Harley-Davidson LiveWire Review: More Than a Gimmick
The Harley-Davidson LiveWire received a lot of hype when it was released back in 2019. Not only was it the first properly sorted electric motorcycle, but it also had the paradoxical surprise of being released from arguably the most traditional motorcycle manufacturer in the world.
Plenty of reviews got bogged down with its price, but being first to market, we’re not really sure what people were expecting. Then came the range anxiety cliche, with the accompanying planned photo of the bike running out of juice on a dusty track. Of course, both of these factors are valid, but we feel many just clung to these dot points and relegated the LiveWire as a marketing gimmick, rather than a usable motorcycle.
Rather than going down the path of chicken little, we thought it would be a great opportunity to take advantage of the settled dust and see what it’s really like living with one of Harley-Davidson’s most controversial releases.
In case you missed it, the Livewire is an all-singing, all-dancing, fully electric motorcycle. In term’s of riding position and performance, you’d put it in the same family as a sports-naked, but with a slab of batteries between your legs.
Range and Charging
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room, range and charging. Harley Davidson claims a city riding range of at least 235km, but we were falling a little short of that because of some regular squirts of the throttle (approximately 200km). You can ride the LiveWire a lot more sensibly and subdued, but because you have so much instant torque on tap, you get strangely addicted to stealthy bursts from intersection to intersection. Realistically, if your daily commute is over 150km and features large sections of highway/motorway, the LiveWire probably won’t be a pragmatic motorcycle for you.
Of course, the useable range is heavily affected by your daily charging options. The 15.5 kWh Rechargeable Energy Storage System (aka Battery), can be fast-charged 0-80% in 40 minutes or 0-100% in 60 minutes. Now, if you’re one of many people that wouldn’t have access to a fast charger, a traditional 240v wall plug will have you sorted in around 11 hours (we charged it overnight).
Now, there are plenty of other charging hacks out there you can utilise. We took advantage of a sustainable start-up, Jolt, which has started rolling out some fast-charging stations around Sydney and Adelaide. Because their chargers are subsidised by advertising, you get the first 7kWh for free every day. Now, it doesn’t take Will Hunting to work out that if your daily ride took you past a Jolt charger, you can (and we did) fill your battery very quickly, free of charge.
Once you’ve got that battery meter looking healthy, you can start to appreciate the LiveWire for what it can do. Ergonomically, you get a riding position that’s upright enough for commuter comfort but forward enough that you can tuck in with confidence. The controls are mid-mounted for usability and with a seat height of 780 mm, we found coming to a standstill nice and sure-footed.
The real party piece of the LiveWire, however, is that Revelation electric motor. The 105 hp (78Kw) magnetic turbine is just so effortlessly quick, it’s almost scary. The package itself weighs a hefty 251 kg but due to the electric motor being mounted below the battery, the centre of gravity is so impressively grounded that the bike feels half its weight. Lane filtering can feel a little eerie at times as you’re almost silent to motorists, so we’d recommend dressing a little more visibly for some peace of mind, but that’s our only real (quiet) gripe with the powertrain. Having 116Nm of torque instantly available on a motorcycle is something that has to be experienced to be truly appreciated. You basically slingshot from corner to corner, silently chewing up the tarmac with a silly grin plastered all over your face.
You can, of course, push the LiveWire on more spirited roads, but you need to change the way you ride compared to internal combustion sports bikes. You still get some familiarity through the chassis with 45 degrees of lean angle, some Michelin sports tyres, and a fully adjustable system from Showa, but due to the regenerative braking of the electric motor, you find yourself riding in a smoother, sweeping fashion. Brembo monoblocs do an excellent job of adding some traditional braking force when required, and even though the stock suspension settings are well suited for sport riding, we’d recommend some softer tuning for commuter travel.
The 4.3-inch touchscreen display is customisable in basically every way you need it to be and is mostly very intuitive to operate. Functions such as speed, range, navigation and even music selection can be front and centre depending on your preferences.
The screen is also quite handy when customising the rider modes which affect attributes such as power delivery, throttle response, regenerative braking, defensive rider system interventions, and traction control settings. The only real electronic issue we had was having the left and right indicators at opposite ends of the handlebars, however, this is something you would get used to over time.
So, as we pass two years since the LiveWire was released, is it still a relevant motorcycle, and who is best suited for it?
In terms of relevance, its build quality and quality of kit still place the LiveWire at the top of the Electric Motorcycle food chain. There are still plenty of more affordable electric two-wheel offerings on the market, but most of them still feel a little ‘prototypey’. Harley Davidson has thrown a lot of R&D dollars at this project and that shows in the quality of the product. The chassis is well sorted, the Showa and Brembo pieces are exquisite, and the electronics are surprisingly faultless at managing such a fresh system.
Determining what the LiveWire customer looks like is a little more difficult. If you softened up the Showa’s a little and your route to work was short enough, it would make an almost perfect commuter. Or even if you had access to free electricity and did a lot of km’s, it starts to make a little more economic sense.
You’ll always get those people that just love trying a new piece of kit out of curiosity, or even riders that love the attention or a conversation starter (and believe us, the LiveWire still gets plenty of engagement from all walks of life), but truth be told, it’s just a very practical, progressive, fun, fast, environmentally-conscious motorcycle, and it will be the benchmark for plenty of manufacturers brave enough to dip a toe in this space.
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