Harley Davidson electric LiveWire (Part 1)

Putting the spark into riding.

Harley-Davidson has become the first traditional motorcycle manufacturer to release a full-sized electric road motorcycle and it’s both electrifying and cool!

That’s more than just a couple of gratuitous puns. This bike is not an electric toy! It’s a real bike that is claimed to go from 0-100km/h in three seconds and we proved it at the world media launch with several impromptu drags on a lonely country road outside of Portland, Oregon. So that’s electrifying performance in anyone’s lexicon.

Many moto journos talk about the nirvana of having ultimate linear power delivery. That’s exactly what this supplies. There are no surges or lags, just a hand-of-God thrust in the back as you hurtle forward and the world turns to a blur.

And after a vigorous 110km test ride through the streets of Portland and beautiful surrounding country, the bike was still cool to the touch, even the water-cooled motor, battery and radiator.

So, it doesn’t just look cool and represent a cool trend in motorcycling, it’s literally cool to touch which makes it an ideal summer commuter bike!

Harley engine

Styling is a subjective matter, but I like the modern, minimalist look and the big cooling fins around the battery, although the gloss black model looks way too dark. Maybe they should have made the calling fins silver on that one. The remote rear fender with number plate allows for a tidy wasp-like tail with the pillion seat suspended in mid-air.

Of course, the electric LiveWire is quiet, especially at low speeds, but not exactly silent.
When you switch it on, the headlight and instrument screen light up, but there is no accompanying motor noise.

As you take off, you can feel a gentle buzz which is induced by the rocking of magnets. Harley wanted riders feel the “heartbeat” of the machine. When you accelerate, the bike makes a turbine “whoosh” noise thanks to the belt drive and “meshing” of the primary spiral bevel gears. At highway speeds all you can hear is the wind.

While I missed the throbbing sound and feel of a Harley V-twin engine, I actually found it made you more aware of surrounding noises from other vehicles. It also meant that when I listened to music, GPS directions or phone calls on my helmet intercom, I didn’t need to turn the volume up quite as high. The lack of noise also seems to have a calming effect on the rider.

The bike has seven riding modes: Range, Rain, Road and Sport, plus three customisable modes. Each mode affects the acceleration and response from the twist-and-go throttle.

It also affects the amount of “regeneration” which is like engine braking and helps to recharge the battery. Both of these also affect the range. The modes also vary the amount of cornering-enhanced traction control that includes a wheelie control to stop the front wheel lifting and a rear-wheel lockup control.

All these electronic aids help make the LiveWire an easy-to-ride high-performance bike that can be calmed for city and wet riding. On the highway it’s stable, around town it’s manoeuvrable and on winding roads it feels planted and precise, thanks to the premium Showa suspension.

It’s heavy at 249kg, but the weight is carried low in the underslung motor which lowers the centre of gravity for a light handling feel. The seat is 779mm high and is narrow so even short riders can get their feet flat down on the ground.

The Brembo brakes with cornering-control ABS are powerful and have plenty of feel, but with the regenerative braking of the motor, you really don’t need to use them that often, although it’s nice to know they are there when you need them in an emergency.

At $US29,799 (about $A42,500), it’s going to be a hard sell, even for cashed-up, early adopters and techno nerds. However, they will find this is not just some toy; it’s a serious, full-size fun motorcycle that is both easy to ride and suitable for adrenalin junkies.

Read more about the Harley-Davidson Electric in Part 2 here.