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Project LiveWire: Harley-Davidson stuns fans with new electric motorcycle

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Harley-Davidson showed off a new concept motorcycle Thursday that replaced the company's signature V-twin engine with an electric motor. The bike is called Project LiveWire, and is the first move by a major motorcycle manufacturer into the area of electric vehicles.

LiveWire was designed to show off Harley-Davidson's electric bike design, gauging customer reactions and introducing the idea of an electric Harley to the public. To this end, LiveWire will be touring across the U.S. along Route 66 later this year, visiting more than 30 Harley-Davidson dealerships and giving customers a chance to try out the bike.

The motorcycle weighs 460 pounds and can produce 74 horsepower. It can go from zero to 60 mph in under four seconds, but with only one gear its top speed is limited to 92 mph. At high speeds LiveWire sounds like a jet engine, but when starting from a dead stop it can sound more like a toy remote-control car, which may turn some Harley fans away from the bike.

With its environmentally-conscious engine and modern styling, however, Harley-Davidson is looking to draw in younger riders. Although the manufacturer sells around half of all motorcycles in the U.S., the average age of its customers has been approaching 50 for some time, and the company's loud bikes and rebel attitude aren't meshing well with the younger crowd.

"America at its best has always been about reinvention," COO Matt Levatich says in a statement. "And, like America, Harley-Davidson has reinvented itself many times in our history, with customers leading us every step of the way. Project LiveWire is another exciting, customer-led moment in our history."

Although Harley-Davidson is known for its highway-centric motorcycles, LiveWire is more of a city bike. The battery only lasts for about 53 miles in high-performance mode, and it takes around three hours to charge, making it impractical for long journeys.

Although LiveWire is only a concept, Harley-Davidson is expected to release a similar production model in 2016. Right now, the company is looking for feedback from consumers in order to improve the design before going full-scale. Following the Route 66 tour at the end of 2014, the LiveWire will be shown off in other U.S. locations as well as making trips through Canada and Europe.

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