On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I got my hands on the new Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycle. Over my weeklong trip it became my ride everywhere. From winding down Mulholland Drive to cruising along Sunset Boulevard to weaving through traffic on the 101, the LiveWire and I got to know each other pretty well during our relatively short period of time together.
And during that time I learned a lot about the bike. It’s not perfect; the LiveWire surely has its deficiencies.
But it also has a number of redeeming qualities that make it seriously deserving of a second look. And that also gives me hope for how Harley-Davidson can play a leading role in the rapidly evolving electric motorcycle industry.
I want to be clear. The Harley-Davidson LiveWire is an expensive electric motorcycle whose $29,799 price tag likely puts it out of reach for nearly every rider reading this article. It is surely out of reach for me.
But despite that, the LiveWire is actually a really well-made, high-performance electric motorcycle that is a thrill to ride. Harley-Davidson didn’t build it in order to sell a ton of them. They built it to demonstrate the level of quality and innovation they could bring to the electric motorcycle industry, and to get people excited about their more affordable electric motorcycles to come.
Harley Davidson LiveWire video review
Check out my video review of the Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycle. Then keep reading for the full experience.
How did I get here?
A few years ago, I never would have expected to find myself enjoying a Harley-Davidson motorcycle this much. If you know anything about me, you’ll know I’m an electric motorcycle guy. The last time I was on a gas-powered Harley was the day I got my motorcycle license.
I couldn’t say goodbye to the thing fast enough — I wanted to get back on my electric motorcycles after not being able to use them for the test.
Now fast forward to a couple weeks ago. Here I am, flying down the 101 on a Harley.
On an electric Harley.
As I put on the miles, I developed a new appreciation for what Harley was doing with this bike.
I can’t say that I understand Harley culture, especially as an outsider looking in all these years. But I can now say that I at least got a taste of it on this bike.
Everywhere I went, heads turned. I was followed multiple times by people who wanted to ask me about the LiveWire. Bike cops chatted me up. Even typical die-hard, seasoned Harley riders gave me nods of approval at red lights — seriously.
I was in, oddly enough. And I hadn’t even tried. I was simply somehow a member of a community. And off course I wasn’t in it to be in a club — I was in it to ride an awesome bike. But I’m not going to lie, it felt kind of cool to be wordlessly welcomed into a tribe.
Though not as cool as the Harley-Davidson LiveWire felt.
Harley-Davidson LiveWire ride experience
When it comes to performance, Harley wasn’t messing around. The 78kW (105hp) motor is more than you’ll ever need. In Sport Mode, the acceleration is outrageous, blasting you to 60 mph (96 km/h) in around 3 seconds. Though “blasting” isn’t the right word, actually. In fact, it’s almost eerie how smooth it is. I almost felt like the speedometer on the digital screen was lying to me because the launch feels so…. calm. So relaxed. It felt like I couldn’t possibly have reached these speeds so quickly, so calmly. One moment I’m waiting at rest for the on-ramp light to turn green. Three seconds later I’m at highway speed. And it feels like not much happened in between. One second I’ve got two feet on the ground. The next second is a gentle blur.
I didn’t reach the bike’s top speed of 110 mph (177 km/h), but I went faster than I ever planned to (and faster than I should probably admit). And considering how much the bike still wanted to give, I have no doubt that the electronically limited 110 mph top speed is attainable. Not that anyone would ever really need it.
The ride is simply one of the smoothest I’ve felt on an electric motorcycle, combining excessive power with a comfortable and controllable ride experience.
Part of that is likely the sophisticated six-axis Bosch IMU and its state-of-the-art traction control, anti-wheelie control, ABS cornering bank-angle logic and other embedded rider aids. The fully adjustable high-end Showa Separate Function Big Piston fork and the Balance Free Rear Cushion-lite shock surely add to the experience. And the Brembo Monoblock brakes give the stopping confidence needed for such a powerful motorcycle. And for such a heavy motorcycle. More on that in a moment.
Whatever your feelings about Harley-Davidson as a company are, you can’t deny that they know how to build bikes. And while the electric vehicle world is new to them, they were still able to leverage their considerable experience to build a motorcycle that performs as well as some of the best in the electric motorcycle industry today. And in my opinion, it might look even better.
Basically, the ride felt as good as the bike looks. The fit and finish is impeccable. The attention to detail is what you’d expect of a premium company. And while I still think nearly $30k is a lot to ask, the LiveWire does offer a number of features that are hard to find on many other industry-leading electric motorcycles today. Keyless operation means never having to mess with pulling out your keys (an annoying task when wearing motorcycle gloves). Level 3 DC Fast Charging means you can completely charge the battery in around 40 minutes, or more likely get a top-up in under 15 minutes. Auto-canceling turn signals mean one less operation to pull your focus away from the road.
I could sit here and list fancy features all day, but the point is this: The Harley-Davidson LiveWire is simply a nicer, more luxurious bike than pretty much anything else currently available in the electric motorcycle market. Yes, it’s expensive. But you’re not just paying for the H-D badge, you’re actually getting a well-made bike with some very nice (and exclusive) features.
One thing that consistently impressed me was the way Harley-Davidson was able to incorporate their gas-bike influences without getting too heavy-handed. I can’t blame them for trying to sneak in some of their heritage. Instead, I’ll commend them for keeping it subtle in a way that enhances the electric experience instead of detracting from it.
Take the pulsing sensation, for example.
It’s a faint, rhythmic pulse that runs through the bike while idling, and is inspired by the gas bikes that Harley is used to building. I don’t really know where the pulse comes from, but I feel it as a slight sensation in my hands and thighs when I’m idling at stoplights or getting ready to pull out of the garage. Harley included the feature as a combination of a safety warning and an experience enhancer. Since electric motorcycles idle silently, unfamiliar riders might not even realize they are “on,” which could result in accidentally blipping the throttle and rocketing away. The pulse not only serves as a non-intrusive reminder that the bike is ready to roll at any instant, but also adds one more sense to further meld man and machine.
Other heritage-inspired notes aren’t quite as elegant, but seem to be included in a measured way.
Sure, the bike has a faux gas tank. But it’s minimal and actually complements the lines of the bike nicely. And making the charge port look like a filler-cap is a bit on-the-nose. But again, it doesn’t look at all bad.
But what about the range?
Ah yes, the range. The good, old black-and-orange elephant in the room.
Here are the numbers:
The Harley-Davidson LiveWire gets a city range rating of 146 miles (235 km) and a combined city/highway range of 95 miles (153 km) combined using the MIC City and MIC Combined (70 mph) tests, respectively.
My testing was in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas (Hollywood, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Azusa, Carson, etc). I would ride during the day and charge at night in my garage on Level 1 charging. Even though the LiveWire offers a quick fill-up with Level 3 DC Fast Charging, I never once needed to use it. I didn’t do more than 100 miles in a day, so it just wasn’t necessary for me.
For those that ride long distances every day, maybe this isn’t the motorcycle for you. The range isn’t astounding, and Harley doesn’t pretend that it is.
But you know what it is? It’s sufficient for most people. I spent plenty of time cruising city blocks, and I also spent plenty of time at speeds that my wife must never know about. I had a hell of a good time riding all over, and never once thought I would run out of charge.
Of course I wasn’t doing touring or making cross-country trips, either. And to be fair, I wouldn’t try that. Not that it isn’t an option. The actor Ewan McGregor just rode over 8,000 miles from Argentina to California on a Harley-Davidson LiveWire. So it’s possible with a bit of planning. But it’s not what the bike was intended for, in terms of everyday usage. And you have to know that going in.
So the possibility is there for extended fun. But most people will be able to handle their commute without even a shred of range anxiety.
The LiveWire is good, but it’s not perfect
That being said, the LiveWire still has some room for improvement. My list of pros is long, but I have a list of cons as well.
First, I can’t stand the Harley-Davidson split-turn signal thing. I don’t want to control my left and right turn signal buttons with different thumbs — I want a single. I don’t know why they have always done that, but it’s annoying as hell. The only redeeming thing here is that the auto-cancelling turn signals mean I only need to touch the turn signals once.
Speaking of buttons, I get a bit of button overload when looking at all of my options on the bars. Jeez, that’s a lot of buttons. To be fair, the LiveWire has a lot of features, and its onboard computer gives you lots of customization and control options. But damn, that’s a lot of buttons.
Next, what’s up with the short charging cable? It’s only about 6 feet (2 meters) long. Fortunately I happened to have a ceiling-mounted outlet in my garage right above where I parked, which meant the cable was perfect for me. But not everyone has that option, and a 6-foot cable doesn’t give you much room to play with out in the wild.
Lastly, the bike is heavy. Sure, it rides great and you don’t really notice the 549 lb (249 kg) weight while moving. But maneuvering the bike in the driveway was a bit of a workout. I was on one of those old Hollywood driveways that is steeper than it is long, which didn’t help things. At one point I nearly dropped it at the bottom of the driveway while navigating the angled terrain. You know how those moments go, that slow motion, “Oh shoot, this thing is leaning too far,” realization? I wrenched with all my core to keep the bike upright as the bike seemed to pause at the point of no return before finally beginning to reverse course. I swear, if I had done one less sit-up in my life, I would have dropped that bike.
As you’ve probably noticed, none of these are very significant complaints. I’m honestly trying to find things to gripe about so it doesn’t look like I’m in Harley’s pocket. I swear this isn’t a paid review. (Electrek’s reviews are never paid). Rather, the LiveWire really is such a well-made motorcycle that I have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to dig up any downsides other than the price.
So is it worth it?
No, of course not. It’s a nearly $30,000 motorcycle, jeez!
Did you think I was going to say you should go out and buy one, based on how much I’ve been talking up the bike?
Alas, I’m not going to do that. Yes, I still believe it’s an incredible motorcycle. It’s well-made, and it performs amazingly. It’s an absolute pleasure to ride. And I totally understand that Harley-Davidson has to try and recoup five years worth of R&D that went into this motorcycle.
At that price, it’s still a luxury for the elite. And if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t need to look at the price tag when you go motorcycle shopping, then yes, I absolutely recommend the LiveWire. Buy it and never look back. You’ll love it. Each ride will be an emotional experience.
For the rest of us living in the real world with real paychecks, just sit tight. And pray that Harley-Davidson can hold on long enough to bring us the next four electric motorcycles and two-wheelers it has coming over the next two years.
Oh, and go take a test ride on a LiveWire at your local Harley-Davidson dealer. You probably won’t buy it, but you should at least experience it. It’s a ride like no other. If nothing else, it will make you take a second look at Harley-Davidson and the new direction the company is forging.
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