HARLEY-DAVIDSON LIVEWIRE (2019 - on) Review
- First electric motorbike from a mainstream manufacturer
- Instant torque and power
- Pulsing feedback at standstill
At a glance
Overall ratingNext up: Ride & brakes
On paper the LiveWire electric motorbike may appear heavy, lacking battery range and short on power and torque, but riding it tells a different story. It accelerates with the ferocity of a superbike, sounds like a fighter jet and even throbs like a pounding heartbeat at a standstill.
- Related- Harley-Davidson LiveWire: the story
It has an un-Harley-like passion for corners, is well-built, comfortable, smooth and easy to ride. It’ll keep going for longer than some sportsbikes and takes an hour to fully fast-charge. It’s expensive, lacks a petrol engine’s drama and will never please the purist, but if this is the future we’ll all have to face one day, things really won’t be so bad.
Tackling the MCN 250 on a Harley-Davidson LiveWire
While zooming around on the LiveWire is fun, it devours the battery. Without restraint, a full charge will last less than 60 miles. At a steady 70mph it’ll scrape 70 miles. Over a mix of town and single-carriageway riding at the speed limit, theLiveWire lasts 90 to 100 miles.
But 250 miles around the UK’s toughest test route means public charging. The LiveWire boasts a CCS (Combined Charging System) socket under the flap on its fake tank. Find the correct charger and a full refill of the 13.6kWh lithium-ion battery can be done in just over an hour. But it’s a brave rider who turns up to a charging point with a near-flat battery, only to discover the unit’s faulty or busy. It’s always sensible to stop with range in hand.
The ride around the MCN 250 took three stops: one for 42 minutes (33% to 90%); one 32 (50% to 90%) and one 54 (28% to 100%). That’s a total of just over two hours, most of which was spent drinking coffee or eating lunch.
Once home, plug in with the three-pin wall charger coiled up neatly under the seat. Harley describe it as an ‘overnight’ charge and they’re not kidding – a 5%-to-full charge takes 12 hours 46 minutes. Best not come back too late from an evening ride if you want it ready the next morning.
Ride quality & brakesNext up: Engine
The LiveWire isn’t just a motorcycle with a futuristic engine, it has a cheeky side, too, reminiscent of a Ducati Monster (the LiveWire’s 1490mm wheelbase is only 5mm longer).
This isn’t just the most powerful Harley currently in production (although they never quote power figures, so we’ll have to take their word for it), the smoothest, or most technologically advanced, but it also has a genuine appetite for corners. Did someone say Buell?
Straight line stability is unflappable, there’s acres of ground clearance and although the Harley doesn’t respond well to fast direction changes (without a little wobble), its crisp steering has all the hallmarks of being developed by a test team that knows how a bike should roll neatly in the corners.
Push very hard and you can get the LiveWire’s hips shaking and specially developed 17in Michelin Scorcher Sport tyres (180-section rear, 120 front) give decent grip, to a point, but they let go under the force of hard front and rear braking, setting the ABS off in protest. These are the only times you’re really aware of the LiveWire’s excessive weight.
Quiet electric bikes never cover up road noise, but such is the tautness and quality of the LiveWire’s chassis components you never hear its suspension crash, or bang over bumps and there’s no chain slapping against the swingarm, either, as like all Harleys, the LiveWire runs a silent, mess-free belt drive. It’s the least clattery battery bike we’ve ever ridden.
As accomplished as the Harley is, I’ll admit it lacks the involvement and excitement that clutch and gears give you. I miss the drama of spinning an engine and feeling the hot, mechanical din play out beneath you. You can’t even rev an electric bike in a tunnel to get an earful of rasping exhaust and growling airbox.
Maybe it isn’t worth convincing the pure petrol head. Maybe the LiveWire isn’t meant for us, but for the next generation to enjoy? Riding their electric Harleys around in the future, will they find our love of the smelly old combustion engine as quaint as we look back at the steam engine generation?
Riding the Harley-Davidson LiveWire on UK roads
But beyond all the ‘how fast’, ‘how far’ and ‘how long’ stuff, the LiveWire feels, works and rides like a familiar motorcycle, not a far-out science experiment. Chassis-wise it feels more conventional than any Harley built over the last 117 years.
Pushing it around you can sense it’s carrying some timber. Harley claim 251kg – chunky, but still 5kg lighter than an 883 Iron, and not too different to solid roadsters like BMW’s R1250R or Honda’s CB1100RS.
Once moving it doesn’t feel lardy or bulky, tipping into turns easily, willingly and accurately, albeit with a slightly tail-heavy stance. Its 45° of ground clearance is plenty too. Change direction quickly at speed and you can definitely feel that mass as a physical reluctance at the bars, but most of the time it’s much like a normal naked.
Fully adjustable Showa suspension is firmly sprung, with a slightly harsh ride over rough surfaces. But the flip-side is decent chassis control. Radial Brembo brakes have plenty of power, yet the LiveWire doesn’t dive much. Accelerate hard and the linkage-free shock doesn’t jump or pump.
EngineNext up: Reliability
Harley’s 'Renewable Energy Storage System' (a 15.5kWh high-voltage lithium ion battery pack with a built-in power generation system, to you and me) is the unbridled centrepiece of the LiveWire.
Featuring horizontal cooling fins its cast aluminium case doubles up as a stressed chassis member with the frame and headstock bolted around it. This modular design surely points to more diverse models in the future.
A cable and three pin plug that lives under the seat plugs into your 240-volt household supply, giving 13 miles for every hour of charging. An on-board DC Fast Charge (192 miles for every hour’s charge) lets you use the petrol pump-like car chargers you’ll find everywhere from to service stations to selected Harley dealers from September.
Placed beneath the battery is the 'H-D Revelation' permanent magnet water-cooled electric motor. Harley claims 0-60mph in just three secs and a neck cracking 60-80mph in 1.9 secs - perfect for instant overtakes.
Riding the LiveWire at its world launch in Portland, Oregon, we cover 66 miles of city and twisty road riding and are a flagrantly throttle-happy as you’d be on a bike where you know Harley won’t leave you stranded with a flat battery.
Finishing with 18% charge and 24 miles remaining, isn’t bad for a day out enjoying yourself (except the bits where it’s illegal to filter through traffic). That’s 90 miles on a single charge and only five miles shy of what Harley says it’ll do for combined stop-and-go motorway miles.
With a more careful right hand and regenerative braking dialled-in, Harley’s claimed 146 miles range in town is entirely possible. The LiveWire isn’t a touring bike by any stretch, but for blasting around your favourite back roads or commuting, battery range is acceptable.
You can plug in overnight at home, like you would a smartphone, or juice-up on the road at a fast-charging station. Harley says it’ll take 40 minutes to charge to 80%, or full in an hour. Finding charging stations in the UK maybe getting easier, but they’re still not everywhere, so there’ll still be some planning needed to ease range anxiety.
The LiveWire is the first electric motorcycle to be produced by a major motorcycle manufacturer and Harley are the first to have gone the whole hog to create the infrastructure to support it. 12 UK dealers (250 worldwide) will be set-up with 24kW charging stations and factory specialist technicians.
With its lofty price tag the LiveWire will be an electric dream for all but the well-healed, but some of that cost is offset by cheaper running and service costs than a petrol engine. The first service is at 1000 miles, then every 5000 and the battery has a five-year unlimited mileage warranty.
Electric bikes are only going to get cheaper as demand grows. That’s happening already in the car world, where there’s less of a stigma for battery power, but most riders will still prefer pistons, cranks and cams, no matter how well the LiveWire rides.
Riding the Harley-Davidson LiveWire on UK roads
With your eyes shut, you’d never guess this is a made-in-America Harley. The liquid-cooled electric motor is faultlessly smooth and whisper-quiet. The riding position has no trace of cruiser – heels sit directly below the seat, hands spread by a wide, flat, low bar. Forget Harley: think Triumph Speed Triple with a lower seat and pegs.
Along the A16 it holds 60mph with a controlled calm, politely picking past slow-moving lorries. There’s no gearbox or clutch, just the motor, a 90° bevel gear and a belt drive to the back wheel. Turn the twistgrip, go faster. You can’t be in the wrong gear, can’t be in the wrong part of the power curve, can’t miss a shift and can’t stall.
It’s seriously quick, too. A full-throttle standing start in Sport mode sees the dash jump from 0 to 60mph in three seconds. Top speed is an indicated 114mph. But most impressive is its supernatural shove once rolling: 40mph to 80mph takes 2.5 seconds.
The lack of noise or gear shifting doesn’t detract – if anything, it makes the rabid, relentless turn of speed even more eye-opening. You’re shoved back in the seat, tensing to hold on, yet the bike barely seems to be trying. It’s like being thrown forwards by an invisible hand.
Reliability & build qualityNext up: Value
Tried and tested chassis components and Bosch electronics shouldn’t cause problems in the long term and its electric motor has fewer moving parts to go wrong then a petrol engine. Harley are giving a five year unlimited mileage warranty on the battery pack.
We’re riding Harley Davidson’s electric Livewire today. You can read all about what makes it tick by clicking on the link below, but right now the burning question is: what’s it like to ride? We’re about to find out. https://t.co/dhIlTNCPYH pic.twitter.com/I5d1hzI2oJ— Motor Cycle News (@MCNnews) July 16, 2019
Value vs rivalsNext up: Equipment
With its lofty price tag the LiveWire will be an electric dream for all but the well-healed, but some of that cost is offset by cheaper running and service costs than petrol power.
Build quality and attention to detail are what you’d insist on for such a high-ticket price. Switchgear blocks and buttons are Tonka Toy-tough, there’s a colour TFT dash, LED lights, keyless ignition, a 12v charger (the less popular C-type USB) and perfect paint finishes, from the anodised metal look of the ‘fuel tank’ to the aluminium frame, motor and battery pack. Thin, exposed wiring to the front indicators is the only glitch in the Matrix
An ‘H-D Connect’ phone app (free subscription for the first year) connects to the LiveWire by both cellular for long range and Bluetooth for up-close.
It’ll point you to charging points, give you a live charging update while you nip off for a coffee and help you with everything from suspension set-up advice (based on rider weight), to finding your way around via Sat Nav.
It’ll give you service update, warn you if your LiveWire is being tampered with, or lifted into the back of a van by a particularly burly bunch of thieves. Harley also offers the usual range of official accessories, including a carbon single seat cover and screen, levers and covers.
|Engine type||Water-cooled internal permanent magnet synchronous motor|
|Frame type||Cast aluminium trellis|
|Front suspension||Showa 43mm forks, fully adjustable|
|Rear suspension||Single Showa shock, fully adjustable|
|Front brake||2 x 300mm front discs with four-piston Brembo monobloc radial calipers. Cornering ABS|
|Rear brake||260mm rear disc with twin-piston caliper Cornering ABS|
|Front tyre size||120/70 x 17|
|Rear tyre size||180/55 x 17|
Mpg, costs & insurance
|Average fuel consumption||-|
|Annual road tax||-|
|Annual service cost||-|
How much to insure?
|Warranty term||Two years|
Top speed & performance
|Max power||104 bhp|
|Max torque||86 ft-lb|
|Top speed||115 mph|
|1/4 mile acceleration||-|
|Tank range||110 miles|
Model history & versions
2019: Electric LiveWire launched and available in dealers in September.
Owners' reviews for the HARLEY-DAVIDSON LIVEWIRE (2019 - on)
No owners have yet reviewed the HARLEY-DAVIDSON LIVEWIRE (2019 - on).