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Test driving the electric Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson's unmistakable bike and sound is getting a high-tech sibling: an all-electric model. Carter Evans is the first network correspondent to give it a test ride.
Harley-Davidson's unmistakable bike and sound... 04:00

They sound and look like something out of science fiction, but the latest Harley-Davidson bikes were born from a classic.

For the past 110 years, Harley-Davidson motorcycles have starred in everything from counter-culture road trips to outlaw biker gang dramas, reports CBS News' Carter Evans.

The unique rumble of the exhaust is a result of Harley's famous V-twin engine design. A century later, in the company's newest bike, that engine is gone, and the future for Harley may be powered by electricity.

The "LiveWire" is Harley's first electric bike. The iconic name Harley-Davidson has become synonymous with gas-powered, testosterone-fueled freedom on the road.

But on the LiveWire, there's no gear shift or clutch.

"There is no transmission. It's single speed, it's one of the beauties of an electric vehicle, and especially an electric motorcycle," explained chief engineer Jeff Richlen.

And Evans reports, that single speed is fast. The LiveWire prototype CBS News test drove can go from zero to 60 in less than four seconds -- but it only gets 53 miles per-charge.

Jed Mills has been riding motorcycles for 50 years.

"Did you ever think, when you first started riding motorcycles, that one day you would be riding an electric motorcycle?" Evans asked.

"No!" Mills said, laughing.

Harley-Davidson plans to take these demo bikes on the road for the next year to get input from riders. CBS News kick-started that trip with a group of die-hard Harley enthusiasts of our own.

"Really smooth. It's got good pull," remarked Eric Mills.

"This is so easy to drive and it takes the fear, as soon as you start going, it takes the complete fear away," said Joann Mills.

Some were more hesitant, however.

"It's great, it's just -- the sound is totally different from what we ride normally," said Lauro Hernandez. He doesn't think he can get used to the sound -- or lack of it. For some bikers, that thunderous roar is the reason they ride.

"When I'm on my bike, and I'm in a parking garage and I'm coming down a parking garage and I'm setting off car alarms behind me one after another, I love it!" said Eric Mills. "It makes my day!"

Some are concerned people will miss the iconic sound of Harley's internal combustion engines on the electric bike.

"We're making plenty of internal combustion cool Harleys, too," Harley president Matt Levatich was keen to point out. "This is going to be that, plus."

Levatich said the only way to feel the difference is to drive one.

Unlike a traditional gasoline engine which takes time to rev up, with an electric motor, one turn of the throttle triggers instant power.

"I thought I would miss the roar of the engine but I'm so preoccupied with the power at my fingertips," said Evans.

"It's a totally different experience, it's just awesome to feel the power," agrees Levatich.

"When you're riding along with the roar of the motors, you can hear the wind noise, you can talk to your partner," said Evans.

"Any motorcycle that you're on today, you can't sit and talk like we're talking," said Levatich.

And Levatich definitely wants people to talk. "They just say 'Wow!' One guy the other day said 'I feel like a superhero!'" noted the Harley president.

When you roll back on that throttle, you feel like you're almost flying.

Harley says they'll test the bike with riders across America and put what they learn into the final retail model.

"Many people are going to start thinking a lot differently about electric vehicles, and I think the LiveWire is going to turn some heads," Levatich said.

There's no time frame yet when the bike will hit showrooms, but if the company's enthusiasm is any indication, it can't happen soon enough.

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