Electric Harley-Davidson Review (2020) | Everyday LiveWire use

 

Graham Mudd – a member of Bennetts Rewards – commutes 50 miles everyday and already owns a 2018 Zero DSR. Who better to put Harley's electric bike though its paces? Over to you, Graham…

 

Electric bikes. They certainly divide opinion, and none more so than the Harley Davidson LiveWire – the first foray by a major manufacturer into the mainstream EV market dominated by relative small scale specialists like Energica and Zero. As electrics begin to gain momentum and acceptance among the traditional bike fraternity, have Harley struck gold or is it “a swing and a miss”?

Well, first off, forget everything you know about Harley Davidson. This is virgin territory for the historic cruiser marque and a seismic shift from what you’d expect. To be blunt, the LiveWire is the most un-Harley thing I’ve ever ridden. It’s still a bike that makes a statement, a mechanical expression of purpose and your personality, but with less noise than you’re used to. On a LiveWire, you don’t need Decibels to turn heads...

Being a rare beast, if you pull up on one of these, be prepared to be surrounded as soon as you hit the kill switch and be bombarded with questions. There have been the odd sneers or tuts, but overwhelmingly the reaction has been positive wherever I’ve stopped. Range, charge time, silence and how powerful it is dominate the conversation as it does with any electric bike (I own a Zero DSR and have considered sticking a fact sheet to the screen to save repeating myself!). All questions, and more, I hope to answer here.

 

For and against
  • Ridiculously fun to ride
  • Fantastic build quality
  • Lots of tech and gadgets
  • Range – as is predictable with EV
  • Charge time – as is predictable with EV
  • RRP – as is predictable with EV, sort of

 

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Price

Let’s not sweep the price of the thing under the carpet. It’s £28k. Eeek. That is a lot of money. But it’s a lot of bike for your wedge. I’ll go into why later, but as a LiveWire owner you’d be an early adopter. Nobody else will have one and it will be years, if ever, before they’re commonplace. I have a feeling this will be one of those bikes that in years down the line will be going at auction for silly sums, so you could see it as an investment. First models and last models, that is where the collector money is.

On a PCP deal (Harley’s online calculator is here), you can pay a £4,000 deposit and for 4,000 miles per year over three years, the monthly repayments are £434.

 

 

Power and torque

Let’s start with the figures. At 116ft-lbs the H-D makes more torque than a Kawasaki H2, a Superlegerra and even a YZF R1M MotoGP bike. That’s right. A Harley that would beat Valentino Rossi in a really short drag race. Though the 105 horses may sound less impressive, you have to remember that the way an EV makes its power is different to a traditional ICE-powered ‘bike, and you have that available all the time. It’s continuous power, not just a momentary peak at 11k rpm for example. To compare the Harley to my Zero, which has fairly similar stats, it’s an even contest up to about 70. But as the DSR starts to flag, the Harley keeps going to its limited 115mph top end. The Harley feels refined, silky smooth and totally composed at all times at all speeds. Remember I said it was the most un-Harley thing I’d ridden? The surge every time you open the throttle is utterly, grin inducingly, addictive. From a red light, 20, 40, 60 – that surge when you twist the wrist is the same. It takes a fair amount of self-restraint to rein it in and put your sensible head back on. A lot of the time I put the bike in range or rain mode to remove the temptation. Still plenty quick enough to be fun, without unleashing the inner idiot. But that isn’t to say the throttle is like a switch, the idiot creeps up in millimetre increments. Slipping in and out of traffic around town or doing slow speed manoeuvres around a car park are just as easy as sprinting for the horizon.

 

Engine, gearbox and exhaust

It’s the motor (not engine) that makes the LiveWire outlandishly different. In short, it’s an absolute gem! I could reel off stats about permanent magnets and being brushless but I’m not an electrical engineer and even having read up on it I’m still not entirely sure what it all means. It’s all top shelf stuff found in the MotoE GP bikes though. In typical Harley-Davidson fashion, it has a ridiculous name, ‘Revelation’ and they can’t just call it a battery – it’s a Rechargeable Energy Storage System or RESS. A lot of riders comment on the lack of a clutch. Or gears. The LiveWire doesn’t have them because it doesn’t need them. To get optimum drive on a conventional bike you need to have the right balance of speed, gear and revs. To get optimum drive from the Harley you simply twist the throttle. Unlike CVT or Auto transmissions where there is a small lag while the bike decides what you want it to do, throttle response on the LiveWire is immediate. In sports mode brutally instant, like a catapult launch. It honestly needs to be experienced to be believed, it knocks the wind out of you. Sharp intake of breath, tighten your grip, blink and you’re well on the way to triple digits. It’s amazing how quickly you forget your left limbs with that amount of go at your disposal.

And the Brucey Bonus? Unlike Dave from the pub on his GSXRRRRR which sounds like the apocalypse at 40mph and causes Radio 4 listeners to be cross and write letters, you can fly past Miss Marple at licence shredding speeds and she won’t care. She won’t even look up from pruning her Hydrangeas. The sheep in the fields will continue to munch grass rather than stampeding for the hills. You can get away with a lot more when you are sneaking around. It feels like being socially irresponsible in a responsible kind of way. A lot of riders scoff at the lack of noise, not just of the LiveWire but ‘leccies’ in general and at first I missed the raucous cackle of my Versys 650’s Arrow can. But that outlandish grunt and sheer grin factor more than compensate. Unlike my Zero which does sound a bit like a milk float winding up to a turbine-like screech, the LiveWire has a bevel transmission which gives it a mechanical tone. It does sound much better, especially around town, sounding more like a light cycle from the movie Tron rather than Ronnie doing his rounds. Going back to my Versys now, I feel the noise (especially the monotone on the motorway) and constantly pulling on levers and banging up and down the box makes riding an ICE somewhat agricultural and riding an EV a more pure riding experience. There’s less to focus on, less to get wrong (oh I should have been in 3rd for that corner not 4th, do I need to drop a gear for this overtake?), meaning there is more of your brain free to just enjoy the ride. That’s just my opinion though.

Now I can hear you at the back, “filtering on electrics is dangerous because they’re silent”, “loud pipes save lives” and all that. Absolute rubbish. I’ve been commuting for months and over 7000 miles on electric bikes and have had no more dangerous incidents with cars than on any other bikes I’ve ridden over the years, including a race tuned Bonneville with open pipes! There have been dozens of studies over decades (one of which I took part in with the DoT and IAM) and none, not one, have found loud pipes to make you any safer. Your exhaust is throwing noise backwards, the driver is listening to AC/DC at moderate volume, he isn’t going to hear you until you’re pretty damn close. And change lanes anyway. Better to rely on good riding than on the volume of your emissions eh?

 

Harley Davidson Livewire – Ride by
Is this the future of biking? How much noise do electric bikes really make?

 

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Economy

This is a difficult one. I’ve looked and it seems there isn’t a direct correlation to MPG. It’s sort of like saying 'I know I have apples but how many pears have you got?”. Most car manufacturers simply seem to pluck a figure from the ether. Nearest solid figure I could find was the Environment Protection Agency in the USA saying 33.7kW/h is the equivalent of a gallon of petrol. So, using my rusty school maths, the Harley has a 15.5kW/h battery and does 103 miles. Which gives a 224MPGe (equivalent). I think. 

Dodgy maths aside, the Harley is the ultimate economical bike to run. No fuel. No tax. No servicing. As a practical example, I work 47 miles from where I live. Best part of 100 miles a day, 5 days a week, in all weather, asks a lot of any machine. And for me this is where electric bikes like the LiveWire make sense. My Versys 650 was costing me £93 a year in tax, £60 a week in fuel, I’d change the oil and filter every 6 weeks (£27) and two major services a year (oil, filters, spark plugs, valve clearances, coolant £61). Even doing the work myself that’s £3249 a year. The Harley costs £1.20 to charge overnight in the garage, and I charge for free at work. So that’s £6 a week in electric. Nowt to tax and there is no servicing (bar brake pads and tyres, but I didn’t include that with the Versys as they cancel each other out, and the MOT is the same). So, £282 a year. Just on running costs I’m saving £2967 a year.

 

As electric motorcycles slowly creep into the mainstream, has Harley got it right first time around with the LiveWire? McGregor and Boorman think so.

 

Handling, suspension, chassis and weight

So, with all this awesome power, does it have the handling to match? 99% of the time, yes. With top notch, fully adjustable Showa suspension front and rear, you can dial in your stats to the linked Harley app and it will give you the ideal settings. No more guesswork and hours of fiddling with clicks of rebound and compression. 10 minutes with a flathead screwdriver and the LiveWire is one of the best handling bikes (not designed for a track) I’ve ever ridden. Not something you’d often hear someone say in the pub about a Harley! My test route is a 36-mile loop that includes everything you’d find on a ride (except the Alps), and the LiveWire took it all in its stride never putting a foot wrong. No matter the speed, lean angle or sudden change of direction the EV never felt like it was anything but sure footed. The Harley badged Michelin Scorcher tyres complement the LiveWire’s handling well giving plenty of grip and feel both in corners and in a straight line. In the dry.

Unfortunately, in the wet it’s a different story. For the most part they are fine, but if you up the pace on a twisty country road they quickly become skittish. There is none of the vague feeling you get with most rubber, they just let go and allow the tyre to slip sideways or spin up. Several times I was grateful for Harley’s trick electronics package acting in the background as a safety net. Which deserves a mention as this is a premium bike and the rider aids are definitely premium too. Cornering ABS, hill hold, traction control and all sorts of stability goodies – it reads like a car ESP brochure. But with the amount of thrust the LiveWire throws at you, and how much it costs, it is a welcome set of tricks to have. I have no doubt that if I tried the same antics on my Zero, devoid of electronics but with the same power, it would stuff me through a hedge on the other side of the road.

The aluminium beam chassis does a great job of keeping the 249kg bike in check. A bit weighty to push around (a very Harley experience), once on the move that mass simply disappears. That weight is all held down low, with the motor slung under the battery, giving the LiveWire an exceptionally low centre of gravity. This means that even when she is getting on for double the weight of an R1, she still handles well when she wants to hitch up her skirt and dance. The initial sit up and turn in require a little shove on the bars to get her moving, but holding and adjusting a line once over is easy. Solid and stable, not a hint of wallow. Lovely.

 

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Brakes

Another feather in the LiveWire’s cap are the brakes. Well, the front brakes at any rate. The front has twin 300mm discs bitten by Brembo 4-piston radial monoblocs. Which are absolutely outstanding, probably the best front brakes of any bike I’ve ever ridden. Heaps of feel and power with one finger and they will stop the Harley on a sixpence, which being pretty heavy (and I’m no lightweight either!) is pretty important and no mean feat. The lever isn’t span adjustable, which wasn’t a problem for my normal sized mitts but a bit of an oversight on such a premium bike. The rear brake is disappointing though. Brembo twin piston calliper gripping a 260mm disc, you need a fair old stomp on the pedal to even realise it’s doing anything. I did manage to lock the rear eventually but pretty much had to stand on it. Fortunately, most of the time the regen braking meant I didn’t need to use it.

 

As electric motorcycles slowly creep into the mainstream, has Harley got it right first time around with the LiveWire? McGregor and Boorman think so.

 

Comfort over distance and touring

I was struck with how comparatively small it is. Next to my Zero DSR (admittedly an adventure bike), it’s tiny. My wife is 5’4” and she can get both feet down. To sit on, it reminded me of a Triumph Speed Triple, slightly rear set pegs and a reach to the bars that pitches you slightly forward into an almost sporty position. At 5’9” it fitted me perfectly and felt natural straight off the bat with everything arranged around you just so. The seat looks small and thinly padded but is actually remarkably comfortable and at any rate, you’ll likely be doing less than 150 miles in one sitting! Unfortunately, if you carry a pillion, they need to be the size of an average 8-year-old as the seat is the size of a postage stamp, and my wife held on for dear life as she felt she was going to fall off the back. My daughter (11 and dinky) simply looked at the pillion perch and refused! So, pillion performance apart, not too shabby.

 

 

Range and charging

Okay. It’s time to address the elephant in the room. The downfall of electric bikes in general. What causes most petrolheads (and the under-educated) to turn up their noses? Range and charge time of course. I can’t sugar coat this, it is an area for development far from unique to the LiveWire. Don’t get me wrong, things are moving in the right direction and quickly, but need to move a little bit more before riders go to the dark side in their droves.

I’ve put the better part of 400 miles on the LiveWire over two weeks covering the Spectrum of riding conditions and have found Harley’s claims to be broadly accurate. Bobbing around town you’re looking at about 150 miles between charges. If you’re doing the speed limit on the motorway it will do 103 miles, and I know this precisely because I inadvertently ran it flat on the 1st day of testing (quite the initiation). From Harley’s HQ in Oxford I got to within 10 miles from my house in Stafford. But this serves to highlight the current lack of charging infrastructure rather than being any fault of the Harley-Davidson. I stopped at Warwick Services for a top up over a chai latte. No, really! Tesla chargers don’t work on anything but Teslas (understandably). Of the two Ecotricity units, one was in use and one was broken. A quick peek at Zap Maps, an app that shows locations and types of charge points and whether they’re in use and working, I decided rather than go off piste to stay en route to Tamworth. Duly plugged in at the single charge point and went for a comfort break. When I returned, I found that a pesky Nissan Leaf owner had unplugged the LiveWire and plugged into their car! Waited for quite a while and had a look around for potential owners to no avail. I unplugged the head but the charger decided it didn’t want to work anymore and shut up shop, refusing to pump more electrons into the powerpack. So, my remaining option was to limp for home. And we completed the final leg on the back of an AA truck. But being the plucky bike she is, she got me to a decent pub, so it’s not all bad news.

What is bad news is that while the UK Government have committed to stop sales of new ICE vehicles by 2040, and are actively promoting EV and Hybrid vehicles through subsidies both for purchasing and installing chargers in your house, very little seems to be done about increasing charging infrastructure away from the home. Some supermarkets, work places and car parks have a token couple (always taken up by Leafs), but much more needs to be done if we’re all going to be owning them in the not too distant future.

Sooooo, how long does it take to charge? The million-dollar question. Well, if you could guarantee a gold standard level 3 DC rapid charger was available and working and planned your route accordingly (i.e. motorways), touring could be feasible on the LiveWire right now! Mr Boorman and McGregor did just that through South America on this very bike. However, I’m not as young as I used to be and my back is knackered, so 100 miles seems a good time to stop for a brew and a wee. If the charging gods are smiling down on me, I can go from 20% to 80% in 30 minutes with a level 3 DC rapid charger (Based on the 10 minutes of charge I put into it and scaling up. I say 80% because the charge rate slows down as the battery gets fuller). It would cost you around £5. If you can’t get a DC charger then you’re up the creek as the backup is basically mains charging (level 1 AC slow) which for the same charge would be 6 hours. Compare that to a Zero DSR fitted with a charge tank (a £3k optional extra) giving you level 2 AC so can go from flat to 95% in 2 hours (ish). And cost about £3. Still not great.

So yes. Some way to go on that front, which is a shame. It’s why I’ve kept my Versys 650, as touring and long distance work aren’t realistically feasible at the moment with current battery/charging tech and charging infrastructure. John Chivers was the 1st person to do Lands End to John O’ Groats on an EV bike (a Zero DSR, he has great taste). It took 4 days. In 2013, I did it on a TDM850 in just shy of 20 hours. Which kinda makes my point.

Posing at the pub, definitely. Sub 90 mile blasts, yes. Round town work, yes. Commuting, yes. Touring? No. With a pillion? Only if they’re brave and have a vice-like grip.



 

Rider aids and extra equipment / accessories

As a brand-new model the extras catalogue is pretty sparse as it stands. Not that the LiveWire needs it but given time you can guarantee all the clothing and tassels will be available if you want them.

But practically, what do you get, assuming you want to ride it and not keep it in a museum? The LiveWire is dripping with features, which I could fill a short book with (I’m halfway there already). As soon as you plonk your bum on the suede and leather seat it just oozes quality. Leather tank pads, keyless ignition, nothing is plasticky or flimsy, kick up the sidestand and it doesn’t go clonk, the paint is deep and lustrous, the switchgear is solid and not clicky.

They’re not backlit, but they’re all in logical, natural places. Other manufacturers take note, we don’t want our handlebars to look like the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise. So where are all the buttons? The TFT dash is touch screen and even works with gloves on. Hook up your phone via Bluetooth and you have satnav on your dash. Have media and voice controls with a simple toggle by your left thumb, if you’re that way inclined. A cruise control system that doesn’t need a separate instruction manual (I’m looking at you BMW). The bike will send an alert to your phone if it’s tampered with and you can go on the app and see on Google maps exactly where it is. Unfortunately, in this world of ICE bikes having 400 ride modes with 12 levels of traction control etc., the LiveWire only has 4; Newbie, Get You There, Kinda Fast, Oh My God (also known as Rain, Range, Street, Sport). And that is 99% of what you need. No moderately-damp-but-not-quite-wet mode I’m afraid. What you do get is three custom modes. Imagine being able to tune your ICE bike without a Power Commander, without a dyno, without plugging in a laptop to the ECU. With the LiveWire, you can. Want more torque? You can. More regen braking? No problem. Up the speed limiter? Of course, sir! It’s all there in the touch screen menus. Everything has been thought of, and implemented in the most intuitive way. Right down to being at standstill at the traffic lights the bike pulses (known as haptics in the biz) - some say it’s to let the rider know it’s still on and hasn’t, er… stalled, others to simulate the vibration of an engine at tickover.

But to me it felt like a heartbeat, and that only endeared the LiveWire to me even more. There are a couple of fashion foibles to cater for our cousins across the pond. There is a cut out in the rear hugger (or fender if you will) because they like to see tread patterns, but all this serves to do is spray dirty water all up your back and over the seat. The other is the front mudguard is so short it might as well not be there at all, as it does nothing to guard against mud. The motor, battery case, radiator and your helmet visor get coated in filth if you ride in the wet. It feels like a bit of fashion over function to be honest. Oh, and the BMW style indicators, ugh. But these are minor quibbles in what is overall an incredibly well-made motorcycle.

 

As electric motorcycles slowly creep into the mainstream, has Harley got it right first time around with the LiveWire? McGregor and Boorman think so.

 

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire verdict

I’ve waxed lyrical for long enough now. If you’ve read to this point well done! If you’ve scrolled down, let me sum up. This is not a cruiser. Or a Sportster. But whatever we eventually class it as, it is a handsome bike. There is a conspicuous lack of chrome, or anything shiny, but the matt burnt orange bodywork is lovely. The beam chassis wrapping around the finned battery case is a departure from the H-D norm, but having the motor proudly on show is not (it’s that silver thing at the bottom). It’s nice to have the power train front and centre as a design feature, most EVs try to hide them as if they are embarrassed by what they are. None of the aggressive angular style that is en vogue at the moment either, the lines are clean and flow and I think better looking for it. As a styling exercise, I think Harley have got it just about spot on. The Harley draws attention wherever you go and it’s exquisitely well made. The LiveWire’s motor is a thing of beauty and if this is what we have to look forward to in a world without petrol then I’m all for it. Refined, brutal, power delivery in sports mode yet still fun in the wet. Quiet but certainly not silent, it has a unique turbine like charm propelling you effortlessly on a wave of torque. Handling is sublime and the Brembo brakes do a solid job of pulling you up in a hurry. Dripping with features and tech, Harley have done well to cram as many farkles into a pioneering bike as they can. Yet none of it feels surplus to requirement, it is all fit for purpose and works flawlessly. Perfect for posing around town or getting to work, range is fine for a hoon around the lanes, but the charging network needs a massive uplift before the LiveWire makes sense for trips further afield. Unless you’re Ewan McGregor. Yes, it is pricey, but if you can afford it the LiveWire is worth every penny.

Have Harley struck gold? For me, yes. It outclasses my Zero in almost every aspect, it’s one hell of a benchmark to set the other big bike firms and a shot across the bows of the leccie makers. For all the risk and development Harley Davidson have sunk into the LiveWire I hope it sells.

 

As electric motorcycles slowly creep into the mainstream, has Harley got it right first time around with the LiveWire? McGregor and Boorman think so.

 

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire spec

New price

From £28,000

Capacity

0cc

Bore x Stroke

N/A

Engine layout

Electric. Longitudinal mounted.

Engine details

Perm magnet, brushless

Power

105bhp (78.2kW) @ 0rpm

Torque

116 lb-ft (157.3Nm) @ 0rpm

Top speed

115mph (limited)

Transmission

N/A, bevel driven

Average fuel consumption

95mpge claimed/224mpge tested

Tank size

N/A. 15.5kW/h battery

Max range to empty

103 miles

Reserve capacity

N/A

Rider aids

Reflex Defensive Rider System

Frame

Aluminium beam spar

Front suspension

Showa SFF BP

Front suspension adjustment

Fully Adjustable

Rear suspension

Showa BFRC

Rear suspension adjustment

Fully Adjustable

Front brake

300mm disc, Brembo Monobloc

Rear brake

260mm disc, Brembo Monobloc

Front tyre

120/70 ZR17 Michelin Scorcher Sport

Rear tyre

180/55 ZR17 Michelin Scorcher Sport

Rake/Trail

24.5°, 108mm

Dimensions

215x830x1080mm (LxWxH)

Wheelbase

1490mm

Ground clearance

130mm

Seat height

761mm

Kerb weight

249kg

Warranty

Unlimited miles /2years (5 on the battery)

MCIA Secured rating

4 stars

Website

www.harley-davidson.com

 

Looking for scooter or moped insurance? Get a quote for this machine with Bennetts moped and scooter insurance

 

As electric motorcycles slowly creep into the mainstream, has Harley got it right first time around with the LiveWire? McGregor and Boorman think so.

 

What is MCIA Secured?

MCIA Secured gives bike buyers the chance to see just how much work a manufacturer has put into making their new investment as resistant to theft as possible.

As we all know, the more security you use, the less chance there is of your bike being stolen. In fact, based on research by Bennetts, using a disc lock makes your machine three times less likely to be stolen, while heavy duty kit can make it less likely to be stolen than a car. For reviews of the best security products, click here. 

MCIA Secured gives motorcycles a rating out of five stars, based on the following being fitted to a new bike as standard:

  • A steering lock that meets the UNECE 62 standard
  • An ignition immobiliser system
  • A vehicle marking system
  • An alarm system
  • A vehicle tracking system with subscription

The higher the star rating, the better the security, so always ask your dealer what rating your bike has, and compare it to other machines on your shortlist.

 

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