Electric Goes Harley-Davidson
After five years of waiting, the 2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire is finally here. We flew to Portland to be among the first to flick the H-D switch.
Here’s a sentence many of you are going to hate. Electric motorcycles are here to stay. There, I said it.
Silent motorcycles shouldn’t be something to fear. Change is (usually) good, but in the case of electric vehicles (EV), change is absolutely inevitable. Like it or not, petrol vehicles are slowly but surely on their way out. And, incredibly, it’s not BMW, or Yamaha, or Honda that has embraced this new and very different road with a full-size electric street bike. Instead, it was the most analog of motorcycle companies, Harley-Davidson.
The LiveWire concept first broke cover in 2014. Project LiveWire traveled to every corner of the globe, putting around 12,000 different bums on silent seats to, first, test the viability of an electric Harley, and second, to actually build it.
The 2019 Harley-Davidson LiveWire, setting the customer back a very handsome $29,799, is the first full-size electric motorcycle from one of the major manufacturers. No disrespect to Zero and Energica, but neither carries the clout the Bar & Shield brand does. It’s a seriously important machine for H-D and the first in a series of new electric bikes that range from an electric mountain bike to something that resembles a beach cruiser.
Harley’s first electric crack of the whip has delivered a surprisingly good motorcycle. I have to be honest. I really, really wanted it to be good because electric bikes need a solid kick up the butt if they’re going to take off in the minds of the public. Let’s face it: in 20 years, it’ll be unlikely you’ll be able to buy a petrol-powered bike for the street (if at all). So, the sooner we start developing these silent beasts, the better off we’ll all be.
The LiveWire gets its go from the brick-like 15.5kWh battery. It’s mated to the new H-D Revelation motor that sits below the battery. The motor delivers 100 percent of the claimed 85.5 lb-ft of torque the second the throttle is cracked (i.e., zero rpm). H-D claims peak horsepower is 105, with the electric motor capable of spinning to 15,000 rpm.
Harley-Davidson says 0-60 mph is attained in three seconds flat, with 60-80 mph reached in 1.9 seconds. From the hot seat, I’ve no doubt these claims are correct because the LiveWire accelerates with a force that’s both surprising and somewhat addictive. I found myself doing constant roll-ons between 30-70 mph. Here, it’ll smoke most sport bikes I can think of—with the acceleration matched to a strangely hypnotic whir from the mechanical moving parts and silence from the electric ones.
But, when you’re still (not moving) you can feel them. That’s because Harley-Davidson has manufactured a haptic pulse to the LiveWire that feels more or less like an electronic heartbeat. This heartbeat serves as a reminder to the rider that the LiveWire is indeed alive and switched on but also gives the bike a touch of electric personality. Our press bikes were pre-production units, with one setting for the electronic pulse, but the production machines will have three pulse options—soft, hard, and off.
2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Ride Review
Our test ride through the hills surrounding Portland lasted about 60 miles, so we didn’t get to experience just how far the LiveWire would go on a full charge. According to Harley, the bike will do 146 miles of city riding, which drops to 95 miles in combined city and highway riding, and finally 70 miles of use at a sustained 70 mph.
Given that we were engaged in rather, err, spirited riding, by the time I gave my LiveWire back, there was a registered 33 percent of charge left. I hesitate to provide a range number until I’ve ridden the LiveWire from full to empty.
A point of note is the LiveWire, unlike something like the Energica Ego, will not reduce power as the charge level goes down. The available power at 100 percent is the same as at 19 percent, for example, so the ride experience isn’t diluted based on the available charge. Nice one, Harley.
To get your charge, you’ve got two options, the first being the basic Level One, which will take you about 12 hours to go from zero to 100 percent charge. This is what Harley feels most riders will do, as they roll into the garage and plug the LiveWire into the wall overnight, much like a mobile phone.
There’s no Level Two charging available for the LiveWire, but the engineers have incorporated a Level Three/DC Fast Charge system. This means you can roll up to any DC station across the country and go from zero to 80 percent in 40 minutes, or 100 percent in an hour. A bonus is all 150 of the licensed LiveWire dealers in the U.S. will have a DC Fast Charge station at their shop. LiveWire owners will get free charging for the first two years at their local dealer.
Harley-Davidson has also developed the H-D Connect app, which gives the rider information about the available range, how far to the nearest charging stations, and a security system that will tell you if someone has moved your bike. Given this is an electric motorcycle that’s connected to the cloud, stealing it and trying to make it work would be a frugal exercise.
On the hardware side of the LiveWire, the cast aluminum chassis has a rather rangy wheelbase of 58.7 inches, making it delightfully stable on freeways in that traditional H-D style. However, it’s not as cumbersome as you would expect in the twisties.
Showa handles the suspension in the fully adjustable 43mm Inverted Separate Function Forks – Big Piston (SFF-BP) fork and fully adjustable Balance Free Rear Cushion Lite (BFRC-lite) shock. The shock is bolted directly to the swingarm with no linkage, giving a very direct if somewhat harsh feeling over sharp bumps.
Brembo four-piston monobloc calipers haul the 549-pound LiveWire up. They’re mated to an anti-lock brake system that has a cornering mode built-in as part of the Reflex Defensive Rider System. It also features switchable traction control, rear-wheel lift mitigation, and drag torque slip control. The latter of which is essentially an electronic slipper clutch for when the regen is cranked right up, and you get off the gas, potentially locking the rear wheel.
The throttle response is one Harley-Davidson should indeed be proud. Project Manager Glen Koval went to great lengths explaining to me that dialing in refined throttle response was one of the top priorities for the LiveWire. They wanted the rider to be able to access the right level of acceleration, smoothly, at any time, especially given this machine is essentially a large scooter with no gearbox. This lovely, smooth throttle is matched to four in-built riding modes of Sport, Road, Rain, and Range. Range mode is designed to work the regenerative braking as hard as possible to get more charge back into the battery when you roll off the throttle.
You also have three custom modes, giving you a total of seven different riding personalities. Custom allows you to up or minus the power, regen braking, throttle response, or traction control to whatever level works for you. All are accessed through an admittedly small but easy to use 4.3-inch touchscreen dash.
The adjustability of the electronics is one thing, but the real proof of the $30,000 pie is how it rides. With a 30-inch tall seat height, the LiveWire is a pretty neutral proposition for the majority of riders out there. However, the overall heft of the chassis at a standstill can be a little off-putting. But get the LiveWire rolling, and the weight suddenly becomes less of an issue.
One of the main objectives Harley-Davidson’s designers wanted was to have the center of gravity down low rather than up high like many electric bikes I’ve ridden in the past. The result is a surprising fluidity in the steering and rock-solid stability in the turns. Side-to-side direction changes are not as labored as you’d expect for a naked bike that weighs over a quarter a U.S. ton. Although understanding the electric motor’s personality when dialing the throttle back in takes a few minutes.
The LiveWire will upright itself more than a petrol-powered equivalent if you dial in the gas midcorner, but it’s not that big a deal once you’re used to it. The LiveWire simply speaks a different language to what traditional motorcycle riders are used to. It’s just a matter of being patient to understand it.
The ride quality leaves a little to be desired. The LiveWire’s rear suspension is set quite stiff, and you’ll get a solid whack from the shock over sharp bumps. Smooth, twisty roads are ideally suited to the LiveWire, but it doesn’t love pothole-filled roads, and neither will you. Conversely, over the crappy roads we found in downtown Portland, the seat gave me a good few kicks up the bum. I backed off compression and rebound damping of the shock to try and get a bit more compliance out of the ride. This made for a slightly more comfortable afternoon, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re after a LiveWire.
Another is just how much fun that H-D Revalation motor is to experience. Forget the fact there’s no noise, just enjoy the pure thrust you get from the LiveWire. The one thing electric motorcycle companies trumpet about their propulsion systems is that all torque is available all the time, and the LiveWire has plenty of torque. You get more torque than a Super Duke, so zipping up and down between 30-70 mph is an extremely satisfying experience, and it’s matched to a sound unlike any other. Harley has manufactured its own audio to the drive train, which is akin to a jet aircraft taking off. Sounds odd, I know, but the LiveWire isn’t exactly silent. It’s got that air-tearing whoosh sound to it, which you can’t appreciate unless you watch/listen to someone else take off on it.
The question everyone wants to know is: is the LiveWire worth $30K? What’s that saying? It’s only worth it if someone is willing to pay for it. For me, that’s hard to answer, as I’ve yet to ride its nearest competitor in the Zero SR/F. Certainly, the LiveWire is priced at the very high end of the spectrum in terms of what a machine like this is worth. Regardless of cost, the ride itself is a good one. The LiveWire has a personality all its own and represents the future for Harley-Davidson in more ways than one.CN
VIDEO | 2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Review
2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Specifications
||Revelation Internal Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor with Water Jacket cooling
||Onboard DC to DC conversion
||43mm Inverted Separate Function Fork, fully adjustable
||Balance Free Rear Cushion Lite (BFRC-lite), fully-adjustable
||300mm disc, four-piston caliper, ABS
||260mm disc, single-piston caliper, ABS
||Orange Fuse, Yellow Fuse, Vivid Black