When you think Harley-Davidson, you think… sustainability? - Harley begins production of an electric motorcycle.

by Pramod Dibble 19 Jun 2014
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                Harley-Davidson today released that it will produce a full-size, electric motorcycle. This, as the latest development in sustainable technologies, demonstrates that major brands in vehicle manufacturing see EVs as the way of the future, and will begin production to spur demand from their customers. Most 2-wheeled EVs currently in mass production are low powered scooters, targeted towards the Southeast-Asian commuter market, and have not gained any sort of traction in the US, a market that demands size and performance above efficiency and sustainability.

                The bike, part of Harley-Davidson’s Project Livewire, accelerates from 0 - 60mph in 4 seconds, and like all electric-vehicles, does not need gears to generate increased torque. It diverges from the iconic Harley-Davidson roar by emitting relatively little sound at all. This bike has enough battery to travel for about 130 miles between recharging, a process which takes up to 3 hours.

                Again, like most electric vehicles, this range and recharging requirement will likely be the main hindrance to market adoption. A gas-powered motorcycle takes roughly 4 gallons of gasoline, travels for 50-70 miles per gallon, and refuels in minutes rather than hours. With double the range and a fraction of the refueling time, a gas bike will remain the vehicle of choice for weekend cruising. While these arguments are certainly a real and present challenge for EV manufacturers, the improvements in batteries and charging infrastructure have been tremendous. Tesla is nearing 100 charging stations in North America and plans to cover 98% of the US by 2015. As inductive, wireless charging technologies become developed and then ubiquitous in the infrastructure of the future, range and recharging issues may be alleviated or effectively eliminated. Battery technology is dramatically better than it was ten years ago, with new innovations coming from Tesla, other vehicle manufacturers, and new prospective suppliers to the ecosystem. The 130-mile range and 3-hour charging time of this bike will likely look quaint compared to the electric bikes of 2020 and beyond.

                If the target market for these electric bikes is the commuter rather than weekend warrior, then the bike’s range and recharging issues may not be problems at all. A 130-mile range is more than enough to get most people to and from work with an optional stop at the supermarket on the way home, while recharging the bike at night when power is cheapest. Even a small proportion of commuters transitioning to electric motorbikes, instead of gas guzzling SUVs, over the coming decade would make traffic and pollution problems significantly better, while saving their owners money in both the short and long terms.

                Electric vehicle manufacturers of both cars and motorcycles are working to remove the need for their owners to have a backup gasoline vehicle for long trips. As driving range and battery charging speed and availability increase, the savings on fuel and sustainability concern seem sure to eventually overwhelm the market for internal combustion engine vehicles. But until that happens, Harley Davidson has made sure to include an EV option for people who can’t imagine life without two wheels.

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