telling the average Harley-Davidson or American V-twin enthusiast a few years
ago that not only would the Motor Company produce and sell a naked sportbike in
2020—certainly not an outrageous concept—but that it would be an all-electric
That last bit
would have not only raised an eyebrow or two among the faithful, it would have
likely burned a few clean off their respective foreheads simply from the heated
blowback of the responses. Just about any Motor Company fan will tell you: Harley-Davidsons
and electric-power EVs just weren’t meant to be talked about in the same
But as we all
know, that’s exactly what’s happened. Harley-Davidson has not only built a
naked sportbike that’s sleek, futuristic and sexy, with wide wheels, sticky
tires, sporty suspension and a lean-forward riding position, but one that’s electrically
powered, with not a molecule of internal combustion waste emanating from its
non-existent exhaust system.
It’s a simple
truth: Harley-Davidson can’t continue to exist solely by selling Big Twins to
aging baby boomers who, in a decade or so, will be mostly out of motorcycling.
Like the rest of the motorcycle industry, Harley needs new blood and new
markets, and feels very strongly that a line of electric two-wheelers led by
the high-end and high-price ($29,795) LiveWire is a prime way to reach them and
“It’s a bold
goal, helping encourage and develop the next generation of riders,”
Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich told me over breakfast at the launch, “but we
think we’re on the right track with the LiveWire, our future electric
offerings, and our More Roads To Harley-Davidson efforts. Motorcyclists know
that nothing is more spectacular than two-wheeled travel, right? Spreading that
word among a more general population, and building riders in addition to
building great motorcycles…well, that seems like a pretty strong concept to us.
he continued, “we are not limiting in any way our emphasis on traditional
Harleys; if anything, we’re more energized than ever about Sportsters and
Softails and baggers and the like. But we do need to branch out, and see
electrification as a key avenue there. We very much intend to lead the way in
the electrification of the sport.”
the way means introducing the world’s most advanced electrically powered
motorcycle, then Milwaukee has very clearly put its money where its mouth is. I
was only able to get a few hours on a LiveWire during the July launch, but thanks
to a thorough tech briefing, and following that a morning and afternoon ride
around town and on some of the faster roads in the hills surrounding Portland,
Oregon, I got a pretty good idea of what it is and how it works.
First off, there’s a lot of tech here. Leading the list is an all-new electric motor that’s liquid-cooled, offers 105 horsepower (78 kW) and 86 lb-ft of torque, and produces 100 percent of that torque the instant the throttle is turned. It gets its power from a 15.5 kWh battery that offers, according to H-D, a range of 146 miles in the city and 95 miles of combined stop-and-go and highway riding. Level 1 plug-in charging (e.g., at home or work) takes 12.5 hours for a full charge via an included charger cable. Since the bike has an SAE Combo CCS connector like many American and European electric cars, it can also be charged at thousands of Level 2 stations around the country (but at Level 1 speed). Approximately 150 Harley dealers nationwide (with more to come over time) will also offer fast Level 3 one-hour charging and two full years of free charges.
The LiveWire also has ABS and traction control, a 4.3-inch color TFT touchscreen display centered just above the handlebar, seven selectable Ride Modes (Sport, Road, Range and Rain, plus three customizable modes) and HD Connect, which links owners to their motorcycles (free initially, then for a monthly fee) and offers tons of status and service information via a smartphone using the Harley-Davidson app.
Climb aboard and you’re
immediately struck by the riding position, which is more Ducati Monster or Suzuki
GSX-S than Sportster or Softail. Its ergos invite a slight forward lean, with
semi-rearset pegs, a mildly upward-bent handlebar and scooped seat locking you
into position—the reason for which will become apparent soon enough. It all
feels reasonably normal…right until you push the starter. The color info-screen
lets you know that things are ready to roll with a green light, but in place of
a chugga-chugga/potato-potato rumble you have silence (though the battery and motor give off a little “buurp” of movement
to let you know the bike is alive and running). Give the throttle a little twist and you’re off, the bike
moving forward smoothly and predictably to your right wrist’s commands.
In stop-and-go traffic I
found the LiveWire super easy to ride, which says a lot about the refinement
that’s been baked into it during eight years of development. Throttle response
at slower speeds was immediate, linear and controllable, the bike demonstrating
no lurching or driveline lash whatsoever. Steering was light and precise, and the
brakes crisp and predictable, both of which helped the LW feel considerably lighter
than its 540-plus pound wet weight might suggest.
Other than a low whine
under acceleration the LiveWire is totally quiet, eerily smooth and almost
completely unobtrusive in an aural and vibrational sense. The Harley folks call
this “Minimal NVH,” which means minimal noise, vibration and harshness.
Accelerating away from a light or tearing down a side street you find yourself
listening to wind noise and the tires slapping against the asphalt. It’s an entirely
new experience, and one that proved compelling all day long.
You’ll get that same feeling
when you ride the LiveWire hard and fast, too. I immediately found myself
running through turns faster, looking for pavement irregularities to hit while
leaned over to see how the chassis behaved, and then hammering the throttle at
the exit, trying—in vain, for the most part—to find what I figured would be mid-level
traction, suspension and handling limits. I didn’t find much of that at all,
which tells me that all the bluster I’d heard at the tech briefing about
chassis and engine refinement, optimized frame geometry, suspension quality and
power delivery wasn’t bluster at all. The thing is shockingly fast, amazingly
smooth, easy to get used to and ride quickly, forgiving and, most of all, big fun.
Nitpicks are few and far
between, unless you’re talking seat-to-peg distance, which for my multi-surgery
knees is a little tight. Suspension settings, which worked well for my XXL-sized
butt, are probably too firm for average humans in terms of spring rate and
compression. The bar could use a little more pullback and maybe an inch or two extra
in height, and the seat seemed a little thin on padding.
The larger questions, of
course, involve range and price. The first isn’t going to be quite enough for a
lot of folks, and the latter is likely to be too much. That’s just the way
things stand at this point in EV development. You’re either on board and
willing to accept the trade-offs for the bennies, or you’re a skeptic.
But EVs are coming,
like it or not, and despite one’s perspective on price and range, the LiveWire is
a superbly designed, compellingly competent, seriously fun and
fascinating-to-ride motorcycle…a Halo bike that should represent
Harley-Davidson well as it moves into the EV space in the coming years with a
wide range of electric two-wheelers, from mid-range EVs to mountain bikes to
kids bikes and lots more.
So while that futuristic fortuneteller
might have seemed pretty crazy a few years back, this time he was absolutely
Author Mitch Boehm is the Editor of Rider’s
sister publication Thunder Press and
a former Editor of Motorcyclist
2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Specs
Base Price: $29,795
Motor Type: Revelation internal permanent magnet synchronous motor w/ water jacket cooling
Battery: 15.5 kWh lithium-ion
Transmission: Single speed w/ spiral bevel gear primary
Final Drive: Belt
Wheelbase: 58.7 in.
Rake/Trail: 24.5 degrees/4.3 in.
Suspension, Front: Showa 43mm inverted SFF-BP fork, fully adj. w/ 4.5-in. travel
Rear: Showa BFRC-lite shock, fully adj. w/ 4.5-in. travel
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Seat Height: 30.0 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 549 lbs.
Claimed Range: 146 mi. city, 95 mi. combined stop-and-go/highway