Our world has precious few constants. Death. Taxes. A Republican’s desire for smaller government. So when Milwaukee’s most famous iron monger decides to trade cubic inches for kilowatts, it’s either Hell freezing over or the dawn of a new age.
Last year, I fulfilled a decade-long goal. I bought a 2013 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special.
Let me tell you about this motorcycle in case you aren’t familiar with it: It is 1250 cc’s of badassery wrapped in a body that would make Batman envious and packs enough horsepower to go zero-to-whatever-the-hell-you-like in a ridiculously short span of seconds.
It’s also the same Harley-Davidson model that draws equal amounts of criticism from both Harley and non-Harley enthusiasts. Because it was designed and built in partnership with Porsche AG back in 2003, it looks and sounds like no other Harley that came before it. It has a liquid-cooled engine; the first Harley to ever possess such a heart. The fuel tank is under the seat, not perched above the cylinders. It has sophisticated engine management chips and software, ABS brakes and a state-of-the-art slipper clutch that makes even most ham-fisted gear change smooth as butter. Instead of belching out the characteristic “potato-potato-potato” sound every other V-twin the company makes, it has a purring quality that places it closer to Japanese and German sport bikes on the What-Kind-Of-Bike-Is-That audio spectrum. (No, that is not a real thing).
Harley purists deride the Night Rod (also known by its family name “V-Rod”) for these qualities while Harley haters like to point out that the best part about the bike is the engine, which of course, Harley-Davidson was only partially responsible for.
I give exactly zero shits about any of those observations.
To me, the Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special represents a vehicle that inhabits two worlds at once: The authentic, all-American V-twin past and the technologically advanced, high-performance and reliable future. It’s a formula that will always win me over.
It’s why Harley-Davidson’s Project LiveWire has me ready to consider trading-in the bike I only so recently came to call my own. Project LiveWire, as the company officially announced today, is its very first all-electric motorcycle. And if you thought putting a German-designed, liquid-cooled engine in a Harley was sacrilegious, you’re about to get a lesson in blasphemy.
Until today, the electric motorcycle category has been a virtual vacuum. While there are a few small manufacturers building them, none of the established two-wheeled brands have taken the plunge. Yes, Honda makes an e-bike and it looks like something your grandmother would ride. Kawasaki was supposedly working on one for launch this year, but so far, no dice. Suzuki? Sure, they’re planning one your kids will love. So to have the biggest granddaddy of them all stand up and declare the future to be electric, is nothing short of earth shaking.
OK, so H-D is going to make an electric bike. So what?
It might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Here’s why: It’s time to stop using oil.
You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating. There is only so much oil in the world; it’s getting more expensive to get it out of the ground and even when we do, burning it is bad for the planet. Trouble is, we aren’t just addicted to using oil, we’ve developed a psychological addiction to the tell-tale sights and sounds of vehicles that use it.
Those engine sounds that I described earlier – they’re at the heart of people’s passion for muscle cars and motorcycles. Yes, motorcyclists adore the freedom of the open road, the wind in their face and the exhilaration of being on two wheels. But the most common modification to a motorcycle once it leaves the showroom is changing the exhaust system components, and I can tell you this: it ain’t just for performance.
So how do you convince the there’s-no-substitute-for-cubic-inches crowd that it’s time to trade CCs for kilowatts? You blend the soul of an authentic all-American V-twin with technologically modern heart of a Tesla. The result is a vehicle that inhabits two worlds at once and possesses the kind of street-cred and cool that only Harley-Davidson can muster.
Sure, it will take time to get used to it. Sometimes change is tough. Do I like the look of Harley-Davidson’s Project LiveWire? Sort of. It sure packs a ton of H-D’s styling cues. It’s got a sport-bike’s stance and I’m more of a boulevard cruiser person. But that doesn’t worry me a bit. If Harley-Davidson gets the positive feedback they’re hoping for, it won’t be long before there’s an electrified version of the Night Rod Special.
And I’ll be first in line.