Someone built an electric Harley-Davidson motorcycle in 1978
High voltage, 40 years ago.
This story was originally published on CycleWorld.com.
Let’s turn back the clock hands to 1978, when Steve Fehr of the Transitron Electronic Corporation built a one-off Harley-Davidson MK2 electric motorcycle prototype in Honolulu, Hawaii. And legendary designer Brooks Stevens was involved.
What are we looking at? The Transitron team started with a 1971 Harley-Davidson XLH Sportster, replacing the 900cc OHV internal combustion engine with a variable-speed electric motor and a series of deep-cycle batteries. The chain-driven, automatic four-speed transmission was powered by a proprietary control system with an integrated circuit mini-controller. Acceleration was a reported 0–30 mph in 5–6 seconds. The instrument panel was mounted to the handlebars, featuring an electric speedometer, a tachometer, and dual ammeters for measuring amps.
The 24-volt, 95-amp Baldor electric motor was linked via a primary drive belt to a four-speed automatic transmission and linked to the rear wheel via a drive chain. The setup reportedly allowed the 628-pound Harley MK2 to reach a top speed of 50 mph while maintaining a range-friendly electric motor speed of just 2,500 rpm. A series of four deep-cycle lead-acid batteries were said to provide a run time of up to six hours.
Although Transitron was actively seeking funding and development partners, Harley-Davidson showed no interest in pursuing development of an electric motorcycle, but Stevens did. He already helped Harley design its game-changing 1949 FL Hydra-Glide OHV V-twin, and the then-67-year-old Stevens worked with Fehr to help test the prototype, racking up 360 miles of on-track testing of the prototype in Wisconsin (possibly at nearby Road America).
After $70,000 was invested on the MK2’s development, Fehr’s bike found a home in Steven’s transportation museum in Mequon, Wisconsin, where it stayed until his death in 1995.
The bike sold for $11,000 at the RM Sotheby’s auction at Amelia Island in 2014, the same year Harley introduced its LiveWire prototype.