Harley-Davidson LiveWire Review: The Jury Is In

3 years ago by Ted Dillard 14

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 6.27.40 AM With another three months to go for the Harley Davidson LiveWire tour, (shown as red flags above) the fresh buzz is wearing off and much of the fiction is falling away from the fact.  Here’s a look at what we saw when the LiveWire tour stopped in Boston.

The Sound

Harley-Davidson Project LiveWire

Harley-Davidson Project LiveWire

Much was made by Harley Davidson marketing about the “engineered sound” of the LiveWire, and, granted, to someone not familiar to electric motorcycles it’s a unique sensation.

“The sound is a distinct part of the thrill,” said Mark-Hans Richer, H-D Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. “Think fighter jet on an aircraft carrier. Project LiveWire’s unique sound was designed to differentiate it from internal combustion and other electric motorcycles on the market.”

Compared, however, to other similar machines like the Zero SR and the Energica Ego, the sound of the AC drivetrain with reduction gearing is no more unique than any similar electric drivetrain.  It can even be described as “timid” compared to the 150mph capable Italian Energica.  Harley has trademarked (literally) the characteristic sound of their V-twin, 1950s design gas motor, and clearly they’re trying to do the same with this bike, but beyond simply deciding to use an AC motor with reduction gearing, straight-ground or otherwise, there’s no “engineered sound” here.

The Design

Looking past the style of the bike, which, like everything in motorcycling, largely depends on personal taste, the design of the bike features one unique concept – a longitudinal-mount motor.  The marketing spin has been that Harley Davidson is all about featuring the motor, and this is no exception.  It’s a great solution to getting a huge amount of the mass of the drivetrain mounted low in the frame, keeping the bike’s handling solid and predictable.

Harley Davidson Project LiveWire

Harley Davidson Project LiveWire

Beyond that, the bike is decidedly lacking details.  There’s no on-board charging, something that would take up to a cubic foot and 40-plus pounds.  There’s no ABS braking, a feature many consider to be required fare on any sport-oriented bike.  It also doesn’t have range.  In a market where the two players – Brammo, with the Empulse, and Zero, with the SR – are offering bikes with 100 mile range, a 50 mile range seems simply unrealistic.  Doubling the battery size on such a compact frame is going to profoundly change the design of the bike.  And the mirrors are useless to the point of being a hazard.

The Finish

This photo shows the finish of the frame and casings very clearly.  Clicking on it will give a full-resolution view. img_2246 The front section of the motor enclosure has an almost perfect finish.  It should – it’s a plastic molding, as is the rear cover.  Taking a close look at the center aluminum section and the brake lever reveals pronounced machining marks.  Moving up in the photo allows us to take a close look at the frame finish – sand-cast aluminum with a very rough texture.  Though overall the bike gives the impression of a very well-produced prototype, it’s far from a production-quality product of the standards of a major motorcycle manufacturer like Harley Davidson.

The Ride

With a low center-of-gravity, an aggressive sport-bike posture, state-of-the-art suspension and tires, and a relatively light curb weight, we’d expect the bike to feel tight and track well, and were not disappointed.  Lock-to-lock figure eights in the parking lot were no problem, and the snappy performance (0-60 in around 4 sec, top speed of 90+mph) felt exactly like what was expected – a whole lot of fun.  Considering the Zero SR’s 0-60 time of around 3 sec, though, it’s hardly remarkable and certainly not pushing envelopes.


Speculation about the future of this bike, and the future plans of Harley Davidson in the EV market have even found their way to investment strategists like The Motley Fool.  If Harley comes to the market with this bike, as it sits before us, it’s a non-starter.  It’s a bike that would have been a viable entry five years ago, not today, and certainly not in a few years if (and it’s an enormous “if”) they decide to produce it. There’s one undeniable conclusion, however. Harley Davidson, since we first started hearing about this in early June, seeing spy photos on movie sets, and the subsequent LiveWire Tour, has brought more attention to electric motorcycles, and put more butts in seats in one summer than any other manufacturer has accomplished, ever. And that’s a good thing.

Editor’s Note:  Just wanted to take a moment to welcome Ted Dillard to the InsideEVs family.  Up until now, we had been attempting to cover the bike scene via committee as best we could – thankfully Ted is an expert when it comes to anything electric on two wheels, and he will be leading that charge (my bad) from here on out.   Ted is also the author  of ...from Fossils to Flux , a basic guide to building an electric motorcycle.

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14 responses to "Harley-Davidson LiveWire Review: The Jury Is In"

  1. GeorgeS says:

    No L2 or L3 charging?
    How many Kw is the charger. Is it a proprietary plug.

    Is it a liquid cooled motor?

  2. Kosh says:

    I guess that’s why they aren’t calling it a production prototype….

  3. Mark H says:

    “It’s a bike that would have been a viable entry five years ago, not today, and certainly not in a few years.”

    Would love to see an article highlighting where electric bikes have matured and what is likely to emerge in the short term.

    From my early years of riding one of John Penton’s ISDT creations, I have been a fan of performance over swag. Surely the electric bike will raise the bar.

    Welcome aboard Ted!

    1. Ted Dillard says:

      Thanks Mark! Stay tuned – I’ve been working on a complete history of electric motorcycles over the last few years. You can read a lot of it here: http://evmc2.wordpress.com/category/history/

      Does the name Dave Latham ring a bell from your Penton days? He was my neighbor!

      1. Mark H says:

        Very cool. No wonder you are hooked! That KTM wonder changed my world and my knees will never be the same!

  4. Marko says:

    I’m not the one to defend Harley but quality of LiveWire looks to be good, specialy for a prototype. The “rough” frame is not a poor casting but a selected texture of powdercoating and the machined marks are left by some state of the art 5 axis milling machine and in my eyes go to show LiveWire as a piece of modern technology. As a motorcycle journalist I may not now much about electric motorbikes but do have some knowledge of motorcycles in general.

  5. Lad says:

    The success story in electric motoring is the(EMB)electric motorbike; it will continue to grow from here and is an major economic force in many countries right now. H/D is way behind the curve.

    On the charger:
    You really don’t need an on-board AC charger and the extra weight, if you charge at home and there are DC chargers along your route. The on-board AC charger is a de facto standard started by the electric auto industry. When you ride beyond your normal operating distance, you could carry an AC charger along. I would like to see DC charging as the de factor standard for EMBs.

  6. Mike says:

    Don’t understand this review’s “logic”.
    Everything’s great, but, it’s an non-starter.

    No Logic there.
    Harley gas motorcycles aren’t the fastest on the market today, why does the EV have to be? It’s a Harley EV. I say it’ll sell today.

  7. Mike says:

    1) The Noise is Awful. They need a much better “fake” electric sound then that, or NO Sound.
    2) At 70 the noise level goes away: Nice.
    3) Looks Very Easy to Ride = More Sales.

    1. Ryan says:

      That awful noise is from the straight cut gear drive. Ever heard of a “Pete Jackson Gear Drive”? Same trick Saleen is going to do to the Model S. Get ready for more annoying gear whine. Hope it’s just a passing fad.

      1. Mike says:

        You’re probably right about a percentage of the sound.
        But, Harley is also producing artificial sound as well. I’d like to hear that fake sound cut, and see if I can deal with the straight cut gears.

        1. Ted Dillard says:

          Just to be clear, no, Harley is not producing “artificial sound” or “fake sound”. Harley is trying to package the sound of a normal AC right-angle reduction gear drivetrain as something they have “engineered”.

          If you have the opportunity to ride and hear any bike with an AC drivetrain it’s pretty obvious there’s nothing artificial or unique about it, as I said.

          Of course, the truly hilarious part of this marketing spin is that Harley didn’t even design the drivetrain. Mission Motors did. 😀 (…biggest little secret that everybody in the industry knows, but nobody will say out loud.)

          1. Richard Gozinya says:

            With Mission doing their drivetrain, I’m surprised the Mission on-board charging system wasn’t incorporated. Where they use the motor as the charger.

      2. Mike says:

        Wow. I’ll commit suicide before I’ll drive a Pete Jackson Noisy Gear Drive. Ouch.