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Harley-Davidson goes electric

Harley-Davidson LiveWire.

It's enough to make an outlaw biker patch over to the venerable Ulysses club.  

Harley-Davidson, the motorcycle company founded on rebellious spirit and rumbling V-twin engines, has gone electric. Forget Arnie Schwarzenegger in Terminator and start thinking Tron as the company looks to the next generation of riders, along with emerging markets such as China.

Truth be told, Harley's customers are already a cross-section of society, from young tradies to cashed-up executives. They buy into the lifestyle, not the powerplant. The LiveWire e-bike was revealed in the US on Friday ahead of a national tour where customers will be invited to give their opinions on how the futuristic cruiser can be improved. 

That feedback will be used to develop a production model by 2016. As such, technical details are sketchy. A lithium-ion battery pack feeds electricity to a three-phase motor that generates 55kW and 70Nm. Those aren't big numbers but are still enough to propel the bike to 100km/h around four seconds after twisting the right grip. Top speed is - for now - electronically limited to 150km/h.

Those figures put it on a par with Harley's conventional Sportster 883 but it is rumoured the bike has been restrained for the customer test rides and the production version will pack more punch. Harley is happy to talk about the LiveWire's sound, with the company's chief marketing officer Mark-Hans Richer describing it as a "distinct part of the thrill".

"Think fighter jet on an aircraft carrier. Project LiveWire's unique sound was designed to differentiate it from internal combustion and other electric motorcycles on the market," he says.

H-D president Matt Levatich sees the LiveWire as an evolution of the iconic brand. "Project LiveWire is just one element in our efforts to preserve and renew the freedom to ride for generations to come," he notes.