Harley-Davidson LiveWire review, test ride
28th Feb 2015 11:00 am
Tomorrow's Harley today - we've just ridden the American bike-making giant's take on electric motorcycles.
So you think it can't get any better than this - thundering along as you turn heads on your glinting, chrome-replete Harley-Davidson, leaving a distinct, bass-enriched rumble in your wake.
Now hang on, tear a leaf out of the Elon Musk book and picture this unlikely scene - a sleek, futuristic cruiser draws level with you, sounding more like a jet than a motorcycle, then hisses smoothly past to disappear over the horizon as it zips away into the future.
A futuristic bike, styled for the future - yes, Harley's LiveWire is almost here. Almost, for it's still a prototype, not yet finalised for production, but touring the world as a lucky few get to ride it to share the experience and help the US bike maker shape its future motorcycle.
Its clearly more compact than most Harleys in the flesh, the LiveWire using a TFT screen for instrumentation, showing speed, battery charge status, range remaining and temperature, as well as a pair of riding modes (Range or Power). We've only got to sample Range, where power feeds in more gently, making our test LiveWire feel just like a well-mannered, sub-100bhp bike.
Harley-trademark switchgear is part of the LiveWire, with plush grips, a chunky front brake lever and underslung mirrors that look great, but are otherwise virtually useless for rear view. There's a flattish tank, and the company has tried to keep weight as low as possible, the LiveWire using the lightest alloy wheels of any Harley today, and an alloy frame thats only 7kg. The LiveWire experience includes a smashing paint job and great attention to detail, as seen in the pictures.
This electric motorcycle comes with a longitudinally mounted, electric powered, oil-cooled motor, and lithium-ion batteries. The claimed power output is about the equivalent of 75bhp, with roughly 7kgm of torque offered. Harley claims 100kph is only 4 seconds away from a standing start, and claims apart, it feels properly there in terms of seat-of-the-pants feel, with a top speed limited in the region of 150kph. We took it to an indicated 140kph-plus, effortlessly achieved.
Belt final drive is the norm on LiveWire, very Harley like and keeping the bike quiet and smooth, and otherwise there's no levers for a clutch, or to shift gears. Instead, simply roll open the volts and hold on tight as this Harley surges forward. The rear tyre struggles for traction as it squeals in protest, the LiveWire propelling violently forward with an angry, jet engine-like whine.
Throttle response is really really smooth, surprisingly so for an electric, and nice and progressive, and the company tells us these test LiveWire bikes have a range of approximately 85km between charges, which is only for test purposes, and sure to improve if and when it sees production.
Close the throttle and you're immediately rewarded with the reassuring feel of strong engine braking, smartly built into this clever electric bike to keep us feeling safe and at home on a LiveWire. I found my left foot tapping thin air, searching for the gear lever at the first corner we ran into, but there ends the confusion. You find yourself comfy with the gearless convenience of this electric bike very soon, a credit to Harley engineers, and it's down mainly to the so very thoughtfully dialled-in engine braking feature that kicks in the instant you roll off the throttle.
The LiveWire comes with a nice riding position - upright and only slightly sporty, with footpegs positioned a little to the rear. There's a cast-aluminium alloy frame that holds the exposed, meaty-looking motor in place. Fully adjustable Showa suspension is standard, fat and rigid upside-down forks in front, with a near horizontal mounted rear monoshock. Ride quality is stiff, sporty and very un-Harley, which just about sums up what the LiveWire feels like - fast and jet-like rather than a lazy, heavy cruiser as we've come to expect from this American manufacturer.
The Harley-Davidson-branded Michelin tyres on the test LiveWire offered good grip, while the single-rotor disc brakes did well to stop the bike with prompt, strong bite when called upon. There's no ABS for now, but that's only because Harley know this isn't a production bike, on which ABS will of course feature. The steering feels a touch on the heavy side at low speed, but is neutral and well weighted when hurtling along at over 100kph. The handling is better than on any Harley bike you've ever experienced.
In the end, it's clear Harley-Davidson has got it right the first time, pulling a rabbit out of its electric bag with the LiveWire. It's more exciting and involving a bike than you ever expected from Harley-Davidson, and sure to pull in a whole new generation of buyers. So one hopes the company doesn't wait too much longer to produce this new bike. Win-win in more ways than one, the LiveWire is the right direction for Harley, which is proven in the fact that the moment you get off this new electric bike, your first thought is of humming away on one again!