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The Harley-Davidson LiveWire is So Much Better Than I Imagined

It pains me to go all fanboy here, but – wow! This is one hell of a bike!

You need to ride the Harley-Davidson LiveWire. I know I’ve become a bit of a Harley apologist and I tend to get overexcited about things, but really: you need to experience this. The LiveWire is so good, so opinion-altering, that until you actually do ride it I feel you should curb any negative opinions you may have about electric motorcycles. Because your picture is incomplete. Harley’s higher-ups have clearly been instructed to use the phrase “game changer” when discussing the bike, but, in fairness, it’s hard to think of other words and phrases any more appropriate.

2019 Harley-Davidson LiveWire – First Ride

The LiveWire is still crazy expensive, but after having had a chance to ride it recently I find myself somewhat able to understand the pricing. Is it worth £29,000? I don’t know. But is it worth more than a Zero? Definitely.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire
Expensive but worth it?

I’ve ridden a handful of electric two-wheelers over the years, including the Zero DSR, Zero SR and Vespa Elettrica. The latter was a disappointment but the other two I have always been quick to recommend. Money is the primary reason I don’t personally own a Zero, though I will admit that for me the bikes lack a certain je ne sais quoi.

Motorcycles are inherently stupid and impractical. The best bikes are those that celebrate that fact whilst simultaneously – and perhaps counterintuitively – masking it. This is why I love the Harley-Davidson Street Bob so much. It is a go-all-day machine, but it’s also just dumb. A Zero SR lacks a feeling of stupidity. A well-built motorcycle that is fun and easy to ride, it is very much the sort of thing we should all be buying. The LiveWire, on the other hand… Twist the throttle hard on that thing, and as it propels into hyperdrive at least one part of you will be thinking: “Well, this is just silly.”

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My amigo incognito Jake Barnes reviewed the LiveWire for TMO back in September, and looking at his review I find myself agreeing with most of his observations. The bike is, indeed, “not simply a gimmick or a toy.” It is “stupid, stupid fast,” its styling has nuanced elements that “other electric manufacturers haven’t even thought of,” and it is “nothing short of entertaining.” But I don’t feel he quite hammers home just how enjoyable the LiveWire really is.

So, let me take you to a very specific moment in my test ride: I’m just south of Antequera, Spain, twisting through the El Torcal de Antequera nature reserve, in the heart of the Sierra del Torcal mountain range. The dull grey-cobalt ribbon of the A-7075 cuts through a postcard landscape. To my left, a craggy mountain rises into the gathering cloud of a late-day shower we’re speeding to avoid, pink-blossomed trees dotting the slope. To my right, the ground drops quickly into the Arroyo de las Adelfas valley. The sun is just starting to set and the warmth of the afternoon beginning to fade; it is that time of day when everything is perfect and right.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire

I’m tailing custom builder, amateur flat track racer, philanthropist and all-round awesome guy Charlie Stockwell, doing everything I can to at least keep him in sight. I lose him as he crests a hill; when I reach the same point I see the road straightens and he is a solid quarter-mile ahead. I crank the throttle and the bike lets out a landspeeder whir: “WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

Almost instantaneously my speed jumps from 100 kmh to 170 kmh. There is no engine noise, just the whir and sound of wind rushing past my helmet. Crouched into a tuck, the bike almost disappears from peripheral view, contributing to the feeling that it is not some big heavy thing propelling me through this scene but simply an extension of me, and I am flying – soaring through these mountains like Superman chasing a missile.

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In the weeks since, this memory has been one I’ve returned to again and again. And each time I relive that moment I can feel again the sudden punch in my chest that came from fully “getting” and loving an electric motorcycle. I’ve been arguing for years that the genre is viable (and necessary), but this was still something of a Road to Damascus moment in terms of realizing that an electric motorcycle cannot only be as wonderfully stupid-awesome as an internal combustion motorcycle, it can be better.

To that end, I disagree with Jake’s opinion that the LiveWire is “nowhere near as exciting to ride as something like a Yamaha MT-10,” and that it “has none of the theatre or occasion of an internal combustion engine.”

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire
Harley-Davidson claims roughly 105 hp for the LiveWire. Honestly, it felt like more!

Well, OK, I suppose a LiveWire wouldn’t be as much of a draw in the local Labor Day parade. A traditional big twin equipped with a nice, booming exhaust is going to be more effective at drumming up excitement from onlookers. But most of us don’t buy bikes for the purpose of participating in parades, and being on the bike will set off plenty of fireworks in your heart and mind.

Don’t get me wrong, the LiveWire is not perfect. The stock tires are awful (though that is easily fixed with a set of Michelin Road 5s) and I’ll admit that, although it’s better looking than most other electrics on the market, I’m not crazy for the aesthetic. The good news there is that Harley’s long-standing traditions of customization mean we’ll probably soon be seeing different takes, which will help push our understanding of what an electric bike is and what it should be.

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I definitely want one. And I don’t mean I want one in that daydreaming “I know it will never happen” sense, like how I want to have sex with Janette Manrara, I mean I want this to be a part of my life. Fast, torquey, characterful, hilariously fun to ride and – as Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor have recently proven – a lot more long-legged than its critics would have you believe, I want this bike (or one that is damn near like it).

Short of winning the lottery there’s no way I could fork over £29,000 for a LiveWire right now; that’s £20,000 more than I can presently even imagine paying for a bike. But life is long, the economy of scale will eventually reduce the price, and one day, somehow, it will be possible. I just wish that day would come sooner. If you’re in a better financial situation than I am, however, please do us all a favor and go buy one. Harley needs to be supported in its brilliance here, and the rest of the motorcycling world needs to know it should be working to catch up.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire
2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire

Pictured Gear

Helmet: Shoei RYD
Jacket: 55 Collection Hard jacket
Jeans: Pando Moto Boss 105 Indigo Reg
Gloves: Aerostich Elkskin Competition Ropers
Boots: Red Wing Spirit Lake

Here are a few other observations related to the LiveWire and electric bikes:

1) More in the Janette Manrara sense, I want a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye. That thing has a starting price of more than $70,000 and it is primarily designed to go in a straight line. It is pointless, albeit in a wonderful way. If I had just written 1,000+ words gushing about the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye I’m willing to bet some part of you would think: “Oh, sure. That makes sense. Who wouldn’t want such a stupid car?” 
Why is it, then, that we tend to not be as understanding about motorcycles? The LiveWire costs less than that car, handles better, and – because you’re not hiding inside a metal cage – produces a lot of the same “Oh wow!” emotions. It’s expensive, but within context perhaps it’s not as outrageous as we’re inclined to suggest.

2) Harley says range on the LiveWire is ~140 miles if you’re a good boy or girl, and closer to ~70 miles if you’re riding like a nutcase. Its representatives will quickly point out that the latter distance isn’t too far off what you’ll get from the tank of a Sportster Forty-Eight, one of the brand’s most popular models. Yes, you can “recharge” a Forty-Eight faster, but on a quick charger the LiveWire can be brought to 80 percent in 30 minutes – less time than it takes me to eat lunch.

3) I had not realized just how much freedom Harley gives you in terms of the bike’s settings. There are a few standard riding modes, but you can create your own based on desired mix of power, traction control, and regenerative braking. To this end, it’s possible to have a bike with character tailored completely to your tastes.

4) Sure, you and I are amazing and we ride 7,000 miles every day. But I think it’s fair to say the majority of motorcyclists do not. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that for those who ride as a hobby (ie, the overwhelming majority of motorcyclists in the Western world) anything more than a 100-mile day is rare. So the LiveWire sits comfortably within their actual usage even on a single charge.