An Ordinary Rider's Review of the Harley-Davidson LiveWire
A Day with Electric Bliss in Los Angeles, rented from Twisted Road, by an "ordinary rider"
If you want to rent the LiveWire like I did, you can! Sign up to Twisted Road and get your first day's rental (of ANY motorcycle) free.
I wanted to give a review from the perspective of an "ordinary rider", doing ordinary things: taking it up for a gentle fang in the mountains, cruising on a freeway, and getting stuck in traffic.
I'm not an ex-racer, I'm not a trained journalist, and I'm definitely not a movie star. I don't get my knee down. I don't have a club membership. I don't do wheelies on highways. I'm just a guy who has ridden a lot of motorcycles and plans to ride for a long time more.
And this is what I think of the LiveWire.
In this article...
About me as a motorcycle rider
I've ridden motorcycles since my early 20s, when I thought I should pick up riding as a life skill that will serve me in many crazier parts of the world. Having now ridden (small) motorcycles in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, I am very glad I did learn it when I could!
Since then I've ridden dozens of motorcycles, many of which I've owned, and a few of which I've rented and put a few hundred miles on. I haven't fall in love with them all, although anything with two wheels and a motor is vastly superior to having nothing at all.
I don't ride at high speeds for no reason. I wear gear. I don't get my knee down on public roads or run from cops. If you're looking for a sensationalist rider — maybe try YouTube.
But I do all the things normal riders do, and then some. I sit in traffic. I fang machines up quiet country and mountain roads on weekends. I do interstate trips.
I work on my machine, doing my own servicing (everything short of a full engine tear-down), sometimes totally rebuilding them. And I don't think there's anything I can't do — just sometimes there are space limitations (and budget limitations on equipment) as I don't have a full workshop, just a lot of great tools.
OK, enough about me, that's just so you know whether my opinion is relevant. Now about the motorcycle!
About the Harley-Davidson LiveWire... the Basics
I'm no spring chicken and I've ridden my fair share of motorcycles as you can see from this page. But somehow, the LiveWire was the first Harley Davidson I've ever ridden!
I have nothing against Harleys. I love the look, I enjoy the sound, and I'm aware that the "culture" only applies to me if I adopt it. I have friends with Sportsters, Dynas, and one lucky one with a V-Rod. Given I usually include a Harley-Davidson in my list of most attractive motorcycles, I've always thought that one was in my future, when I pick a spot to live in long-term in the next couple of years.
But I never expected my first Harley-Davidson ride to be on an electric motorcycle!
Let me try to introduce the Harley-Davidson LiveWire's characteristics as a motorcycle as briefly as possible, just so you don't have Google "Livewire Specs" somewhere else:
- Posture: It's an upright sporty performance motorcycle. The riding stance is a bit like a Ducati Monster. The handlebars are wide.
- Drivetrain: All electric, water-cooled, single gear (i.e. no gears). It produces 105 hp (78 kW), with torque available all the way from down low. Torque levels feel like riding a sports motorcycle in third gear, but never having to shift.
- Chassis: A 250kg solid feeling chassis with weight down low. It feels very balanced and is easy to keep almost at a stand-still.
- Top speed: 95 mph. On the freeway, this means that at 70mph it has plenty of accelerating torque to spare. point and shoot.
- Electronics: The whole kit — lean angle-sensitive ABS, traction control with multiple ride modes, cruise control.
Like I mentioned in my Zero SR/F review, the things people want to know about electric motorcycles are "how far will it go", "how fast will it go", and "how long will it take to recharge".
In addition to that, I'll try to answer a few other pertinent questions, like: can an electric motorcycle have a soul?
Does the Harley-Davidson LiveWire have a soul?
Man, this is a tough question. What is the "soul" of a motorcycle? So much so that I put together a whole other perspective on the LiveWire discussing the question of "soul" exclusively.
Soul can be many things to different people. The team at Common Tread had a whole meandering podcast about whether motorcycles have soul, and didn't conclude anything, as usual (which is what I love about their podcast!).
In a nutshell, the Harley does indeed have a soul... but it's your soul. It gets out of the way and lets you ride the way you want to. It accelerates effortlessly, brakes adequately, and is easy to handle at speeds ranging from near zero to over-illegal.
The "soul" is of course quite different to that of any other Harley-Davidson, or any other motorcycle — particularly older "classics". But there's definitely character in there, even if it's quieter than other machines.
The Riding Position of the LiveWire
The first thing I noticed about the riding position of the LiveWire is the riding position. It's so different to any cruiser motorcycle. In fact... it's not a cruiser.
It can best be likened to a Ducati Monster. The bars are forward, more than a "standard", but not light a sports motorcycle with clip-ons. And the pegs are in a standard position, right below.
This can be a little alarming for people not used to riding naked motorcycles. "Aren't you just going to be in the wind all the time?" Well yes, but no.
There's more to wind-flow than just assuming that because you're above the handlebars you're going to receive the full force of the wind. Little details like the headlight and surrounding plastics have a massive effect on how much wind actually hits you in the face.
Harley-Davidson's aerodynamics engineers have done a great job here, to the point where when I was at 65 mph (over 100 km/h) on the LiveWire, I didn't feel like I was subjected to terrible wind-blast.
Being over the handlebars also meant that I felt more in control of the LiveWire than a lazier reclined seat like on cruisers. On a sports bike, like the R1 or a Ducati 998, you feel like you're directly pushing the wheel from left to right. It's crazy connected.
You don't need THAT level of connection in daily riding. But having some direct input felt great.
About the Harley-Davidson LiveWire's Motor
Obviously, the main point of the LiveWire is the electric motor.
Many out there think: what's the power delivery like? Is it sudden? Is it smooth? Does an electric motor have any soul?
There's this strange rumour going around the internet that electric motors have torque from "zero". This is... well... wrong. No motor can have torque from zero. It's not magic.
Electric motors delivery torque from basically zero, though — essentially from 50 rpm. Even so, I want you to consider a couple of things.
- If you delivered "full" electric motor torque from zero, you'd flip the bike. It'd be like sticking a giant lever under the front of the motorcycle. You'd die, hard and fast.
- If you deliver full torque as quickly as possible, you'll use huge amounts of power and drain the battery very quickly.
For these reasons (probably especially the first one), electric motorcycles use a lot of electronic trickery to modulate the torque delivered to the motor.
Put simply, if you "wring it", the computer goes "HOLD ON! YOU'RE GOING TO DIE IF YOU DO THAT" and instead drip-feeds the torque into the motor to ensure that the wheels stay planted on the ground.
You can change rider mode to go faster and maybe even do a wheelie (I didn't, I didn't want to break Diego's motorcycle that he lent me!), but you'll never get "full torque from zero".
I've never gotten away from the traffic lights so quickly as I did on the LiveWire.
Even in eco mode (where I had it for 75% of my day's ride so I could go for longer), all I had to do was twist the throttle and cars would be laughably far behind me.
Part of the magic of the quick acceleration is not shifting. I never had to worry about clutching and levering — I was always in the right gear (in fact, the only gear).
I wish I could somehow show you what it looked like to leave cars that far behind in the mirrors without even thinking about it, without even trying, and without even making noise. It was magic.
Oh, speaking of noise...
That LiveWire Sound, though (or lack thereof)
It's eerie how the LiveWire makes no sound.
I'm no stranger to this, mostly from experience riding my bad-ass electric bike that does 40 km/h every day all the time — on low-power mode.
It's different to driving an electric car, though. In a car you're a bit isolated from the world. Driving an electric car is not too different from driving a quiet car. Your world is dominated by wind noise, tyre noise, and the sound from the entertainment system you're using. Basically you're in a cocoon.
When you ride an electric motorcycle, it's not that you can't hear your motorcycle — although you definitely can't — it's that every other vehicle seems rudely loud.
It's like being for the first time in a loud South-East Asian market (if you're not used to that in your day to day life) in Thailand, Vietnam, or Hong Kong. You feel like "I'm quiet, can't everyone else be quiet? What's with the racket?"
As much as I love the sound of a screaming engine, being on an electric motorcycle makes me look forward to a day when all vehicles are electric.
What's it like to not shift?
Do you ride a motorcycle to ride? Or do you ride to shift?
I'd love to answer that cheeky rhetorical question with "to ride", but the truth is, I do enjoy shifting.
Shifting is... quirky. Every time you do it, you have to think a little about what speed you're going, what you want to do, whether you should be off clutch in that particular place.
Shifting takes forethought, co-ordination, and skill. It's part of the joy of motorcycling. So while I don't think "I want to get out there and have a good session of shifting gears!" I do think that knowing how to shift is part of what makes me a good rider.
It's a bit like baking bread. I can go out and buy bread. I can use yeast. But to make a sourdough from a starter you've been cultivating yourself... that brings a certain amount of joy with it.
On the other hand... a gearbox is one more thing to always adjust and eventually replace. Clutches wear out. False neutrals develop. Not having a gearbox is, from the perspective of maintenance, a blessing.
So — I don't want to shift all the time. But I don't ride to commute. If I were commuting every day, I might choose something like the LiveWire (or an Africa Twin DCT).
In general... I love the LiveWire. But would I buy it now? Probably not.
The main reasons I won't now buy a LiveWire — aside from the fact that I'm finishing this article during the COVID-19 pandemic when recreational riding and even commuting are minimised — are
- The rate of improvement of electric vehicles is very high. Just looking at Zero's development over the years, motorcycles got about 10% more powerful and 10% more range every year.
- I don't like to buy new. You can only get LiveWire motorcycles new (for now), as nobody is selling them. I have never bought a new motorcycle. They tend to lose 20% of their value just from walking out the dealership door, so that's a non-starter for me.
- Prices drop on electric motorcycles faster than regular motorcycles. This is because of the compound effect of the improvement with new vehicles and general depreciation on used motorcycles. This is alleviated somewhat by the Harley-Davidson brand — but still, old Sportsters are much cheaper than new ones, even when low mileage.
Another reason is quite personal to me. I got into motorcycles not because of the riding, but because I was fascinated by the complexity of internal combustion engines. Knowing how they work and working on them is, to me, like being a watchmaker — a participant in an ageing industry that's becoming an art form.
I didn't choose motorcycling as a practical choice. I chose it because it's fun. The insanity of a huge ICE underneath me is part of that fun.
We won't have ICE engines forever. Even if we do, in 20-50 years they'll be considered curiosities, like steam engines are today. It's fun for me to be involved in that.
Electric motors are the future, but for now, their convenience and superiority is actually a turn-off for me.
Still, I'll happily rent one again, and keep renting them as they get better.