We ride Harley-Davidson's first fully electric bike; the Livewire
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If you told me 10 years ago that Harley-Davidson would be one of the first mainstream manufacturers to launch a fully electric motorcycle, I would have laughed you out of town.
But in 2015, Harley took to the world with 33 prototype electric bikes dubbed Project Livewire with the promise of a production version by 2020, and the motorcycling world was put on notice.
In the intervening years, we’ve seen electric bike makers come and go, or be gobbled up by large motorcycle manufacturers trying to get a leg up in EV development. But in general, the motorcycle industry has lagged behind the car industry in development and delivering on the electric dreams of many aspiring riders.
Harley, on the other hand, has not only kept its promise, but the 2020 Livewire is the first fully electric mass production motorcycle from any mainstream manufacturer.
With a claimed city range of 235km, Harley has already addressed one of the biggest concerns associated with any electric vehicle: range anxiety.
Interestingly, once you escape the city the Livewire’s range is reduced to a claimed range of 158km, the result of not being able to use the built-in regenerative braking function as often.
Charging times vary depending on which system you use.
Plugging into a standard wall socket will take roughly 10 hours to fully charge the battery whereas using a DC fast charger, which Harley-Davidson Livewire dealers will have on-site and available for owners to use, will take just an hour to charge the battery to 100 per cent from flat.
A nice touch in the design of the bike is how Harley chose to use the faux fuel tank to house the charging ports for the bike, which retains some familiarity with motorcycling convention.
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The bike is based around a lightweight alloy frame that weighs 6.5kg all up. And despite the large centralised 15.5kWh battery pack, you could say the Livewire is a conventionally attractive machine.
With the looks of a naked roadster, even if it had a conventional V-twin engine it’d still be one of Harley’s best-looking bikes.
So, unlike traditional Harley-Davidsons, the Livewire is a sporty bike in more ways than one.
Harley has really put in some effort to make the Livewire unique. It rolls on 17in wheels with Michelin Scorcher tyres and a set of fully adjustable suspension.
Lighting is provided exclusively via LEDs and the two biggest changes from Project Livewire are the addition of a small bikini fairing up front and the move to traditional (and importantly functional) mirrors.
Powering the Livewire is a 15.5kWh battery at the centre of the bike. In fact, the majority of the bike is taken up by the battery.
Interestingly, Harley still uses a standard bike battery for the accessories, located just in front of the rear wheel.
The motor — dubbed the Revelation by Harley — runs along the base of the bike and produces 78kW and 116Nm all at 0rpm. Power is sent to the final drive via a bevel system which in turn gives the Livewire its unique “jet turbine” sound.
That sound, which is best described as similar to a jet turbine engine, becomes apparent when the bike is under acceleration. Getting heavy on the throttle was hard to resist with the bike reaching 100km/h in a fraction over 3s. As your speed increases so does the whine from the bike right up until you hit the bike’s top speed of 177km/h.
Unlike traditional Harleys which are clearly on when you push the starter, Harley developed a special haptic feedback which is emitted by the bike which signals the rider that the bike is on. At a standstill, the electric motor produces a subtle pulsing of torque, kind of like a heartbeat, which designed to let the rider know the bike has come to life and is ready to ride.
Sadly for Kiwis, Harley-Davidson is yet to confirm the final price or date for the Livewire’s entry to the New Zealand market. But with the US price just shy of $30K, we can expect to pay more than $44,000 when it arrives in the second half of 2020.
PRICE: $TBC (expect more than $40,000)
POWERTRAIN: 15.5kW battery pack and Revelation longitudinal permanent magnet electric motor
POWER: 78kW and 116Nm @ 0rpm
RANGE: Approx 235km city/ 58km highway
PROS: Fast, fun, looks great, did I say fast?
CONS: Price tag will be high