LiveWire: Harley-Davidson’s Electric Thrill

Harley-Davidson, juggernaut of the motorcycling world, produces bikes that are distinctly recognizable not just by their hulking frames, but by sound. The deep purr of an engine announces the approach of one of these puppies; enthusiasts will recognize the distinct rumble of its two-piston engine and single pin crankshaft, a design that produces that signature, intermittent popping sound. Before you see a Harley-Davidson coming, before it rounds a corner or guns its way around a bend in the road, you know it’s a Harley-Davidson.

It may come as a surprise, then, that the brand’s next big project is one that’s a whole lot more…well, quiet. “The loudest sound you hear,” the marketing materials promise, “will be your heart racing.”

The LiveWire represents Harley-Davidson’s first foray into the world of electric vehicles. Numerous companies have been pioneering this new form of motorbike, and in a bid to maintain its status as a heavyweight in the industry it has been dominating for over a century, Harley-Davidson is actively working on a model that will become commercially available in August of this year. As if to underline this shift, the LiveWire debuted not at an auto or motorcycle show, but at CES 2019 in Las Vegas, where it created a definite stir. It sat silently on the floor of the massive tech show beneath a circular screen, which displayed pictures of the bike “in the wild”, so to speak: parked on an open road, framed on each side by verdant bushes and trees.

Let’s take a look at what we can expect from this bike once it hits the market. When it comes to appearance, Harley-Davidson is promoting three colours: a bright orange, a brighter yellow, and an understated, beetle-like black. The frame is built from lightweight cast aluminium, with an extreme rigidity that makes for responsive handling. The brand is promising bespoke options that will include a speed screen blade, hand and foot controls, and a variety of other accessories.

Tech lovers (and riders who are willing to enthusiastically embrace…well, modernity) will be excited by the state-of-the-art touchscreen display. The screen is 4.3 inches of liquid-crystal, full-colour innovation, allowing the rider to digitally monitor speed, range, and battery status. It can also be customized to suit individual preferences like music, turn-by-turn navigation, and can provide information and alerts.

The front and rear SHOWA suspension is fully adjustable, allowing the rider to handle the LiveWire in comfort. Move a little lower down and you’ll find premium H-D/Michelin tires (120mm in the front and 180mm in the rear), which were specifically “engineered to enhance the ride and handling performance of this ground-breaking machine.”

But let’s cut straight to the heart of things — when it comes to the performance of said ground-breaking machine, what can the LiveWire do?

Present specs promise a throttle with no clutch to release and no gears to worry about; a flick of the wrist is all it takes to get this baby going. And it can go — at an acceleration rate of 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds.

The estimated mile range on a single charge, based on the initial concept testing, stands at 110 miles of city driving. This is considerably less than competitor Zero Motorcycles’ 217 city miles on its largest battery option, so we wonder if Harley-Davidson will introduce multiple battery options by the time the LiveWire goes to market. But there are scalable charging options here: the onboard Level 1 charger and power cord can be connected to any standard household outlet, though it’ll take an overnight wait before the battery is at max power. For those with a little less patience, a public Level 3 DC Fast Charge station will have it up and running much faster.

Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the LiveWire will be the H-D Connect Service, which the company is toting as the world’s most connected motorcycle experience. Cellular telematics connectivity, powered by Panasonic, will allow the rider to download the Harley-Davidson App and connect to the vehicle remotely via smartphone. The point? The ability to monitor bike vitals like battery life, location, and perhaps most important of all, whether the bike is in danger of tampering. If someone bumps or moves the LiveWire, you’ll receive an instant security alert on your phone, providing those overprotective riders with peace of mind.

We’ll have to wait until the LiveWire hits the market to report on the riding and handling experience first-hand, but we’re impressed by these initial specs. After all, who knew Harley-Davidson, champion of the screaming engine, was capable of an indoor voice?


Images courtesy of Harley-Davidson.