Part Two: Harley-Davidson ELW LiveWire Review
The bike has a built-in Level 1 charger under the faux tank cover that plugs into a standard household 120-volt (or 240-volt) outlet and uses a power cord that is stored under the motorcycle seat. Level 1 RPH (range per hour) of charging time is 13 miles for each hour of charging, so you can get a full charge overnight. Charging the LiveWire will become second nature, like charging your cellphone overnight. Come home, plug it in, it’s getting ready for your next outing. DC fast charge is quicker, like topping off your tank. The actual charging port is located below a flip-open phony “gas” cap. And since the charging port will be interacted with by the owner on a daily basis, lots of detail went into the “tank” top mounted-charging port.
Power regeneration (re-gen) is accomplished through the drivetrain when the LiveWire is coasting “off-throttle,” as the motor becomes a generator putting charge back into the RESS. The rider will feel the re-gen as an engine-braking effect. The amount of re-gen varies in each of the four Ride Modes, and the re-gen setting can also be adjusted by the rider in the three custom ride modes. An optional round meter on the dash displays percentage of throttle (shown in red), and how much re-gen (shown in green) is occurring.
The RESS has a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty and engineers estimate a 10-year life span. U.S. LiveWire customers will receive free charging on Harley ChargePoint stations at participating LiveWire dealers for the first two years. Additionally, Harley-Davidson will provide U.S. LiveWire owners with 500 kW of free charging service at Electrify America DCFC charging stations (think of this as a brand of gas station). See ElectrifyAmerica.com to find if that brand of charging station is available in your area.
I was disappointed to find a gaping hole in the Harley marketing plan for the LiveWire when I asked about “cost to own” or “cost per mile” figures. And, naturally, Harley officials shied away from the topic, citing that electricity commodities vary in price seasonally and widely across the nation. But still, at least I would have thought they could give me a sample figure.
For example, I contacted my local official LiveWire dealer, Bergen County Harley-Davidson of New Jersey and inquired about charging fees. They stated that currently, if not for the two years of free charging, the cost would be a flat $5. As electricity prices change, perhaps that will fluctuate, but that’s a rough estimate for current costs. If you do city riding and are gentle with the throttle application, you can go about 140 miles for five bucks. Not bad, considering I paid $2.75 a gallon for gasoline this morning. Five bucks’ worth of fossil fuel wouldn’t even get me 2 gallons, which is less than 80 miles of travel on my bike.
The LiveWire is loaded with tech. Maybe more than you can imagine. Director of Digital Growth Ken Osterman told me about H-D Connect, which pairs motorcycle riders with their bikes through the latest version of the Harley-Davidson Mobile App. The LiveWire has a cell telematic unit that talks to the cloud and to the H-D app. It’s like having a pocket-sized dashboard on your phone. Data is sent to the rider’s smartphone about motorcycle status, including battery charge status and available range. This allows the rider to remotely check the charge status including charge level and time to completion. Riders will also be able to locate a charging station with ease thanks to an integrated location finder built into the H-D app.
There’s also tamper alerts and vehicle location which can tell you if the bike is jostled or moved. GPS-enabled stolen-tracking provides peace of mind. About all the LiveWire needs is a camera and speaker so you can identify the thieves and yell at them to leave your bike alone. Also, service reminders and notifications come across on the app.
The H-D app is available in the iOS and Android app stores and core functions (turn-by-turn directions, ride planning, dealer and event locations) of the app are included with the free download. The H-D Connect service will be offered for a one-year free trial period and available with a subscription charge following the initial free period. Price is to be determined.
To keep tabs on all this tech there’s a 4.3″ color touch screen Thin Film Transistor (TFT) dash display, which offers the rider a wide range of information on a screen that’s bright and easy to read. The display unit is tilt-adjustable by the rider and the screen brightness adjusts automatically. There’s a USBC port behind the dash as well. The TFT screen also allows the rider to access the interface for Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, music, and more.
The touchscreen feature only functions when the motorcycle is not moving but many of the display options can be changed using the hand control joysticks while riding. The touchscreen is not glove-friendly, unless your gloves are equipped with screen-friendly fingertips. A speedometer, range, and high-voltage battery status (percent remaining) are always displayed. The screen display can be customized with several rider-selectable “widgets” like a meter that indicates how much power is being used as the motorcycle is being ridden, Ride Mode indicator, Charging status, and tell-tale warning lights (turn signals, ABS active, Traction Control active, Check Engine/Battery Overheat, etc.). The dash was clear and easy to read with large fonts, but I was disappointed by the wasted space on the touchscreen display, as the active portion of the screen does not go wall-to-wall.
The LiveWire motorcycle offers Bluetooth connectivity and the rider can listen to music, accept incoming calls, and hear turn-by-turn navigation instructions provided by the Harley-Davidson app. Music file and incoming call information is displayed on the screen, and the rider can control music and phone functions with the joystick hand controls.
With the introduction of the LiveWire, Harley-Davidson has opened up a whole new can of worms and unleashed a litany of alphabet soup acronyms. Just when you thought you had the Harley abbreviations down pat, here come some new ones for you. Read on.
The LiveWire is equipped with Reflex Defensive Rider Systems (RDRS), a collection of technology designed to match motorcycle performance to available traction during acceleration, deceleration, and braking. But don’t let the name fool you, it’s not like a stability control on a self-driving car. These technologies do not have the ability to increase grip or to intervene when the rider has not made a brake or throttle application. RDRS does not directly influence vehicle direction, and the rider is ultimately responsible for steering and path corrections.
The LiveWire is equipped with an Electronic Chassis Control (ECC) system that utilizes the Cornering-Enhanced Anti-lock Braking System (C-ABS) which takes into account lean angle. Cornering Enhanced Traction Control System (C-TCS) is utilized when road surfaces don’t offer max grip, and the Drag-Torque Slip Control System (DSCS) manages rear wheel lockup due to re-gen braking on wet or slippery roads. The system is fully electronic and utilizes the latest six-axis inertial measurement unit (IMU) and ABS sensor technology.
C-ABS sensors are also used to manage rear-wheel lift during heavy braking. And C-TCS is used to manage Front-Wheel Lift Mitigation to reduce the height and duration of front-wheel lift (a wheelie), but it can be turned off.
For the first time on a Harley, the LiveWire offers seven available ride modes; four preset and three customizable by the rider. Ride modes are great! They electronically control the performance characteristics of the motorcycle and the level of electronic intervention. The amount of power applied, amount of re-gen, throttle response, and traction control settings are altered with ride modes. Other brands have offered ride modes on their bikes for years. And once you’ve ridden a bike with available modes, you’ll find they’re a wonderful option to have. The four factory presets are Sport, Road, Rain, and Range, which can be changed and selected when stopped or on the fly via the Mode button on the right-handlebar control.
Sport Mode delivers full power and the quickest throttle response, and traction control is set to its lowest level of intervention, and regeneration offers a significant off-throttle braking effect.
Road Mode offers plenty of performance for daily use, with less re-gen, which feels more comfortable on deceleration.
Range Mode provides smooth and judicious throttle response with a high level of re-gen to get the most riding distance out of a battery charge. Rain Mode restrains acceleration and limits re-gen for riding in the wet. It has higher levels of intervention to give the rider more confidence.
As mentioned earlier, you can turn off the Traction Control System (TCS) when the motorcycle is stopped in Sport, Road, or Range Mode. But TCS is a default in Rain Mode, and will always be active when in Rain Mode. The Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) is always active and may not be turned off by the rider.
The final three custom modes are set by the rider with the motorcycle off. They are shown as A, B, and C on the touch screen and allow the rider to select his own preference of Power, Re-gen, Throttle Response, and Traction Control levels. The rider can create a custom mode tailored to personal preference or for use in special circumstances, such as track days.
This entire suite of techno-goodness is easy to access and tune and works seamlessly. It’s ironic that the LiveWire has all this technology, yet no factory tire pressure monitor system! Actually, I find the lack of that to be ridiculous in any motorcycle at any price point!
Back to the nuts and bolts of the bike, you’ll find a premium high-performance SHOWA BFRC (Balanced Free Rear Cushion-lite) mono-shock rear suspension that is fully adjustable (manually) and designed to deliver a comfortable ride and precise handling. Up front is SHOWA SFF-BP (Separate Function front Fork-Big Piston) front upsidedown forks with easy-to-get-to adjustment screws on the right-fork top cap. The powertrain is a stressed member and the lightweight aluminum frame sections bolt together to increase rigidity. The underseat trellis support is also made from aluminum.
Since the LiveWire accelerates so quickly, it’s nice to see premium quality Brembo brakes come as standard. The fronts are Monoblock calipers gripping dual 300mm-diameter discs, and the rear caliper is Brembo as well. Grippy Harley/Michelin co-branded Scorcher tires (180mm rear/120mm front) are stock. The bike handles sharp and quick, and it’s a joy to not have to fiddle with gear changes entering a corner. Just roll hard on the throttle when exiting a corner.
The LiveWire’s naked-standard styling is right up my alley, from the tiny sporty headlight nacelle housing a Daymaker LED headlight to the rear fender hugger. The rider footpegs are slightly back from a mid-set control placement, which give the LiveWire rider an aggressive, yet comfortable, posture. The bike’s bodywork, utilizing advanced paint technology to give the look of anodized metal, comes in three versions of orange, yellow, or gloss black. You’ll recognize the basic architecture of the handlebar control switches, which look typically Harley, with separate left and right signal switches. As mentioned, there is no key-operated ignition switch, but there is a key-operated seat lock and steering head lock. But one oddity that caught my attention is the lack of any way to hold the bike in place when parked. The LiveWire can roll when “off” because there is nothing to put “in-gear.” The sidestand has a typical Harley anti-flip up device when weight is placed on the sidestand.
My short time aboard the LiveWire was a blast! And I’ve already petitioned Harley for a loaner to test on my home turf. Getting used to the lack of clutch lever was quick; I caught myself “fanning” for a clutch lever that wasn’t there only once. On our last photo pass of the day a motorist pulled alongside and surprised me when he yelled out his car window, “Hey, man! Is that electric?” I nodded yes. And his response was a drawn-out “COOOOL!” as he drove away.
People are balking at the LiveWire’s $29,799 price tag. In my opinion it’s a premium product, like a CVO, and Harley can get away with charging extra for it. This bike was developed from a clean slate. I’m sure Harley had to source a whole new crop of vendors for the components. And that’s what you’re paying for. It’s a different animal. Different from the traditional Harley. You can’t get a Corvette for the price of a Chevette. Some argue you can buy an electric car like a Prius for less. But I propose, nobody has ever pulled up next to a Prius and shouted, “Hey, man! Is that electric? Cooool!”
Paying the premium price for the LiveWire buys you a bunch. It buys you a real fast, fun, naked standard bike that won’t be like every other bike you meet on the road. It buys you the quickest accelerating Harley streetbike produced. The LiveWire is a true contender in the high-performance bike field. It buys you the right to call yourself an early adopter, even though you might have another bike with kickstarter back home in the garage. It buys you Harley’s first attempt, and success, at offering multiple riding modes. It buys you high quality, just like the guys who buy CVOs. And, for two years it buys you free charges at Harley authorized dealers (it’s like getting free gas). Production numbers and pre-order numbers are not released by Harley Corporate. But just the fact that there have been pre-orders indicates that early adopters do exist. The Motor Company has finally earned its name. And the LiveWire has earned its keep in my book. AIM 379