After living with Harley-Davidson’s LiveWire we’re no longer afraid of an electric future. However, there are some quirks to ditching dinosaur fuel…
After riding the Harley-Davidson LiveWire at multiple press events, we finally got our hands on a bike for a week and a half to learn a bit of what it is like to live with an electric motorcycle in the real world.
Arriving at Hamilton’s Road and Sport Motorcycles in the pouring rain wasn’t how I wanted to start my time with the Harley-Davidson LiveWire. Not only is it an insanely quick-motorcycle - capable of dusting 0-100Kph in 3-seconds - but with the deluge outside I had to wonder how good the waterproofing is on the large 15.5 kWH battery.
Turns out I had nothing to worry about, and apart from sliding the rear wheel out on a roundabout when I applied my usual 250cc rider’s fistful of throttle (mental note: don’t do that on a powerful bike) the ride home to Cambridge was wet, but uneventful.
The LiveWire has been on the market globally since late 2019, but New Zealand had to wait until late 2020 before we got our first examples. So far, less than 10 have been registered for the road at the time of writing and most of those appear to be the bikes used in the NZ Press intro at Pukekohe. Hardly a surprise considering even Harley-Davidson knew it wouldn’t be a big seller thanks to its lack of traditional noise and eye-watering $53,900 price tag.
Interestingly, Harley-Davidson recently announced that its EV portfolio would go it alone as its own EV brand under the LiveWire name. Ot will be interesting to see if they can change the fortunes of the LiveWire and become the Tesla of the motorcycle world without the baggage that comes with the traditional Harley-Davidson brand that’s for sure.
But putting the price of entry aside, what’s it like to live with an electric motorcycle?
Surprisingly it isn’t a chore, though the charging time on a standard AC wall outlet is best done overnight. While EVs are still more at home in urban environments, I decided I’d push the highway limits of the bike by using it to grab some points of interest on the REVER app’s Best of NZ challenge. With three within 100km of home, and the LiveWire not really being designed for straight highway cruising, I figured this would be a good way to test the real world application of the bike as a day tripper.
Stop one on my POI list was Wairere Falls near Matamata. A short 45 minute/54km ride later and I was basking in the late afternoon sun at the falls. The purpose of this ride was twofold. I wanted to get the POI point for the challenge, but I also wanted to see if there was enough range in the LiveWire riding nothing but highway to get me to my next point of interest destination - Rotorua.
Heading for home as the sun set, the temperature dropped drastically as we headed into our second frosty night of 2021. The LiveWire’s streetfighter styling and lack of wind protection became quite apparent as I trundled along State Highway 1 next to Lake Karapiro. I definitely missed the hand guards of my CRF250L Rally and wondered what heated grips might do to the range of the LiveWire…
After arriving home with 19% battery left after switching to Sport mode at Karapiro village and enjoying the ability to shorten my ride by overtaking slow traffic, I parked the bike up and warmed my numb hands inside the house. Charging the LiveWire could wait.
One of the biggest gripes against electric motorcycles is naturally the charging process. With 19% charge remaining I plugged the LiveWire in with its supplied charger which is stowed under the seat when not in use and checked out the time to charge of the bike’s TFT screen.
Time to charge: 9 hours, 50mins
Yep, it’s a long wait but that’s the reason charging overnight is recommended. If you can’t wait, there are fast chargers scattered across the country for public use which can charge to full in around an hour.
Having never used a DC fast charger before, I emailed ChargeNet (one of the biggest charge networks in NZ) for advice on the process, which it turns out is no harder than fuelling up a car.
Ok, it still takes longer to charge a battery on the DC CSS plug than to fuel up a car, but the fast charger cuts the time needed to around an hour in the case of the LiveWire.
Knowing I had the range to get to my next two challenge points of interest, I set my sights on Rotorua and Lake Tarawera.
With the ride to Rotorua including a climb over the Mamaku Ranges, I dove into the TFT menu and created a custom ride mode for the job by dialling power back to 50%, turning regenerative braking up to the maximum while also turning down throttle response to 80%. It was mostly guesswork, but it seemed to do the trick.
I have to admit, riding over the twists of the Mamakus I did wonder if 100% regen was less than helpful as it prevented any ability of the bike to coast along, but after the cold ride, Rotorua appeared out of the mist.
After stopping for a lakeside photo or two I rode into the CBD for my next POI before looking up the exact location of the nearest fast charger on the ChargeNet app, which directed me to a car park opposite the Rotorua Library on Haupapa Street.
It turns out app use is integral to EV ownership, with the ChargeNet app a must considering the size of their network, while Plugshare is another great resource for finding a place to charge.
After eyeballing the charger and looking at Google maps to determine the distance to the next POI at Lake Tarawera, I decided to chance the 40km round trip with the remaining 30% battery I had after the ride over from Cambridge.
Owning a Honda CRF250L Rally with a small 10.2 litre fuel tank, I’m no stranger to range anxiety. Yet I’ve never felt it in the same way as I did on that quick ride to Lake Tarawera.
This isn’t helped by the estimated range readout in the LiveWire’s dash. While it’s a handy tool, it bases its reading on your current riding and as such can be a bit pessimistic. Going by battery percentage is generally a better rule of thumb but you cant escape that range anxiety when you know you’re pushing your range.
Climbing out of Rotorua past the Redwoods saw the battery percentage drop ominously fast and before I’d reached the Blue Lake I’d already shed 5% of the battery charge. If I wanted to make it back to Rotorua, I’d need to slow things down.
With little to no traffic about, I ambled along between 40-60kph and soaked in the beauty of the native bush along the roadside.
Cresting another hill and my goal was in sight. The blue water of Lake Tarawera with the mountain (volcano, actually) of the same name looming large above it.
With my available battery now half what I set off from Rotorua with 15% left, I was relieved to see the notification that I had collected the Tarawera POI and I could turn back for the Haupapa Street charger. I had wanted to ride down to the lakeside to look at Mt. Tarawera, which famously erupted in spectacular fashion in 1886, but with a very hilly ride back to Rotorua conserving power was paramount if I didn’t want to befriend a local to charge off their home.
After some rather aggressive hyper-miling I arrived back at the Haupapa Street charging station, albeit with the low charge warning blazing on the dash and 6% battery remaining.
The charger itself was already in use by a Nissan Leaf, which brings up another issue with the EV life. At a petrol station you often can fuel up multiple vehicles at a time, but the EV network in general seems limited to one vehicle per charger.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The owner of the Nissan was very polite and more than happy to chat about the LiveWire and EVs in general while I waited for his car to complete its charge. It was a short 10 minute wait and I was in no particular hurry.
Having not actually used a fast charger before, I was actually a bit relieved to find the friendly Nissan owner was more than happy to show me the ropes on how to operate the charger. EV etiquette certainly seems to be a step above what you usually encounter at the fuel bowser.
With the bike plugged in on the CSS fast charger the dash lit up and declared a time of 1:05 to get a full charge. Considering id essentially skipped breakfast to sneak out if the house (something that is incidentally a lot was with an electric bike) I was keen for a hearty brunch so after locking the LiveWire up I walked over to the Fat Dog Cafe for a warning coffee and a big breakfast. EV life isn’t so bad.
After a filling brunch and decent coffee, I started to walk back to the ChargeNet charger when my phone vibrated with a notification from the ChargeNet app. Charging complete.
This was soon followed by a text message confirming the same.
The pricing was a pleasant surprise, with this charge only costing a minuscule $5.56. However, this is on the cheaper end as some chargers, such as my local in Cambridge, charge a lower rate for electricity but also an additional $0.25 per minute you’re connected. It definitely pays to utilise the apps to check pricing before you charge.
So with a full charge and my main goals ticked off I decided to cruise home via the local power station at Lake Karapiro, because why not?
So what was my takeaway after a week and a half with the LiveWire at home?
Well, to start with you definitely want to charge at home overnight, as the AC charge takes a while. Conversely DC chargers are actually abundant if you utilise the ChargeNet and PlugShate apps so getting decent range out of your day trip isn’t out if the question.
In terms if the riding experience there is some adjustments to be made coming from internal combustion engines, with modulating your power output and riding smoothly being a bit of an art form, particularly if you’ve just come from a bike that needs full throttle at all times.
But the biggest takeaway I had was that while the charging network realistically needs to come a long way from its current state to be practical for mass EV uptake, having an EV is still far from a limiting experience.
Yes, it is a bit of a shift in mentality, but the LiveWire was brilliant fun to blast around on and within the city limits it utterly shone.
In fact, I almost missed living in Auckland with my daily commute along the southern motorway while I had the LiveWire. Almost…