The electric motorcycle gods are clearly trying to tell me something.
In late June I got a text message from The Driven editor Giles Parkinson saying: “Hey, ring me, you’ll like this”. I called back and spontaneously joked “let me guess – Harley Davidson want to give me a Livewire”.
It was a good guess. Am electric Livewire was available for a two-week test and review. Even before the conversation was over, I was on my way to Harley HQ, helmet at the ready. And so began my lucky streak.
Owing to lockdown in Sydney, the loan period has been extended three times already and at this stage it looks like I will have had the pleasure of pseudo-ownership for close to two months, or more. You can read all the specifications and my first impressions here in my story from the launch event, but what’s it like to live with a Livewire?
Well, let’s just say I am seriously considering how to buy one. I am smitten.
Lockdown has of course severely restricted my ability to do long trips, but I am fortunate to live on the northern beaches of Sydney with some fantastic motorcycling roads nearby.
I can also tell you that if you map out the kilometres on every single street in a 10km radius, you can do literally hundreds of kilometres every day without breaking any rules.
Over the last two months, from before and during the lockdown, I have averaged a fair few kilometres, including a couple of freeway stints, school drop offs (when they were still attending), shopping, commuting, some joy rides, wet rides, and night rides. I’ve deliberately taken horrible roads and spent up to two hours in the saddle.
With its 15.5kWh battery and a claimed 235km city range (150km highway) the Livewire is perfectly suited to what I’ve been able to do. It’s almost silent running means I don’t annoy anyone or attract attention in built up areas.
It struck me during a night ride that I really don’t give the traditional sound (or lack of it) a second thought anymore – I just do not miss it at all. My brain has adapted completely to the fact that noise does not equal speed or power or fun, and it is utterly superfluous to me now.
Comparisons are always dangerous and vexed, but as you all may know I own a 2014 Zero DS and everyone asks me “how does it compare?”. My Zero is not standard anymore (!) and it 7 years old, but based on standard specifications here’s how they compare.
The short version is the 0-100kmh time is about half what my bike delivers, at 3 seconds v 5.7 seconds), despite being 41% heavier (251kg v 168kg). Think about that. It has more than twice the power (78kW v 39kW) and the torque is 25% better at 166Nm v 92Nm.
Overall, the power per kg is 42% better (0.31kW/kg v 0.22kW/kg) although the torque per kg is about 10% lower on paper at 46Nm/kg v 52Nm/kg. The onboard charger is almost identical in power (1.4kW) but the Livewire can do DC fast charging.
Ultimately, specifications don’t tell the whole story though because the way the Livewire delivers power and torque through a more sophisticated control system is way better than the specs would suggest.
Critically, it is the combination of power and torque combined with a more sophisticated system that makes me a little sad when I ride my Zero now and endlessly scheming about how to own the Livewire.
Is it a nice bike?
Universally, everyone is impressed with how the Livewire looks. It’s muscular but slim. It’s modern but recognisable and slightly brutal. The finish, features and fittings, and electronic touch screen interface are all top shelf and you can tell they spent a lot of time and effort to get it all just right.
The Livewire has a sports tourer/cruiser feel to ride. A relatively low seat height and decently wide handlebars combined with rearward biased foot pegs definitely feel sporty but very comfortable. The bike feels good just cruising, but also felt great being treated like a sports bike.
Its substantial weight is barely noticeable once you are moving because like all electric motorcycles it has no inertia to overcome and it’s carried very low in the chassis. It feels incredibly planted and sure footed.
It’s pretty minimalist and doesn’t have any storage space as standard but there are plenty of aftermarket options to solve this and its design intent is clearly as a commuter and weekend plaything, rather than long range tourer (although one guy just rode 4,530km east to west across the US on one!).
The launch power of the Livewire is its most redeeming feature. 0-100km in 3 seconds is very, very fast and the lack of gear changing makes it addictively easy, seamless and smooth.
Predictably, the first week or so was spent conducting repeated controlled experiments to confirm these claims were true, purely in the interest of science and journalistic integrity of course.
As the weeks have passed, this most redeeming feature simply means if I need the torque, it’s there; at traffic lights or punching hard out of a tight uphill bend is just deliriously fun.
The second week was spent playing around with the seven different ride modes including three programable ones to discover how I could change the characteristics of the power.
I pretty quickly settled an “maximum everything” and now rarely change from this setting. My favourite setting includes 100% regeneration and has revealed a wonderful characteristic I hadn’t experienced before on other electric motorcycle with far less aggressive regen. Much like the “single pedal” driving many EVs have, I’ve become totally enthralled with “single control”.
The braking power of the regen on the Livewire is really strong and impressively progressive, allowing the rider to precisely modulate the throttle. Coming into a tight hairpin bend at speed?
Gently wash off speed by backing off a smidge as you approach, then at the perfect moment snap the throttle closed and its akin to a strong braking feel.
Then, mid corner start opening it up to settle the bike and adjust the attitude and pin it for a seamless transition back to full power without even touching the brake lever.
Once you’ve adapted to this, you can ride remarkably quickly and I absolutely love how amazingly smooth and progressive it is. As back up of course, you have twin four pot radial mounted Brembo’s on the front to save your bacon if needed. Bacon was saved.
In the third week I changed to “everyday duties”. I ferried my excited thirteen year old around a bit and we were both pleasantly surprised with how comfortable and roomy the small looking seat is. I can also confirm that the small lip on the back of the seat does a surprisingly plumb job of preventing unsuspecting passengers sliding off the back when you double check your “scientific experiments” with a pillion.
I also took the opportunity to test the bike in the worst winter weather Sydney could dish up. It did throw a fair bit of detritus but I looked cool, despite the skid mark up my wet weather gear. This was also a great opportunity to enable the traction control system which like most modern bikes is pretty advanced and does a whole lotta stuff.
Predictably perhaps, only a couple of kilometres from home with the sides of my tyres not warmed up enough and a little too much throttle, I induced a “moment” exiting a corner and proving nicely what 250kg feels like stepping a foot or sideways.
By the time my instincts threw my foot out ready to catch my fall, the traction control muscled the bike back into line and more bacon was saved.
I grinned, breathed a sigh of relief and repeated to myself three times “you are not 21, you are not 21, you are not 21 ….” Big, buck saving tick.
I also managed a 70km freeway test before lockdown which showed off the true HD heritage. The bike felt planted and really at home just punching along at 110kmh and the battery gauge re-assuringly did not plummet quickly. The weight meant that big trucks didn’t blow me around and I started fantasising about a Dennis Hopper style Easy Rider road trip, 2021 style.
Unlike Dennis Hopper, I engaged the sophisticated, licence saving cruise control system and used the handlebar mounted bluetooth control toggle switch to soothe my soul with some tunes, in between gloating to buddies with voice activated phone calls and taking in ear navigation signals. Personally, I love the sophistication and convenience.
One of the most challenging issues on electric motorcycles is the lack of real estate and weight penalty of fitting larger batteries, which limits range. I have been pondering and experimenting with this issue for years on my own bike and had a detailed chat with Sam Baker on another episode about the issue here.
Today’s electric motorcycles are in most cases limited to around 15-20kWh providing around 150-250km of highway range. That’s almost acceptable as long as you don’t have to sit around for 8 hours at fuel stops.
Historically, adding ever bigger on-board chargers has been the best weight/charge time compromise for lower voltage bikes, but the Livewire has the crucial advantage of being High Voltage, allowing access to DC fast charging and avoiding the need for chargers to be lugged around.
To my mind, this is at the core of things to consider when looking at an electric motorcycle that has better real world mile eating potential – and DCFC makes the most sense.
However, as I discovered, the lack of DCFC infrastructure in Australia remains the primary challenge.
I can’t comfortably ride directly north or south of Sydney on a Livewire because the closest chargers are just outside my range.
I was able to map out an 896km loop west to Orange then down through Cowra and Young, looping back home via Goulburn with a total of ten charge stops which I reckon would be easily done if every charger was working and I had access.
Were it not for Lockdown, I would absolutely attempt but you’ll just have to trust me that it looks achievable and I’m game.
One other subtle but important sign of improvement and embedded sophistication was when I had an error. On one occasion I came down to the shed for a ride (having noted on my Solar Analytics app that charging was complete) and discovered a nasty looking flashing red light.
The bike worked and I had another great ride but the ride modes were locked out and several dash functions didn’t seem to be working.
On my return I dug into the comprehensive touch screen menu’s, found a setting that said “clear cache”, did it and everything is now perfect again. On most other electric motorcycles I’ve experienced, these types of minor software errors can cascade into major issues, but Livewire have thought this through well and I solved it without a support call. Nice.
I’ve already rambled on but its worth finally noting just a few of the other small but nice details the Livewire features. A proximity key lives in your pocket (no ignition switch) and auto arms a theft and movement prevention system when you walk away.
Theres a decent app. It has a liquid cooled controller and air-cooled battery, which is a fully stressed member forming an integral part of the chassis.
Lastly, for the purists, the Livewire has a “haptic pulse” which creates a kind of heartbeat when the bike is enabled and felt through the seat similar to the engine pulse you would feel from an ICE bike. I can’t decide if its freaky and weird or a reassuring feeling through my groin, to be honest.
My 17 year old, 6’2 son/aka pillion tester noticed it and proclaimed it “cool”, which is more words than I’ve got in a week, so he was clearly extremely impressed.
How I’m trying to convince my wife to let me buy one
Undoubtedly, the brand strength and intrinsic faith I have that Harley would support this machine well is the primary motivator for me. It’s new tech, things will happen and when you need that support you want it guaranteed, let’s not take risks, honey.
It is an extremely cool looking bike, even by your own admission, dripping with style and represents the absolute premium of electric motorcycle technology available today. Let’s not do this by halves, eh?.
Traction control, ABS, huge rubber contact patch and super high quality suspension and brakes all add to a safer riding experience. You do want me to be safe, don’t you?
As the first generation it’s already collectable and now HD have spun off Livewire as a sub brand, it is already potentially the first and last Harley Davidson branded Livewire. Think of the value appreciation of such a collectable bike!
As much as I love my own bike really, a 7-year-old electric motorcycle is like vintage if we’re honest and lacks DC fast charging. It’s served us well and it’s the perfect time to sell it, given its recent rebuild and overhaul. Let’s flip and upgrade at this ideal time!
I’ll let you know how that goes.