The new Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric bike is the first model from the great American brand that your neighbours may actually appreciate.
The brand new, much-anticipated Harley-Davidson LiveWire has about as much in common with the famous Milwaukee brand’s motorcycle heritage as Miller’s beer has with Barossa Shiraz.
How so? Well, traditionally Harley-Davidson is the loyal brand of noisy bad boys of the type your mother warned you about. Unshaven, shabbily dressed Sons of Anarchy in tattered denim with feral table manners. Of course, I exaggerate, but it’s the myth and to equate ‘loud’ with ‘Harley’ is as natural as bees and honey.
Enter the all-electric LiveWire, about as big a departure for The Motor Company as one could imagine. Unless they announced they were building tumble dryers, say, but I digress.
The H-D purist may twitch and squirm at the thought of a Milwaukee Mixmaster, but electric motorcycles are coming whether we like it or not. The big names are all jostling for position, ready to strike. We have electric cars now, electric aircraft soon and pure electric ships are not far off either. But, to stretch the Mixmaster analogy a bit further, the proof is in the pudding.
Just this week I lined up with an assemblage of seasoned motorcycle scribes and sundry affiliated media, all keen as mustard to throw a leg over the world’s largest Black & Decker. After months of anticipation, we were finally getting the chance to see what all the fuss was about and actually ride a production model LiveWire.
After the mirth of grabbing the non-existent clutch lever subsided, we were run through the various e-gadgets and i-wizardry contained within the sleek, futuristic, if outwardly minimal, machine. All of this is accessed via an iPhone-sized TFT display that blinks and illuminates reassuringly with all the relevant data from speed (big number in the middle) through to tiny coded icons like a green leaf (for ‘eco’), cloudburst, a red exclamation mark (you don’t want to see this) and a yellow turtle (for depleted battery). A retracting horizontal bar displays usable range and more conventional digits remind you of distance, time etc
We didn’t test this feature, but you can Bluetooth your SmartPhone to the bike and have it dance to the Doobie Brothers. Okay, I’m kidding, but turn-by-turn navigation, music, phone and voice recognition are all just a ‘pairing’ away.
Sensibly, we started with the bike set to the most conservative of riding modes and gradually worked our way up as we became familiar with the ride, response and handling.
LiveWire comes with seven rider-selectable modes that govern the performance characteristics including the level of Reflex Defensive Rider Systems (RDRS) intervention. We can call this ‘active stability control’. Each setting contains a specific combination of power, regeneration, throttle response and traction control settings. There are four pre-programmed modes: Sport, Road, Range and Rain, plus another three you can customise.
As INFO MOTO previously reported, LiveWire also benefits from premium Showa suspension, Brembo brakes and Michelin Scorcher Sport tyres as standard, all of which contribute to impeccable road manners and balance.
By now, many of us would have driven an electric or hybrid car and the comparisons are obvious. The power and torque are all-but instantaneous whether from a standing start or during fast overtaking. The regenerative setting, however, can take a bit of getting used to. When you roll off the throttle, the engine braking (power regeneration) can be quite pronounced if you are set beyond even 50 per cent. And when you do roll off, the brake light illuminates, scaring the crap out of traffic behind you – like the truckie who let blast with his quad air horns when he thought I was brake testing him.
We rode mostly city and suburban roads, a little bit of freeway and some lightly trafficked sections within the national park. The bike is as super responsive as a half-decent sportsbike thanks to the 116Nm of torque on tap, producing 0-100kmh at a claimed three seconds, 0.4s faster than H-D’s previously fastest production bike, the V-Rod. What’s equally impressive is the rolling acceleration that is very handy for overtaking. The LiveWire will shoot you out of a gun from 100kmh to 130kmh in two seconds flat. You’d better be hanging on.
The question of range predictably occupied much of the mid-ride Q&A and it was established that when used as a commuter, 250kms would be a good result. This should easily cater to most daily commutes without needing to charge at the office. The supplied charging kit will restore the bike from near empty to full overnight, but the fast DC charger can have a fully depleted bike away again in an hour. These $20k units will only be found at selected locations, like accredited H-D LiveWire dealers.
At a selling price of $49,995 rideaway, this bike won’t appeal to all riders, but those who hanker for novelty, speed and being first on the block with the latest kit will be paying attention. An experienced editor opined to me that LiveWire is unlikely to be anyone’s first or only bike. It may be an addition to an already prestigious collection of bragworthy machines or a stylish commuter from the wealthy suburbs to the lofty city office (when they’re bored with the Tesla).
It remains to be seen how quickly the phenomenon of full-size, premium electric motorcycles will take to gather market sustainability, but we can attest there is nothing lacking in terms of rider satisfaction and pure thrills. We encourage you to test ride the LiveWire and make up your own mind.
Roderick Eime is a contributing journalist at INFO MOTO, you can follow his own adventures here.