Does the Harley-Davidson LiveWire still impress us on UK roads?
We loved it in sunny Spain, but how about dismal England?
When the Harley-Davidson LiveWire whispered into production in 2019 it blew us (well, me at least) away with its combination of stonking electric thrust and handling that was totally at odds with how you expect a Harley to feel. I rode it on the press launch on smooth Spanish roads and was impressed. Fast forward through a pandemic and I had another chance to give the electric bruiser a bit of a thrash on bumpy British roads.
Watch the video below to ride along with me as I review the bike, or read on for less in-your-ear thoughts.
Just to recap, the LiveWire puts out 105 electric horsepower and 116Nm of torque, the latter is available from a standstill. It has a 15.5kWh battery, weighs about 250kg and costs £28,995. Those last two numbers are on the high side of things – the Harley weighs about as much as a big adventure bike despite its compact proportions, and it costs £4,000 more than a 215hp pure-blooded Ducati Panigale V4S superbike. This is, undoubtedly, a toy for the well-to-do early adopter.
But is it any good?
Yes. And the good news is that Harley hasn't made an electric bike that feels totally alien – it feels as natural to get on and ride as anything with mechanical pistons thumping up and down between your shins. To get moving, you just pocket the keyless key, then hold the 'on' button (where your killswitch would be) then press and hold the 'run' button (just left of where your killswitch would be). Two vertical light strips either side of the TFT touch-screen dash turn green and you get a vibration through the seat as a little reminder that touching the twistgrip will send you on your way.
And that twistgrip responds as naturally as a throttle on a combustion-powered bike. Pulling away is child's play, and the bike's natural balance is so good you're feet-up within a metre. A bevel gear plays a gentle whine as you make progress, and the sense of weight that makes the LiveWire a little hefty to push around just evaporates as you get up to 5mph. Then when you exit a 30mph limit into a 60mph you get to experience the LiveWire's party trick – instant thrust accompanied by an addictive banshee scream from that gear. It storms to whatever sub-100mph speed you want with proper laugh-out-loud pace. No hesitation as it plods to the fun bit of a torque curve, no waiting for the revs to build. You just twist and sod off.
The LiveWire feels as fast as my 114hp Ducati Hypermotard 950 in its mid-range, except the Harley feels that fast at any speed. Because there's no gearbox to click through, you can have a giggle at any speed, and it's an overtaking demon. Not convinced? Watch the video above to see how I'm still involuntarily giggling even at the end of a long ride. I'm a professional, me.
Speed's fine, but what about handling?
The LiveWire turns in as quickly as a heavier naked bike – something like a Ducati Diavel – and it feels pretty stable mid-corner. The ride on normal Tarmac is wonderfully smooth, and it's only when you hit big compressions, ruts or potholes that you sense that the suspension is dealing with a big ol' mass. But even then it never gets any more uncomfortable than the aforementioned Diavel.
One thing that does take a while to get used to is the plasticky clatter you hear when you hit potholes – noises that are almost certainly there on petrol-powered bikes, but are masked by the mechanical gnashings and explosions. On a steady throttle on a smooth road the LiveWire wraps you up in a wonderful bubble of calm that you don't get on any other bike.
The LiveWire logo above the motor is the only mention of the bike's name I could find
The LiveWire's only real dynamic compromise resulting from its electrification is the braking – you need to pull the front brakes a lot harder than you think to stop in the distance you initially think you'll need. And I found myself mixing in a lot more of the (strong) rear brake than I normally would. It feels as if it just wants to press on a bit on the brakes, which is partly down to the fact you're often travelling a bit faster than you expect. But yes, you'll want to mentally stretch out your braking distances.
What else do I need to know?
The LiveWire's riding position is comfy, even for my 6'3" frame. You sit with only moderately bent knees, with a slight forward lean and your arms stretched out reasonably far. After an hour or two in the saddle I found myself shaking my arms to relieve pressure in my elbows, but I'd have no qualms about touring on it if I could navigate via a network of fast chargers.
The charging flap hides a regular Type 2 and CCS charging hole
Speaking of which, I got about 110 miles of range out of the LiveWire's 15.5kWh battery. I had a bit of a 'mare charging it on a knackered AC charger which only delivered 10 miles in an hour, but once I found a more modern 50kW Polar charger I simply tapped a debit card and went from 40% to 100% in 35 minutes, and it cost about £2.
The Harley-Davidson LiveWire is a niche bike. It's expensive and it's electric. But it's a premium-feeling bike that delivers an addictive and accessible riding experience that no other mainstream motorcycle offers. It'll out-handle any other Harley and you'll find yourself screaming out of corners with a huge grin on your face.
If you have a chunk of spare cash and want a second bike that gives you a different thrill for Sunday blasts then do go and test-ride one – it may be the Harley you never knew you wanted.
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