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Part One: Harley-Davidson ELW LiveWire Review

Feature Motorcycle Reviews

Part One: Harley-Davidson ELW LiveWire Review


There’s a bit of irony in the fact that Harley-Davidson has for many years gone by the title The Motor Company. Traditionally, the proper journalistic nomenclature for the powerplant of a conventional motorcycle is engine, as the term motor has usually been reserved for electric motors. At last, that wrong has been made right.

There has been a lot of conjecture about this motorcycle already. Complaints have been aired about the price and range, or perceived lack of thereof. Yet this is a momentous time for Harley-Davidson and the motorcycle industry. The Electric Vehicle (EV) is an important catalyst. This technology belongs in our sport, and the LiveWire shows that Harley is looking towards the future. It is part of Harley-Davidson’s current investments, and will be part of the future of Harley-Davidson. Harley will have a broad portfolio of products, like mid-powered EVs to help inspire the next generation of riders.

This is a halo vehicle for the electrification of two wheels. And why lead with a halo product? To showcase Harley’s power and performance abilities and to halo the other products coming down the pike. This is the high-end product, but many of the advancements on this bike will find their way into other models. Not to worry though. Harley is not stopping the production of internal combustion-powered bikes. And LiveWire is not meant to replace the internal combustion bike.

Harley looked at the global market and identified the LiveWire customer as younger, affluent, urban, an early adopter, in-tune with electric vehicles, and in-tune with modern electronics. The target customer likes luxury brands, is drawn to style, and enjoys high levels of fit and finish.

LiveWire was meant to provide thrilling performance, muscular looks, and groundbreaking technology. You get instantaneous power the moment you twist the throttle. There’s no clutch to release, and no gears to run through. Its twist-and-go ease of use means all you need to do is flick your wrist and roll. LiveWire offers seamless acceleration, 105 hp, and 86 ft-lbs of torque right from 0 rpm. It goes 0-60 mph in three seconds, 60-80 mph in 1.9 seconds, and has a 110 mph top speed. It has a realistic range of 146 miles of city, and 95 miles of combined stop-and-go and highway range. A thrill ride for accomplished riders, the LiveWire motorcycle is the perfect combination of power, performance, and technology.

Back in 2011, the vision behind the LiveWire motorcycle began with a small team of Harley engineers: Mike Alstrin, Ben Lund, Jim Williams, Brian Flick, and Vance Strader. One ridable test mule was built, and Project Hacker, as it was internally referred to, was born. Then Project LiveWire was trotted out as a prototype in 2014 as an effort to gauge the potential of a Harley-Davidson electric-powered motorcycle. Finally, the LiveWire, the production bike, was unveiled in Milwaukee during the company’s 115th anniversary.
Since LiveWire’s electric powertrain requires no clutch and no gear shifting, riding is greatly simplified for new riders. While some may argue the LiveWire is not an entry-level bike, by price point or performance ability, this technology does show that the company has what it takes to produce easy-to-use equipment for future riders. All riders will appreciate the braking effect of the power regeneration mode as it adds charge to the battery, especially in stop-and-go urban traffic.

I got to ride the new LiveWire at the official Harley press ride in Portland, Oregon, and came away impressed with the bike’s speed, agility, and handling. While gearing up for my first ride I looked down at my riding shoes and noticed the darkened left toe. I earned that mismatched leather treatment from years of upshifting conventional bikes. As we prepared for the ride I instinctively reached in my left pocket for my earplugs, just like I have countless times before, and then realized … I won’t be needing them on this ride. With the tech-heavy LiveWire, Harley-Davidson just made writing New Bike Reviews a lot tougher.

The LiveWire motorcycle is built in York, Pennsylvania, and is propelled by the all-new H-D Revelation permanent-magnet electric motor rated at 105 hp (78 kW) and 86 ft. lbs. of torque. Unlike an internal combustion engine (ICE), the H-D Revelation can produce 100 percent of its torque the instant the throttle is twisted, (15000 max rpm) and 100 percent of that torque is always available, resulting in incredibly quick, seamless, smooth acceleration. The 150-pound motor is mounted low in the motorcycle to lower the center of gravity and help the motorcycle handle well at speed and be easy to control when crawling at a snail’s pace.
With a Haptic Pulse heartbeat, even sitting still the bike comes alive. The LiveWire features a keyless remote fob. Mount the bike, thumb the familiar Harley ignition button, and press the starter button. The bike won’t move, but you’ll begin to feel a faint thump throughout the bike. It’s the equivalent of the bike letting you know it’s “in gear” and ready to go. The pulse can be set to low, high, or turned off by your dealer. About the middle of the development process the haptic beat was added to give the rider some feedback about the status of bike readiness.

The Revelation motor is cooled by a water jacket, with a small pump circulating lightweight water-based coolant through a small radiator which actually looks like an oil cooler. The coolant also cools the electrical components under the tank, and the entire process was likened to a water-cooled gaming computer.

A spiral bevel cut gearset is required to turn the output 90 degrees to align the drive belt sprocket with the rear wheel which contributes to LiveWire’s distinctive sound. The motor output shaft mates to a gearbox containing a 9.71:1 gear reduction running in an oil bath. A final-drive belt transfers power from the gearbox output pulley to the rear wheel with a 3:1 ratio. The gearset produces a faint whining sound as the bike accelerates and gains speed. Actually, it’s barely noticeable, and not annoying at all. The usual joke among the uninformed is whether Harley will add a phony motorcycle noise. And as factory reps refreshingly stated, “That would be stupid.” I recall the Project LiveWire prototypes which were displayed at bike events emitted a shrill whine, and I’m happy the production bikes do not. Overall, the H-D Revelation electric powertrain produces minimal vibration, heat, and noise, all of which enhance rider comfort.

The quiet of the LiveWire does pose a unique problem. Those that live by the mantra Loud Pipes Save Lives might actually have a point. With the LiveWire, you can’t argue with other motorists when they say, “I didn’t know he was there.” And you need to now accept the new mantra of Ride Like You’re Invisible, because aboard the LiveWire, you’re halfway there.

Naturally the electric motor needs power to run, and the LiveWire has a beast of a battery. But it’s so much more than just a battery (that’s why I’m not going to call it a battery.) The LiveWire features a Rechargeable Energy Storage System (RESS), composed of lithium-ion cells and other internal electronics surrounded by a rectangular, finned, cast-aluminum housing weighing 250 pounds. LiveWire is also equipped with a small, separately mounted conventional design 12-volt lithium-ion accessory battery that powers the lights, controls, horn, power for start-up, key fob recognition, and instrument display. And the larger RESS actually charges the smaller conventional battery.

The RESS is positioned in the center of the motorcycle and surrounded by the motorcycle’s aluminum spar frame. Small air scoops on the motorcycle bodywork duct cooling air to the upper portion of the RESS housing. The RESS housing is attached to the frame at several points and contributes to the over-all rigidity of the chassis.

The 15.5kWh high-voltage RESS is recharged via a Level 3 D-C Fast Charge (DCFC) through a SAE J1772 connector (like you’d find in a Tesla charging station). All Harley-Davidson dealers who sell the LiveWire will offer at least one public DCFC charging station. (and some dealers are installing multiple chargers). DCFC can provide a 0-80% of battery capacity in 40 minutes or 0-100% in 60 minutes. Built in Michigan the RESS smart module controls the charge. Some people have “range anxiety,” and the LiveWire’s range is estimated at a realistic 146 urban, 95 mile combined. Of course, how hard you twist the throttle will have a direct effect on battery life. The day of my ride we did not attain the higher number, but then again, we were not gentle on the throttle, and I just had to see if the LiveWire would attain the advertised 110 mph max speed. It did. Repeatedly. AIM 379