I was lucky enough to be invited along to the Australian press launch of the 2020 Harley Davidson Livewire, the company’s first official foray into pure electric motorcycles. Yes, I am a very lucky sod.
Upon arriving at the Sydney HQ of the 117-year-old motorcycle manufacturer, I was immediately struck by two things. First, it was the gleaming fleet of twelve brand new Livewires fully charged and ready to go. Life doesn’t get much better for weirdos like me.
Secondly, it occurred to me that these twelve bikes alone had bolstered the total fleet of road registered 100% electric motorcycles in Australia by around 10%. This issue alone makes me want to celebrate and support Harley Davidson because it is the first leap forward in years.
The kind folks at Harley Davidson generously handed me a classic modern looking gloss black Livewire and gave us an intro. “We’re going to start you all in a lower power mode and work up from there throughout the day” they said to a collective groan. However, based on the instant experimentation by virtually every rider, I’m pretty confident those who hadn’t ridden electric before all breathed a quite sigh of relief and were too busy grinning wildly to care.
We spent glorious day riding around Sydney from Lane Cove to Brighton Le Sands then on to Cronulla, Kurnell and back across town with plenty of stops for waiting photographers and some refreshments along the way.
The Electric Motorcycle Market in Australia
Electric motorcycles are a niche product in a niche market (EV’s) and the Livewire has been deliberately designed to create yet another niche – the super-premium electric sports cruiser motorcycle.
At just under $50,000 the company does not expect it to be mass market product. What it does expect, based on feedback and deposits placed so far, is that it will appeal to enough buyers to kick off the next evolution of its motorcycle history in a similar way to early and equally expensive Tesla’s, for example and will be followed by a wider range.
If you are trying to compare its price and value to electric cars, you are missing the point. Stop it.
If you are trying to compare to other premium motorcycles, you are getting much closer.
As bizarre as it might seem to non-motorcyclists there is a market for premium motorcycles in Australia. Along with Harley Davidson, MV August, Ducati, Aprilia, Indian, BMW and even Brough Superior all list models at or close to $50,000 and quite a few way higher than that.
Although official statistics aren’t publicly available, I’d take a guess based on other model sales that this segment might be a few hundred bikes each year at best in Australia. But it’s a very nice market if you can get to it.
Premium motorcycle buyers are clearly driven to purchase with 99% passion and 1% logic. They are driven by a combination of exclusivity, brand loyalty, performance, nostalgia, and technological features with a heavy note of thrill seeker built in.
When you think about the offer like this, it looks eminently logical, is absolutely the very latest technology and is a long way from the most expensive option if you are that type of buyer.
They will sell.
So what about existing electric motorcycle owners like me?
Our hardy gang of around 100-150 local owners are almost exclusively early adopter motorcyclists. We are hyped by the tech and excited by the performance. We are prepared to take the substantial risk that we could be left stranded with Zero support after purchasing our bikes at a substantial premium after a relatively short time.
I can think of a handful of mates who can or would by the Livewire. We all absolutely want one and the promise of better than Zero service from such an established brand is worth something – but is it worth $20,000 to us? Maybe a lucky few.
Along with some of the other potential buyers we are well researched and know that around the world there are some extremely potent competitors who can offer a mix of better power, better range and a variety of styles for less money.
The Zero SRF and Italian Energica are right at the top of that pack in terms of volume and affordability plus there is a good mix of exotics, a few unicorns (Lightning) and a growing range of off roaders and entry level Chinese made bikes.
But here’s the catch mate.
Right now, in Australia you only have one choice for a gorgeous, stump pulling all new electric motorcycle because the Livewire is the only one available. So, start saving.
Yes, it is – without a shadow of a doubt – fully sick.
In terms of key specification, the Livewire will do 0-100km in 3 seconds and has a top speed just under 180kmh, which I absolutely did not test.
In sport mode, punch the throttle and you are rewarded with stunning acceleration that none of my peers had anything but praise for. If you pin the throttle and blink the next corner will be in front of you and you’ll be relying on regeneration and twin disks to get sensible. Trust me.
As I had hoped, the throttle control is outstanding and almost without exception better than any petrol bike can deliver, due to its fully programmable, digital and virtually direct nature. You have at your disposal virtually any combination of throttle response you could dream up for any riding condition – which is really, really important on a motorcycle.
It has a 15.5kWh (nom) 13.6kWEh usable battery pack using Samsung SDI pouch cells, which are good for a claimed 235km of city range or 152km of highway range. Based on my personal experience with an 11kWh pack, I’d say that they are pretty realistic expectations.
The bike has excellent handling and braking thanks to a sporty stance, great tyres, high end Showa fully adjustable suspension and the obligatory Brembo brakes. I deliberately put the Livewire through potholes, rough curbs, gravel and speed humps and it handled it all beautifully. You will love punting this bike fast along winding mountain roads.
Although it’s on the heavy side at 251kg, it doesn’t feel like it and is genuinely quite nimble for a larger bike. One of the benefits of electric motorcycles is the weight distribution is more flexible, they typically carry their weight down very low and of course they have no centrifugal mass to overcome when turning.
The Livewire is bristling with tech as you would expect and has an excellent display and control system. During our ride I loved having access to a wide variety of information even without my phone being synched up which prevented full Bluetooth integration and GPS functions through my helmet.
All the standard info is there plus some preferences, four standard ride modes, three customisable ride modes and access to a bunch of rider aids like stability control, anti-slip, ABS etc. As an experienced electric motorcycle owner, I loved this control and functionality and the combination of handlebar and glove-touch dash control system was brilliant.
During one of our photo-shoots we did multiple laps under the harbour bridge looping back past photographers. I’d been on the bike all day and was feeling very comfortable and at home so within the speed limits I was starting to play around more.
On one loop as I exited a round-about and was still cranked over when I nailed it and got a delicious little rear wheel drift before my brain connected to my wrist and the bike settled nicely. So naturally on the next lap, I tried again. This time some of the rider aids kicked in and connected my brain to my wrist by settling the bike down for me. Nice!
You’ll just have to take my word for it that if you ride bikes and feel comfortable unleashing 105 horses with 116NM of torque in a linear line with no gear changes, you will like this very much. It is addictively fun and oh so simple.
The motor is a permanent magnet, liquid cooled AC motor which uniquely drives through a bevel gear arrangement to drive the beefy belt and create a bit of noise. The motor controller is also liquid cooled so two of the primary heat affected components are managed nicely with a single small radiator.
The 254VDC nominal battery is air cooled through quite a stylish die cast battery pack housing and some air vents. It will be interesting to see how this performs because I know some other electric motorcycles suffer from “thermal mass build up” inside packs that are being worked hard; once they heat up they can take along time to cool down.
While we are talking battery I was lucky enough to see under the bodywork and notably the battery pack housing is actually a fully stressed part of the chassis. There are two die cast frame rails that bolt on to protect it and add some rigidity; an interesting design choice compared to most other names.
On board there is a 1.4kW charger for Level 1 charging. Most manufacturers stick to this sort of power level largely to avoid blowing household fuses I suspect, but to me, it’s too small for all important “convenience charging at a decent speed” and should be at least double if not triple that size and easily limited through the dash to avoid nuisance tripping.
Having said this, it does have Level 3 DC fast charging capability through a stylish petrol cap replacing CCS port on the faux tank so if you can find one like the DELTA unit at HQ, you can smash it with up to 20kW, thank you very much.
It was pretty cool watching the team queuing up with the fleet after our day long city ride and filling them back up to 80% in literally 15 or 20 minutes.
I could keep going but I’m drowning you in words already. I hope to have a video up soon, a podcast not long after including an interview with one of the team and you can read more from the official PowerPoint presentation here.
In my pre-ride post, I said : “I want to see how the thing is put together in terms build quality. Does it exude craftmanship and quality? Does it look great?”
The answer is yes. Bystanders gawked at us. Without much exception everyone agreed it was handsome, a nice blend of Harley and modern styling and you wouldn’t pick anything that didn’t look like decent quality. It looks fast and material. It does feature a few plastic panels here and there but in true Harley style a generous bunch of bling and accessories are available.
And I asked “Can I work on it? Is it put together in a way that makes things accessible and straightforward? How will HD support me if I’m an owner?”
I guess it might be possible, but I get several major clues to the fact that that wasn’t their focus and it has some complexities. The service intervals are the same as a standard hog (roughly annual) although they highlighted the cost will be lower due to simplicity. However, I think that’s ok because if I find $50k to own one, then I can find a few bucks to let HD do all the work too.
I asked “what it feels like, especially compared to my previous electric motorcycles. Does it deliver the power well? Is it faster or slower? Can I play around a bit with power delivery to suit different moods? Does it handle well?”
This is a resounding yes. It felt sophisticated, had a great ride feel and felt like quality gear. I can tweak it plenty and it handled really nicely to me. It’s almost two seconds quicker than my six year old electric, delivered the power down lower and felt substantially faster overall.
Does it go like stink? Did I get off feeling exhilarated and wanting one?
Yes, yes, and yes.
It’s not for everyone, but if you are in the buyer demographic get down to an approved HD dealer and get a test ride and a fresh grin.