up about their past makes me think they'll be bringing up the rear in the tech race.”

Others had mixed opinions on the LiveWire, especially in the key hours leading up to the official announcement.

Don Emde was focused on the machines' technical solutions to the constant bugbears such as range: “I am optimistic that [Harley-Davidson’s] marketing heads know the market well enough to know the deal-killer for everything on the market today is the lack of range and unrealistic re-charge time,” Emde explained. “[I] can't believe they'd come to the market without solving those problems.

"Millions of dollars have been wasted already by companies trying to impress the market with goofy race events, like one lap around the Isle of Man, when speed is not what the [e-bike] industry is lacking. Without the ability to cover some serious miles in a day, you have nothing, in my humble opinion," Emde continued. "The top five factors for a new e-bike: (1) range (2) range (3) range (4) brand (5) all the performance and features you'd expect at their price level.”

E-bike-focused motojournalist Susanna Schick didn't disagree with Emde’s worries about the LiveWire’s potential range, but noted that a major OEM getting involved in e-bikes can only be a good thing in both the long- and short-run. “People have range anxiety. Especially American motorcyclists who think motorcycling is something you do on the weekends. People like me who actually ride every day don't have range anxiety because the [Zero] FX gives me more than enough to get around L.A. in my daily life.

"This is the major problem for e-bikes in America: weekend warriors represent like 90 percent of the motorcycle market," Schick noted. "All those [persons] would rather sit in an automated car than man up and ride to work.

“I always tell people e-bikes are a great way to start [riding motorcycles] because you don't have to shift," Schick continued. "Having a direct drive gives a new rider one less thing to think about, making the whole process less overwhelming.”