Auto review: Harley-Davidson LiveWire could give industry a jolt

06/27/2014 6:52 PM

06/27/2014 6:54 PM

The Harley-Davidson LiveWire took almost everyone by surprise. After 111 years of making increasingly large, gas-powered two-wheelers, Harley was about the last mainstream motorcycle maker anyone expected to come out with a plug-in electric, even if it is just a concept.

No gas tank. No exhaust pipe. No clutch. No gearbox. Just an electric motor slung under its belly and housed in billet aluminum, a stack of lithium-ion batteries packed into a trellis frame and disguised with metal covers.

Straddling its low-slung seat, I kicked up the stand and looked for the keyhole. There wasn’t one. Its ignition is keyless.

Pushing the ignition switch on the hand grip doesn’t yield the throaty grumble of a traditional Harley but the churning of an oil pump to cool the electric motor and a second pump that sends coolant to the electric control unit. Twisting the grip negates the pump sound, replacing it with a pitch that sounds nothing like Harley’s almost-trademarked potato-potato-potato.

A Harley rep says the sound was custom-designed to sound like a jet fighter plane engine. I say it sounds like twin aliens singing off pitch.

Instead of a circular gauge, there’s a rectangular touch screen with a simple graphics display supplying all the pertinent information: how far it can go (about 53 miles), how fast (92 mph) and, most importantly, when the batteries will run out of juice.

For my first few runs down the weedy pavement,the LiveWire more than lived up to its name – with electrifying acceleration.

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