Road Test

Harley-Davidson LiveWire (2020) review

There are few motorcycles of the modern age that have divided opinion quite like the Harley-Davidson LiveWire, we went along for a ride on it to see what the fuss was about

Probably the most complete electric motorcycle available

HARLEY-DAVIDSON’S LiveWire is the biggest departure from tradition for the Milwaukee factory since it’s doors first opened back in 1903. The machine is one piece of the puzzle, that H-D top brass hope will help to attract a younger kind of biker to the American icon’s dealerships.

Harley-Davidson LiveWire video review

But electric bikes are tricky things to get right; add to much range and the handling can become compromised, make it too sporty and it’ll only go 30-miles between charges. Know, it’d be easy to assume that because of Harley-Davidson’s background in the ‘look-at-me’ world of cruisers and custom bikes, they’d be the last company qualified enough to get a bike like this right. But you’d be very wrong, and here’s why.

Harley-Davidson LiveWire overview

So, what is LiveWire? It’s a naked bike proportionally about the size of a Kawasaki Z900 or Yamaha MT09. It’s a ground-up new build, with zero parts crossover to any other H-D model. It uses the company’s own motor, inhouse developed batteries and electronics. The brakes and suspension are courtesy of Brembo and Showa respectively but other than that, she’s all American! The machine was officially launched back in October and there are LiveWires starting to drip down into dealerships.

Harley-Davidson LiveWire price

As with any electric motorcycle, there are generally three main talking points; range, recharge time and price, and LiveWire is no different. For many, the stumbling block is the price, all this new world tech and parts made from unobtanium come at a price. And then you have to consider that this is a very premium product, especially when compared with some other electric offerings currently available.

So, to land a LiveWire in your garage will cost you £28,995. That’s a fairly hefty chunk of most people’s salary, and quite possibly more than most folk earn in a year. And simply put, if it is, then this bike isn’t the one for you. The owner that Harley-Davidson has in the crosshairs for this bike is the person who already owns two or three other H-D badged bikes already. The kind of rider who’s looking for something different but not from outside the fold of their cherished dealership.

Harley-Davidson LiveWire motor, battery, and electronics

That’s right, motor, it’s not an engine! But it is a fine-looking bit of kit, as any H-D engine (sorry motor) should be! It’s called the Harley-Davidson Revelation and is a permanent magnet electric motor. It’s the silver part that looks a bit like a supercharger and is mounted under the engine!

It produces around 105hp and a monstrous 116Nm (85.5ft-lbs) of torque. All of that coming in from the first millimetre of twisting the throttle. Feeding the electrons to the motor is what Harley-Davidson calls the RESS (and please don’t call it a battery in front of an H-D staff member!), which stands for Rechargeable Energy Storage System.

Suspension and brakes

As mentioned in the overview above, the suspension on this cool looking naked is supplied by the team at Showa and comes in the form of SF BPF and a Balance Free shock at the rear. Full adjustability is available although on factory settings the whole setup was perfectly good, with no single area giving me cause for concern.

Around town, the bike soaked up bumps and potholes well and wasn’t jarring or crashy in the way that some electric bikes can be. The route many companies take to getting around their bike’s weight is to tighten the machine up like a snare drum and hope for the best. LiveWire felt different. I’d never call it plush, but then very few super-nakeds are, but it is compliant and a doddle to ride around town.

But it’s out on some of the lovely Spanish twisties north of Barcelona where the bike really comes alive. Yes, LiveWire is a bike that genuinely loves corners. With some minor adjustments to your riding style, mainly to make up for the lack of engine braking, LiveWire can get into and around a corner with eye-popping ability. The suspension is extremely good at supporting the machine through the heaviest of braking events, with minimal off-brake rebound to disturb your apex-hunt. It’s not just good, it’s bloody phenomenal. I’ve been lucky enough to ride pretty much every mainstream electric motorcycle available, I can honestly say there isn’t another naked electric bike that handles like this.

With the Brembo Monobloc stoppers working overtime, you’ll be glad to hear that part of the bike’s formidable electronics package is a full on IMU controlled cornering ABS system. I only ever felt the electronics intervene on a dusty carpark as we were lining up for some photos, and it did so in a lowkey and unobtrusive way.

Electronics

As you’d expect from such a high-tech machine, LiveWire is dripping with tech, connectivity gadgets. First off there’s a lovely looking adjustable TFT dash, from there you can enter all the setting menus and change the riding modes, it’s an Aladdin’s cave for the geeks among us.

The bike includes seven selectable riding modes that tweak the power output, throttle map, traction control, battery (sorry) RESS regen level and ABS intervention level. LiveWire comes with four pre-programmed modes: sport, road, range, and rain, along with three ride modes the rider can customize.

We started the day in rain mode as we made our way up the chilly north-side of some hill and you could feel the bike metering in the power carefully. In rain, it’s in its lowest state of power, highest state of traction control and ABS and with the softest throttle map. I was glad of the help as the roads around here a notoriously slick when it’s cold and dropping a 200kg bike on my leg is never top of my list! Once we made the photo stop, I flicked the machine into sport mode and the power output and throttle map were transformed to almost razor-sharp levels, with the bike firing out of the tighter switchbacks with neck-cracking speed.

Range and recharge time

Harley-Davidson quotes a recharge time of 40-minutes from 0-80% and 60-minutes from 0-100% if a DC fast charge is used – the kind you find in cities and shopping parks. LiveWire does have an in-built charger located where the bike’s faux fuel tank sits. Plug that into your home electricity supply and you’ll get roughly 13-miles for every hour the bike is plugged in. Head down to selected H-D dealers in the near future and you’ll be able to plug into a DC fast charger there too. Not many other electric motorcycle makers are doing that in the UK, are they!

For range Harley-Davidson quote 146-miles of urban riding and 95-miles of combined riding – urban, highway and twisty. After riding for about 50-miles on the press launch – most of which was in sport mode and hammering out of hairpins – LiveWire’s battery is showing just under 50% SoC left with around 45-miles remaining. So, I’d say that the quoted figures are entirely reasonable.

We like:

  • Handling that’ll shock most of your sportsbike riding friends
  • Endless acceleration and effortless overtakes
  • Stunning detailing and finish

We don’t like:

  • Mirrors sit extremely close to your hands
  • Michelin/H-D Scorcher Sports tyres lack feel
  • Indicators are a little on the large size!

Harley-Davidson LiveWire verdict

With a price tag of over £25k, LiveWire is always going to the electric motorcycle for the well to do motorcyclist. And that’s fine for me, after all; there are plenty of cheaper and less well-equipped electric motorcycles out there, take your pick from one of those.

Is LiveWire’s price a stumbling block to people getting one in their garage? Well yeah, if it was cheaper it’d sell more faster, but H-D aren’t in the business of making budget machines, not at this end of their range anyway. LiveWire is a bike for those that want to be seen to be riding a LiveWire. And then when they’ve left the café-culture of the city behind, this is the only naked electric machine I’ve ridden that is absolutely at home on a twisty back road.

Is the Harley-Davidson LiveWire the best electrically powered motorcycle I’ve ridden, yes! Would I recommend you to get down to your Harley dealer for a test ride in the new year – absolutely!

Harley-Davidson LiveWire (2020) specs

New price:

£28,995 (£28,995 as special colour)

Capacity

0cc

Bore x Stroke

0x0mm

Engine layout

Longitudinal electric whirry thing

Engine details

225v DC, “Revelation”

Power

105hp (78kW) @ 0rpm

Torque

78 lb-ft (116Nm) @ 0rpm

Top speed

~120mph (indicated)

Transmission

Single speed, belt drive

Average fuel consumption

160 wh/mile (as tested)

Tank size

0litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

~146miles claimed (City)

Reserve capacity

0miles

Rider aids

C-ABS, C-TCS, Anti rear-wheel lift, Rear-wheel-slip control

Frame

Aluminium cast, battery as stressed-member

Front suspension

Showa SFF-BP 43mm

Front suspension adjustment

Fully adjustable

Rear suspension

Showa BRFC-Lite

Rear suspension adjustment

Fully adjustable

Front brake

300mm disc, Brembo, 4-piston monoblock radial, dual disc, HD branded discs

Rear brake

260mm disc, 2-piston rear, HD branded discs

Front tyre

120/70 ZR17 58W Michelin Scorcher Sport

Rear tyre

180/55 ZR17 73W Brand Name

Rake/Trail

24.5°/108mm

Dimensions

2,135mm x 830mm 1,080mm (LxWxH)

Wheelbase

1,490mm

Ground clearance

130mm

Seat height

761mm

Kerb weight

249kg

Battery Warranty

unlimited miles / 5 years

Bike Warranty

unlimited miles / 2 years

Website

www.harley-davidson.com/gb/en/index.html

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