The throaty roar of their V-twin engines often gives Harley Davidsons away long before you catch sight of them. So will Harley fans, many of whom fine-tune their touring bikes to make them even louder, go for an environmentally and ear-friendly electric model?
That was the question being posed earlier this week, when the first electric Harley Davidson hit the road at a launch event in New York.
Easy rider Called Project LiveWire, the black, red and chrome beast that is the electric Harley Davidson certainly looks the part. It can go 130 miles before it needs charging (a process that takes between 30 minutes and an hour) and will offer riders a top speed of 92mph. The manufacturer also claims the bike can go from 0-60mph in just four seconds. But rather than putting its electric bike out on general sale, Harley Davidson has decided to test its performance and popularity by asking some of its loyal customers to test drive the new model while touring around the US. The tour will include a trip down the famous Route 66 between Chicago and Los Angeles, and will take in at least 30 Harley Davidson dealerships before the end of the year.
Silent running With its relatively modest 74 horsepower and a top speed under 100mph, the electric Harley Davidson is unlikely to appeal to bikers with a need for speed (and a scant regard for the law of the land). That’s not the biggest problem, though. Like other electric vehicles, the engine on Harley Davidson's Project Livewire prototype is almost completely silent. And that is likely to prove off-putting for those Harley fans who enjoy the admiring glances attracted by the gutsy engines on the manufacturer’s more traditional touring bikes. It would also be interesting to see how insurers would react to an electric bike – would it be seen as intrinsically low-risk, and therefore deserving of lower motorbike insurance premiums?
New in town However, appealing to its traditional customer base may not be the point of this groundbreaking new bike from Harley Davidson. Robin Farley, an analyst at UBS, thinks that the motorcycle maker is trying to show it can attract a new kind of customer, something “that's been a challenge for them in the past”. And this opinion seems to be supported by the fact that Harley Davidson has recently launched two bikes aimed at women, who now buy one in 10 of the Harleys sold in the US.
Motorcycle diaries Anyone keen to get their hands on an electric Harley will have to wait for a while at least, though. There are no firm plans to bring the Project Livewire electric bike into production as yet. A Harley Davidson spokesman said: 'Any final decisions about whether to bring an electric motorcycle to market - and when - will be made at a later date.'