Standing in the paddock of the Sepang GP track in Malaysia with the scream of Moto3 bikes racing around the track there was something missing with the Harley-Davidson next to me. The Project Livewire bike was emitting a ferocious ... dead silence.
Project Livewire is an electric motorcycle and Harley-Davidson surprised everyone by being the first major manufacturer to show off a production-ready EV bike.
Electric motorcycles have been a varied but almost forgotten chapter in the history of the motorcycle, predating the internal combustion engine, and then disappearing for roughly a century.
Of all the big name motorcycle brands, Harley-Davidson was the least expected to lead the revival of the electric motorbike.
Harley's Project Livewire burst on to the scene in September, to the utter shock of motorcyclists the world over. A testament to the surprise Harley pulled on the market is that H-D's short YouTube video on the bike has so far gained more than 2.6 million views, breaking all records for the channel.
Not that the Livewire is about to hit bike showrooms anytime soon - instead Harley-Davidson appears to be waiting for battery technology to advance to the stage where the electric bike can range as far as its petrol-fuelled brethren.
In its current form, with range mode selected, the Livewire will travel 85km on one charge, enough to commute in the city but not far enough for most riders who want to hit the highway at the weekends without having to stop for the three-hour recharge.
While your conventional Harley is a conservative beast, Harley-Davidson wants to change the way the brand is perceived, aiming to bring younger generations into the fold.
Greg Willis, Harley-Davidson's director of marketing for the Asia Pacific region, said, "We've realised it's time to challenge these preconceived ideas."
And that is the key to Project Livewire - it isn't your average new bike concept, it is Harley's idea of the future of the brand and a key bike to draw generations Y and Z as its current customers slowly age.
That's not to say Project Livewire is going to alienate the more traditional Harley rider.
Also at the media ride in Malaysia were a number of Harley owners Group (Hog) representatives. In the bar after the ride they were ecstatic about the electric bike.
Harley's research showed that United States riders were four times more likely to buy an electric bike after being shown the Project Livewire bike.
Starting Project Livewire is as simple as starting any other motorcycle. Simply thumb the kill switch into the "on" position, wait for the digital dash to display , then thumb the starter. It is quite a weird sensation as the only indication the bike is on and ready to go is a change in the display to reading km/h, percentage of power being used, and the available range.
Functionally the touch screen digital dash is sublime. It is easy to read at a glance, with the speedo taking up the majority of space, and also easy to use while wearing gloves.
Styling-wise the bike is clearly a Harley-Davidson, with aspects of the bike resembling the XR1200 and Buell bikes of old. The Harley styling department, led by the legendary Willie G. Davidson, worked closely with the engineering department to produce a good-looking bike with clear Harley-Davidson DNA. It works flawlessly. My only criticism is the poorly designed rear vision mirrors and integrated indicators.To try and see behind me while riding around Sepang Circuit's ring road I had to bury my chin into the faux tank to see out one of the mirrors.
Being a prototype (that means you can't buy one ... yet) these minor niggles wouldn't make it into the full production version when Harley-Davidson unleashes the Livewire on the roads.
Powering the Livewire is Harley's own longitudinally-mounted electric motor. Taking inspiration for its aesthetic design from dragster superchargers it transfers power via bevel gears to a more conventional belt drive for powering the rear wheel. Being electric the Livewire produces torque from 0rpm, and it is more than a healthy dose with 70Nm on hand anywhere, anytime at the twist of the throttle. It's more than enough to propel the Harley from 0-100km/h in 4 seconds flat and makes overtaking at highway speeds simple. Top speed is a sensible 148km/h, still enough to lose your licence and unlike most other limited vehicles project livewire's restriction is due to the bevel gearing and not to software.
There's also a peak power of 55kW in there too placing the Livewire among the middleweight sports class in terms of power and size when you add in the wheelbase of 1468mm and a weight of 210kg ready to go.
Pulling that 210kg to a halt is a floating two-piston caliper at the front matched to a decent-sized hoop rotor, with a single piston brake at the rear suggesting Project Livewire is a step by Harley back into the sporty side of the market. But the conventional brakes aren't all that's stopping the Livewire, with regenerative braking coming from the driveline.
The regeneration has been tuned by Harley's engineers to feel eerily similar to the engine braking of a conventional engine, and they've nailed it. The regen smoothly slows you down without the force found in some cars. Combining the conventional brakes with the regenerative braking means Project Livewire comes to a stop fast. With no ABS it was a case of grab a fistful of brake and hope the Michelin Scorcher tyres keep you from coming unstuck.
Perhaps the hardest thing for riders isn't the electric motor or the battery regen, it's the lack of a gearbox and clutch. When getting off to a start it seems counter-intuitive to use only the throttle, but it is easy enough once you get moving. It is coming to a halt which is most interesting. Instead of using the clutch to ease yourself to a stop, you have to modulate the throttle to avoid an overly abrupt stop and falling off.
After a few kilometres you get used to this, although I did occasionally reach for the non-existent clutch even at the end of the ride day.
Project Livewire is Harley-Davidson getting out there and saying, "We're not just the brand your Dad rides, we have an eye on the future."
While older generations might look at Project Livewire with scepticism, for Generation Y and those that follow, Project Livewire is, as one friend said on Facebook, " ... A Harley I could ride!"
PROS AND CONS PROJECT LIVEWIRE
AC Electric motor with belt final drive
New direction for Harley-Davidson, good range for around town, fun factor.
Under 100km range, pre-production, can't see out mirrors while riding.