When Harley-Davidson designed an electric motorcycle, it needed to ensure it still had the right growl.

The deep rumble of the engine is an iconic part of the brand, and a Hell's Angel doesn't want to be confused with the type of person who commutes to work on a Vespa.

"When we went into this, we had to consider all of our products are grounded in three things--look, sound, and feel," says Jeff Richlen, the chief engineer for the new prototype bike, called Project LiveWire.

"The sound is the most important, and we didn’t want to lose that. We didn’t want a silent product."

They also didn't want to fake the roar of the engine. Instead, the engineers carefully tweaked the arrangement of the motor and the gear box until it created a sound that's a little like a jet flying by.

"The first time we spun up the gears and ran the motorcycle we knew we had something special," says Richlen.

"It really was defining another sound of Harley Davidson. We're certainly not forgetting our past and what is our product legacy, it’s just something brand new. And it kind of sounds like the future."

The company's main motivation wasn't trying to improve the sustainability of their bikes, even though motorcycles produce more tailpipe emissions than cars.

"This project is not about being green, though that’s certainly a byproduct of having an electric-powered vehicle," Richlen explains. "This is really looking at what the future possibilities are."

Over the summer, Harley-Davidson will take the new LiveWire bike on a 30-city tour of the U.S. to get customer feedback.

"There are some limitations of the EV space right now, and we understand that, and that’s why we’re looking for feedback--what do customers expect out of the product, what would their tradeoff points be?" Richlen says.

2014-06-24

Co.Exist

The New Electric Harley Has A Roar Even A Hell's Angel Could Love

Electric engines are usually silent. There's no way that would fly for the Harley Davidson crowd, so designers created an entirely new engine sound. Listen to it here.

When Harley-Davidson decided to design an electric motorcycle, one of the challenges was making sure that it still had the right growl: The deep rumble of the engine is an iconic part of the brand, and a Hell's Angel doesn't want to be confused with the type of person who commutes to work on a Vespa.

"When we went into this, we had to consider all of our products are grounded in three things—look, sound, and feel," says Jeff Richlen, the chief engineer for the new prototype bike, called Project LiveWire. "The sound is the most important, and we didn’t want to lose that. We didn’t want a silent product."

They also didn't want to fake the roar of the engine. Instead, the engineers carefully tweaked the arrangement of the motor and the gear box until it created a sound that's a little like a jet flying by.

"The first time we spun up the gears and ran the motorcycle we knew we had something special," says Richlen. "It really was defining another sound of Harley Davidson. We're certainly not forgetting our past and what is our product legacy, it’s just something brand new. And it kind of sounds like the future."

The company's main motivation wasn't trying to improve the sustainability of their bikes, even though motorcycles produce more tailpipe emissions than cars. "This project is not about being green, though that’s certainly a byproduct of having an electric-powered vehicle," Richlen explains. "This is really looking at what the future possibilities are."

Over the summer, Harley-Davidson will take the new LiveWire bike on a 30-city tour of the U.S. to get customer feedback. "There are some limitations of the EV space right now, and we understand that, and that’s why we’re looking for feedback—what do customers expect out of the product, what would their tradeoff points be?" Richlen says.

Richlen invites anyone who doubts the power of the bike to come try it out. The real proof of the motorcycle is to come out and twist the throttle," he says. "There may be people who get on this thinking ‘golf cart’ and get off it thinking rocket ship."

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11 Comments

  • Eric Ogden

    ...electric has much, much better performance characteristics... Drive a Tesla or for the motorcycle set, a Mission...or a Brammo, or a Zero...or a Harley... (All American companies, BTW).

  • Eric Ogden

    Internal combustion is so passe'. It will disappear faster than most think. Electric has up to 90% efficiency relative to about 20-30% efficiency for internal combustion... Bye, bye...

  • bostonterrier

    I don't like the new sound, it doesn't sound like a Real Harley. Why not just record the sound? Hook up Volume Control with the Throttle. It also needs to leak oil like a Pan Head (so place an oil container in it, with a leaky seal at the bottom), and to emit a smokey Exhaust (so place a small 2 cycle engine on it.. and muffle the heck out of it so its sound won't interfere with the authentic recorded sound .maybe 1/10 horsepower? Put fake Exhaust Pipes on it too.) Also make an Engine Cover surrounding the electric Engine so it looks like a V-Twin. But it also needs to vibrate as well...maybe install a giant vibrator under the seat (Something Biker Chicks sitting behind the Hell's Angel member will no doubt enjoy)

  • jonkarlyn

    Anyone know about a 1975 electric Harley, I saw it at Wheels t hrough Time in NC last year. When I called them they said its in CA now. Did Hearly Davison built it?

  • It sounds like a whistle. As someone going to a HOG rally this weekend I can tell you it is not the same. It will be interesting who becomes interested in this bike, but I have a feeling it won't be the Harley die-hards. I think it will be the Suzuki crowd.

  • Barry Quinn

    The eleftric future is going to be a real challenge for brands like Harley. I'm glad they are looking towards the next chapter. How does heritage and future tech co-exist? The existing product experience is informed by the technology they use, the design challenge on how to marry that experience with a technology that provides a very different experience is a huge challenge. Just look at the issues F1 iss having with the sound of the latest crop of cars. Technically brilliant, but dull sounding, lacking in the drama people want in racing.

    The old bikes had a huge lump of torque, the electric bikes will likely have even more.

  • To me, the primary advantage of an electric Harley Davidson is that it won't have that incessant "Pay Attention to Me!!!" rumble. This is the first HD I can actually imagine riding.

  • Designing a new product wether its a bike or a new ashtray, is more like making a movie. Some movies come out of the gate hot and exciting, others are looking for "what do customers expect out of the product, what would their tradeoff points be?" as quoted here. Is this the Harley roar?