Harley announces Livewire specs, sky doesn’t fall

Harley-Davidson has announced that the Livewire — that’s the Motor Company’s debut electric motorcycle, if you’ve been living under a rock since 2014 — will arrive in dealer showrooms in August. They also nailed down two important numbers everyone was waiting to hear. The MSRP is $29,799. The range is 110 miles. Those two numbers have Internet pundits running about flailing their arms, rabidly declaring that Harley has sealed their doom. Horsefeathers. Harley may be headed to eventual bankruptcy, but for lots of other reasons. And while there have been a lot of missteps along the way, the folks in Milwaukee are not brainless chimps, randomly banging out price sheets by jumping up and down on typewriter keyboards. This is just another chess movie in their corporate history, not the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

All the hysteria over the Livewire’s cost and range can be boiled down to one statement. “I wouldn’t buy one.” Who cares; none of the bloggers and journos are the target market for the Livewire. The fact that this announcement was made at CES, not a motorcycle show, should tell you a lot. There are exactly two kinds of people who will buy this motorcycle: 1) really rich, trendy people who are not dyed-in-the-wool “career” motorcyclists, but live at the intersection of Modern Gadgets and Conspicuous Consumption, and 2) lifelong Harley enthusiasts who already have a $40K Road Glide CVO in their garage and want to try something new without leaving Harley’s carefully crafted corporate image behind. Neither of these people are shocked at the price, and neither will be too hampered by the short range. The Livewire will be taken to work on sunny days and ridden around town for an hour on Saturday morning. Livewire owners won’t care that you can buy a Zero SR with more range for half the price, any more than existing Harley owners care that you can buy a Yamaha MT-07 for half the price of a Softail.

Project Livewire and preproduction Livewire
The 2014 project version, compared to an early pre-production Livewire

This is not to say that the Livewire is a bad motorcycle. I have not ridden one personally, but I work for one of Harley’s longtime tier-one suppliers, and several of our engineers had a chance to spend significant time with the original “Project Livewire” prototypes in 2014. To a man, they came back raving about the riding experience. I strongly suspect that that phenomenal impression hasn’t been lost in the translation to a production machine, and there will be a small, privileged cadre of Livewire owners who will pay what it costs to buy one and be happy with it, both for what it does and what it symbolizes.

For the rest of us, there’s really nothing to see here. Return to your homes.

Tanshanomi is Japanese [単車のみ] for "motorcycle(s) only." Though primarily tasked with creating two-wheel oriented content for Hooniverse, Pete is a lover of all sorts of motorized vehicles.

10 Comments

  1. Looks almost like a mashup of a Suzuki SV frame with an electric facsimile of the big Triumph Rocket longitudinal engine minus the pipes with a quiet nod to its maker with the headlamp fairing and kicked up tail section. As something to look at (which is not what it’s for, but staring at bikes is a nice pastime for when you’re not riding), it’s a little messy. As a Harley, I’ll admit it’s made me take notice for the first time in… ever, though Buell tried. But… not at $30k.

    In general… bring on the electric bikes! The sound of (most) engines will always make me smile, but noise for the sake of noise (I’m looking at you, Milwaukee) is getting old. The thought of whispering down the road on a warm summer night has a lot of appeal. Yeah, it’ll kill long tour days depending on charging time, but most riding isn’t that.

  2. Praise to H-D for daring to do something different and breaking out of their v-twin strait jacket. I’m sure the seen to be green crowd will park these next to the Tesla but I wonder how many Harley owners will scream “heresy!!” and refuse to buy one versus seeing it as a desirable companion to their Yuppie Glide. It’s interesting how H-D chose to make the battery look like a large air cooled engine for a traditional feel in contrast to the modular electronics look of a MotoCzysz.

    Personally I’m not interested because I see a motorcycle as a visceral experience that requires an engine, not a motor. I’m all for electric cars and can see the value of electric two wheelers for commuting and utility but not for fun.

    1. At last the auto industry is beginning to see sense and tailoring its reveal dates to the Hooniverse publishing week.

      Next BMW will be holding back release of new models until late on a Thursday; so that Greg can piss all over them again in his Friday round-up.

  3. Would like to sample an electric bike, seems like it would be stupid easy fun to ride. H-D has to do something if they want to survive. They went all in as a lifestyle brand that isn’t finding new people that like said lifestyle as fast as the old adherents are dying off.

  4. I’m all for electric vehicles and the tide is shifting away from gasoline. But I’ll keep my 2002 Sportster with a range of 150 miles (it can go farther but my bladder can’t) and my Suzuki DR200 with a range of 270 miles depending on my weight at the time. 110 miles @$30K is not the metrics I’m interested in.

  5. I just think this bike is a bridge too far. Current Harley customers are not electric bike guys and electric vehicle guys hate everything Harley stands for. Sure , you’ll sell a few – irony makes some people giggle – but an Electric Harley is like having the Carhartt Bib Overall guys make a bikini.

    I mean… what the Hell kind of tattoo do you get after you buy an Electric Harley?

  6. Good looking bike, in my opinion. I’m glad they didn’t even try to make it look like a traditional Harley. The price, though, is ridiculous. The Zero DSR, which has a similar range and acceleration, is $16.5k. So, $11,000 for a Harley Davidson sticker on the tank? Only Harley enthusiasts are willing to pay such a premium, and how many of them are really going to be interested in an EV?

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