H-D’s electric motorcycle is pricey, but smooth and quick
Portland, Oregon. It is now possible to use the words “Harley-Davidson,” “high-technology” and “electric power” in the same sentence. Since 2010, a team of engineers has been working on the LiveWire project with the objective of creating a fully electric motorcycle. So the most conservative of manufacturers wanted to jump into the Star Wars era ahead of all others! That was certainly a bold move for Harley-Davidson. It also shows that the American company clearly wants to attract new motorcyclists. Will the gamble pay off? The future will tell.
I was eager to see the final result of that project. The production model is available this fall in Canada. I had the chance to ride LiveWire prototypes in 2015 and I wanted to compare the new machine with the proto model. The things I remembered most were its exceptional design, power and silence, and its limited riding range.
According to Harley-Davidson spec sheets, the LiveWire delivers a range of 225 km in the city, and 142 km in combined highway/city riding. For charging the battery, two options are available. Level 1 allows you to connect to any regular domestic electrical outlet using a regular cable (under the seat). The charging time is then more than 8 hours, the equivalent of an entire night. Level 2 is a fast charge (connector on the fake gas tank): it allows you to charge the battery to 80% in 40 minutes, and get a full charge in 60 minutes.
The engine produces a claimed 105 hp and 86 lb-ft of torque, which explains the claimed performance: 0 to 100 km/h in 3 seconds. A real rocket! That is impressive, especially considering that this bike is no lightweight (249 kg). The battery alone weighs 100 kg.
On the high-tech side of things, yes you read correctly, high technology on a Harley-Davidson, the LiveWire is also equipped with sophisticated rider aids: Electronic Chassis Control (ECC), cornering-enhanced Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Traction Control System (TCS) and Drag-Torque Slip Control System (DSCS).
The frame is made of aluminum. The Showa suspension is fully adjustable (manually) front and rear. Final drive is through a belt, and the transmission is one-speed. The Revelation engine offers seven driving modes: Sport, Road, Rain, Range, plus three modes that can be customized according to your driving preferences.
THE HD CONNECT APPLICATION
With the purchase of your LiveWire, you get free access to the Harley-Davidson application for one year. This app allows you to stay connected with your machine wherever you are. You can access important information such as the level of charge of the battery, the exact location of your motorcycle, and service data. Plus, you can receive a security warning if your bike is touched or moved. Of course, to use these functions, you need to have data access through your cell phone.
The H-D app also allows you to find the nearest charging station or Harley dealer with a charging station. And since your phone will already be connected with the LiveWire, you’ll just have to follow directions on the machine’s touch screen.
The 11 cm screen can be pivoted, a nice feature to divert the sun’s reflection or simply to place it at the ideal angle for your height. There is a lot of information available, and it is presented in a very clear manner and the menu is easy to use.
The temperature is ideal and the forecast calls for a fine day in Portland, Oregon. The people at Harley chose this place for a reason: Oregon is known as a very green and ecological State. The bikes are nicely aligned in the hotel parking lot and I have no hesitation in picking my favourite: the orange one! Looking at these machines, you readily see their top-notch finish and equipment. Harley says the LiveWires are premium motorcycles and that is true: Brembo brakes, Showa suspension, Samsung batteries, full electronic features, high-end paint, etc.
Taking place on the bike, the riding position appears to be comfortable. It is somewhat sporty with wide and low bars and rearward pegs. In fact, it is pretty close to the riding position of a naked bike. The bar controls are easy to get used to since they are almost identical to the ones on other Harley-Davidsons. But this is pretty much the only connection you can make with a conventional Harley!
I turn the bike on and . . . nothing. That’s a strange feeling for an old biker like me seeking the good old sensations of a V-Twin. And, of course, it is out of question to twist the throttle enthusiastically to hear the engine roar as I would normally do naturally. Because this bike jumps ahead at the slightest movement of your right wrist. You have to learn to use the throttle with care: the power curve is linear and the delivery is instantaneous, which is different from a gas engine that you have to rev after each gear shift. So I prudently ride into downtown Portland, but I get used to the beast real quick. Under my visor, you would have seen a large smile. I am enjoying myself as I did in 2015: for a few hours I feel like I am riding a jet fighter in a Star Wars movie. A great feeling! Except for that nice little sound, I am riding in total silence, and that’s something you get to appreciate in no time. Despite its weight, the LiveWire is easy to ride in a city environment. Take-offs and stops are very smooth once you have learned to fine-control the throttle. This is a completely different motorcycling experience: I ride feeling and enjoying the city beat. What’s more, I can talk to my fellow journalists at stoplights without having to shout. Eight Harleys cruising through town unnoticed, that’s something new!
LET’S GET DOWN TO BUSINESS
OK, that was a nice little city ride to get used to the machines, but it’s now time to see what the LiveWire really has to offer performance-wise!
And the answer is: absolutely wild! When we reach the first straight line, I twist the throttle fully and I start flying … literally. I have a quick glance at the screen and I see a number that’s not fit to print. This is a rocket! Harley-Davidson says the LiveWire can accelerate from 0 to 100 km in 3.0 seconds, and I believe it! After the first straight comes the first curve. I hope the brakes are powerful. The front one is very efficient, and I am going to use it a lot through the day. As for the rear brake, it is OK, but I would have liked a little more bite.
The LiveWire reacts well entering that first curve but I feel the weight of the battery up front and I have to push a little harder on the bars to negotiate that turn neatly. It does not handle as naturally as a standard sport motorcycle. Also, when coming out of a curve, you may accelerate more forcefully than expected since you don’t have to change gears. So on twisty roads you can end up entering the next curve a little too fast, hence the importance of having powerful brakes! Otherwise, this motorcycle behaves very well. The Sport mode is really up to the task. To really appreciate the chassis, you have to adjust the suspensions, though. As for the driving range offered by the battery, I can’t really tell since I stayed in Sport mode all day and drove very aggressively: I was twisting the throttle on each and every possible opportunity!
Interesting detail for those of you in love with vibrations, the LiveWire produces a heartbeat-like sensation that you feel through the seat at stop signs!
Yes I would like to have one in my garage, but I don’t think that my bank manager would agree. This machine is much too expensive in my opinion. Harley-Davidson is targeting customers who appreciate technology, luxury-oriented brand names, style, quality and finish. The LiveWire offers all that, plus something more: a unique riding experience. How will the customers react? The future will tell. One thing is for sure, though, Harley Davidson is proposing a new approach to motorcycle riding. The LiveWire is stylish and powerful. It delivers breathtaking acceleration and a riding experience never offered before on a Harley-Davidson. The only things left to take care of are the driving range. And the price.
Engine: liquid-cooled permanent magnet electric motor
Battery: lithium-ion, 15.5 kWh
Back-up battery: 12 V 15 A to power lights, key, etc.
Claimed Horsepower: 105 hp
Front brake: 2 discs, 300 mm
Rear brake: 1 disc, 260 mm
Front tire: 120/70/17
Rear tire: 180/55/17
Weight: 249 kg
Seat height: 787 mm
Colours: yellow, orange, black
Warranty: 2 years parts and labour, 5 years on battery