Harley-Davidson LiveWire review


Think Harley-Davidson and you’re bound to conjure up images of big V-twins straddled by burly men in leather waistcoats.

It’s the archetypal 'biker look' to non-bikers and one that’s difficult to not associate with the iconic Milwaukee firm. Until now.

The LiveWire is Harley's first stab at an electric motorcycle and an effort that’s almost bound to ruffle some feathers amongst die-hard Harley fans. There’s no V-Twin under that frame and not a tassle in sight. It’s a new type of Harley. It’s a game changer.

Fire up the electric motor and the LiveWire sits there in utter silence. No potato-potato sound and a complete lack of vibration, all you can feel is a smooth whirr as the 74hp motor lightly oscillates beneath the seat.

And unlike Brammo’s electric Empulse R, which comes with a six-speed gearbox, the LiveWire has just one gear and no clutch. Twist the throttle at idle and the bike leaps forward with the urgency of a middleweight twin right up to its 92mph top speed. Our test bike didn't have ABS or traction control but even in the pouring rain the throttle response was smooth enough to feed in power safely and the single-disc front brake delivered enough feel to avoid locking up the front.

Despite being only a prototype, it has the fit and finish of a motorcycle that's been in production for several years. The LiveWire could go on sale tomorrow and it wouldn't look unfinished alongside other bikes in the showroom.

We rode the bike at Millbrook test facility in the pouring rain; with barely enough grip to open the throttle fully it was almost impossible to test the bike's handling but I suspect most naked bikes wouldn't have too much difficulty leaving the LiveWire in their wake. The electric machine has a comfortable upright riding position but the stretched-out reach to the bars and lazy steering hold it back through corners.

But I don't think Harley-Davidson would mind me saying that. I don't think it's meant to compete against sports nakeds on the market. The LiveWire is in a class of its own and if it comes to market I'll stick a tenner on it selling well for one reason: It doesn't look like an electric bike. There's no shouty white and fluorescent green paint and the electric motor housing could easily pass as the bottom end of a conventional petrol bike. The LiveWire is simply like a better looking version of the XR1200.

The bike can be run in two different modes: 'Power' for maximum speed and 'Range for, you guessed it, increased range. A full charge takes roughly three hours and depending on how you ride the battery can last for up to 53 miles, although that range will drop significantly if you start rinsing the throttle at every junction. The colour touchscreen dash displays just about every parameter known to man, like throttle position, speed, battery capacity and power draw. It's easy to use with gloves and about as intuitive as systems come.

The riding event was part of Harley's LiveWire Experience Tour which has already seen thousands of test rides across the pond and is now making its way across Europe. It's a mass market research project on the move and every test ride helps Harley decide where they're going right or wrong.

It's too late to have a go on one but considering the endless amounts of positive feedback the LiveWire is getting, I don't suspect it will be long before you see one sitting in your local dealership.