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Test Driving Harley-Davidson's First Electric Motorcycle

Motorheads beta-testing Project LiveWire may be surprised by the bike's muscle.

Photos Courtesy Harley Davidson

Don't laugh: The Milwaukee brand famous for building 1,200-cc hogs you can hear all the way in outer space has built a slick electric bike for serious riders. Project LiveWire, the company's first attempt at plug-and-play biking, is currently just that: a project. The bike isn't on the market and the specs aren't etched in stone, but over the course of the summer, Harley will be beta-testing the model with the help of motorcyclists across the country. Yesterday, we rode it. Here's our feedback: Good job.

The first thing riders will notice is the size: It's kinda small. If it were a traditional bike, the frame would carry a modest 600-cc engine. What this model actually carries is a 74-horsepower power unit fired by a lithium-ion battery that generates a pretty respectable 52 lb.-ft. of torque and goes 0–60 in under four seconds. Because the setup is more sport bike than low-rider, the handling is tight and the ride smooth. That makes the LiveWire​, which has a governor-controlled top speed of 90, ideal for hitting the gaps while negotiating city traffic. The urban vibe is a necessary adaptation: The bike's range is roughly 50 miles and it takes several hours to charge.

Maxim's Scott Wassmer was impressed with the electric Harley's handling and giddy-up.

The new Harley could help the company reach out to younger, environmentally conscious, and less-experienced riders. Project LiveWire asks very little of riders. There is no clutch and no gear shifting required. The bike is pretty much point and shoot. That's impressive considering it's actually a blast to ride. The only obvious shortcoming is the sound. 

The generated sound, which Harley likens to a “fighter jet on an aircraft carrier,” is a work in progress. Currently, the bike sounds like a turbine winding up, but isn't loud enough to hear over the sounds of midday Manhattan. That's both dangerous and disappointing. Harleys are supposed to announce their presence, not cough politely while standing by the door. The LiveWire is a great bike. It just needs to pipe up and tell Sunday drivers to get the hell out of the way.

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