My eyes are fixed on the exit of an unknown off camber left hander. I’m up on the balls of my feet, the pace of the ride is sharp enough to forget the jet lag that’s been wrestling the bad coffee since breakfast. I want to go faster, so I do. I twist the throttle to the stop knowing that the five bikes behind me will all appreciate the go as well as the show. “Hello Portland, this is London calling!” We’re freight training through a small valley going too fast when I spot the lady walking the skinny dog on the long lead up ahead. Bugger.
I’ve already made the decision that I’m not going to slow down for el poocho. Yes yes, selfish I know but you’d do the same. The TFT dash is showing 80mph and climbing as I draw level and pass, the lead is still slack. The dog doesn’t even flinch, not even a sniff of the air. This is the 2019 Harley Davidson Livewire, the first all electric motorcycle from any of the mainstream manufacturers. Nearly a decade in the making it is built incredibly well, has great manners and is fast. Doggie had absolutely no idea what he was missing, neither did I to be fair.
There are some numbers that everyone asks about when it comes to electric motorcycles. Weight, range and power. Lets talk about them for a bit before we get to the important stuff.
Livewire weighs 249 kilograms, that’s more than a lot and less than others. It’ll do 146 miles on an urban ride and 95 miles of stop start rural/motorway/not urban riding. It produces 105bhp and 116Nm of torque at 1rpm. Yep, it’s all there for the taking the second you want it. In three seconds you can do sixty miles an hour, hang on to the perfectly weighted throttle and it’ll do 115mph flat out.
The power train is a simple one. There’s an air-cooled 15.5Kwh battery that you’ll come to know as the RESS (Rechargable Energy Storage System) which sits atop the motor. An output shaft from the motor connects to a gearbox that sits in its own oil bath. The output pulley from this gearbox connects to the rear wheel via a drive belt on a 3:1 ratio. The amount of moving parts that need servicing is laughable. That RESS comes with a five year unlimited mileage warranty.
The motor is a revelation in every sense. Similar to the brushless motors we’re slowly getting our head around, the Revelation® is an Internal Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor. It’s an AC motor that in my currently limited understanding generates rotational power at the same rate as it is fed power. Until someone that understands more about this stuff can explain it to me in Happy Meal sized chunks, I’m going to say that this is, basically, a ‘Big Bang’ motor.
A cast aluminium chassis holds everything together, There’s a pretty LED Daymaker® headlight at one end and a floating rear wheel mounted LED taillight at the other. The proportions of the bike are perfect both on the side stand and with a rider onboard. The bikini fairing and pretend fuel tank look banging and give an aggressive feel that sits really well with the slightly forward bias stance the bike has. Harley has always made a point of the motor being a primary focus when it comes to looks and they’ve maintained that ethos perfectly with Livewire. Right about now I usually make a point of saying how subjective the looks of a bike are, and that my opinion in this respect is irrelevant. This time it’s different. I love the look of this bike, it looks like a 2019 update on the 2008 XR1200 and I like that. The skinny seat unit (which houses the charger cable) hangs perfectly, the relationship between headlight tip and fuel tank top is spot on. The whole design really grabs me.
The hardware in Livewire is top notch kit, as you would expect at this price point. A Bosch six axis IMU, Showa separate function big piston forks and Brembo radial mount brakes. I’ve spent years writing about how important quality parts like these are and my Livewire ride only reaffirmed this. Harley’s choice to go with the Michelin Scorcher tyres seems logical, if nothing else. It’s a capable tyre from shoulder to shoulder and in the 180/55/17 fitment looks suitably sporty on the lightweight looking rear wheel. Watch the full video review here and then carry on reading the review, they’re both important…
There are seven rider modes to choose from, four of which are pre programmed. Sport, Road, Rain and Range. They all speak perfectly for themselves. You can also build three of your own maps using a really intuitive slide bar system in the TFT screen. It’s very easy to use and even the hardiest of unleaded glugging oafs will be impressed at the accessibility and range of performance that can be tailored exactly how you want it.
Speaking of performance, if you’ve yet to experience EV acceleration, the next thing you read is important. Petrol power and torque acceleration doesn’t feel like electric power and torque acceleration. The only place they can be compared is in the pub. If internal combustion was a lady, she’d be wearing a flowing sexy dress, would have pretty hair and an attractive nature. EV power has a tattoo where her dad will never see and can roll a fag with one hand while she does hot things to you with her eyes. They do the same thing but they’re completely different and it’s not my fault if you think you like one more than the other.
Riding the Livewire is simple. The bar controls are the same as other Harleys, the only slight difference is you have to hold down the starter until you see two green lights flash on the dash. At that point the bike is live and will serve up every ounce of power and torque at a twist of the wrist. The initial take up is silky smooth. Genuinely, crystal clear, clean and crisp connectivity between right wrist and rear wheel gets things moving. I didn’t miss slipping a clutch and got into the groove pretty much straight away.
The riding position is great for town riding. Upright so that I can see over and around cars and with enough (but could do with a touch more) steering lock. We were in Portland, Oregon where I think you get both tased and shot for filtering, so I couldn’t really get a feel for making proper progress in town as I would normally do at home in London. I’m happy to stick my neck out and say that, thanks to the twist and go style of power delivery coupled with all that acceleration and the upright riding position, Livewire will make for an incredibly capable commuter.
I really liked the feel of the regeneration system on Livewire. When you roll the throttle closed, the bike feels like you’ve applied the brakes so you don’t need to. Not only does this contribute to the range of the bike but it also means that you’ll probably be able to leave the original brake pads that come with this bike to your grandkids in your will. Round town I didn’t use the brakes to stop for traffic lights at all, time it right and you can roll up to the solid white line and put a foot down without lifting a finger. I didn’t want to like it but did. I also really liked the haptic pulse that Harley has engineered into the motor. When you’re stationary and the motor is on, it pulses slightly as if to replicate a petrol engine on tick over. It’s entirely synthetic and I don’t expect everyone will like it, but it reminded me of a Playstation controller vibrating on the coffee table and it made me smile.
If you’re a city dweller and don’t care so much about riding out of town, trust me when I say that Livewire will be perfect for day to day riding. Unless you’re that guy that likes to make to make loads of noise. Livewire makes a sound, but it isn’t one that will have people turning round to see whats coming.
Once we’d made it out of downtown and into some twisties, the pace upped and I was forced to do some proper motorcycle journalism. I ignored the power train and just focused on the dynamic appeal of the whole bike. I was really surprised to find that the first thing I thought was that I wished I’d packed my weird strap on knee sliders. Livewire cuts some fine shapes. The cornering process is less cluttered than on a bike with a clutch and gears. You don’t unsettle the thing with gears and brakes on the way into a corner, you simply roll the gas and let the regen’ effect slow you down. Tipping in is like any other well set up bike, it turns in with no fuss at all and tracks on the line you’ve set it on. I found I was focussing on getting on the hob (like getting on the gas, but different) as early as possible. I also found that I was definitely smiling. Livewire is fun, who knew!
Apex to exit acceleration is strong, it picks up and zaps you off corners with real punch in any corner up to about 80mph. No head shake, no lag and no fuss. Granted, there’s no noise that you’re used to either but by now I’d already realised that sound isn’t the only reason I like bikes, so the fact that noise as we know it is missing on Livewire shouldn’t be the only reason not to like this one either. We upped the pace until I’d found my limit, I’m sure I could tweak the suspension a bit to find a bit more, but as it was I was going plenty fast enough to get a fix of speed and I could quite happily have ridden the route we were on all day. I made a point of turning the regen’ effect down on the dash so that I had to use the brakes just to see what would happen. In this scenario, the Livewire delivered again, completely outperforming the Zero SR I road tested a few years ago. Where the Zero had enough pace to get me going, it tied itself in knots on the way into corners thanks to suspension and a chassis that couldn’t cope with the mass of the bike. Where the Zero wanted to stand up and push me wide on the way in, Livewire was composed, kept its head down and dived for the inside of the corner like I wanted it to. Fair play to the chassis team at Harley, this is easily the best handling and most composed Harley that I’ve ever ridden.
Naturally I turned the traction control off and tried to wheelie the Livewire. It wasn’t pretty as I didn’t have much time to play about. Also I had jet lag, my hair was in my eyes and I think one of my socks was twisted. On my third or fourth attempt I nearly looped the thing. No clutch to slip meant an old school roll and snap method on the throttle, plus a dab on the rear brake and a yank on the bars for good measure. Not knowing how it would respond due to the power and torque delivery meant that when I found the sweet spot, I found it way quicker than I usually do. Livewire added a full ten mph from the front wheel leaving the ground to the point where I snapped the throttle closed and felt the need to call my mum for a catch up. It will wheelie though, if you gave me ten minutes in a quiet corner I’d be away. A word of warning to fellow wheelie nuggets, it comes up fast and it comes up angry, so buyer beware…
After a six or seven hours, we’d ticked all of the testing boxes available to us. We didn’t get the chance to sit on a motorway. Range was a constant and lingering question. I’d been keeping an eye on the easy to read display and it was pretty much as Harley predicted. I’d done just on ninety miles by the end of the day and the dash said I would need to plug in within seven miles. I don’t know what kind of riding you do, but I know the kind of riding I do most of the time would cause me no worries at all in terms of range. A stage one plug in my garage and one at the office would mean that I’d never run out. I also think that I could plug in between sessions at a Brands Hatch track day and enjoy every session. Naturally longer trips would take some planning, but the App that Harley has created that shows where the fast charger points are will help with that (and loads of other useful stuff). In short, range anxiety wouldn’t prevent me from wanting to ride one of these.
The price might, at £28,995 it’s the opposite of cheap. The good stuff always is though and this is definitely the good stuff. Who knows if the price will come down as more people want to buy them. That’s what usually happens with new technology when it comes to phones and computers and that, but I know the bike industry and if Harley can prove that there’s a big enough market to sell to at this price point, I think they’d be reluctant to reduce the price in order to sell more units.
Livewire has a doubly hard job on its hands. Not only does it need to convince non Harley fans that its a great Harley, it also has to convince non EV fans that it’s a very good bike indeed. It does both of those things way better than I expected. If this bike had a blue and white paint job and the word Suzuki written on the tank, it’d have a much easier ride out there in the real world. It doesn’t, though and I can’t help but feel real admiration for Harley for jumping in at the deep end while all the other mainstream manufacturers are still in the changing rooms worrying about who can see them getting changed.
You could sit back and laugh at Livewire because it makes a funny noise. You could also scoff at the price. One thing you can’t do is say that it’s a bad motorbike because of just those two things, because they don’t detract from the overall experience in anyway at all. Not to me anyway. The Harley Davidson Livewire is the benchmark for EV motorcycling and if it does nothing other than show other manufacturers the art of what’s possible with an open mind, it’ll still be a success. As with all of my reviews, a test ride will help you form your own opinion. You’ll enjoy it, don’t say I didn’t warn you…