REVIEWED: 2021 Harley-Davidson LiveWire

REVIEWED: 2021 Harley-Davidson LiveWire

Unbelievably, the 2021 Harley-Davidson LiveWire is the first electric production bike from a major manufacturer. Sure, H-D bought a lot of R&D after entering into a joint-venture with Alta Motors – only to break up with them six months later – however the fact remains that H-D, not BMW, Ducati or even Honda, were first to market.

Following its release at the end of 2019, the LiveWire seemed to polarise people right off the hop. The traditional Harley-Davidson market screamed betrayal at the hands of peace-loving, pot-smoking hippies from San Francisco (coincidently where Alta are based), while the rest of us thought it was a genuine attempt at bringing motorcycling into a post-fossil fuel world. Whatever your view, we all agreed on one thing: it’s eye-wateringly expensive!

Overview

Without revealing too much too quickly, the 2021 Harley-Davidson LiveWire is a brilliant motorcycle. Not just brilliant for an EV but brilliant for any bike on the market. Wickedly quick, well balanced, and incredibly well equipped, the LiveWire is a legitimate naked sports bike.

With H-D recently announcing the launch of LiveWire as a brand in its own right, Grant took a look at the first and last iteration of the H-D LiveWire.

Performance

Powered by a permanent magnet, liquid-cooled three-phase induction electric motor, the LiveWire pushes out 105 HP – or 78 kW – and 116 Nm of torque. The best thing about those performance figures is that peak torque is more or less available the moment you crack open the throttle. With multiple riding modes, you can adjust the amount of acceleration available at low RPM. Either way, getting off the mark is certainly not an issue for the LiveWire.

Two things immediately stood out for me when pulling away on the LiveWire for the first time. It’s scary quiet, and proper fast. Around town, you can hear everything around you except the bike itself. Pulling up to a set of lights, I could have heard a pin drop if it wasn’t for the loud idle on the old 3-series BMW three rows back. It’s only once you start to push a little that the electric churn of the motor becomes more noticeable. And push you will. As I said, the LiveWire is proper fast and an incredibly good bike for pushing hard. Outside of city limits, the bike is absolutely in its element and really surprised me.

Sure, it’s heavy at 251 kg, and can feel a tad lardy when you’re coming in hot to a corner, but the brakes are very good, the suspension exceptional, and the throttle is more like a button (more on that later).

On the downside, the LiveWire feels a bit toy-like. In fairness, I think this reflects the twist and go nature of electric motorcycles, rather than anything H-D have done. You do get used to it, yet with no clutch, and regenerative braking that can almost pull you up to a complete stop without needing to apply the brakes, it feels a bit like a children’s Christmas present.

I didn’t find range to be a problem, but then again I kept it fairly local. Full charge would indicate a range of just over 200 km and you will get close to this in urban environments. With regenerative braking, you’ll get better mileage around town where stopping and starting is the norm, however outside city limits, you’ll struggle to get 150 km of range; less if you’re giving it the beans for long stretches. And let’s face it, you’ll be giving the LiveWire a full slab of Heinz at every opportunity.

Ride

For the LiveWire, Harley-Davidson outsourced both the suspension and brakes, and that’s a good thing. The Brembo dual 4-piston monoblock calipers on twin 300 mm discs up front, and dual-piston caliper on a 260 mm disc in the rear are nothing short of incredible. With good feel and exceptional stopping power, they do a very good job of pulling up the bike.

The fully adjustable Showa 43mm USD, separate function big piston forks and balance-free rear cushion lite shock are also very good. Whether you’re braking hard into a corner, accelerating quickly out of it, or simply cruising over undulating roads, the Showa set up performs flawlessly. In fact, the overall set up, including the chassis, work seamlessly together despite the high curb weight.

Speaking of weight, while you certainly wouldn’t call the LiveWire light, H-D have done a good job of keeping the weight low in the frame, with the large battery and motor fitted as low as possible. This leads to a good centre of gravity and enables the LiveWire to tip in easily and hold a line right through the corner entry, apex and exit.

The four available ride modes of sport, road, range and rain are noticeably different, and there are also three customisable ride modes that can be configured by a paired smartphone via the H-D app. In rain, range and road (to an extent), the throttle response and regenerative braking is fairly tame. Once in sport, however, the throttle is more like that button I mentioned earlier, and provides instant acceleration and rear-wheel slip – especially if you’ve got traction control turned off.

Styling

Haters gonna hate, and the overall styling of the LiveWire seems to polarise people as much as the overall concept of the bike itself. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the design. The drive train, battery and floating rear seat are pure modern EV, while the fat wheels, chunky forks and front cowl are seemingly lifted directly from an Iron 1200 or Lowrider S.

Sure, some parts feel a little plasticky – the latch for the charging port and swingarm number plate mount in particular – but the overall package is well presented. And for this price-point, you’d expect nothing less. The Harley-Davidson LiveWire is available in three colours – the base Vivid Black, Yellow Fuse and my personal favourite, Orange Fuse.

The 4.3 inch colour TFT is clean and easy to read, the controls well designed and functional (except for the turn signals – which I just can’t get used to) and the mirrors work as advertised.

The competition

Pros
  • Torque on tap
  • Brakes are incredible
  • Charging is a breeze
Cons
  • More specific to electric bikes in general than just the LiveWire – feels a bit ‘toy-like’
  • Prohibitively expensive
  • Range can be a problem – especially outside city limits
In summary

So what did I think of the Harley-Davidson LiveWire?

I was a big fan of the LiveWire for several reasons. Firstly, as an EV it represents the future of motorcycling whether we like it or not. Secondly, it performs exceptionally. Wickedly quick, with remarkable handling and quality brakes, the LiveWire is a bunch of fun to ride.

I think H-D have done an incredible job of designing a bike that simultaneously looks like the future and past of Harley-Davidson – and ironically that’s disappointing for me given their decision to spin the LiveWire off into its own brand. I can understand the nervousness at Harley HQ around the LiveWire. When you produce a bike that can easily alienate your entire target market, you need to tread carefully before badging it a Harley-Davidson and hailing it the future of the company. In the end, I guess it’s a decision that had to be made.

For a bike that starts at $49,995 ride away as at October 2021, the LiveWire is not for everyone. For those with the money, looking for a bike to handle the weekday commute and short blast on Sunday morning, it’s well worth a look whilst they’re still around. Not keen on spending $50k on a bike though? Well the ‘new’ LiveWire One looks and feels like the H-D version, but it’s dropped more than just the badge, priced at nearly $10k less in the US!

Time will tell if the LiveWire One comes to Australian shores. Yet even at roughly $36,500 ride-away, it’s still going to be a tough sell if it does.

2021 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Specifications

Engine
TypeInternal Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor with Water Jacket cooling
BatteryLithium Ion, 12.8V, 24 Wh, 120 A
Battery capacity15.5kWh total (13.6kWh min usable)
Charge rangeCity 235 km, combined 152 km (claimed)
Maximum power105hp (78 kW)
Maximum torque116 Nm
Final driveBelt
Ignition systemn/a
Clutchn/a
GearboxSingle-speed
Chassis and Suspension
TypeCast aluminium frame
Front suspensionShowa 43 mm inverted separate function forks, big piston, fully adjustable
Rear suspensionShowa balance free rear cushion lite, fully adjustable
Brakes and Tyres
Front wheel17 inch 5-spoke cast wheel with Michelin ‘Scorcher Sport’ H-D branded tyres as standard (120/70-ZR17)
Rear wheel 17 inch 5-spoke cast wheel with Michelin ‘Scorcher Sport’ H-D branded tyres as standard (180/55 ZR17)
Front brakesBrembo dual 4-piston monoblock radial mount calipers on twin 300 mm discs
Rear brakesBrembo dual-piston caliper on a single 260 mm disc
Dimensions
Length2,135 mm
Width830 mm
Height1,080 mm
Seat height780 mm
Wheelbase1,490 mm
Rake24.5º
Trail108 mm
Kerb weight251 kg
Fuel capacityn/a
Price & Features
$49,995 AUD (ride away – based on postcode 2000)
4.3″ colour TFT dash
LED lighting all round
ABS (dual channel)
Traction control
DC fast charger
4 ride modes: Sport, Road, Range and Rain plus 3 customisable modes

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