Ask Eartha: New electric Harley Davidson gives bad boys a green makeover |

Ask Eartha: New electric Harley Davidson gives bad boys a green makeover

This Wednesday, June 18, 2014 photo shows Harley-Davidson's new electric motorcycle at the company's research facility in Wauwatosa, Wis. The company plans to unveil the LiveWire model Monday, June 23, at an invitation-only event in New York. (AP Photo/M.L. Johnson)

Dear Eartha,

I love all the latest innovations happening in the electric car field. As a Harley guy, though, I feel like I never see anything happening on the two-wheeled front. Am I actually doing anything good for the environment on my motorcycle and is there anything new for us eco-bikers?

— Dwight, Keystone

The sunshine is out and so are the bikers! Some prefer the pedal kind, and others the gas-powered version. Motorcycles are a great alternative to cars when it comes to summer commutes that cannot be managed on your Schwinn. According to, the average mid-sized motorcycle gets 35-40 mpg, while the average passenger car offers only 21. Despite the gas savings, though, there is more than meets the eye when it comes riding bikes.

What is interesting about gasoline-powered motorcycles is, despite using less fuel than four-wheeled vehicles from the same year, they actually produce more emissions. According to one of the Steward family’s favorite shows, “Myth Busters,” motorcycles actually produce “416 percent more hydrocarbons, 3,220 percent more oxides of nitrogen and 8,065 percent more carbon monoxide” than cars. Those are many of the smog-making ingredients that we should be trying to limit.

If you are truly dedicated to being an eco-biker, you have to check out the electric motorcycle. Electric bikes have been around for quite a while. The first known patent for bicycle with a mounted, chargeable battery was registered in 1895, according to Google patents. Of course, those first models were nothing compared with the speed demons of today. They were extremely dangerous and slow and were quickly displaced by the fuel-powered bikes we know today.

There have been a few small start-up companies, such as Brammo, Lightning, Zero and Mission, that have been getting the electric bike fad started. These bikes are not your nephew’s dirt bike either. They are full size, full power and fantastically efficient. Despite being available for several years, they still are considered a fringe product. Electric motorcycles are even rarer on the road than Prius or Leaf cars.

The electric motorcycle industry just recently got the kick that it has been craving since the beginning. Harley-Davidson, a company known for generations for its ability to stick to tradition, has made a huge leap by releasing the first big-name electric motorbike. Harley bikes have long been touted as the bad-boy bike of choice. That said, those bad boys are getting older and the average Harley rider is now in his or her 50s.

Where better to find new blood, than generation green? The prototype from Harley-Davidson, Project LiveWire, is the hottest and greenest thing to hit the motorcycle world since the first mass-produced electric scooter (distinct from motorcycles, with a step-through frame) in the ’90s. Project LiveWire looks like a high-tech race bike but without all the emissions and the carbon footprint of your average Harley. The sound is definitely different, like that of a small spaceship rather than the earsplitting rumble of many bikes on the road.

Motorcycles can be a great alternative to cars when it comes to saving on gas, but you have to take into account all those extra emissions, which make your bike, essentially, a worse polluter than a Hummer. Luckily, there are many eco-friendly bike options coming up for those interested in keeping that bad-to-the-bone vibe while not losing those eco-morals. Rev it up Summit County!

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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