After a few hours of riding the production-ready LiveWire from H-D in Portland, Oregon – I’m converted. This is a motorcycle for the generation not aware of how a two-stroke motor feels on song, it’s a bike for the kids who may one day be convinced that this is for them and their cleaner- quieter-polar-bear-hugging world. But until they wake up to this sort of thing, these bikes are ours to buy into – if we think they’re good enough.
It’s all-electric and costs over £28,000. You can do 70 miles at 70mph from a full charge. In some ways it’s not brilliant – in a lot of other ways, it is.
As this is a first-ride, short report written (literally) a couple of hours after the riding has stopped in the USA, I’ll stick to the main headlines, but there’s a LOT going on with the new Harley in terms of rider useability that would bore you here (go and have a look at at your local dealer for yourself – you’ll enjoy it).
So, let us start with the good. That motor, the hulking battery unit that’s slammed on to the drive unit sited horizontally under the bike – is excellent. 84ft-lb of torque on tap with 100% of it available from 1rpm all the way to 15,000rpm. The connection with the throttle is superb. Accompanied by a whir from the cut gears that gets louder as you accelerate (nice touch Harley, no speakers or faux noises here) every twist of the throttle fires the bike forward like a scalded cat.
It’s very, very addictive. Big, big tick for this.
Then there’s the riding position. With feet tucked up in a pretty sporty position and the bars not too wide, you really feel like you’re the boss of the bike. Even the ‘tank’ that neatly houses the charging port (both level 1 for at-home-charging and DC3 for charging at service stations or Harley dealers) seems to fade from view. Spot on, H-D. Colour me impressed.
The suspension (Showa BPF 43mm forks and fully adjustable rear) felt hard, but very capable blatting through some nice open and fast sweepers. The Brembo monobloc calipers on the front meant one-finger breaking from quick pace too. Thumbs up.
The 4.3″ TFT screen is delightful to use, very clear in scorching direct sunlight with tonnes of information on hand. You can tilt it back and forth too to suit you and this can be done on the move without tools. Just fantastic.
The geometry is spot on too. The bike is achingly stable but turns on a dime. Steering is light to the touch and it’s nearly effortless to hustle LiveWire from one side of a corner to the other. Pluses all round.
So that’s the good. This, I like. It’s not quite perfect though. LiveWire has a few things going on that stick in my Oregon craw.
The mirrors are sited too close to the handlebars and they’re too small. For once we have mirrors that or brilliantly on a bike (no combustion means no vibration), but Harley doesn’t want them to be large enough for you to use fully.
Then there’s the front brake lever. STILL no adjustment on it. Harley, I don’t know how many more times we all have to tell you this but not all of our hands are the same size as Big Dave’s from the lever department. Please, for the love of God, give us normal, 21st century adjustable levers. Please. And whilst we’re at it, coventional indicators that are both left and right on the left switchgear instead of one indicator function on each side of the handlebar. This is daft.
The app which connects you to the bike and tells you the bike’s current charge level, if someone had tampered with it, if it’s moved and can even send a location URL to the cops is superb – but after an initial trial period it’ll be only available for a fee. For a bike costing in excess of £28,000 – that feels a bit tight. Boo.
You really don’t notice the heft of 249kg either on the move or paddling around a parking lot but 249kg is a lot of motorcycle to be aware of. You’ve got to think that a lot of that weight is down to the battery set-up and Italian-developed power train (yeah, Italian…)
The 780mm seat height is the easy life to get on with and the Michelin Scorcher tyres are OK, but only OK. Needs stickier rubbber on the 120/70 front and 180/55 rear.
And then there’s the charging. Harley says that to understand its working plan for this bike you should think of it like a mobile phone. Use it during the day then charge it up at home overnight. If you want to charge it at a commercial station then you get an 80% charge in 40 minutes with 100% coming along in 60 minutes.
Which is handy because you only get 146 miles of city riding or that 70 miles of motorway cruising at 70mph. Included in those figures is a 0 – 60 time of 3 seconds with it taking 1.9s to go from 60-80mph. On the launch ride there were times when the bike felt properly rapid coming out of a fast corner and would leap away with superbike-bruising pace… before hitting the 115mph speed limiter. It feels like Harley has done the hard work and made a brilliant motor and chassis but limited it to stop you draining the battery too quickly. This is a shame.
But take all those negatives into account and they don’t come close to knocking the shine off this bike. The motor and throttle connection alone is immense and should go down in motorcycle history as an example of how it should be done.
Everything else is peripheral if you feel the ooomf of this motor and hear the whir of the bevel cut gears that make the fffzzzzpppppp sound when you wind the throttle on. It’s cool.
The charging regime will ultimately decide this bike’s fate. Switch between riding modes (which you can do on the move) and you change the regen rate going back into the battery. You also adjust the way the power is snapped in when you crack the throttle. There’s three customisable riding modes too, so you can tailor the bike exactly to your needs. So you can adjust the rate at which you deplete battery charge – but obviously you don’t get quite the same level of fire-forward catapultery that you do with Sport mode.
After a few hours on LiveWire I urge you strongly to go and try one out. It’ll blow your mind. It’s way, way better than I thought it could be and it’s one of the most purely fun motorcycles I’ve ever ridden.
And yes, I include RGV250s in that group.
It’s pricey and the battery tech needs learning – but for now I really do think we’ve seen the start of the proper birth of the electric bike. And fair play to Harley for getting there first. The bike will be available in October – with pre-orders now being taken.
It comes in orange, yellow-green or black.