At BlueFletch, we pride ourselves on being on the forefront of mobility. When deciding what I wanted to write my blog assignment on, I thought, “Self, let’s talk about being on the forefront of human mobility.” That said, if you’re a motorcycle fan or a technology aficionado, then you’ve come to the right place.
When discussing powered human transportation, the two most common forms that come to mind are cars and motorcycles. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know just how popular electric cars have become. In fact, here in Atlanta, you would be hard pressed to throw a rock in any direction and not hit a Tesla Model S or a Nissan Leaf. Here is a picture tweeted out by our friends over at the Atlanta Tech Village, where the Leaf seems to be the electric car of choice.
It’s no secret that electric cars are all the rage and they seem to get the bulk of the media coverage when it comes to electric vehicles. That said, I plan to share some love with electric motorcycles. In fact, I’m going to focus on one in particular. The Harley Davidson Project Livewire. However, in order to know where we’re going, we’ll need to talk about where we’ve come from.
History of Electric Motorcycles
The electric motorcycle was first patented in 1897 and was awarded to H. W. Libbey. In his patent application, Libbey said, “The object of my intervention is to produce a bicycle to be propelled by electricity generated by primary batteries and motors therefor.” Libbey’s patented electric motorcycle was later featured in a 1911 Popular Mechanics article.
Over 100 years later, there have been many iterations of electric motorcycles which have led to the rise of a number players in the electric motorcycle game. Some of the more popular brands include Brammo, Zero, and Mission. The styling of the electric motorcycles run the gamut from designs that look like electric bicycles, to full-on super bikes.
Brammo Enertia Brammo Empulse R
Zero SR Mission R
My History with Motorcycles
In college, a very wealthy buddy of mine had a sport bike sitting in his garage. He asked me if I knew how to ride and I did the only sensible thing there was to do. I lied.
Not thirty seconds later, I had a helmet on and I was starting up the bike. That was the moment I fell in love with motorcycles. I began riding regularly, mostly by borrowing bikes from friends whenever I could; sometimes for extended periods of time and I got pretty good at it. What I did NOT get was a motorcycle endorsement on my license. We called it “riding dirty.” What does this have to do with electric motorcycles? Good question, reader. Read on.
Fast forward 12 years. A manager at the client site that I was working on sent me a link to the Harley Davidson Project Livewire site. He is a Harley Davidson owner and huge fan-boy of all things Harley Davidson, including but not limited to Harley Davidson belt buckles, but I digress. The synopsis of the site was this: Harley Davidson developed an electric motorcycle and they were taking it around the country for people to test ride it and provide feedback. The bike called, you guessed it, Project Livewire. I applied to take a test ride and thought, “Yeah, they’ll never pick me anyway.” #NailedIt. Couldn’t have missed the mark any further. Not only did I get selected, my ride date was only two weeks away, I didn’t have motorcycle endorsement, I didn’t have a motorcycle to take the exam with, and most importantly, riding dirty was NOT an option. Here’s the good news. In Georgia, you can sign up for a two-day rider safety course, where you will be provided a motorcycle, given instruction, be subjected to a written and practical exam, and if you pass, you get the motorcycle endorsement. Knowing this, I did what any gear head looking to get back in the saddle would do….I commenced Googling. One-by-one, I was denied by the schools listed in the search results as they told me there were no classes available. I could feel the spark of the Livewire slipping away (bad pun #1). Then I came across Two Wheel Adventures, a local rider school taught by professional motorcycle racer Chris Carr. BINGO! There was a class available the weekend before my ride. Oh wait, it was full. Out of options at that point, I unlocked the phone, pounded the ten digits in, and set myself up for disappointment.
Voice on phone: “This is Chris.”
Me: “THE Chris Carr?”
Chris: “Last time I checked. What can I do for ya?”
I’ll spare you the entire conversation but what is important is that I told Chris about the Livewire project and he refused to be responsible for me missing out on that kind of opportunity. He squeezed me into the class by making sure another bike was there for me to ride, and the rest is history. Great guy. Great class. And it’s because of Chris that I even get to write this blog post. Now that the foundation has been laid, let’s get to the main event.
A new product. An expanded target market. A fresh approach.
The Harley Davidson Livewire is the only all-electric motorcycle that bares the name Harley Davidson. What it isn’t is a loud, ground shaking, ear-drum busting, v-twin cruiser that Harley Davidson is notorious for producing. But isn’t this a slap in the face of true Harley enthusiasts? Nope. It’s smart. Dare I even say genius? Not only has Harley Davidson created a product that perks up the ears of millennials and techies, the Livewire reaches a hand out to people who support a greener lifestyle. As a lifelong sport bike rider, I have to admit that the Livewire is a bike that I would gladly ride. I’ll talk more about the ride later but aesthetically, the Livewire sports a retro, almost café-racer-meets-sport-bike, seeks-James Dean’s-blessing type of look. Did you follow all of that? If not, have a look:
The credit doesn’t stop there. Harley Davidson also stepped outside of it’s comfort zone by way of its marketing tactics. I know I sound like a Harley fan-boy here, but hear me out. Since the product seems to reach out to the younger demographic, what better way to reach that demographic than to use the channels that they(we) respond to best? Let me paint the scene for you: upon arriving at Great South Harley Davidson (who graciously hosted the event), there was a large Harley Davidson Branded tent. Underneath said tent, riders were bombarded with Project Livewire propaganda ranging from a display with a holographic dissection of the Livewire (couldn’t get a good pic due to glare), to an actual Livewire on a dyno, which every rider was required to test out in order to get accustomed to the throttle.
More impressive was Harley’s use of over a dozen iPads where riders were directed after they finished the test ride so they could provide feedback. Upon completion of the feedback, riders could tweet about the ride via Twitter using #ProjectLivewire and receive a free Project Livewire keychain (yes, I got the keychain). So basically, rather than using third-party market research companies to determine whether or not there is a market for the Livewire, Harley is getting out there and reaching out to the masses in a non-traditional way, which for a company that is known for being…well…traditional, I would consider a #MonumentalLeap.
- Display is full touchscreen
- No dials/needles like traditional clusters
Two power modes
- Range – Longer distance rides
- Power – More power at the cost of shorter range (The obvious choice)
Regenerative braking technology
- Spin the electric motor in one direction, it creates mechanical energy, spin it the other way, and mechanical energy becomes electrical.
- Converts kinetic energy into immediately usable or storable energy
Livewire by the numbers
- In Development for the last 5 years
- As of October, 34 Livewires were touring the country (started at over 40)
- Power Plant: 55kw electric motor
- Performance: 74 hp 52 ft. lbs of torque
- 0-60: Under 4 seconds
- Top speed: 92mph
- Weight: 460lbs
When I mounted up for the ride, I was fortunate enough to be the very last rider in the pack. Ok, I’ll be honest, I slipped toward the rear as soon as the corral leader started talking. I knew if I was going to get the most out of the bike, I would have to be able to open up the throttle and being the first rider behind the corral leader, would have destroyed any hope of that. I gambled, and it was worth it.
As we turned out of the parking lot, I very casually let the distance build between the pack and myself. When I built up a good distance, I twisted the throttle and boom, I was right back with the pack. I did this probably 4 or 5 times throughout the ride. The throttle response was out of this world. So much so that I left the trail rider each and every time. At one point, I even looked back at the trial rider to give him a chance to prepare. He nodded as if to signal that he was ready this time. Nope. He wasn’t. At least his gas-powered hog wasn’t.
So I’ve established that the acceleration was robust. Let’s talk about the braking. The Livewire uses what is called regenerative technology. As we all know from physics, you cannot destroy energy. Harley decided to harness the power of the motor by turning it in the opposite direction when slowing down, which simply converts the energy and puts it back into the battery. While it doesn’t recharge the battery in large amounts, it definitely brings the bike to a halt in no time. The regenerative braking works so well that I found myself tapping the brake just so that the trail rider would know I was stopping. I really don’t think that I would use the brakes other than in an emergency stopping situation. I don’t necessarily know that I would call this a drawback, but it is definitely something to be mindful of while riding. It should also be noted that the Livewire is VERY easy to ride.
No clutch. No shifting. Get on and go.
Before I knew it, the eight-mile ride was over. I know some of you are probably wondering why I didn’t have a GoPro® strapped to my helmet or a drone hovering just above me getting cool angles of the ride. If you are, then you probably missed the part where I emphasized the short notice. Furthermore, I don’t review products for a living (perhaps a side gig in the future?). Here is what I can tell you:
It’s a strikingly beautiful machine
It has speed. Lots of speed.
It legit sounds like the Tumbler from the Dark Knight. (listen to it here. Seriously, listen to it.)
The lead engineer who is responsible for the development and maintenance of the Livewires came out to speak to us after the ride. I wasted no time firing a flurry of questions at him. “How much money has gone into R&D? Will these go to market? What is the estimated price point?” His answer? “I can’t answer those at this time.” What he could say was that the bikes were demonstration bikes and that the decision of whether or not to bring them to market rests heavily on the feedback collected during the tour.
Would I buy the Livewire? I’ll put it this way: If Harley announced that it was going on sale tomorrow, I’d camp outside the dealership as if it were Black Friday and I was an insane shopper looking to save big on a flat screen. It was just an absolute joy to ride. That’s not to say the Livewire doesn’t have shortcomings. The range (an estimated 53 miles) definitely needs improvement. 53 miles won’t allow for North Georgia Mountain rides, but it would make a for a fun ride during my 12 mile round trip commute to the office. The other drawback is the bike’s size. I’m 6’4” and the bike just isn’t very large. I compare the Livewire’s size to a standard 600cc sport bike. Though I can probably go for about a 30-minute ride, anything above that would be torture on my knees and my back.
From the decision to develop an alternatively fueled motorcycle, to the leveraging of social media to build excitement surrounding the product, I have to give kudos to Harley Davidson for being an old dog that has definitely learned some new tricks. Kudos, Harley Davidson.
If by some miracle I still have your attention:
Innovation begets innovation. If you are a motorcycle rider, here are a couple of emerging companies bringing technology to the forefront of motorcycling riding. Unfortunately, I wasn’t equipped with either of the products below, but I’m sure they would make for an incredible riding experience.
Nuviz HUD: A heads up display that you attach to a full face helmet. It pairs with your phone via Bluetooth to provide a projected heads up, turn-by-turn navigation; the ability to ignore and answer calls; the power to control music while you ride, and to instantly record video via a built-in HD camera. For more information, visit www.ridenuviz.com
Beartek Gloves: The full-protection of riding gloves, with the power to control your music or answer calls while you ride, without taking your hands off the handlebars. For more information, visit http://www.beartekgloves.com
By Gino Emanuels