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Outside of Harley-Davidson’s Lower

Manhattan store on Monday, a

group of Harley enthusiasts leaned

against the railing of a construction

canopy, smoking cigarettes and

chatting about work while they

waited in line to be one of the very

first people in the

world to take a

ride on Harley’s

newest

motorcycle. The

bike they were

waiting for wasn’t

the latest loud,

hulking

monument to

two-wheeled

American

chrome though:

this was

something

altogether

different.

Harley was introducing Project

LiveWire, its first electric motorcycle,

and it had brought over a dozen of

them to its Manhattan store for a

limited preview of the bikes before

they go on tour around the US for the

rest of the year, beginning today.

LiveWire is far from the type of bike

that Harley enthusiast are used to. It

has a single gear, a touchscreen

dashboard, and no gas to speak of.

Oh, and it’s quiet. Really, really quiet.

Even though LiveWire won’t be going

on sale — Harley says that it’s only

looking at rider feedback at the

moment — LiveWire is ready and

impressive to ride. It tops out around

92 miles per hour and can get from

zero to 60 in under four seconds,

according to a Harley representative.

For now, it isn’t meant to take you all

that far though: its range is around 55

miles in an economy mode and

around 33 miles in a “power” mode.

Charging time is about 3.5 hours.

LiveWire is nearly impossible to hear

when out among New York City

traffic. When revved indoors,

however, it lets off a high-pitched

whine that sounds more like an

oversized vacuum than a vehicle.

“It’s different, right? It’s hard to ignore

that,” Richer says. Harley knows how

important a bike’s sound is, but it isn’t

committed to recreating the classic

roar. “If it ends in the same place of,

‘Wow I really feel cool on this, and

other people turn their heads when I

go by and love the sound, and it

makes a statement, and it’s got

character and attitude,’ then that’s

where it wants to be. That’s where it

needs to be.”

Members of New York’s Harley

Owners Group didn’t mind the

change in tone, but they did mind

the near absence of sound

altogether. “It looks great. It’s a good

introductory bike for those who can’t

drive standard,” HOG member Louis

Diaz, Jr. says. “Only drawback: it

doesn’t make noise.”

For safety, you need a little noise,”

Hector Ponce, another HOG

member, agrees. “You need the cars

to hear you, especially taxis. They’re

insane.”

As someone who’s into classic bikes

though — and into fixing them up —

Felber’s distinctly aware of the

emotional shortcomings of an

electric machine. “It’s like the

difference between a record and an

MP3,” Felber explains. Records may

have imperfections, but that doesn’t

mean they’re worse. In fact, that’s

part of the appeal.

Felber’s reaction

seemed to be, by and

large, the one shared by

Harley enthusiasts who in

attendance. The refrain

was that LiveWire was

quite appealing, but it

wasn’t quite for them.

Figuring out what can

change existing riders’

minds may be part of

what Harley is after as it

gets feedback on the

bike. LiveWire has been

in development for

about four years, and

Harley isn’t saying how long it might

be before it prepares a new version

(or, for that matter, if that version will

actually go on sale).

The market for electric vehicles is

growing though, and Harley realizes

that it’s worth paying attention to —

even if that means adapting. For now

though, it doesn’t plan on throwing its

history out the window. Electric

vehicles are merely an opportunity

for it, says Michelle Kumbier, Harley’s

senior VP of motorcycle operations,

“We don’t see a time that they’re

going to replace our traditional

combustion engine.”

End

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