FIRST RIDE: HD LIVEWIRE
Where dystopians foretell a petrol-less, insect eating future, utopians Harley-d respond with good clean fun…
Harley-davidson’s long-talked-about electric ridden.
CONVINCING PETROL ENTHUSIASTS about the benefits of electric bikes is the very definition of polarization. And at this point in time it’s fair to say Harley-davidson’s new Livewire is not for all of us. Or even most of us. However, the new Harley-davidson is the closest an electric bike has come to convincing me there could be a petrol-less future. The Livewire is the first large electric motorcycle produced by a major manufacturer, and Harley are also first to create an infrastructure to support it: there will be twelve UK dealers (250 worldwide) with 24kw charging stations and factory specialist technicians.
The basics of life with a Livewire look like this: the first service is at 1000 miles, then every 5000. The battery has a five-year unlimited mileage
warranty and Harley say it’ll take 40 minutes to charge to 80%, and is brimmed with electricity in an hour.
And it’s fast. Electric motors deliver peak torque instantly and the Livewire produces relentless thrust from standstill to 115mph. It hits so hard you can’t help but instinctively go for an invisible gear lever to change up… except there isn’t one. With no gears or clutch this is a twist-and-go Harley, and despite the thrust is as easy to manage as a big scooter. And
with no hot engine parts it won’t fry you on a hot day. Like all electric vehicles the Livewire’s powerplant is eerily smooth, but that doesn’t mean it lacks character. Bevel gears in the transmission scream like a jet engine and even at standstill the water-cooled motor gently throbs. Like a top-level sportsbike you can adjust engine braking control, and when you come off the throttle the Livewire regenerates the battery, extending its range. You can dial in so much ‘regen’ it acts like a third brake, which helps control when entering corners at speed. Handling is reminiscent of a Ducati Monster – at 1490mm the Livewire’s wheelbase is only 5mm longer. Straight line stability is unflappable, there’s fathoms of ground clearance and, although the Harley doesn’t respond overly well to fast direction changes its crisp steering allows it to roll neatly through corners. Specially-developed 17-inch Michelin Scorcher Sport tyres (120 front, 180 rear) give decent grip, but can let go under hard braking, which sets off the ABS. And there are more electronics: the Livewire also comes with lean-sensitive traction control and four riding modes (Sport, Road, Rain and Range) with varying levels of power, traction and engine braking/ regeneration control. A further three custom settings (A, B, C) let you mix and match to suit. A phone app (free subscription for the first year) connects to the Livewire by cellular for long range and Bluetooth for up-close. It’ll point you to charging points, give you a live
charging update and help you with everything, from suspension set-up advice (based on rider weight) to finding your way via sat-nav. It’ll give you service updates too, plus warn you if it’s being nicked. Build quality and attention to detail are good. Switchgear blocks and buttons are Tonka Toy tough, there’s a colour TFT dash, LED lights, keyless ignition and a 12v charger. Thin, exposed wiring to the front indicators is the only glitch in the Matrix.
Well, perhaps not the only glitch. The Livewire has 103.5bhp, weighs in at 249kg and costs £28,750. Riding it in Portland, Oregon, the USA I cover 66 miles of city and twisty roads, being flagrantly throttle-happy, and finish the
‘If this is one of our futures, things won’t be so bad after all’
ride with 18% charge and 24 miles left. That’s not bad: it’s 90 miles on a single charge and just five miles shy of what Harley claim for combined stopand-go motorway miles. With a more careful right hand and regen dialled-in H-D’S claimed 146-mile town range is doable. Yes the Livewire is pricey, lacks a petrol-engine’s drama and will never please the purist, but it proves electric has a place. If this is one of our futures, things won’t be so bad after all.