LOS ANGELES — Peter Fonda suited up and slung his leg over the LiveWire, a prototype electric superbike from Harley-Davidson.
In seconds, he was gone, shouting as he left, "I love it! This is fantastic!"
Making his first pass, he threw a smile and a thumbs-up, then shot off again.
When he'd made two more passes and slid to a stop, he said his only thoughts, during the first lap, were, "This is a blast — I don't wanna drop it! This is so smooth — I don't wanna drop it!"
This is the same Fonda who, as the star and co-writer of the classic road movie "Easy Rider," put the chopper on the American cultural map and made motorcycling a mainstream activity.
In five minutes, he'd gone electric.
Weeks earlier, during an interview with the Los Angeles Times about an upcoming auction sale of a vintage Harley-Davidson purported to be the last of the "Easy Rider" motorcycles, he had suddenly changed the topic and started talking about the modern-day Harleys.
"You know they have an electric bike?" he said. "Man, I'd give anything to ride one of those."
Harley agreed to provide the bike. A date was set. One morning two weeks ago, Fonda and his wife, Parky, drove from their nearby hillside home to a wide, empty parking lot along the coastline.
After a quick primer on electric motorcycle technology, Fonda, 74, slipped on an "Easy Rider"-inspired helmet, custom-made for him by designer Troy Lee, climbed aboard a LiveWire and took off.
The LiveWire, still a prototype, is a fast, powerful, battery-powered street motorcycle, capable of accelerating from zero to 60 mph in under four seconds.
Fonda appeared to get it going that fast, and that quickly. Whizzing through the parking lot, he called out to two gaping bicyclists: "This is a gas! It's an electric Harley!"
The LiveWire is vibration free, and almost entirely silent — and seems an unlikely project for Harley, which sells more motorcycles in the U.S. every year than any other manufacturer and specializes in roaring Sportsters, Ultra Glides and Electra Glides.
But Harley is a forward-looking company. Not content with its current 50 percent of the North American motorcycle market, Harley with its Project LiveWire is trying to anticipate a day when consumers no longer insist on getting their two-wheeled thrills from gas-burning, internal combustion engines.
Harley has announced no plans to put the LiveWire into production or up for sale. For now, the company is touring its small fleet of the electric superbikes around the country, and into Europe, taking customers' temperatures and gathering input on what a LiveWire should be — if it were to become part of the substantial Harley lineup.
Meanwhile, the prototype is getting some big-screen attention. The unit Fonda tested had just come from a costarring role in the upcoming Marvel movie "Avengers: Age of Ultron." It will be ridden by the character known as Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff, played by Scarlett Johansson.
(Harley's Street 750, which made its onscreen debut in Marvel's 2014 release of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," will also make an appearance in "Age of Ultron," which premieres May 15, 2015, Harley has said.)
Fonda had just returned from New Orleans, where he was costarring with Nicolas Cage in writer-director Austin Stark's political drama "The Runner." He had worked with Cage before, on the 2007 biker movie "Ghost Rider."
The actor said he doesn't ride as much as he used to, and is about to divest himself of his highly prized MV Agusta F4-1000 cc.
Would he buy a LiveWire, if Harley were selling them?
"I want one," he said. "I want four. I loved it."
©2014 Los Angeles Times
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