Harley-Davidson shocked the motorcycle world Thursday with news that it had developed an electric superbike.
Riding the LiveWire is pretty shocking too. This is a fired-up, amped-out monster.
With design elements borrowed from Harley's illustrious past, and some actual parts borrowed off the company's Sportster and V-Rod machines, the LiveWire looks like a Harley flat-tracker -- the race bikes that helped make the brand's mark in decades past.
But there's no engine, no gearbox, no clutch and no exhaust pipe -- which means it's almost silent but for a high-pitched jet engine whine that comes from the transfer of power from the huge electric motor to the composite belt that drives the rear wheel.
Harley isn't releasing much statistical information yet, but on an abandoned runway on the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Irvine the LiveWire went zero to 60 like a rocket ship -- in under four seconds -- and got from 60 to its top speed of 92 in scant seconds more.
The bike sits low and forward, unlike any other Harley in the current lineup, and has a lovely spare design theme. A small dashboard reads out important information about charge and temperature, and the equally important information about speed.
Classically inclined LED headlamp, taillight and turn signals light the way. Traditional tires, brakes and suspension keep the power under control.
The propulsion is outrageous: The LiveWire, in a straight line, pulls like a dragster. The engine is said to produce 74 horsepower and 52 foot-pounds of torque, on a vehicle that weights just 460 pounds. Because it's an electric engine, the power goes directly to the rear wheel. The torque is instantaneous. There's no getting up to the power band. It's all power band, from zero to 92mph.
But it's also an electric motorcycle in other ways, which means it has severe range limitations. This prototype LiveWire, in high performance mode, will only go about 30 miles before it needs a three and a half hour recharge. In power saving mode, it'll only do 53 miles.
Harley executives say that's one of the many areas where they'll need to improve the LiveWire before it makes it way, sometime in the next two years, into Harley showrooms.
That, and getting people on the bikes. Harley riders, who love their big engines and that big engine sound and vibration, are likelier than other riders to be skeptical of the power of electricity.
But feeling, if not seeing, is believing. The four seconds it takes to go from zero to 60 on the LiveWire should shock the skeptic out of anyone.