Harley-Davidson’s new electric motorcycle sounds completely otherworldly.Earlier this week, iconic American motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson unveiled their plans for the future at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Their centerpiece was the LiveWire, an electric motorcycle filled with advanced features, a zero to sixty time of just 3.5 seconds, and an all-electric range of 110 miles.
But Harley has a problem. Their company and their products are known to make a very distinctive sound. The big, V-twin engines that every Harley that has come before has such a unique engine note that it’s half the reason why anyone buys their bikes. It’s so iconic that the company even tried to trademark the noise their bikes make at the USPTO (they didn’t succeed, but they tried).
An electric bike doesn’t have a V-twin engine. In fact, it has so few moving parts that it makes very little noise at all. This is a problem not just from a marketing perspective but from a road safety one too. Being able to hear a motorcycle was one of the few things that notified people to their presence, and without it, cyclists are even more vulnerable than ever before.
It’s a similar problem for electric carmakers, although they’re more often concerned with pedestrian safety than their own. Jaguar Land Rover came up with a novel solution of placing sound generators on the outside of their cars in order to alert pedestrians to the car’s presence. The sound itself was somewhat unsettling as JLR opted for something that seemed to come straight out of a science fiction film.
Harley has gone down a similar route for the LiveWire electric bike. Instead of the loud, obnoxious burbling of a V-twin engine, we hear the strangely high-pitched whirring of what almost sounds like a jet engine.
Reception of Harley’s latest invention has been decidedly mixed. Most praise its advanced design features and electric powertrain, but enthusiasts decry its outrageous cost and limited range. At $27,999, it costs twice as much as most everyday motorcycles and even more than most performance-oriented models. And a range of 110 miles is roughly half what one can expect from a gas-powered bike.
Add in a ridiculous sound generator, and it almost seems certain to drive away Harley’s customers rather than pull them towards.