Electric driving is not new

Electric driving - Harley Davidson E
ER Classics Desktop 2022

Electric driving? That was almost the future a century ago. But then the combustion engines got better quickly, the starter was invented and gasoline was nice and cheap. Then the concept slowly disappeared. Steam propulsion has also once been a serious concept.

Now the focus is again on electric driving, with which our environmental problems are being pleasantly shifted to faraway countries where children get raw materials from dangerous mines and where entire regions are being ruined by the extraction of battery raw materials for the coming century. Electric traction is an intermediate step. It's going to be hydrogen in the future. However?

But first there were those electric motorcycles

References to the first electric motorcycle can be found in patents as early as the late 1860s. And in the 100 years that followed, numerous attempts were made to mass-produce two-wheeled electric vehicles, including efforts from Popular Mechanics, the Indian Motorcycle Company and Corbin-Gentry. In 1973, Mike Corbin set the first speed record for electric driving on the electric motorcycle at just over 101 km / h.


Recently has Harley-Davidson the production of the electric Live Wire model, presented with a lot of drum roll, stopped again due to an overwhelming lack of success. Harley-Davidson and electric driving? That is not something that attracts customers. It is also not going well with the sales of V-twins anymore. In terms of styling, they are no longer 'Okay Boomer' compatible. It is funny that a long time ago we also worked on a Harley on electricity. That was in 1978 and the project came from Transitron, from Hawaii. A prototype in Sotheby's photos ended up in the Brooks Stevens Collection and was auctioned by Sotheby's in 2014 for $ 11.000.

The gasoline then cost $ 1 per gallon

The idea was to give Harley-Davidson a head start in the hope that the brand would pick up the idea. The basis of the machine was a then worthless, but now wanted Harley-Davidson Sportster Boattail. The 1978 Transitron Mk II Electric Prototype is a unique machine built by Steve Fehr's Transitron Electric Corporation in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Also interesting to read: Harley-Davidson boat tail. A bridge too far

The designers Brooks Stevens and Harold Bostrom used the bicycle part of a 1971 Harley-Davidson XLH Sportster and redesigned the entire powertrain by replacing the 900 cc V twin valve with an electric motor and a series of batteries. The power for electric driving is brought to the rear wheel via an automatic four-speed gearbox with chain drive and comes from a set of old-fashioned lead / acid batteries because there was nothing better then.

By using its own control system with a mini controller with integrated circuit, the machine was able to accelerate quickly. The instrument panel of the machine is mounted on the handlebar, which has an electric speedometer, a tachometer and dual ammeters. So quite modern.

Making the 24-volt motorcycle for electric driving cost $ 70.000, according to our information. And the 'engine block'? That was a Baldor 2,5 hp engine. The top speed was about eighty kilometers per hour. So it wasn't a beast of a machine, weight aside. This prototype must have driven about 600 kilometers.

The builders tried to convince Harley-Davidson of their concept

Harley-Davidson didn't like it. Forty years later, the brand was fully committed to electric. Because Bob Dylan already sang it: The times they are a 'changing'. Or not? Harley would conquer the world and the youth with the LiveWire. And as mentioned, it became just as successful as the prototype from 1978. Only the development was many times more expensive. Maybe the idea was a good one. But after all, the saying is 'the time was right'. Or not of course. Not then. Not now. Because will the world ever be ready for a softly buzzing motorcycle that has made the V-twin the home symbol?

A trend among hobbyists

In the meantime, a cautious trend is underway to convert classic motorcycles to E-traction and to drive electric. The same bizarre idea has been around for some time in classic car circles. But with a classic car you can still keep the powertrain out of the picture. In classic motorcycles, the engine block is often an important part of the 'face' of the motorcycle. And a nest of batteries around an ugly biscuit tin of an e-motor? That is not nice.

Also interesting: Electric MG Midget, the e-Midge

Then we have more with the pragmatic approach of friend Nanko: He also wanted to save on fuel, but saw nothing in charging stations. So he built a 1900 Peugeot diesel block in his Moto Guzzi. And because he is not a messer, he went to the RDW. The men of the RDW were deeply impressed. The Guzzi now sounds like an angry Massey Ferguson tractor. And that fits well in the Groningen country.

An Enfield on stream: FAIL!
Nanko's Diesel.


Give a reaction
  1. Hydrogen in the future? This hydrogen is only an energy carrier that, when converted into a fuel cell, drives an electric motor. And how is that hydrogen made? By means of electrolysis. This requires electricity. Where does it have to come from? Right.

  2. The Gupsie gets at least very thick exhaust pipes and idd a nice diesel hum / growl. Wonder which diesel block it is. If it is the old 405 diesel block, then he pays little or nothing on pekaatjes. Nice result

  3. Harley-Davidson has made several attempts in its history to go off the beaten track… unfortunately, the clientele only eats air-cooled V-twins.
    The WSport (boxer in longitudinal direction á la Douglas), light two-stroke models, VRod and now Lime Wire… doomed to fail in advance, even though reasonable numbers have been sold afterwards.
    Probably a manufacturer like Honda could get away with it, but HD is (according to the public) only good for air-cooled V-twins .. people simply expect nothing else.

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