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An Electric Motorcycle for Harley-Davidson? New Model Sounds Like a 'Jet on an Aircraft Carrier


"Some people may get on it thinking 'golf cart,' and they get off thinking 'rocketship.'"

(Image source: Motorcycle.com)

Rolling Thunder may sound a little different in the future. The deep, rumbling sound of the engine and exhaust is an iconic feature of the Harley-Davidson brand, but it will be non-existent in a new model that will be unveiled Monday.

Why? It's electric.

(Image source: Motorcycle.com) Image source: Motorcycle.com

Harley-Davidson will unveil its first electric motorcycle, dubbed LiveWire, next week in New York City; the motorcycle maker will showcase handmade demonstration models Monday at an invitation-only event. The company will then take several dozen riders on a 30-city tour to test-drive the bikes and provide feedback.

Harley says it will use the information gathered on the tour to refine the bike, which might not hit the market for several more years.

The LiveWire doesn't require shifting of gears, and the slim, sleek bike can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 4 seconds. The engine is silent, but the meshing of gears emits a hum that the company likens to a "fighter jet on an aircraft carrier," according to Gizmodo.

"Project LiveWire is just one element in our efforts to preserve and renew the freedom to ride for generations to come," said Matt Levatich, Harley's president and COO. He expects the company known for its big touring bikes and iconic brand to become a leader in developing technology and standards for electric vehicles, but thinks the bike will sell based on performance, not environmental awareness. 

"Some people may get on it thinking, 'golf cart,'" lead engineer Jeff Richlen said. "And they get off thinking, 'rocket ship.'"

(Image source: Motorcycle.com) Image source: Motorcycle.com

One hurdle the company has yet to address is the limited range offered by electric motorcycles. The batteries must be recharged after about 130 miles, and that can take 30 minutes to an hour.

San Jose State University police Capt. Alan Cavallo helped his department buy two bikes from Zero Motorcycles, the current top-selling brand, and said officers have been "super happy" with the quiet, environmentally friendly bikes made nearby in Scotts Valley, California. But he said American riders who like to hit the highway would likely lose patience with the technology.

"That's the deal with the cars; you can't jump in a Tesla and drive to L.A., it won't make it," Cavallo said, adding later, "People want the convenience of, 'I pull into a gas station, I pour some gas in my tank and I go.'"

The venture is a risk for Harley because there's currently almost no market for full-size electric motorcycles. The millions of two-wheeled electric vehicles sold each year are almost exclusively scooters and low-powered bikes that appeal to Chinese commuters. But one analyst said investment by a major manufacturer could help create demand, and Levatich emphasized in an interview with the Associated Press that Harley is interested in the long-term potential, regardless of immediate demand.

"We think that the trends in both EV technology and customer openness to EV products, both automotive and motorcycles, is only going to increase, and when you think about sustainability and environmental trends, we just see that being an increasing part of the lifestyle and the requirements of riders," Levatich said. "So, nobody can predict right now how big that industry will be or how significant it will be."

Motorcycle.com acquired images of this new motorcycle via the Daily Mail from the set of the next "Avengers" movie, currently filming in Seoul, South Korea. While the company will unveil the full package Monday, this may be a sneak peak at the LiveWire design.

(Image source: Motorcycle.com) Image source: Motorcycle.com

The photos show the lack of an exhaust pipe on either side, a big, square shape resembling a battery where an engine would be, no clutch or shift lever, and most telling of all – the Harley-Davidson logo across the faux gas tank, according to Gizmodo.

If you are already reminiscing about the signature Harley sound, fear not. Watch the videos below to get a quick fix of the rumbling sound.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter

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