What is it like to ride an electric motorcycle?
Electric bikes are showing signs that they may edge towards becoming part of the mainstream. The big manufacturers are all investing in this space, even Harley-Davidson.
Last year the American company launched its very first electric motorbike, Project LiveWire, and Jeremy Pick shares his experience of riding it:
In 2014 I was privileged enough to ride one of the icons of Harley-Davidson past – the 1914 Silent Gray Fellow. More recently, things came full circle and I found myself riding what may well be an icon of Harley’s future, and in itself just as astonishing as that groundbreaking 100-year-old model – Project LiveWire, Harley-Davidson’s first fully electric motorcycle.
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The first thing that strikes you about LiveWire is just what a beautiful piece of engineering design it is. From any angle it looks cool, agile and futuristic, yet it still has all the DNA and design cues that make it unmistakably Harley-Davidson.
The second thing you notice is what is not there, rather than what is. No exhaust. No clutch. No gear change. No engine in the traditional sense – instead, a three-phase induction motor occupies the space where in a more ‘conventional’ Harley the iconic V-twin motor would fit. The electric motor is wrapped in a perimeter frame, which also holds the lithium-ion batteries that provide the power.
Sit on the bike and it is immediately clear what a beautifully compact design the engineers and designers at the ProductDevelopmentCenter have come up with. This bike looks and feels like a full production model, despite its status as one of a very few precious prototypes designed to test the opinion of traditional Harley customers as well as potential new riders.
The starting process is a little different too. No key; ignition is activated by proximity control, and the electric motor is powered up by flicking the familiar handlebar switch to ‘run’. Twist the throttle… then the fun really starts. Power comes on strong immediately – full torque is developed at zero rpm, and a twist of the wrist is enough to hurl the bike to 60mph in less than four seconds. That’s quick, and the LiveWire just keeps on accelerating as fast as you care – or dare – to go; with no need to roll off the power for gear changes, performance is truly startling.
Roll off the power and the regenerative braking that recharges the batteries kicks in, bringing the speed down with an effect much like heavy engine braking. The electric motor is flexible enough to trickle the bike along effortlessly at below walking speed and then up to hair-raising speeds within seconds.
The brakes are powerful, and the low centre of gravity, ultra-light aluminium perimeter frame and hollow aluminium wheels make the bike as nimble and agile as any sports bike. Riding through the city streets of Milwaukee, LiveWire feels like the future – or at least one very coolversion of it.
Talking about the specifications of LiveWire is a little irrelevant right now; these bikes have been designed and built as rolling engineering test-beds to shape the direction of potential production models, so things like range and power are adjustable as technology and opinion change the design parameters of the project bikes.