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Rain was covering my visor; it was blind apex after hairpin turn.

All I wanted to do was wind back the throttle to hear the noise of this prototype machine, to hear that jet engine whoosh again before they took the bike off me.

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And that’s something I never thought I would say about an electric bike made by Harley-Davidson.

Riding down to Millbrook testing facility in Bedfordshire on the A1, I was trying to work out what I was expecting from this machine I’d heard and read so much about. The project was announced in 2014 and whilst you can’t buy the bike right now, H-D is using it as a chance to gauge potential customer reaction to the idea of going down the bright spark route.

The 210kg Harley looks like something out of a film. Chunky, solid and packing plenty of personality. Does it look like a typical Harley? No. Is that a good thing? Possibly, yes. With Project Livewire, Harley are going beyond their existing comfort zone and taking the brand in a direction that many never would have thought those from the U.S of A would even consider.

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Project-Livewire-Carli-riding

The riding position is relatively sporty for H-D, with your legs angled backwards and your feet in line with your derriere. Looking down, instead of seeing the circular dash you often do on a Harley, there’s a rectangular LCD touch screen which contains all the details you need – speed, range, mode, battery charge and temperature – it can be used with gloves on too. Nice touch.  In a tactical move by Harley-D, the switchgear is the same as on a ‘normal’ machine which gives a nod to the heritage of the brand and will make current customers feel at home.

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Livewire will power you from 0-60 in under four seconds – just a note that on the test ride it was chucking it down so we couldn’t experience the full power, but rolling back the throttle and letting the AC brushless engine do its thing, you can feel the drive straight away and I was surprised at the instantaneous power delivery. There are no gears to worry about, simply twist ‘n go – a very strange feeling on a Harley. The prototype model is not fitted with ABS and pressing on the back brake – in the rain – would create a slide so gentle front brake was the order of the day. However, that being said, the AC brushless engine has regenerative braking – an energy recovery mechanism which slows the bike down by converting the moving energy into a form that can be stored or used immediately – close off the throttle and you can hear the noise of the machine change and you get engine braking.

For the first time in its history, Harley-Davidson has made a cast aluminium frame – weighing just 6.3kg – the brains tell us that the inspiration has come from the existing H-D range and the design and looks of the engine were just as important as the performance.

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A number of manufacturers are dipping their toe in the electric waters – KTM with their range of smaller capacity off-road and street machines, Polaris (owners of Victory) have bought electric brand Brammo, BMW’s C Evolution – Harley-Davidson aren’t the first and they won’t be the last but by gaining customer feedback before bringing out a machine and perhaps waiting for the technology to improve – they could be biding their time and making sure the product offering is exactly what people want.

I filled out a survey after the ride, ‘Would I buy an electric Harley-Davidson?’ – yes, I would – if the range was practical and the price was right. Now all it has to do is go from idea to prototype to real bike for the road. Over to you H-D…

For the full review, check out the July issue of Motorcycle Monthly…

What you need to know…

With a strong heritage and a history spreading back over 112 years, you’d be forgiven for thinking Harley-Davidson Motor Company would be the last people to dabble with an electric motor. But they have. They’re moving with the times and expanding on their ‘customer-led’ approach we saw on the Project Rushmore – their touring machines.

Project Livewire is the name of Harley-Davidson’s electric bike. It’s not for sale, so don’t get too excited. Instead the project is a way to shape the future of Harley-Davidson’s electric offering – and could ultimately decide whether there is one at all.

In April this year, the Project Livewire tour started in the USA, and now it’s arrived in Europe – the UK being the first stop with France, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands next in line. Selected media, dealers and customers have been invited to it try out for size.

Want to hear the sound for yourself – check this out:

For my first riding impressions, take a look at this:

Tony Carter

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