It’s been a long wait, but finally, Kiwi riders can plug into Harley-Davidson’s first fully-electric motorcycle- the LiveWire.
Launched this week to the motoring press at Pukekohe Park Raceway, the $53,995 LiveWire is a controversial model in the Harley lineup. In fact, I’d go as far as to say no new model has been as polarising as the revolutionary LiveWire, which steps far away from Harley-Davidson’s traditional customer base.
Incredibly, over one year after its international launch in America LiveWire is still the only fully electric motorcycle (and we’re not including scooters for obvious reasons) from any of the traditional manufacturers.
Positioned as the halo of a yet to be released range of EVs by Harley, the lack of the traditional potato-potato-potato exhaust note and sporty styling sets the LiveWire far apart from the rest of the Harley-Davidson range. It's the quickest, most dynamic and, in my opinion, fun motorcycle in the entire Motor Co.'s current lineup.
The LiveWire is powered forwards by a 15.5kWh lithium-ion battery and an internal permanent magnetic synchronous motor H-D calls its Revelation powertrain. Power itself is rated at 105hp (78kW) and 116Nm from 0rpm, with the motor itself spinning up to 15,000rpm and a top speed of 177kph.
Charging that large centrally mounted battery - which makes for a beautifully balanced bike and hides its significant 240kg in the process - takes 40 minutes on a DC fast charger to reach 80%, while a full charge takes just an hour in the same system.
Interestingly, Harley-Davidson recommends using the DC system for only one out of every four charges to maintain battery life (the battery does, however, have a 5-year unlimited kilometre warranty) with a full charge off an AC wall socket taking 12.5 hours from dead flat.
Dynamically the LiveWire is the sportiest ride from Milwaukee in a very long time. With a Streetfighter style riding position and no exhaust to get in the way, the bike can lean up to 45-degrees on each side while the factory fitted Michelin Scorcher tyres do a surprisingly good job of keeping that tremendous burst of instant power in firm contact with the ground.
With Pukekohe Park all to ourselves, we could legally open up the LiveWire to utilise every watt of power. A good thing too, as that top speed of 177kph is achieved well before the back straight chicane.
With four preset rider modes (Sport, Highway, Rain and Eco) plus three custom modes where you can adjust everything from the amount of throttle, battery regeneration and power the bike is also quite adaptable. Traction control is switchable too, and I’m not sure I’ve experienced anything that can light up the rear tyre quite like the LiveWire. That said, the ABS doesn’t appreciate repeated antics and throws up a warning light in protest. It’s nothing turning the bike off and on again won’t fix but is worth nothing is you hate rear tyres with a burning passion.
There's plenty of other tech under the skin of the LiveWire as well, including Harley's cornering ABS system, traction control and a touch screen dash that allows you to change the way all the bike's important info is displayed.
Servicing costs are way down as well, meaning fewer expensive trips to the dealership. With the belt drive said to be good for 100,000km so long as you don't let a stone rip it apart (might want to avoid gravel on LiveWire then), the only annual service item is the oil in the drive system to worry about, with the odd change of brake pads, brake fluid and the coolant that cools the electric motor and charging system as the only other service items on the entire bike.
Then there’s the cost of charging it up, which through a pay DC fast charger is around $10. Sure, it takes up to an hour to fill but that’s a heck of a lot cheaper than petrol.
Honestly, I personally don’t think there are that many cons to the LiveWire considering its design purpose.
Yes, it's range is limited to 235km in ideal urban conditions and between 100-200 highway, but for most quick jaunts it's actually plenty of charge and is silly amounts of fun slingshotting out of corners.
With the charging infrastructure around the country continually improving, there's a DC fast charger nearby in all the major centres and a trip around the golden triangle of Auckland-Hamilton-Tauranga is totally doable. You just need to factor in charge times.
With just two official dealerships - Auckland Harley-Davidson and Road and Sport in Hamilton - the dealer support for the bike is also limited to just the upper North Island. Not a huge deal considering the lack of many consumable service items but still a pain for any interested riders from the Deep South.
Perhaps the only real negative to the LiveWire's design is the oversight for hill parking. With no gearbox or engine to lock the bike in place, the bike cannot be parked on a hill without plonking something like a brick on the rear brake or locking the front brake shut. A certain design oversight but, again, it's not the end of the world.
Going into pet peeve territory I did find that the joint where the frame and subframe meet dug a little into my thighs when I tried to get both feet down on the ground. Slightly uncomfortable but easily alleviated by just putting my left foot down and resting the other on the rear brake.
LiveWire won’t convert everyone to the electric cause. Its price tag alone is the biggest off-putting factor but that is what you get for a cutting edge premium product. For some, the lack of that traditional potato-potato-potato soundtrack is enough to warrant abuse over social media as they swear black and blue that they'll never swing a leg over the bike. It's their loss really. There is nothing on earth quite like the LiveWire.
At the time of writing, only one LiveWire has officially made it into private hands (with a couple more waiting to be delivered) and was sold by Hamilton’s Road and Sport. The owner, in his 50s and already an owner of a traditional H-D product, bought his LiveWire as a commuter and that is really where the bike can shine.
That said, as soon as I get my hands on one of the local press fleet, I'm taking aim at the Coromandel Loop to see if one of the country's greatest day trips is still doable on the stupidly fun Harley-Davidson.