H-D LiveWire - A Bob Each Way?

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Words: NZ Autocar
5 Oct 2020

A future without fossil fuels is coming and many car buyers are embracing it already. But it’s a brave new world on the emissions-free motorcycle front.

Of the traditional bike makers only Harley-Davidson Motor Company has made the effort with LiveWire. It has taken 117 years for H-D to produce its first offering with an actual motor.

It’s a surprise that LiveWire has survived the recent restructuring at the company, following the exit of the bike’s champion, Matthew Levotich. When the Rewire plan was announced midyear, I figured this was the death of its first electric offering.

However, the board must have decided to have a bob each way on an electric future. We’re glad they didn’t scupper LiveWire because Harley’s most revolutionary product to date does not disappoint.

In the flesh it’s quite compact and indeed it weighs in at just 251kg; the only lighter model in the line-up is the Street 500. And none to date has been nearly as fast in a straight line, nor as track ready as this.

So the LiveWire is quite a revelation. Which brings us tidily to the crux of the machine, its electric motor that goes by the same name. It sits low, and is water cooled, while above within the finned container lies a 15.5kWh lithium-ion power source. The motor output is rated at 78kW and 116Nm.

On the launch day at Pukekohe Race Track we were asked to ride it in the Road mode, one of four switchable on the fly. This offers 80 per cent of full power, so doesn’t drain the battery quite so quickly as Sport mode. Even so, 50km of flat-out track riding used up about 50 per cent of battery reserves. But then no-one was sparing any of the 105 horses.

And that’s because its acceleration is addictive, full power from idle. With TC on you can pull clean getaways every time. Try full throttle on any superbike off the line and you’ll be on your ear.

To ride, this is a snip; at start up it confirms this by pulsing away beneath you like an animal with a beating heart. All you need do then is twist the throttle and you’re away laughing. Literally. There are no gears so no clutch lever or shifter. Its belt drive is also scooter-like but there the similarity ends. This is a proper belter. And without gears, you can concentrate more on brake markers and cornering lines while on track.

With its array of safety gear, this feels foolproof, though no bike is. Exiting Castrol Corner, there’s that straight beckoning, and so you wind it on full to the lock stop. And can this thing hike? Curiously there’s little in the way of sound or fury to confirm what’s happening. No vibes either, just the digital speedo flickering ever upwards and a gathering wind rush. By the kink you’ve hit the 184km/h speed limiter, all for saving battery charge, mind.

Harley reckons you can get around 160km on the open road before needing to ‘refuel’ - that’s similar to its regular models with peanut tanks - but nearer to 250km in urban settings where you’re not running into wind issues and there are more chances for regeneration. And that’s variable too.

After lunch we took to the road and the acceleration experienced in the real world feels even livelier! You’re thankful for TC here. In Range mode, to extend range obviously, this is still a goer.

More than that, it’s just a great roadster. Its suspension delivers control on track, and yet isn’t harsh on road.

Modern fully adjustable Showa units both ends work a treat. The brakes are equally impressive: radial-mount four-piston Brembos up front, washing off speed with sports bike efficiency, even more so with the rear brake in tow.

This handles like no other Harley we’ve ridden, its light(ish) weight carried low and centrally is key. It dives into turns merrily, hangs tough and you can wind on full power out of the corners knowing the cornering TC will see you right. There’s more lean angle (45 degrees each way) than with any Harley prior too.

At slow speed, it’s a snip to perform a feet-up U-turn, a generous lock contributing, so they’ve got the chassis balance right and wide bars help make changes of direction easy. Even the riding position and seat feel natural, sorted. You’d run out of range well before your hiney suggests it’s time to stop.

Things we don’t like? There’s no handspan adjustment for the brake lever. And it didn’t quite meet the 0-100 time quoted but there’s a reason for that (see full report in November issue of Autocar).

On cost, it ain’t cheap at $NZ53,900 but it is the halo electric offering from the company. That also makes it the least expensive new EV that you can buy in New Zealand currently.

You can fast charge to 80 per cent in 40min using the CCS connector, and 100 per cent in an hour. Or use the home charger overnight which adds 20km of range per hour. This and price will limit sales; until battery tech permits 10min recharge times and better open road range, LiveWire will find a limited market.

However, Harley is talking about using the Revelation motor in less expensive models in future, so hopefully that will come to pass. Whatever, we’re glad LiveWire has made it this far; it shows the company can build an exciting innovative sports bike.

And if cost proves a sales barrier, please Harley don’t can LiveWire. Ditch the electrics, slot in a revvy 1200cc V-twin, call it - I don’t know, Bronx maybe? - and sell it for half the price. It should be another H-D winner.

Royal Enfield July 2020
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