I’ve been riding and racing electric bikes for a few years and I’m a convert. Yes, I’ll always adore petrol engines, the smell of two-stroke still gets me excited like a toddler after an energy drink, but electric bikes are coming, and Harley-Davidson’s LiveWire is one of the best of the current crop. Let me explain why.
If you’ve never ridden an electric bike before, or even showed an interest, let me put forward some simple facts and benefits. There is no noise, there are no gears and therefore no clutch or gear lever. Electric power is immediate: twist and go with no lag.
Torque is instant, which results in fast acceleration. There’s no heat from the engine or exhaust because there isn’t one, no petrol and therefore no need for a petrol tank, (yes, that’s a dummy fuel tank on the LiveWire). And the bike performs the same no matter what the altitude, weather or conditions.
Riding an electric bike is very alien at first, especially for experienced riders. But you soon appreciate the technology and advantages, like going from a landline phone to a mobile. After a ride, my kids can’t burn their paws on the exhaust when the bike is in the garage and I don’t melt in traffic from the heat normally generated from an air-cooled V-twin.
So, what is a Harley-Davidson LiveWire?
There are several production electric bikes on the market, but the LiveWire is the first to come from a major motorcycle manufacturer. Remember it’s not just a case of producing the bike, you must have a dealer network that supports the new technology, in Harley’s case this is over 250 dealers worldwide. You can walk into your local Harley showroom tomorrow and order one in most large motorcycle markets around the world, but unfortunately not yet in Australia as LiveWire is not set to debut Down Under until late this year.
The LiveWire is Harley’s most powerful bike to date, a quoted 105 bhp with 116 Nm of torque and a 0-60 mph time of three seconds; 60-80 mph in two. This isn’t slow.
To control the power you have four rider modes, Sport, Road, Rain and Range. These modes change the power characteristics, regenerative braking and traction control. The regen’ braking is like engine braking, and like the TC can be changed on the move.
There are an additional three custom modes, which can be specified to your needs and how you ride, for example: full power, no traction control or regenerative braking if you are brave enough. There is a six-axis IMU and therefore the traction control is lean sensitive. There is a noticeable change in the bike’s performance and character between modes, the Sport mode is certainly sporty, you have been warned.
The range is the big question and Harley is quoting 235 kilometres on a full charge in the relative steady Range mode, and around 160 kilometres of slightly more spirited riding. On a household socket, one-hour of charge equals around 20 kilometres of range, but on a fast DC charge, that time comes down to an 80 per cent of full charge in 30 minutes, and 100 per cent in an hour.
It’s worth pointing out that you may never fully drain the battery. In the same way you don’t let your iPhone run out of charge, nor do you let your fuel level in your bike drop to zero. Typically, you re-charge or fuel up once you’re in the red with 20 per cent or so left, which in this case means a quick 30-minute charge. That’s enough time to de-kit, have a coffee, check your phone messages and continue with a full charge. The high-voltage battery has a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
A full-colour TFT dash with touch-screen controls and connectivity comes as standard, as do high spec Brembo monobloc calipers and fully-adjustable Showa suspension at both ends, this is a quality motorcycle, make no mistake.
All the fittings and design touches are high-end, the lines around the dummy tank are perfect, the ‘on show’ electric motor even looks good and is boldly on display, not tucked away. I like the design and feel, but the elephant in the room is the price; with Australian pricing expected to be in the $44K region, but no official figure announced as yet.
Yes expensive, but also comparable to exclusive, ‘high-end’ bikes from Harley. And don’t forget, you’ll never have to pay for fuel.
How does the LiveWire perform?
The norm on most electric bikes is to become immediately aware of the lack of engine noise, which amplifies the road noise, the clatter of bodywork, the noise of the final drive on the swing-arm. It sounds mechanically incorrect. But there are no such disconcerting noises on the LiveWire, this is the Bentley of the electric motorcycle world.
It’s super smooth, fuss-free and almost silent. Harley must have spent a colossal amount of effort and money ensuring the quality of fixtures and fittings. Like closing the door on a Rolls Royce, you instantly detect the quality just by the sound. Impressive.
Stopping 250 kg is no easy task, especially when you reduce the regeneration engine braking, but the powerful 300 mm twin discs with Brembo stoppers are more than up for the challenge.
This is one of the fastest stopping Harleys I’ve ever ridden. Even under hard use, the stoppers don’t fade. The ABS is a little intrusive on the rear, as the rear Michelin struggles to find grip under extreme braking, but otherwise faultless.
Like the brakes, the handling is head-and-shoulders above any road-going Harley I’ve ridden previously. Ground clearance is ample, it’s easy to achieve levels of lean other Harley riders can only dream about. Due to the long wheelbase, the initial turn-in is a fraction slow, but after that it just keeps leaning and leaning.
Fast transitions, asking too much of the chassis, can lead to a little insecurity, but this only occurs when you’re pushing the chassis to perform to track day levels of speed. For 95 per cent of the time for 95 per cent of riders the LiveWire is planted, secure and stable.
Complementing the handling is a huge tidal wave of torque. Full power mode will take even experienced riders by surprise, despite its weight and silence it can certainly drive hard from a standstill, enough to take your breath away at first.
From a standstill, it’s so easy to launch, as there isn’t any clutch or gears. Simply lay over the dummy fuel tank, twist and go. Form the lights it will even give a full-blown road-legal superbike a run for its money.
You end up riding the electric Harley harder than you really should as the power is so much fun and the handling there to match.
Should you get carried away you also have a raft of helpful rider aids to keep the wheels in line. The traction control and re-intervention are smooth and effortless, and should you be worried about losing your licence you can always opt for a softer power mode. The combination of instant power, fun handling and non-intrusive electronics makes the LiveWire a truly enjoyable package.
Back in the real world, most LiveWires are going to spend some if not the majority of their life around town, which is when most electric vehicles make perfect sense, dare I say more so than their petrol counterparts. The LiveWire is like a twist-and-go scooter but with more than double the power to embarrass unsuspecting road users from the lights.
Unlike any other Harley, there’s no heat, so even in the middle of summer you won’t feel like your testicles are being barbecued. Harley has even added a ‘fake’ pulse, which gives the feeling the bike is alive and reminds you not to mistakenly twist the throttle hoping for a blip of engine noise.
The weight is more noticeable at slow speeds, but I’m only 5ft 6in and never had an issue at slow speeds. But just remember, there is no engine noise so everyone can hear you swearing at bad drivers.
Is the LiveWire touring-ready?
A cruise control comes as standard and is simple and easy to use on the Livewire, simply set to 110 km/h, and with few vibrations and negligible noise, it’s a surreal experience cruising. Stability is excellent, which allows you to play with the informative clocks or simply enjoy the view ahead.
The ergonomics are a little aggressive, reminiscent of Ducati’s Monster from a few years ago, with wide bars and a prominent stance. The seat is relatively comfortable, the suspension on the sporty-firm side, but with just a 160 kilometres range, you’re going to be stopping to rest and charge every 1.5 to 2 hours.
On our test ride around Barcelona, I was a little heavy with the throttle and spent too much time enjoying the tyre ripping torque. With heavy use, you need to start thinking about plugging in after around 120 kilometres, depending on the road and the weight of the rider.
But ridden normally I believe a 160 kilometre range is easily achievable, possibly more. Ride for 160 kilometres, stop for a coffee, plug in and repeat. Touring is an option, it just needs planning, 400 kilometres a day with two half hour stops, that’s easily achievable. Plug in overnight at your hotel and repeat the next day.
The LiveWire is a true game-changer, the first mass-produced electric bike from a global motorcycle manufacturer, and it’s good. Forget the fact it’s electric for the moment; as a bike it’s fun, handles, looks good, is desirable, even has some character, which is incredibly difficult to inject on a silent machine.
Yes, it’s expensive, and covering big miles in a day won’t be possible unless you have a support crew. But for everyday riding, it’s an impressive bike. Considering this is Harley’s first road-legal electric bike, they’ve got off to a good start, in many ways one of the best Harley’s to date and already one step ahead of the competition.
Who, ten years back, would have predicted that Harley would lead the way in electric bikes? I didn’t see that one coming.
Yorkshire born Adam Child, or Chad as he’s known in the industry, is a multiple UK record holder, former MCN senior road tester and has been professionally bike testing for 20-years.
Chad has attended more than 350 bike launches, covering over a million road test miles, he is also an international road racer, with race wins at Oliver's Mount, podiums in New Zealand and two top ten Isle of Man TT finishes.
Chad is just as happy elbow-down on a race track, kicking up mud off road, or restoring classic bikes. Chad launched his own company, Chad76Media in 2019, and you can follow his adventures on Twitter and Instagram.
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