Harley-Davidson’s All-electric LiveWire
John Lyon, the manager of Wilkins Harley-Davidson in Barre, VT, has ridden Harley-Davidson motorcycles since the age of 16. It’s no surprise, given that his grandparents opened the dealership together in 1947 in his great-grandmother’s garage, and it has remained in the family ever since, steadily selling “nostalgic” cruisers to longtime brand enthusiasts.
“Loyalists are a unique breed,” Lyon observed. “They love Harley-Davidson’s history, its heritage. Harley-Davidson produces motorcycles that are constantly a throwback to the past.”
The Harley-Davidson LiveWire ($29,799), released in 2019, is a notable exception. A futuristic sportbike, it remains, so far, the only electric motorcycle in mainstream production by a major manufacturer. Lyon took to it immediately, and he now uses it for commuting as weather permits.
As the industry’s first recognition of the green energy revolution by a legacy brand, the debut of the LiveWire marked a watershed for electric motorcycles, previously the domain of high-tech start-ups and custom builders. “We know there are states that are banning internal combustion engines in the future, so to be relevant in that time period, we have to start talking about this now,” Lyon noted.
“Per mile, it’s more exhilaration than any other machine I’ve ever ridden,” he rhapsodized. “The torque curve is to the peak of any graph, meaning we’ve put it on a [dynamometer] and we have to have people hold it down on the dyno because it’s too aggressive of a machine to be on a measuring tool that usually measures internal combustion engines.” Because electric motorcycles don’t have a clutch (“Just twist the throttle and go,” Lyon explained), they sometimes interest new riders hoping to avoid learning how to shift gears.
While the LiveWire seeks to tap into a younger market, Lyon expects that the company one day will begin to manufacture electric touring motorcycles for its conventional clientele, too. “I’m sure they’re being discussed right now,” he conjectured.
“Most of the traditionalists have been OK with the idea” of going electric, Lyon said, “but they just want it to go farther than it currently goes on one charge.” The LiveWire offers 146 miles of city range and 95 miles of combined city and highway range, with a charging speed of 40 minutes from empty to 80% (or one hour for a full battery) – just long enough for a quick lunch.
Other Electric Motorcycles
Riders with “range anxiety” may instead favor Energica Motor Company, an Italian all-electric manufacturer whose three bikes – the Eva EsseEsse9 ($21,600), the Eva Ribelle ($22,400), and the Ego ($24,110) – each boast 249 miles of city range and 143 miles of combined city/highway range.
In early 2021, Rob Swartz opened Energica of New England in Gardner, MA, 10 miles south of the New Hampshire border. Committed to the single brand, he doesn’t sell any gas-powered motorcycles.
Founded in 2014, Energica has gained attention as the exclusive motorcycle supplier of the FIM MotoE World Cup, in which professional road racers, between May and September this year, will compete on seven circuits across Europe, providing an environmentally friendly alternative to the FIM’s top division, MotoGP. In Swartz’s view of Energica, “the engineering involved and the technology involved is far superior to anything out there.”
Energica’s most powerful models accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 2.6 seconds, using 145-horsepower engines, compared to the LiveWire’s 105. And for customers willing to accept a smaller battery, the price of a new Energica motorcycle can dip as low as $17,600.
Prices in the electric motorcycle market, range from $2,495 for the CSC City Slicker (top speed: 47 mph) to $117,000 for the plush Arc Vector (shipped from England). There are plenty of limited-production and made-to-order options, and giants like Honda and Yamaha have signaled intentions to enter the market soon. But for the customer who wants to drive to a dealership today and come home with an electric motorcycle, the choices are Harley-Davidson, Energica, and Zero Motorcycles, which has the most extensive electric line-up of the three.
Stretching from the FX ($8,995) to the SR/S ($19,995) and topping out at 223 miles of city range, Zero manufactures ten electric motorcycles, targeting commuters, tourers, and off-road enthusiasts. Cyclewise in New Haven, VT, hosts the brand’s only New England showroom.
“The specific buyer for Zero knows what they’re looking for. It’s not so much a conversion thing,” commented Cyclewise sales manager Andy Duggento.
According to Duggento, Cyclewise sells eight to 15 electric motorcycles from Zero in an average year, compared to 50 or 60 gas-powered Ducatis in the same period. But he expects Zero’s numbers to grow, “It’s the future, and we were on board early with that.”
His favorite model is the FX, which he called a “small, lightweight street bike.” Electric motorcycles’ instantaneous acceleration makes them, in his words, “very thrilling.”
“It’s probably the most unique riding experience you’ll ever have on a motorcycle,” he went on. “The biggest thing I get from people is the noise. ‘Loud pipes save lives.’ But there’s something to be said about you being in tune with everything around you.”
Tax Credits for Electric Motorcycles
As with electric cars, the federal government extends a tax credit (up to $2,500) to buyers of electric motorcycles. State-level incentives are limited to California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, but many electric utilities offer rebates, including $1,000 from the New Hampshire Electric Co-op. And between March 1 and June 20, 2021, Green Mountain Power will rebate electric motorcycle purchases by $500.
This new rebate joins Green Mountain Power’s customer rebate for e-bikes, which takes the form of a $200 discount at participating bike shops in Vermont, such as Green Mountain Bikes in Rochester. According to store owner Doon Hinderyckx, who has sold bicycles for more than 30 years, e-bikes “are more fun, period.” While electric motorcycles continue to aim for a foothold in a gasoline-dominated industry, e-bike sales have exploded over the past year, with millions of purchases in 2020. EZ Bikes and Scooters in Exeter, NH, has stocked them since 2009.
Electric Bicycles and Scooters
“People are looking to get outdoors because of Covid-19 – they’ve been stuck inside for so long,” said EZ Bikes and Scooters co-owner Teresa Hemenway.
An e-bike is like a regular bicycle, but it has a battery-powered motor (250 to 750 watts) that supplies additional propulsion when the rider pedals. Some varieties allow the rider to activate the motor with a throttle.
According to Hemenway, most of her e-bike customers are over the age of 45. “They’ve been accustomed to riding a bike but maybe haven’t for a while or aren’t as physically strong as they once were. The electric bike allows them to bike the way they used to.”
Hemenway also mentioned a customer who, after suffering a bout of polio in his youth, thought he’d never ride a bike again. He now “puts thousands of miles” on his e-bike every year.
Lately, automobile companies like Jeep and Porsche have begun to produce e-bikes, alongside traditional bicycle manufacturers like Trek and Cannondale and a host of newer firms. EZ Bikes & Scooters carries a few e-bikes by Admotor and Scootstar, but the Magnum line (starting at $1,399) dominates its showroom with “probably 20 different styles,” in Hemenway’s estimation.
Hemenway cited the brand’s road bikes, mountain bikes, and folding bikes. “They make a bike for every person, every body size, and also every application.”
In addition, the shop sells electric motor scooters by Beijing-based NIU, which Hemenway called “one of the fastest-growing electric scooter companies in the world.” According to technician Steve Phillips, the primary advantage of electric scooters over their gas-powered counterparts is that they don’t require much care, which can help owners recoup their higher upfront cost.
“Maintenance is going to be close to nothing,” Phillips noted. “Compare that to a gas scooter – you’re having to do oil changes, periodically replacing belts, cleaning carburetors, making sure there’s good fuel in the scooter, because small gas engines are a little more temperamental than a car or a pickup truck.”
The downside on the electric front, unsurprisingly, is range: only 40 miles on the N Sport model ($2,899), which makes it “very suited toward urban areas.” But on the New Hampshire Seacoast, riders tend to use scooters for long pleasure journeys rather than commutes, leaving the electric versions to early “adopters of new technology,” as Phillips put it.
The most popular models tend to be “50cc-compliant, so they’re vehicles that you need a regular driver’s license to operate, but you don’t need a motorcycle endorsement,” he noted.
NIU scooters are made for seated riders, but EZ Bikes & Scooters also sells an electric kick scooter, Magnum’s iMax S1+, for standing riders. With a range of 15 to 20 miles, this small, portable vehicle appeals mostly to “younger people, 16 to 24, who are living in downtown Portsmouth,” in Phillips’s experience.
No federal tax credit exists for either variety of electric scooter, except for models that reach speeds above 45 mph, which qualify for the e-motorcycle incentive. In February, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill whereby the IRS would refund 30% of the cost of a new e-bike, but it has not yet come to a floor vote.
Brett Yates is a contributing writer for Green Energy Times. He lives in Mendon, Vermont.
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