Electric Harley-Davidson review

RACV RoyalAuto Magazine

Harley goes live

Though nothing like a traditional Harley-Davidson, the electric machine offers a proper motorcycling experience.

As a motorcycle manufacturer, Harley-Davidson has often been accused of dragging the evolutionary chain with a design style rooted in the 1930s and ’40s. But there’s one model that is more space shuttle than coal scuttle, even if that’s at the expense of many of the things Harley riders hold so dear.

The bike in question is the LiveWire. It hasn’t been confirmed for production, but the concept is resolved enough to be viable should Harley push the button.

So what’s the big difference? Instead of using an engine to turn fossil fuel into propulsion and – in a Harley’s case – decibels, LiveWire is a fully electric bike.

Instead of a servo, the LiveWire rider heads for a household powerpoint, charging the batteries in about 3½ hours. Harley says that’s good for 80km, depending the riding mode chosen – either for distance or for performance.

The obvious implication is for the environment by way of reduced emissions (zero if the electricity is from a renewable source), but performance was still a core requirement. And believe it or not, LiveWire is Harley’s sportiest offering to date. Its relatively low weight, low centre of gravity and quick steering mean it’s a fun bike and would make a sensational commuter machine.

RoyalAuto got the chance to ride the LiveWire on a demonstration day in Malaysia and, despite feeling nothing like a traditional Harley-Davidson, the electric machine answers its critics by still offering a proper motorcycling experience: turn on the power, select your riding mode, wind on the conventional throttle grip and you’re away.

Yes, but what does it sound like? While the booming V-twin engine of an old-school Harley is missing, LiveWire is not totally silent, having a mechanical whine from deep within the driveline (deliberately engineered in, I’m told). But there’s absolutely no vibration.

The motor’s ability to produce its maximum torque at standstill means there’s no need for a gearbox, so there’s no clutch either. In fact, Livewire is no more difficult to ride than a modern twist-and-go scooter. And that flat torque curve means it delivers all its 70Nm of torque from the get-go, giving it a punchy, willing feel that translates to a truly fun ride.

Handling is sure and cornering sharp, although the regenerative braking (where the motor becomes a generator to recharge the batteries and extend the range when you’re slowing down) means you generally only use the actual brakes when coming to a complete stop.

Electric motorcycles are not entirely new. But until now, they’ve been the preserve of off-road trail-bikes, scooters and motor-assisted push-bikes. The Livewire is none of those things; it’s a fully fledged road bike that offers real-world performance using technology that is generally agreed to represent the future of personal mobility. Harley-Davidson knows it won’t appeal to its current buyers, but it also knows that in 20 years’ time bikes like Livewire will be just what buyers are looking for.

And without that booming V-twin exhaust, this is a Harley even your neighbours will like.

Written by David Morley
May 04, 2015