News Column

Harley Takes Electric Motorcycle on the Road

June 23, 2014

Julianne Mattera, The Patriot-News

Harley-Davidson Livewire electric motorcycle (Harley-Davidson)
Harley-Davidson Livewire electric motorcycle (Harley-Davidson)

June 22--Harley-Davidson recently unveiled its first electric motorcycle.

Starting this week, it's taking it on the road for a consumer test drive.

Called Project LiveWire, the electric motorcycle prototype has the look of a sports bike and a sound akin to a jet plane's -- a large departure from the traditional Harley rumble.

At the Susquehanna Valley Harley-Davidson dealership in Lower Paxton Township, Harley aficionados gave mixed reactions to the electric prototype. Some didn't agree the electric bike should lack a Harley's iconic sound.

Others, including dealership owner Bill Tull, were happy to see the company looking to the future.

"It's huge," Tull said, regarding the prototype. "I think it's wonderful they're investing profits in something that is possibly a window into the future."

People will be able to get a look at demonstration models at an invitation-only event Monday in New York, according to the Associated Press. After that, Harley-Davidson will be taking the models on a tour where it will allow riders to try the bike and give feedback on it. That information will go toward refining the bike, which might not be for sale for a handful of years.

While Tull would love to see gasoline-powered engines last forever, he agrees it's not good for the environment. He said electric engines are the future, though he can't say when that will replace the internal combustion engine.

"The internal combustion engine has a limited lifetime and it's time to be moving to the future even though that future could be five to 10 years away," Tull said. "Someone who has an open mind will be excited about the possibility the technology will open up for all of us."

Brad Werley, service manager at Susquehanna Valley Harley -- Davidson, said the electric prototype shows the company is positioning itself to get in front of the curve of what might be next in the future of motorcycles. Though, he doubts the company's air-cooled V-twin engine -- a staple of its motorcycles -- would be going away anytime soon.

Werley assumes the electric prototype would appeal to younger riders and those concerned about emissions.

"It has a unique look to it," Werley said. "I think it's going to target a younger generation that's excited about the technology, that's excited about the look and styling of this product."

Rodger Hines, 52, of Harrisburg, never owned a Harley but isn't a stranger to motorcycles. Hines, who owns a BMW K1200LT, has ridden cross-country twice on motorcycles.

Hines said Harley's electric bike prototype is a big deal since the company is so traditional with the way it builds its motorcycles. He thinks the electric bike is a great idea, but he expects some Harley aficionados won't go for it.

"Harley people are going to laugh," Hines said. "They're going to find it very funny."

If the motorcycles is reliable, Hines said people likely would buy it as a second bike.

He added if the bike really does have a jet sound, he'd expect it to be fast. His next question would be, how long will it last?

The LiveWire has its engine at the bottom of the bike, and it can go from 0 to 60 mph in only four seconds, according to the Associated Press. Though, electric motorcycles typically have a limited range -- for example, batteries usually have to be charged after about 130 miles.

Some, however, aren't interested in the electric prototype. A couple longtime Harley owners visiting the dealership Saturday said it's not something they would buy.

"It doesn't look like a Harley," said Joe Brown of Derry Township, who rides a Harley-Davidson Sportster. "I don't think I'd be much for it."

Brown wouldn't call himself a diehard Harley fanatic, but he said those that are "true diehard Harley people" also wouldn't be up for such a bike. He also questioned whether such a bike would catch on.

As far as the sound? Brown also didn't care for it.

Tim Moore of Lock Haven, who's owned Harleys for about a decade, said Harley-Davidson motorcycles have a distinct sound. Without it, the bikes shouldn't carry the brand's name.

Moore didn't hold back when talking about the prototype -- "It's kind of stupid."

"It's just not a traditional Harley," Moore said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Original headline: Harley-Davidson to take new electric motorcycle on the road


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