Harley hasn’t just made a lot of noise in the motorcycling world with the unveiling of its first electric bike, the Project LiveWire concept motorcycle. It has also created its own signature motorcycle noise.
Electric motors are almost silent and the only sound an electric motorcycle usually makes is tyre and wind noise. However, Harley being Harley, they had to make some noise as well. So the engineers worked on meshing the reduction gear to produce a whining turbine jet fighter sound.
It’s certainly not the signature “potato-potato” sound we’ve come to accept from Harley, but it is louder than other electric bikes and quite different. It remains to be seen if it is accepted by the Harley purist.
It might also become the norm for future electric bikes to produce a sound, not to emulate Harley’s jet noise, but because it could become law for any electric vehicle (EV) to make a noise to warn pedestrians of their approach.
The USA National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is testing sounds to be used as alert tones for EVs and several US states are considering legislation to make some sort of sound mandatory for EVs and hybrids, which also run silently in electric mode at low speeds.
Advocacy groups for pedestrians and blind people say EVs are dangerous stealth machines that are difficult to detect and should be made to have some sort of noise. However, US police and the US Defence Forces are actually buying and developing electric bikes because of their stealth mode.
The Pedestrian Council of Australia has called for changes to the Australian Design Rules to set a minimum noise for vehicles powered by an electric motor, but, thankfully, it has fallen on deaf ears (‘scuse the pun). It suggested EVs make a beeping sound like on a reversing van or truck. Can you just imagine how annoying that would be? I’d rather a Screamin’ Eagle Harley any day!
However, a 2010 RACQ study conducted in Brisbane found no discernible difference in audible detection of approaching vehicles between petrol-electric hybrids cars and conventional cars from the same manufacturer.
Tyre and wind noise were found to be the main audible signals of approaching vehicles, either hybrid or conventional and the lack of, or reduction in, mechanical noise did not appear to significantly increase the risk factor for pedestrians, the report said. Other surveys from the UK show any alert noise just gets buried in the ambient noise of urban society. Do we really want extra annoying noise, anyway?
Harley is not alone in producing their own noises as an aesthetic solution. Lotus Engineering, a division of sports car maker Lotus, has developed a realistic engine sound for electric motors that varies with speed while the world’s first all-electric supercar, the Tesla Roadster, has a “space sound generator” on its Brabus-tuned models.
It remains to be seen (or heard) how pleasing the Harley LiveWire sound is. If it’s a constant whining noise like on car CVTs, it would simply become annoying.