#309 – Weekend with the LiveWire

So…exactly what sound does an electric Harley-Davidson make?

Weekend with the LiveWire

I spent 29 hours next to Harley-Davidson’s Project LiveWire electric motorcycle or, to be more specific, the booth containing the LiveWire at the Calgary Motorcycle Show in early January. Logistics required that I remain in the booth for the entire show so I became very familiar with the LiveWire promotional/research spiel. What did I learn about the first electric motorcycle from Harley-Davidson? Several things. Primarily, that the Harley-Davidson staff at the booth were indefatigably positive and cheerful. I do my best to maintain energy and cheerfulness at tradeshows but by the 27th or 28th hour and after a few too many mini donuts from the floor vendor and a hotdog from the concession I wasn’t feeling so energized. Not so with the Harley staffers, who seemed as fully charged at the end of the show as the beginning. Their level of enthusiasm seemed to further indicate that beyond the remarkable finished appearance of the LiveWire prototype seen in Calgary, the machine really is going to come to market. Would you be that enthusiastic about a product if it was no more than a pipedream, never to see the showroom floor? Unlikely. I also learned that LiveWire is still priceless. Rather, it has no MSRP. The question of price was a frequent one, though it was answered with a question: “What do you think the price should be?” This would lead to all sorts of price suggestions. One fellow suggested that without a price it was going to be free. I could pretty much guarantee him that will not be the case. Harley knows what it could cost to produce the bike and some consumers know what they might be willing to pay to purchase it. The real question is if those two points can meet in an accessible compromise, much like the compromise between attainable versus desired fuel range— another frequent point of inquiry.
Invariably there were those who came by just to say the LiveWire isn’t really a Harley-Davidson. Electric? Sportbike appearance? What? There were more than a few comments about putting a playing card in the spokes so the bike would make a sound. That suggestion was silenced quickly when the LiveWire started up. It isn’t silent. It sounds like a jet engine. While the echoing walls of a trade hall and the vibration from the rolling mechanism the motorcycle sat on didn’t clearly define the machine’s sound it was not subdued. Doesn’t sound like a Harley-Davidson, would go the comments. Ah yes, but what does an electric Harley-Davidson sound like? Touché!
Answering a question with a question invariably worked. What does an electric Harley-Davidson sound like? In Harley’s estimation, a jet engine. It could be almost silent but that is not what the Motor Company believes its customers want. But then again these are not your regular Harley-Davidson customers. While there were plenty of Motorclothed showgoers signing up for the short ride on the rolling bike, there seemed to be as many signees from outside Harley’s loyal legions.
In the unlikely case that Harley truly believes that only traditional customers would buy—or potentially buy—the LiveWire, the booth would have been much closer to or within the large Harley-Davidson corporate booth not on the far side of the hall. Would I want my LiveWire to sound like a jet engine when it could sound like something else? Not unless my LiveWire really was powered by an electric jet engine (is there such a thing?). That would be something.
I had one other repeating thought as I looked over at the LiveWire just a few feet away, but maybe not an appropriate one considering the expense and effort that has gone into this bold electric machine. That thought? Maybe this direction needs a little expanding. The LiveWire would be one awesome sportbike if you stuck a V-Rod motor in it. Call it the LiveFire. Did I just think that out loud?