Guest Post: Harley-Davidson Project LiveWire Electric Motorcycle Reveal

Believe it or not, electric motorcycles are evolving at a rate far faster than most electric cars, so when our friend Ben Nelson told us about his trip to see the reveal of Harley-Davidson’s first electric motorcycle, we had to ask him if we could reproduce it here. 

Last Thursday, Harley put out a press-release saying that they have an electric motorcycle. This launched EV Cycles from the niche market into the mainstream. All weekend at the MREA Energy Fair, a friend and I were showing off our home-built electric motorcycles, and the news about Harley was all everyone was talking about.

So, I was pretty excited to get down to the Harley Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to see the official public release of the prototype LIVEWIRE motorcycle. I brought my videocamera and shot both stills and video of the cycle and asked attendees what they thought of the new bike.

At the event, there were six of the electric Harleys. Wait, let me take that back. SEVEN electric Harleys. I kept hearing that this was “The First Electric Harley-Davidson”. In fact, you can see several EV Harleys on the EVAlbum, including the one that I brought with, the “Sparkster”. That bike was built a few years back, after a guy saw my electric Kawasaki. He figured that if I could build an EV motorcycle, so could he, only he happened to have an old Harley frame. Since the current owner of that project wasn’t available last night (and it actually needed to be moved anyways) I grabbed it and brought it down to the Harley Museum, where the 1979 electric Sportster got plenty of looks.

Ben Nelson gets to try out the Harley-Davidson LiveWire

Ben Nelson gets to try out the Harley-Davidson LiveWire for size — but no riding!  (Photo: Ben Nelson)

Once the actual festivities were underway, West Canal Street was closed off for a dramatic entrance of the LIVEWIRE. Unfortunately, I was a bit behind the crowd, so the only video I got of the grand entrance of the cycle was a brief blur. More interesting was the crowd response. It was mostly gasps and woahs as the cycle zipped through the crowd with no engine revving or rumble. A moment later, the band started playing and they fired off the smoke machines.

Harley always has a bit of a flair for the dramatic.

Right after that, several static cycle displays were available for people to hop up on the LIVEWIRE. In a large tent, another was on display, and a second was on a dynamometer. This was the “Jumpstart Experience”. By signing a release and standing in line for a while, members of the public could get on the cycle, turn it on, take the speed up to about 60 mph, and test regenerative braking. The cycle has a distinct sound, and was surprisingly loud on the dyno. I’m not sure how much extra noise the rollers and resistance of the dynometer added to the sound or not.

I broke out my video camera to shoot some informal interviews and ask people what they thought of the LIVEWIRE. It was mostly younger folks who let me interview them. The older, die-hard, leather-jacket guys seemed more interested in drinking beer and smoking cigars than in talking to a blogger with a camera.

The overall response that I got leaned towards:
“Wow, it looks cool.” “That’s different” and “Hmmm… I’m not too sure about the range.”

Despite being a concept motorcycle, it looks the part (Photo: Ben Nelson)

Despite being a concept motorcycle, it looks the part (Photo: Ben Nelson)

My personal favorite comment was “It sounds like a Prius”, although that guy had never ridden an electric motorcycle or test-driven any modern electric car.

I really like the overall style of the LIVEWIRE. It looks about what an electric Harley SHOULD look like. The aluminum frame, LED headlight and turn signals, and electric motor are all part of the clean, modern design. Noticeably ABSENT from the bike was a charging port. I did locate a multi pin quick-connect that looked like it was used for testing, and may be a connection for AC power to an internal charger. I was told that the cycle supports Level 2 charging.

The electric motor is oil-cooled, and longitudinally mounted. The motor goes to a right-angle gear reduction, then to a short belt to get the power to a pulley near the swing-arm pivot. From there, the toothed drive-belt goes to the rear sprocket.

At this point, the prototype has about a 50 mile range. While many Harley riders love going for long rides on the weekends, even some commuters thought that the range falls short.

What do you think of this mean electrified machine? (Photo: Ben Nelson)

What do you think of this mean electrified machine? (Photo: Ben Nelson)

At the event, there was a raffle for test rides. Over the next three days, the lucky golden-ticket holders will get to take a LIVEWIRE out for a test-ride. Alas, I was NOT one of the lucky winners…

Overall, I’m very excited about Harley building these prototype cycles and LETTING PEOPLE RIDE THEM! I’m a big fan of having people drive/ride EVs and find out for themselves how great they are. The other thing is that having a major manufacturer behind EV cycles is that it gets them into the mainstream consciousness, and legitimatizes all the companies ALREADY out there building and selling electric motorcycles. I’m really hoping that BrammoZeroCurrent, and especially local companies like FLUX all see a bump in sales from the Harley publicity.

What do you think of Project LIVEWIRE? Does it look and sound like a Harley? What changes do you think will be made if and when Harley brings the bike to production? With it make or break mainstream electric motorcycle sales?

Let me know, and I’ll keep you updated when I can manage a test-ride!

Stay Charged-Up!


Ben Nelson is an EV advocate, inventor and DIY EV conversion specialist. His current projects include a plug-in hybrid pickup truck, bringing life to a flood-damaged Mitsubishi i and improving the carbon footprint of his family life.  To find  out more about Ben’s EV endeavours, be sure to find him on Facebook,  read his blog, or subscribe to his YouTube channel.


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