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Harley-Davidson's New Bike Hums, Instead Of Roaring

Harley-Davidson's new electric motorcycle can hit 60 mph from a standing start in 4 seconds. The company plans to unveil the LiveWire model Monday in New York.
M.L. Johnson

Don't expect to hear the roar of a gas engine when you see the new motorcycle from Harley-Davidson. That's because it's powered by batteries. The Wisconsin-based company unveiled its new LiveWire bike today, saying it's "time to shape the next generation" of riders.

Harley-Davidson says it's sending the new bike on a tour of its dealerships to let fans of motorcycles often called "hogs" get to know a bike that's notably quiet and has zero emissions. The company will officially unveil the motorcycle to the public in New York on Monday.

The LiveWire reportedly has a range of more than 50 miles and can speed from 0-60 mph in 4 seconds. It also has a push-button ignition, lithium-ion batteries and direct drive.

Motorcycle critic Susan Carpenter of the Orange County Register calls it "one of the biggest game changers in motorcycling history," noting Harley's role as America's biggest motorcycle company (accounting for 44 percent of sales of road bikes last year).

"Electric motorcycles have been on the market since 2008," Carpenter notes, "but they are made by niche manufacturers who account for less than 1 percent of overall sales."

A video promoting the new motorcycle appeared on the Harley Facebook page today, sparking a lively debate in the comments section.

Here's the top-rated response, from a man named Ryan:

"It is funny to see the fear in change. Harley is not posting this saying all models will disappear when this comes out. They are just saying look what they have developed and are giving an alternative.

"Buy a model you would ride but don't slam a company for innovation and a small change."

But another fan, named Mike, didn't agree, writing "Boo" with a stream of o's, before summarizing the views of others: "We don't want electric bikes."

The motorcycle isn't yet for sale; Harley hasn't yet announced a release date or an expected retail price.

Here's how Susan Carpenter summarizes her test ride of the LiveWire: "In short, it rides nothing like a traditional Harley. It accelerates like a hot rod and corners like a sport bike."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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