Co-Written by Jim Pruner and Greg Phillips

The First Electric Harley Davidson Was Born in 2019

If you can name a more controversial motorcycle than the Harley Davidson LiveWire I would be shocked. Mention it on any social media platform and prepare to read dozens of strong opinions with most of them being on the negative side. That’s unfair in my mind because the vast majority of those comments come from people who’ve never touched the bike let alone ridden it. 

Why and how can a motorcycle provoke such strong emotions in seemingly rational motorcyclists of differing stripes? I have a couple of theories about it.

I think many detractors can’t believe or accept that it’s Harley Davidson… you know, they of the “we-prefer-air-cooled-engines-mindset”— who became the first major motorcycle manufacturer of gas engine bikes to win the production electric race. They succeeded in putting a road-legal, fully electric bike in their 2020 lineup. Call it puritanical outrage or righteous indignation, but some people practically froth at the mouth upon hearing Harley would dare to do something so progressive and avant-garde. 

Yet here it is. The LiveWire is real no matter how you feel about it. And the cherry on top of it? It’s also a fantastic bike to ride!

They’re Pioneers

Astonished doesn’t even begin to describe how surprised I myself was to see this day

It really seems like it should have been Honda instead of Harley, doesn’t it? It definitely should have been Honda. 

KTM was nearly there too since they have an electric dirt bike, but Harley beat them both to the punch. Huh… how about that? 

BMW? No, they just have a concept electric bike at this point.

Ducati? Nah, I’m sure they’ll obsess over getting the look just right for years more before theirs shows up. No doubt they’ll nail it and everyone will drool over it.

Who Actually Built The LiveWire?

Here’s the really important thing to remember before dumping on the LiveWire because “it’s a Harley.” It’s got an awesome powertrain built mainly with engineering tech from Mission Motors and possibly Alta Motors. Both of those companies are now out of business, but while they were around they were considered front runners in the electric motorcycle tech world.  **Correction I heard back from a Harley representative who let me know the LiveWire powertrain isn’t based on anything from Mission or Alta Motors.**

Hey if I was perfect wBW couldn’t afford me, right?

Et Tu, Brute?

It’s not just those who don’t like Harleys throwing shade at this bike. Some of the “Harley Faithful” who have been resolute supporters of the Milwaukee brand for decades haven’t yet accepted that their maker of choice has been evolving a while now. Some are so deep in denial that they openly proclaim the LiveWire’s not a Harley unless it “produces smoke and noise.” 

FYI it does indirectly make smoke and noise depending on how the electricity used to charge its battery was produced. So there…

I can only imagine what they’ll have to say about the Pan America when it drops in February 2021… but I digress.

The Price Factor

Another guess of mine would have to do with the sticker shock of $29,799 USD and the unwillingness of HD to quantify why it’s so much more expensive than most competitor e-bikes from Zero and Energica for example. Energica specifically slashed prices in 2019 on their Ego and Eva models to undercut the LiveWire (my supposition, at least) which used to cost the same $29,000 USD. The Ego+ bikes also have twice the range and significantly more torque and horsepower than the LiveWire does.

Really the only builder producing electric bikes that meet or surpass the LiveWire in cost would be Damon Motorcycles, but none of their $25,000 USD Hypersport or $40,000 USD Hypersport Premier motorcycles are in the hands of any owners yet. The claimed specs of the Damon bikes are out of this world. Basically, for $25,000 USD they’re promising double the LiveWire’s capability when it comes to horsepower, and range. Oh ya, they also have Artificial Intelligence running collision avoidance technology on them. Holy moly.

So as EVERYONE knows and harps about, the LiveWire isn’t priced competitively and that’s really hurting sales in a year when bikes from manufacturers other than Harley are selling well. The “First Strike” club numbers indicate at least 455 LiveWires have been sold at this point, but I don’t have solid numbers at this point to confirm exactly how many bikes Harley has sold. HD actually mails a special cover plate to buyers of the first 500 LiveWires to celebrate the purchase. I’m told the highest First Strike plate shared on the HD Forums has been #455 at this writing, so if you’d like to own one of the first 500 you better put your money down quick! 

First Stike Club members also receive a wall hanger to further sweeten the deal. It looks like this one.

There are 5 of them currently sitting unclaimed in my local dealership despite some affordable financing options Harley has come up with to incentivize leasing one. In reality, I don’t think Harley cares about LiveWire sales, but I’ll come back to that point later.

Dealer Support Factor

Despite the fact competitor bikes are selling for less and offering better specs, consider for a moment what little dealer support there is for those other brands. By comparison, there’s a Harley dealer or even several in almost every city in the world. That’s a very significant point to bear in mind even though admittedly not every Harley dealership is set up to work on the Livewire. It’s not that uncommon though. Both of the dealerships within striking distance of where I live are LiveWire dealerships.

The big question is whether or not HD stays the course going forward with the LiveWire and other electric bikes. Will they abandon them as they have so many other models or refine the LiveWire to the point it seriously challenges all comers for the electric crown? 

Harley’s official position? The LiveWire is merely the Alpha or “Halo” model of an electric bike legacy to be built on from here on out. Expect to see more affordable models in years to come.

An Inconceivable Move By Harley

Back in July 2015, I was privileged to be among the first 12,000 people to ride the prototype LiveWire as a part of Project LiveWire.   Harley toured around a whole truckload of prototypes offering up free test rides to the public. It was so deliciously strange that all I can compare it to would be a vegetarian restaurant unexpectedly offering a Hawaiian style pig roast on the menu for a weekend.

The prototype Harley Livewire and I back in July 2015.
The prototype Harley Livewire and I back in July 2015.

It was so much quirky fun that I made sure I came away with a LiveWire T-shirt. I made sure to wear that same shirt when I eventually test drove the long-awaited production bike 5 years later, almost to the day!

Me with the production model LiveWire.
5 years later in 2020 wearing my Project LiveWire shirt with the production bike

The Appeal of Electric Drive Motors

That brilliant PR stunt left a lasting impression with me of how powerfully dynamic the torque and acceleration feel on an electric motorcycle. Instantaneous, 100% torque is near whiplash-inducing motorcyclist bliss.

The LiveWire prototype was a bare-bones, yet very sporty feeling machine! Nimble! Fast and powerful. It demanded “hooligan” type riding from anyone daring to demo it. It didn’t have traction control or fancy suspension. It only had a single disc brake on the front wheel and even the TFT display was basic. The sound it produced was like a cross between the Jetsons’ flying car and a jet engine. It was wild!

It wasn’t anything like any Harley I’d ever ridden before. I loved it and couldn’t believe this thing wore the Bar and Shield emblem! 

It also only had a 50-mile range in Sport mode (naturally I chose Sport Mode). I rode it like I had stolen it, popped a low wheelie through the first intersection we crossed, and generally attacked every corner encountered with great gusto. It felt a lot like a Buell XB9R to me. 

Sorry, I didn’t mean to mention the “E.B” name and trigger all the disgruntled Buell fans with this review. Just for the record, I feel the same way you all do about Harley’s treatment of Buell… ok, ok I have to focus here— this is about the LiveWire!

I was hooked! I predicted (incorrectly I now know) that the eventual production model would have a much better range and that it would likely cost about the same as a typical Softail did… in the low $20,000 Canadian dollar neighborhood. Wishful thinking, perhaps?

The Long Wait for Closure

Calgary Harley Davidson

I want to thank Calgary Harley Davidson for agreeing to lend me their demo bike for 48 hrs of unsupervised and brutally honest wBW style testing. I did my best with the short time and limited distance traveled (495 kms or 307 miles)to figure out what this motorcycle is about. I saw it at its worst and at its best over that time.

I really enjoyed doing this review, so let’s get to it.

The Plan

Knowing full well how zippy the prototype was I realized I would hold the LiveWire back from showing its full potential with my average riding ability. I needed help and a second opinion from a better rider than I.

Enter my friend Greg “Fireball” Phillips to help test the first electric Harley. He did such a great job with me on the 2019 Gold Wing DCT vs 2019 Indian Chieftain Ltd comparison review last year after all.

The Rider Profiles

Greg and I are on opposite ends of the physical spectrum as well.

Me and Greg with the Harley Davidson LiveWire.

I’m 5’7” tall and weigh 175 lbs. Greg is 6’2 and as he puts it “a few Big Macs short of 300 lbs”. Greg is a former motorcycle racer and still drags a knee at the track once in a while. He has about 20 years more riding experience than I do on a variety of motorcycles.

Greg fast charging the Harley Davidson LiveWire.

His point of view is bound to be different compared to mine due to those differences and thus this review is invaluable to almost anyone considering owning this motorcycle.

2020 LiveWire First Impressions

Jim:

The production LiveWire is much more polished and better equipped in every way than the prototype was, but it looks more like the prototype than I expected it would.

The 2020 Harley Davidson Livewire.

In particular, the black one with aftermarket carbon fiber panels strikes a chord with me and my taste in bikes. This bike’s looks don’t cry out to me as much as some other motorcycles do, but I find it attractive. So do many onlookers judging by the many compliments I received while riding downtown in Calgary during the testing.

The headlight and turn signals catch my eye right away due to their brightness and conspicuity. The turn signals glow brightly even in daylight as if they’re lightsabers.

The 2020 Harley Davidson Livewire front end

It thrills me that I’m able to flat-foot the bike while sitting on the reasonably comfortable seat. How often can someone with a 28” inseam say that?

Tipping the LiveWire off the heavily leaned kickstand takes more effort than I expected! I definitely feel the mass of the huge battery in this motorcycle much more than with the prototype and wonder if it’ll feel too heavy in the corners out on the road. Rumor has it that the battery alone costs $15,000 USD and I note it has water-cooling fins running around it unlike on the prototype.

Harley Davidson Livewire rear end

Overall the 2020 LiveWire feels and looks bigger and fancier than the prototype, but I like what they’ve done.

Night shot of the 2020 Harley Davidson Livewire.
Excited LiveWire fans swooning over it in downtown Calgary.

Greg:

If you want to locate the LiveWire in your local Harley Davidson dealership just amble over to the smallest bike you see – that’ll be the LiveWire. In a normal world it’s not a small bike, but in the world of ground-pounding big inch V-twins, it’s the little kid on the lot. 

When you do spot the LiveWire you’ll notice that it looks rather simple, maybe even plain. It’s certainly an attractive bike but it wears neither the chrome party package nor a blackout superhero cape. As different as it is, it just looks like a motorcycle, and not a bad looking one at that. 

I suppose that if you brought your non-rider buddy to the dealership to check out your new Fat Bob, they’ll probably walk right past the LiveWire without a clue that they passed a moment in history for mainstream production motorcycles. And indeed they have.

Greg and I checking out the LiveWire.

At first glance, everything on the LiveWire seems well made and built to a premium standard. The high-quality radial brakes are easy to see, the fully adjustable premium Showa suspension looks right back at you when you sit on the seat and of course, it’s dressed in some of the best paint in the motorcycle business.

The dash looks rather small but it’s loaded with information. The lighting is all LED and it all looks well put together.

If first impressions matter, the LiveWire will do well.

LiveWire Vital Statistics

  • Belt Final drive
  • Horsepower 105 hp (x 78kW) and 86 lb.-ft. Torque
  • AC 3 phase electric drive motor with regenerative braking and water cooling
  • SHOWA® SFF-BP® 43mm inverted forks fully adjustable
  • SHOWA® BFRC™ mono-shock rear suspension fully adjustable
  • Brakes: Brembo® Monoblock Front Brakes Dual 4-piston monoblock radial-mount front, dual-piston rear
  • Lean angle sensitive Bosch ABS
  • Traction control
  • 30” seat height
  • 549 lbs weight
  • Price $29,799 USD
  • 5 year warranty on battery

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Features & Options

High-Voltage Battery Information

  • 15.5 kWh Rechargeable Energy Storage System (RESS)
  • LEVEL 1 Charging with charging cable included (13 miles for each hour of charging)
  • LEVEL 2 COMPATIBLE same rate as level 1
  • DC FAST CHARGE (DCFC 26) LEVEL 3: 0-80% in 40 minutes. 0-100% in 60 minutes.
  • 10-year lifespan with full 5-year warranty

Ride Modes

  • 7 selectable Ride Modes that electronically control the performance characteristics of the motorcycle and the level of Reflex™ Defensive Rider Systems (RDRS) intervention. 
  • Each Ride Mode consists of a specific combination of power, regeneration, throttle response, and traction control settings. LiveWire® comes with four pre-programmed modes: sport, road, range, and rain, along with three ride modes the rider can customize.

Infotainment Package

  • H-D™ CONNECT SERVICE that connects the rider’s Android or Apple phone to the motorcycle information system and TFT 4.3inch 109mm touchscreen
  • HANDS-FREE MOBILE PHONE – VIA BLUETOOTH
  • VOICE RECOGNITION using left handlebar switch for PHONE FUNCTIONS ONLY

Appearance, Styling, & Personality

Jim:

As mentioned I like the looks of the LiveWire, but there are a few things about it I’m not head over heels in love with.

harley-davidson livewire powdercoating

The silver colored powder coating on the drive motor housing located underneath the battery seems kind of cheap considering the premium price tag of the bike. Even worse there’s like a fake chrome coating on the plastic covers in front and above the motor housing that really don’t appear to match the bike’s look, or depending on how the sunlight hits it, each other. The plastic pieces look slightly darker in colour than the motor cover at times. Yikes. 

Why didn’t Harley just put real chrome on these two areas instead? Even brushed aluminum would have been nicer.

I also notice some exposed wires on each side of the front turn signal housings. It’s almost like someone forgot to install covers in the area to hide these harnesses. See the photo below.

2020 harley-davidson livewire instrument panel

Personality

I know some people will disagree with me, but I feel like one of the coolest things about Harley Davidson is the personality their bikes all have. 

Whether it’s cable clutches, clunking transmissions when you drop them in gear from neutral, excessive vibration, or the engine’s distinct sound – it sets these bikes apart from the crowd and that pleases me. The ability to customize them so much with factory add ons and even more aftermarkets baubles is also significant. That’s the “Harley vibe”. 

Does the LiveWire have it too? That difference or “je-ne-sais-quoi?” Yes it does!

The Sound

The LiveWire sounds unlike anything else on the road and grabs attention because of it. To me, the production bike sounds like the speeder bikes from some Star Wars movies.

The production bike sounds notably different than the prototype did to me. It’s much quieter and more subtle than the loud Jetsons-esque trilling of the prototype model. Here’s a video showcasing the slow and fast-moving production LiveWire. 

Unfortunately, I don’t have a recording of the prototype to compare this to but here’s a Revzilla video from 2014 showing how much louder it was during the Project LiveWire Tour.

I recently heard a Harley mechanic explain that the volume of the LiveWire relates directly to the amount of backlash found on the bevel gear and pinion assembly used to drive the belt final drive. Tighter ones with lesser amounts of backlash are louder so it’s possible I rode a new bike that fell on the loose end of the spec.

Deer Deterrent?

Almost everyone is familiar with those small horns that can be mounted on vehicles to create deer-repellent, high pitched sounds, right?

In riding home the evening of the first day on a backcountry road I had 3 deer cross in front of me. All of them left the road at a faster rate than I normally notice and two of them looked back at the LiveWire with more than a small amount of concern evident. 

I don’t want to say for certain the LiveWire’s odd noise is irritating to deer, but I suspect it might be.

The LiveWire “Pulse”

Believe it or not, the LiveWire appears to have a “low idle” thrum.

The LiveWire “Pulse” Believe it or not, the LiveWire appears to have a “low idle” thrum.

When you push the ON button the display boots up and there’s a self test diagnostic it goes through, but the bike won’t move at that point if you twist the throttle. First you have to press and hold the START button to bring the throttle to life. It’s reminiscent of my youth spent playing video games where before the fun begins you must remember to push the start button.

It takes some getting used to along with the fact there’s no ignition for the keyfob of the LiveWire.

When you push the ON button the display boots up and there’s a self test diagnostic it goes through, but the bike won’t move at that point if you twist the throttle. First you have to press and hold the START button to bring the throttle to life. It’s reminiscent of my youth spent playing video games where before the fun begins you must remember to push the start button. It takes some getting used to along with the fact there’s no ignition for the keyfob of the LiveWire.
The ON button is on the right and the START button right beside it on the left under the hazard symbol.

Once you’ve held the START button for “1 Mississipi” it’s ready to go and it’ll let you know by pulsing the bike rhythmically in a gentle manner if you sit quietly and look for it without twisting the throttle. 

I don’t know whether most people other than me would notice this about the bike or if it was perhaps a unique quirk of the one I had access to. I can only assume it’s an ever-so-charming trait found in all LiveWires.

Greg:

I like the look of the bike. I found the black paint on our test bike rich and deep. I even tapped my knuckles on the pseudo tank to see if it was made of plastic or metal (it’s plastic) – the paint is perfect.

The lights look good, except for the wires going into the front turn signals, and the rear fender looks like it took a lot of design effort to get just right.

One thing I note right away is the number of circles you see in the side view, especially from the right side. There are 3 circle-shaped design elements near the footpeg that carry the wheels, rotor, sprocket, and other elements. It appears that a lot of thought has gone into the design and the theme works very well.

To my eye, the exoskeleton frame that wraps around the battery and motor looks a little bit cheap in its black crinkle finish. I’m not sure how I would change it, but it takes a nicely made metal part and makes it look plastic to me.

Overall I find that it looks a little bit small – but it is a nice looking machine. 

Getting Going

My first few feet on the bike were to ride it over to the dealers charging station so we could get some pictures on the other side of the parking lot. I was nervous at first, I wasn’t sure how to tell if it was ‘running’ or not, but ‘starting’ the bike makes a lot of sense even the first time you do it.

What Jim calls ‘the pulse,’ I call the heartbeat. When stopped, with everything ready to go, the bike makes a subtle pulse, maybe even a buzz in the pattern of a heartbeat.

……..bzz bzz ……..bzz bzz ……..bzz bzz.

I liked it and I expect that Chevy could be calling their lawyers to address Harley Davidson about their theft of the heartbeat of America.

Once you’re familiar with turning the LiveWire on and getting going the bike is very easy to ride. Just use your right hand and dial up the speed you want to go. Easy.

The Sound

I like it.

I was expecting an unrefined noise of mechanical bits best left unheard, such as wheel bearings or the belt as it slaps its way onto the front and rear sprockets (it’s belt drive), but it had no unpleasant noises. Even at speed, despite the small windscreen, it was quiet in the wind with no whistles or thrums that are normally drowned out by the force of fossil fuel explosions.

It does make a gear whine noise, much like that from the cam drive on an ST-1300 or Tiger 800 Adventure bike but although I find that sound irritating on the fossil bikes it seems the perfect fit on the LiveWire, like that’s the sound it’s supposed to make.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Performance, Handling, & Power

I like it. I was expecting an unrefined noise of mechanical bits best left unheard like wheel bearings or the belt as it slaps its way onto the front and rear sprockets (it’s belt drive), but it had no unpleasant noises. Even at speed, despite the small windscreen it was quiet in the wind with no whistles or thrums that are normally drowned out by the force of fossil fuel explosions. It does make a gear whine noise, much like that from the cam drive on an ST-1300 or Tiger 800 Adventure bike but although I find that sound irritating on the fossil bikes it seems the perfect fit on the LiveWire, like that’s the sound it's supposed to make.

Jim:

Since we only had the bike for two days I decided the smartest way to test the LiveWire would be to measure the bike’s performance at its worst and best.

With that in mind after taking some photos at trendy Calgary hotspots, we put the bike in Sport mode and headed for the Trans Canada Highway to see how it would perform at higher speeds on the awesomely beautiful and fun mountain roads near Canmore and Banff, Alberta. 

I knew the fastest way to wear down the battery power would be to run the bike at sustained high speed in full power (Sport) mode without giving it a chance to recover charge or use the regenerative braking technology on it.

Since we only had the bike for two days I decided the smartest way to test the LiveWire would be to measure the bike’s performance at its worst and best. With that in mind after taking some photos at trendy Calgary hotspots we put the bike in Sport mode and headed for the Trans Canada Highway to see how it would perform at higher speeds on the awesomely beautiful and fun mountain roads near Canmore and Banff, Alberta. I knew the fastest way to wear down the battery power would be to run the bike at sustained high speed in full power (Sport) mode without giving it a chance to recover charge or use the regenerative braking technology on it.

We brought along Greg’s 2015 Kawasaki Ninja H2 so we could compare the LiveWire’s 0 to 60 acceleration alongside one of the fastest straight line motorcycles on the road today.

Acceleration 0 to 60mph

In Sport Mode the LiveWire takes off like Jack The Bear. It’s lightning-quick off the line and yet shreds pavement so discreetly that it’s like a silent assassin the way it can slay most vehicles on 4 and 2 wheels up to 60mph. 

Unlike vehicles with engines and transmissions, the LiveWire has no flat spot or peaks in the powerband because there’s no lag in torque delivery. It sends 86 ft-lbs of torque to the rear wheel from 0 rpm all the time right up to its listed top speed of 95mph. I can confirm it’ll do at least 20mph more than that based on our testing.

The Showdown

Have a look at this video showing Greg on his H2 doing his best to tame the 200 hp/101 ft-lbs of torque that his H2 puts out, so we could see which bike would hit 60mph first. Had he activated the Launch Mode on his H2 I’m sure the Kawasaki would have more easily won the day, but this illustrates how effortlessly fast the Harley is.

We dialed back the adjustable Traction control slightly on the Harley in the settings screen to allow some wheel slip to happen.

Unwanted Attention

On one hard launch through an intersection, I had the back tire kick out briefly (and beautifully) in a power slide before the computers gently put everything back straight again. The safety tech package on the LiveWire is effective and not what I would label invasive.

That power move and a couple of other unwise displays of these two bikes’ talent for quick takeoffs earned us a severe tongue lashing and reminder from the local Calgary Police Service about responsible riding.

Me riding the Harley Livewire in Calgary, AB.

Yes, I came dangerously close to earning the first speeding ticket in Calgary on a LiveWire. As grateful as I felt to mercifully be spared paying an expensive ticket, part of me secretly wishes I had gotten something tangible to display on the wall of the local Harley dealership illustrating just how silly the LiveWire can make you want to behave.

There’s More!

Apparently, Sport Mode isn’t the highest power setting you can experience on the LiveWIre. I didn’t know this until after I’d returned the bike and so I’ll just have to settle for my experience at “ludicrous speed” as opposed to going right to “plaid”.

If you go into the custom mode settings you’ll find that turning up the power bar will get you more acceleration and turning off the traction control yields wheelies!

A rider doing a wheelie with the LiveWire
Photo by @harley_davidson_stunt

Highway Speed

The addictive level of acceleration the LiveWire boasts didn’t surprise me, but the stability it has at high speed out on the highway did!

My guess why it’s so happy going fast would be because of the way the majority of the bike’s mass sits in the frame. The oddly shaped frame must distribute the weight in such a way as to make the LiveWire a rock at any speed. It tracks perfectly on the highway and once the cruise control is activated I can confidently ride without touching the handlebars. 

Cornering

At first I felt like the weight of the battery was carried too high in the frame for aggressive cornering, but after a couple of dozen miles ridden I was attacking every corner encountered with complete confidence.

Cornering on the LiveWire

This bike handles and responds to rider commands just like a naked sport bike does. I feel calling it a naked sportbike is totally fair even if Harley doesn’t specifically market it that way.

The Michelin Scorcher tires grabbed the road providing grip consistently and traction was never a concern. I had the bike leaned over close to 41 degrees many times from what I could tell. The spec sheet claims a max lean angle of 45 degrees on the LiveWire and I believe it. I couldn’t drag a peg at any point, but I only tend to lean a maximum of 38 to 41 degrees in hard turns. I know this because my Ninja H2SX SE displays and keeps track of that kind of data on my usual ride.

I knew the LiveWire would be easy to ride, but admit I came away impressed with how easy and fun it is to ride HARD!

Braking Ability

The bike has terrific Brembo brakes on it that you’ll almost never use if you ride like I do.

The Brembo brakes on the LiveWire.

Even on bikes lacking regenerative braking, I tend to engine brake as much as possible and the LiveWire takes this to a higher standard of excellence when you set the regen rate to high.

I basically never touched the brake levers while riding the Harley until I got to a stop sign or red light. The full fury of the regenerative braking unleashed even at highway speeds hauls down the bike in a wickedly effective way that causes zero wear and tear on brake pads and rotors. Just the opposite, it charges your battery! 

Greg:

I’m old. I know this because the police officer told me so. He told me I needed to be a better example to the younger riders out there – and he’s right.

Here’s how it really went down. Drunk with the holeshot power of the LiveWire, Jim left an intersection in the middle of town with, let’s say, vigor.

This caught the attention of the police. And fairly so.

I saw the whole thing as the rear tire drifted in a wide arc and a clear strip of black was laid bare on the pavement. I took chase with modest fanfare until we were side by side a mile later on a local expressway. Unknown to me, a police officer took chase as well. We unwittingly did a side by side roll-on, me on my H2, Jim on the LiveWire. The H2 had the LiveWire covered until I needed to back off to quench a wheelie. Said wheelie is now viewable on a cruiser cam in our local police department. Our speed wasn’t that fast but the wheelie and Jim’s intersection exuberance attracted the deserved attention.

Greg and his H2.

I’ll say this: if we did 10 drag races from a stop, H2 versus LiveWire, the LiveWire would win about 7 of them. The H2 will destroy the LiveWire once it’s able to put power down, say at 100kph or faster, but out of the hole, a rank beginner can lay an incredible 0-60 time with the Harley. It’s incredibly fast and it’s incredibly repeatable. Speed is easy on the LiveWire. Even at speeds well over the speed limit the LiveWire still pulls and pulls. It’s addictive.

The LiveWire accelerates with the best but it doesn’t have the crazy top speeds of today’s superbikes. I had the bike going more than fast enough, but my H2 could still be wheelieing past the top speed of the Harley. These are certainly ridiculous speeds that should never be part of anyone’s riding agenda – but hey, on a clear empty road, sometimes those demons get loose. 

Every time I ride my H2 I’m rather surprised I’m not in handcuffs or an ambulance – the machine wants to kill me, of this, I have zero doubt. The LiveWire is wired differently; it’s like your buddy that’s always helping you get into trouble but still making sure you’re wearing goggles and a helmet. He cares, sort of.

The LiveWire is a juvenile delinquent. Constantly looking for trouble, but nothing with a life sentence. This is a ton of fun.

The LiveWIre and H2.

Handling

Enough about the power, it’s amazing – but the handling is my thing.

Here’s the short story: it’s very, very good. I’m fairly old but I still drag my knee around the racetrack regularly, and although I didn’t drag a knee with the Harley (we were on the street after all – and what would the police say about that?), I can say that I wouldn’t have been surprised if the bike wore a Ducati label. It’s that good.

The steering is light and neutral, and the bike holds its line through the corner without any effort on the handlebars. Most importantly, this is the first Harley I’ve ridden that I didn’t drag a low hanging part on the pavement through the corner.

The brakes are strong and provide repeated stops into the corners and with the linear, easy to modulate power, you can easily play with the rear tire exiting corners. And that’s where the fun is.

I could spend all day at the charging station just to go right back out to play the rear tire against the pavement on corner exits. Like most good bikes, the front gives good confidence, always feeling secure but the fun is at the rear. If you do acquire a LiveWire, jack up your tire budget. It’ll be money well spent.

I can’t say this clearly enough: not only does the LiveWire easily out handle anything else in the Harley lot, but it also shows itself well against bikes like the Ducati Monster and other great handling naked bikes. It’s very good.

Suspension & Comfort

Jim:

I’m the ideal size to ride the LiveWire. It feels perfectly built to match my set of biometrics when I climb onto it. I can reach the controls without effort and flat-foot the bike when stopped. It just feels so right.

Me riding the LiveWire.
Like my lid? Check out the Klim Krios Pro review.

The seat cradles me adequately, and though it’s no Corbin, it’s just the degree of firm I want it to be. You can’t spend a ton of time in the saddle before needing to dismount for a recharge, but I did manage about an hour unbroken in it, and only at the tail end did I notice even the slightest discomfort beginning.

No Wind Protection

This is a naked bike so you get all the wind in your face to enjoy. 

Bear in mind this is built to be a city cruiser, not a highway soarer, thus wind protection isn’t needed if you ride the LiveWire where it belongs. In the city, it’s outstanding and completely in its element.

Mirrors

The mirrors on the production LiveWire are mounted above the bars as opposed to under the bars like they were on the prototype.

Mirrors on the LiveWire.

Neither mirror configuration is worth much when it comes to helping check behind the rider. I was hoping they would have improved upon this with the new bike, but I had to lift my arms up in the air in order to see anything behind me.

The LiveWire needs bar end mirrors in the worst way.

Suspension

The fully adjustable Showa suspension works great over small and medium-sized bumps on the road. I checked in the owner’s manual and noticed the rear shock was set exactly for a 175lb rider like me. It performed like it was too!

Rear Showa shock on the LiveWIre.

There was only one bump I went over that felt rough and by that I mean it was REALLY rough. Spine-busting, teeth-chattering awful kind of rough. It came whilst I was merging onto the highway through a sharp on-ramp curve. I don’t know why but that hit lifted the rear end of the bike off the ground and gave me a wicked jolt. It must have been just the right angle, depth, and length to upset the Showa system because never again did I feel like the bike didn’t soak up everything I threw at it.

I even rode off a 6” curb at one point at low speed without incident. Overall I give the bike high marks for comfort and suspension.

Greg:

I rode the LiveWire through a full charge on the highway. It was pleasant and comfortable, but it’s no Road Glide. You’re in the wind and exposed to all that nature can deliver. It’s comfortable for its purpose; shorter rides in the city and even the occasional jaunt to a nearby town.

The seat is also comfortable, but I wouldn’t be interested in riding with a passenger – mostly because I’d feel guilty watching them slide down the road after a short throttle twist, but also because the seat is fairly small. The bike is really for a solo rider.

The seating position is perfect. It leans you into the wind just a little bit with footpegs that fall exactly where you’d expect them to be. Unlike most Harley Davidson motorcycles, the front brake lever (there’s no clutch lever – or shifter) is finally sized for humans and it has a great feel to it.

The suspension is a joy. It’s fully adjustable front and rear and it meets the road with a sportbike demeanor, not a full boat luxo-cruiser. It’s taught, nimble, and controlled. I find that the sporty suspension matches the power of the motor perfectly. It may be interesting to note that I left the suspension in the factory settings and it was fine. If I owned the bike I certainly would’ve played with the suspension settings, specifically increasing spring preload and compression damping, but out of the box, it was pretty good.

 Cost of Ownership & Efficiency And Dealer Network

Jim:

If you live in the United States, the cost of LiveWire ownership should be lower than in Canada thanks to partnership programs Harley has established with US-based charging companies like Electrify America and Charge Point.

HD has signed an agreement with them to provide new LiveWire owners free electricity for a period of time and/or measured amount. 

  • Electrify America provides up to 500Kw for new owners, and since the bike is a 15.5 kWh battery with a 13.6 kWh nominal (usable) rating, you can fill up 37 times before you run out of free electricity. After that, you pay between .18-.25 cents US per minute. This means that a 45min charge is about $8 on EA.
  • Charge Point’s promotion is different. You can get unlimited electricity for the first two years of owning the LiveWire from participating CP stations. At others, you’ll pay less than with Electrify America, but these stations are independently owned so pricing will vary. 

In Canada, there aren’t any such programs according to my Harley dealership so you’ll generally pay about $0.33 cents per minute to fast charge, and though I didn’t have the bike long enough to see any changes to my home electric bill, I’m sure there would be some increase involved.

Maintenance

The LiveWire is expensive to buy but cheap to maintain considering all you need to replace are brakes and tires. Yeah really… that’s it!

In hearing from some LiveWire owners online, there are a few cases where electronic parts have failed on the bikes, but everything has been covered under warranty. Some owners who have the HD Connect app have been notified about problems with their bike before they even realized it.

Now that’s high tech!

Greg:

I’m going to start with this. It’s expensive, in fact, it’s too expensive.

One might expect that the LiveWire is perfect for those that are early adopters that are typically spotted with man buns in the lineup to purchase the latest iPhone. I’m not sure if any of those folks have ever been to a Harley Davidson dealer before, but if they ever whizzed their electric scooter past one they might do well to stop in and take a look.

I’ve purchased a new Harley Davidson before and my Cross Bones was priced right around $20k. I’d spent another $6k before I even took delivery. This is typical in the Harley Davidson world – everyone has a fairly unique bike because they customize it to make it their own.

By contrast, I still own a 2006 GSXR-1000 that I bought new. Other than a tank pad to protect the tank from my jacket zipper, it’s still 100% bone stock. I mention this because although the LiveWire is expensive, it won’t leave with a Stage I kit, an exhaust, ape hangers, and a headlight that can burn roadside trees down. The LiveWire is complete. In this context, it is priced in line with the rest of the Harley fleet – the out the door price is almost the same as the list price.

The Harley Davidson dealer network is robust, they’re everywhere. However, there may be an issue. Not every Harley dealer is a LiveWire dealer, and only time will tell if Harley shovels the LiveWire onto the heap with old Harley dirt bikes, golf carts, scooters, and even Buell’s. My hope is that this bike gets the love it deserves and I think it all starts at the dealerships.

Will the Harley be reliable? Only time will tell, but I expect that it will be. There’s little new mechanical technology on the bike, electric motors and batteries are over a century old – and Harley has a lot of experience with everything from steering head bearings to its rather unique belt drive. If there are any issues, it’ll likely be in the technology in the electronic package, but even then Harley has years of experience with complex electronics in their touring models.

Efficiency is a different matter. I suppose where you live makes a world of difference. Gas and electricity prices vary substantially, but I don’t think anyone will buy the LiveWire to save money; that’s not what this machine is about.

Having said that, here are my predictions:

  • An owner will save money on oil changes, valve adjustments, air filters, oil filters, and even spark plugs.
  • They will spend more on rear tires and tickets, because damn, that throttle is fun to twist. Remember that the rear tire is also transferring power back into the battery pack so it’s working twice, once to get going, and it does most of the braking. Your rear tire budget will take a beating.

Just as a simple matter of comparison, I get about 2500km out of a rear tire on my H2. And it’s worth every penny. I’m sure the LiveWire will do notably better than that, and I’m also sure that it will also be worth every penny.

Technology & Ease of Use

Jim:

The impressive tech on this bike is simple and straightforward to navigate and use for the most part. The display menu is a touch screen if you prefer that method over manipulating it with the bar controls. Greg and I had the controls figured out before we even left the dealership parking lot.

If you activate the HD Connect App things get even easier.

What can I say about using a bike with no transmission or clutch? It’s like the world’s most powerful scooter. It doesn’t get any more user friendly than the LiveWire.

Greg:

As said earlier, I’m on the downhill side of my riding career – I look like the guy that still has a BetaMax and it still flashes 12:00. Not really, but stay with me here.

I did spend some time playing with the menus and the TFT and I found it intuitive and easy to use. I understood how to navigate the menus and how to adjust the settings I was interested in. I did not link the bike to my helmet nor my phone, but I have no doubt I’d manage that just fine. Most importantly, I managed this without using the owner’s manual.

I did like the different settings and the choices available to me with the traction control and that the bike has lean-sensitive ABS. I especially like that I can tone the intervention down because, for me, there’s a lot of fun in controlling the beast.

As I ride the bike, I expect that there’s a lot of technology going on that’s completely invisible to me, like battery management and heat control of the battery pack, but I’ll file that in the same folder I’d file camshaft grinds on my fossil-fueled bike. It’s technology at work that’s important, but out of my hands and out of my mind. 

The LiveWire is easy to ride and it’s easy to use.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Range Anxiety

harley livewire dash showing remaining range

Jim:

The very first thing everyone has asked me about the LiveWire upon hearing I’m reviewing it is “what kind of range does it have?”

Merriam Webster defines “angst” as a feeling of anxiety, apprehension, or insecurity. LiveWire Range Angst is a real thing, unfortunately. A pain in the butt when you ride it in Sport Mode on the highway without taking any breaks or using the regenerative braking system to regain spent battery reserves.

Charging the LiveWire.

Day 1 of this review was spent exploring the limits of this side of the LiveWire’s range or lack thereof. The net result is that we could only manage about 90 kms (55 miles) of highway riding before seriously needing to seek a charging station in order to get anywhere else. Basically the rate of battery depletion was 1% lost for every kilometer travelled at 110kph (70+ mph) in Sport Mode.

Wow.

I was surprised to find the production bike hadn’t improved much upon the prototype’s Sport Mode range.

Charging the LiveWire

I won’t try to sugarcoat the intense anxiety I experienced watching the Distance To Empty gauge while out on the highway in Sport Mode. It was almost too much for me. It was a constant distraction and for every moment I forgot about it due to the absolutely thrilling riding experience I had three moments of worry over if I’d make it to a charging station before becoming stranded. 

Greg for his part took it all in stride, but he’s a wiser man than I. Generally speaking, he’s an easy-going fella who only worries about things that are a legitimate threat instead of imagined. He knew we were never in danger of being stranded. We had the PlugShare App to tell us where every charging station in the country was, a support vehicle following us, and a rescue motorcycle trailer standing by as failsafe thanks to my friend’s trailer rental company.

I had properly prepared for the worst-case scenario, and yet my mind couldn’t relax out on the highway.

Adding to the problem was the time needed to recharge the battery, even at a Level 3 charger station. I averaged 50 minutes to get back to 100% even when charging from 30% remaining. That sucks no matter how you slice it, so my advice is to stay off the highway with the LiveWire. It’s a square peg while the highway is a round hole.

There’s Hope!

Having said that, there are technological advances being made in battery technology with plenty of the buzz being about supercapacitors. Regular capacitors have already been used in cars in lieu of car batteries, but the car only uses the capacitor to start the engine, not power the drivetrain.

Capacitors are much smaller and lighter than car batteries and can be fully charged in mere seconds. On the downside they don’t hold a large volume of amps, they only hold a huge amount of voltage making them unsuitable for any electric vehicle application. 

A supercapacitor is a hybrid between regular batteries and capacitors which should likely be the future of electric vehicle power packs (in my mind). Basically, at this writing the supercapacitors we have can store a paltry 25% of the charge a similarly sized traditional battery will, but can charge fully in only a couple of minutes. I really hope science will soon not only get supercapacitors to the same charge level of current EV batteries, but surpass them. The potential is there to alleviate my highway EV angst given more time and investment.

Urban Riding Cured My Angst

The Harley Davidson LiveWire in front of the Calgary Saddle Dome

Day 2 was a whole different ball game when it came to range concerns. 

I started off riding 60km to a weekly bike night on the highway in Eco Mode (named Range in the LiveWire display) without enduring near the amount of stress from the day before. I followed the speed limit and all other traffic laws while still enjoying the ride. To my surprise, the bike doesn’t give up a large degree of acceleration while in the most efficient mode and, of course, the awesome handling is still present.

The Harley Davidson LiveWire at a bike night event.

The range increased dramatically in this mode to about 150kms (95 miles). Precisely what Harley claimed I would get doing mixed highway and city riding. Huh… it’s almost weird to get honest information from a manufacturer.

Hills and Traffic Are Good Things

I rode back into the city of Calgary to grab some more fun nighttime photos for this review after attending bike night in Okotoks, Alberta.

The Harley Davidson LiveWire charging at a fast charge station.

The team at Calgary Harley Davidson directed me to avoid using Level 2 chargers claiming Harley didn’t recommend it so I bypassed dozens of Level 2 locations in favor of the less common Level 3 station I stopped at for a 35 minute charge. 

I don’t know why exactly my local dealer advised against Level 2 charging when the Harley website lists it as “compatible” with the LiveWire. Regardless, it’s their bike so I followed their instructions.

That half-hour charge got me back to 80% capacity from 23% which was more than enough to have a great time riding the LiveWire where it loves to be. In the city center!

The Harley Davidson LiveWire LED headlight & turn signals

Calgary has a famous stretch of asphalt nicknamed “The Red Mile.” Its proper name is 17th Avenue SW and it houses many of the best restaurants and trendy pubs in the city. It’s where everyone goes to show off their high-end whips while gathering with friends for fun, especially after enjoying a hockey game at the Saddledome. If you cruise from west to the east on 17th, you begin up on top of a hill that gradually slopes downwards into a valley.

The Harley Davidson LiveWire

Regenerative Braking And Random Compliments

That’s how I made my approach into the downtown core while stopping along the way to take in the blooming nightlife and to take photos. Many times I was complimented on my “seriously nice bike!” by passers-by and fellow motorists. The LiveWire turned many, many heads on this outing. The sound and sighting of such a rare and utterly unique vehicle was fully embraced by these locals.

The Harley Davidson LiveWire

The LiveWire also gained 4% battery life coming down the Red Mile which completely set my mind at ease. Regenerative braking is a Godsend for anxious EV rookies like myself! Truly the LiveWire had come home and was basking in the urban limelight… literally as you can see in the photo below.

The Harley Davidson LiveWire

I cruised around for another 2 hours even stopping to chat with a couple of people seated outside on a patio who had called out their recognition of the LiveWire. They were happy to chew on some two-wheeled fat whilst sipping their cocktails. 

It was such fun that even someone like me (an avid Adventure rider) who normally favors out of the way destinations fell head over heels in love with the deep city rider life I thought I loathed. In that time thanks to regenerative braking I lost only 1% battery charge and my clutch hand wasn’t fatigued by the stop and go riding I normally abhor and avoid at all costs.

The Harley Davidson LiveWire in downtown Calgary.

Finally around midnight I rode home and parked the bike in my garage for the wee hours after initiating a Level 1 charge. Harley says you should try and maintain a ratio of at least 3:1 fast charges to slower Level 1 charges in order to optimize battery life.

Greg:

I’m going to be blunt: for the most part, I ignored the range remaining on the dash. It was a buzz kill. I decided I would just deal with whatever happened when it happened.

However, there is a method to reduce anxiety. Before you go, decide where you’re going. Have your destination already determined, then just ride there. It might be your home, the office, the job site, or maybe a charging station, but before you go, just know that you’ll be fine and that you have enough juice to get there.

Missing Options & Desired Aftermarket Farkles?

Jim:

This bike needs a park brake and some functional bar-end mirrors. More on the park brake later.

I’d like to see a Willy G themed set of chrome add ons made available for it and perhaps they can come up with a 20 or 25kW battery to get some extra range too?

Would that be considered a Stage IV upgrade?

Navigation

You can get music information to display on the dash, but I couldn’t figure out how to get navigation from Google Maps or another equivalent app on it. It may be a part of the HD Connect app, but I’m not certain. If not, I’d like to see it on future LiveWires.

Honestly, I can’t think of much I would change about the bike, but I can’t wait to see the factory and aftermarket add ons that inevitably will come. It’s a Harley! It only seems right to be able to customize it.

Greg:

Other than the charging cable, you can carry nothing with you on this bike, not even a rain suit. If I owned one, I’d add a small tank bag or tail pack and that’s it. I’d spend money on rear tires and go have some fun.

Now, please don’t tell anyone I said this, but this is the only bike that I think would look way cool with an underglow light kit. Damn, I said it.

Bluetooth Connectivity

The dash of the Harley Davidson LIveWire.

Jim:

Greg didn’t get the opportunity to connect his iPhone to the LiveWire due to his only getting to demo the bike one day, but I experimented with it on the second day.

Phone Connection

I connected my iPhone 11 Pro Max via Bluetooth to the display with little effort and it displayed the title track to the songs on my phone perfectly. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to experiment with an Android phone and the LiveWire display.

The control lever on the left handlebar made sense from a functionality aspect and as with all the bar controls felt solid and well built. 

I had no issues controlling my music, except that once I had to reconnect my phone to the dash in order to get it to work.

Voice Activation Button

On the left bar is a Voice Activation button for verbal phone commands that I couldn’t get to function with only my iPhone connected to the bike.

The left side bar controls on the Livewire.

In hindsight, I think perhaps if I had connected my Sena 10C EVO to the bike that the button might have been able to activate Siri commands, but I’m not certain. The owner’s manual didn’t have any hints or tips about it and my friends at Calgary Harley Davidson also weren’t sure what the problem was.

The Harley Phone App

The HD Connected phone app.

I didn’t get to try the HD Connect App that would have been able to tell me a lot more about the bike’s battery state of charge, location, and pending mechanical issues. It costs about $150 per year (the first year is free of charge) with a new bike purchase. It’s billed annually so I didn’t feel a two-day test warranted activating it. 

If I owned the bike I would happily have it on my phone because if nothing else it would have warned me that my first attempt at charging the battery had failed. I’ll never get that hour of my life back that’s for sure.

On the Road

Jim:

I’ve already gushed about the bike’s performance out on the road, but there were a few interesting lessons learned I haven’t mentioned yet.

Park Brake

The first time I rode a Honda motorcycle with DCT on it I became acquainted with the idea of having a park brake on a bike. That was totally inconceivable to me before then, but it made sense in no time as I realized the bike could and would roll away when not running.

The LiveWire really needs one, too. The kickstand is very short allowing the substantial weight of the battery to push hard on the foot keeping the bike from rolling away for the most part. Until you park it on a hill. Then you’ve got a problem.

Strangely enough I found the Livewire difficult to back up at times whether I had it “off” or “on”(in drive). I couldn’t quite figure out which way I was supposed to treat it when I backed out of a parking spot because I felt some degree of rolling resistance regardless. I think putting an actual parking brake on it would cure this minor ill and alleviate confusion.

Funny Noises

It’s not just the Star Wars noises emitted by the LiveWire I noticed out on the road. It’s overall very quiet running so you are treated to a completely new soundtrack of clunks, clicks, whirrs, whooshes and the occasional bang. I know gas engine bikes must also make these sounds, but the engine and exhaust tend to drown them out. If I’m honest I’ll admit that I don’t care for hearing these weird noises out of my motorcycle and I tried hard to just ignore them.

Washing And Riding In The Rain

Everyone knows high voltage and water aren’t something that mix and even though I was positive Harley would have ensured moisture wouldn’t be dangerous on the LiveWire I couldn’t help wondering whether using a pressure washer on it might pose a threat to my health or the bike’s in some way.

The Harley LiveWire at the carwash.

I washed the bike 4 times in two days thanks to insect strikes and being caught in the rain twice.

It was extremely quick and easy to wash. No chrome to polish, no engine cavities, soot, oil or chain lube buildup to contend with… no problem!

Water pooled in the storage compartment under the LiveWire seat.

After pressure washing the bike, I noticed that water had leaked through the seat seal and gathered in the lower corner of the charging cable storage compartment underneath. I think Harley should seal this better because after a few years I could imagine that moisture causing corrosion to form on the connector pins.

The Rear Fender Glory Hole

I’m sure the hole in the rear fender looked really great on paper to Harley’s LiveWire design team, but if you get to experience riding the LiveWire in the rain you’ll instantly be looking to… ahem, fill that orifice.

The Harley LiveWire.

That hole is superbly efficient at launching a steady stream of water picked up by the rear wheel directly at the lower back of the bike’s rider. I happened to get caught in the rain without my waterproof gear on and so I experienced a very uncomfortably wet backside as a result.

Precision Throttle

I don’t know how they did it, but the throttle control on the LiveWire is beyond surgical in its precision. It’s without a doubt the smoothest fly-by-wire to actuate I’ve ever come across. See the video below to witness me riding the LiveWire effortlessly at 2 or 3 kilometers per hour (1.2 mph!).

I can meter the power so perfectly on it that I would confidently challenge any rider on any bike (other than another LiveWire) to a “slow race” with full expectation of winning. Anyone, anytime anywhere. 

It’s so impressive to experience. Well done Harley!  Wow.

Riding at Night

The headlight on the LiveWire is excellent. While riding at night with the bike set to low beam I had more than a couple of oncoming car drivers flash their high beams at me as if to say my light was too bright.

The Harley-Davidson LiveWire's headlight.

On the high setting, the LiveWire lights up both ditches perfectly. Visibility will never be an issue on this bike from what I can tell.

Missing Backlit Button Labels

A huge pet peeve of mine with many motorcycles is the fact the switches on the bars are labeled but not backlit! On an unfamiliar motorcycle, I really appreciate being able to glance down in the dark and read the labels so I don’t hit the Voice Activation button instead of the left turn signal one for example. The LiveWire, unfortunately, didn’t have backlight labels on any of their switches.

Greg:

Our crack photographer Jenna, Jim, and I left the dealership looking for some good photo opportunities.

Our first stop had a nice view of the downtown skyline – a perfect backdrop. The area was hilly but we found a spot that we felt would work well, and it did, sort of. We couldn’t find a way to ‘leave it in gear’ so the LiveWire wouldn’t roll away on us while parked. When turned off, the bike is always in ‘neutral’ so you need to park it in a fairly flat location. Jim believes that the bike leans over hard onto its side stand for that reason, so it takes a good bite of the road surface. I just see it as an oversight.

Seeing that the bike has no transmission it could use an electronic parking pall of some sort.

Photographing the Harley Davidson Livewire.

So it has a small parking issue, big deal. This is not about parking, it’s about riding and I must say, I loved riding this bike. It’s fast, has great brakes, and handles very well. I like the sound and the ease of use.

After I finished my ride on the LiveWire and the H2, I took my Harley Davidson Cross Bones out for a ride. It’s a few years old and it has a springer front suspension, which is hardly indicative of what Harley can do when it comes to suspension, but my first thought was how different the experience is. If not for the badge the LiveWire comes from a different company, probably an Italian company.

Comparably, my CrossBones felt like junk, it really did. It’s loud, slow, won’t turn, and has brakes that sort of work. The magic the Cross Bones does have is difficult to convey, but it is loaded with that. Whatever ‘that’ is. Make no mistake, I love my CrossBones, it’s a wonderful bike to ride. I’m at peace when I ride it, in a place of joy and pleasure. Like a friendly old dog that’s always nearby, it’s familiar and good.

The LiveWire is none of that. It’s frenetic, like that dog that keeps yapping at you, goading you on to take it for a walk or feed it. Always pestering you and asking for more. The good news is that the LiveWire is a lot of fun, thrilling in fact. Once you twist that throttle you’ll be hooked. It just begs to be twisted again and again. It’s wonderful, exciting, and will make your life better.

One of the interesting things is that I feel the LiveWire is the perfect starter bike. It’s very easy to ride. No shifting, no clutch, just point and go. At the same time, it can challenge an expert rider by playing the rear tire out of corners. It’s all in the settings.

Meet Diego Cardenas: Fanatical LiveWire Owner

Diego Cardenas with his Livewire.

Let me introduce you to this very approachable and fun fellow named Diego who loves his LiveWire so much. Just listening to him talk about it will make you love them too. 

He claims to be among the first owners in the United States and likely the first in California. The First Strike charging port cover on his LiveWire marks it as the 42nd machine sold out of the first 500. Very cool.

Harley LiveWire First Strike badge that comes on the first 500 produced bikes.

He’s got over 11,000 miles (and counting) on his LiveWire and 1425 of those miles came riding from the border with Mexico to the border with Canada! Thanks to the aforementioned free battery charging with Electrify America and Charging Point the total cost of electricity for Diego’s trip? $52.48 US!!!

I paid that much for electricity over the two days I had the bike for this review!

Other than Charley Boorman, Ewan McGregor, and a few other celebrity owners I’d say Diego has the most seat time on a LiveWire and is a walking repository of knowledge about the bike.

Speaking of Long Way Up, Diego says he was involved in a small way with that soon-to-be released show (September 18, 2020 on Apple TV), but can’t elaborate more than that until such time as it actually drops.

Aside from what he accomplished on his trans-America ride, Diego has gathered together the LiveWire riders and fanatics of the world on Facebook in a group of 1300 people to share tips, tricks, and experiences about the bike. If you’re a LiveWire owner or if you want to be, you’ll find this group worth visiting.

I gained a ton of insight watching this podcast Diego made with his local Harley dealership team. It’s well worth checking out if you’d like to hear from someone who has spent ridiculous amounts of time learning everything about this motorcycle and other EVs as well.

The Final Verdict

Greg:

I love this bike, it might be the best bike I’ve ridden in the last couple of years, it’s that good. But there are three notable issues.

Greg and I with the LiveWire in downtown Calgary.

First, will Harley continue to support this bike in the years to come?

It’s an expensive bike and dealer support will be important as time goes on. Or will it end up on the heap of abandoned intentions with Buell and other orphaned ideas? My expectation is that the current regulatory environment favors the LiveWire and its longevity. Harley Davidson has the holeshot on the decades of regulation to come and my feeling is that it would be wise to keep hanging onto that advantage.

Second, is the range issue.

This is a city bike, and only a city bike. If your local bike night is more than 60km out of town, leave the LiveWire at home. Which is sad. I can tell you that this bike is a blast on a twisty section of pavement and unfortunately, most twisty sections are not inside the city limits. The occasional on-ramp will send a tickle up your spine but this bike deserves to be in the twisties. If I lived in an area surrounded by twisties, I’d sign a lease deal today.

Last is the price, and this is a tough one because it’s a big number. Too big.

To buy a LiveWire, you’d walk past a new fully-outfitted BMW 1250GS. A 214hp Ducati Panigale V4S, a Road Glide Limited or even 2 Street Bobs. Seriously, you could buy a Street Bob, a Softail Slim, and still have enough money left over for a quick pass through the accessory catalog. The LiveWire is expensive.

The LiveWire price tag in Canadian Dollars
The LiveWire price tag in Canadian Dollars

It’s the right bike, at the right time – it’s just at the wrong dealership at the wrong price. With a Ducati badge – it’s selling like pasta at an Italian wedding. With Harley Davidson written across the tank, I just don’t see it selling well.

But it should, because motorcycling is about fun, and the LiveWire is loaded with that. If you have the means, this is a bike worth owning. It’s very, very good.

Jim:

I think Greg and I have fully answered the question about whether the LiveWire is a great bike from a performance and styling standpoint. It is without question a great handling motorcycle that is a blast to ride. Anyone who says differently is a big, fat liar.

A better question might be who is this motorcycle built for? I asked the people at Calgary Harley Davidson and they told me it was for someone who wants a unique, futuristic, Harley Davidson motorcycle.

The Harley Davidson LiveWire.

Ok, but who exactly is that and will they buy it?

Contrary to some assumptions this isn’t built to sell to the up and coming, environmentally conscious, younger generation now entering the adult world. My guess is they generally won’t be able to afford it and likely wouldn’t buy it even if they had the money because Harleys are viewed as unreliable bikes for old dudes. My words not theirs. I’m not cool or young enough to know what the latest lingo equivalent would be.

Or Would They?

I asked my friend Katrina to demo the LiveWire so as to be able to share with us a 26-year-old, female rider’s estimation of it. Her take is predictably different than mine and Greg’s, but not significantly. Note, she’s slightly shorter than I am at about 5’5” tall and I noticed she had to lean forward more noticeably while seated on the bike while riding it than I did.

My friend Kat on the LiveWire.

“It’s a fun bike. I find the seat and riding position ergonomics aren’t suited to me while city riding but I think it would be really great on the track. If I had the money I’d buy one mainly for track use. It’s super responsive but never feels uncontrollable. The throttle control is clean, crisp, and beautifully measured.

The bike feels really top-heavy and offsetting when you put it on the kickstand but other than that I think for a first-generation electric Harley it has a lot of potential.”

Katrina had never ridden a Harley or an electric motorcycle before this, so it was fun to see her kill two birds with one electrified stone. How neat is it to imagine her 40 years from now reminiscing about the first Harley she ever rode being the original, first production year LiveWire?! 

FYI she currently owns and rides a Yamaha V-Star 650 and an MT-09.

The V-Rod Connection

Diego Cardenas says the LiveWire appeals to former and current V-Rod owners. He would know since he still owns a V-Rod in addition to his LiveWire, so I’ll take his word for it. 

That makes total sense if you think about it since the V-Rod is the original outcast or “alternative Harley.” Now it finally has another Harley bastard Brother to pal around with, eh? Actually, I guess the Buells would be the illegitimate children of Harley because they don’t wear the family name and crest while the V-Rod and LiveWire do. The latter two would be more of the red-headed stepchild or black sheep of the family.

This is starting to sound like something out of The Game of Thrones.

The Price

In my opinion, the LiveWire is in reality a collector’s bike. A “Halo” model to showcase and validate Harley’s interest in becoming more than just America’s outlaw motorcycle brand. 

I believe there’s only a very select group of people who can and will buy this machine. They are wealthy motorcycle enthusiasts who likely already own several other premium bikes and/or electric cars. If you want the rarest of the rare, head-turning, Harley Davidson this one will be a way more valuable and conversational piece for a collection than any other bike Harley has built to date.

This isn’t a bike the average rider will or should buy. It just isn’t practical or logical unless you’re a very unusual city slicker living in a temperate climate allowing for year round riding. 

Let me beat this already dead horse a bit more so I can really set the record straight. The price is more or less irrelevant to the true target demographic. I doubt Harley loses any sleep about selling so few LiveWires to date. The lack of marketing and fuss made over it by HD since the release last year adds credence to that theory in my mind. Sure they would be overjoyed if LiveWires sold like hotcakes, but they must realize the reality of the situation everyone else does, right?

I asked Harley for a cost breakdown of the LiveWire, but they told me due to proprietary reasons they aren’t willing to disclose that information. That’s disappointing to my sense of curiosity, but what I expected to hear. Yes the LiveWire seems to be overpriced and likely is to a point, but so are other premium motorcycles from Ducati, BMW and Husqvarna to name a few.

Harley Is Cocky and Cool

Despite statements to the contrary, I think Harley built the bike just to show they could. It might be the ultimate stunt by a company that has always had a larger than life attitude. I honestly love the bravado of it! The Yamaha Niken stunt is similar, but the LiveWire is way, way, WAY more significant and impressively ironic.

What’s more, I love the bike. There’s nothing else I’d rather ride in the urban jungle than the LiveWire. Nothing.

I both hate and appreciate the price tag because that’s part of what keeps the LiveWire owners in a small circle and exclusive club. Most people will never get a membership card for many reasons, and I admit to missing the exclusivity of riding such a rare bike. 

Believe it or not, since giving the bike back to the dealer I have found myself missing playing the “city range survival game”. Downtown it was tons of fun to challenge myself to figure out how to recharge the battery on the fly or at least keep regenerating enough through braking to hold steady.

The 2020 Harley Davidson Livewire.

I Can But I Won’t

I actually can afford to lease a LiveWire using the financing plans Harley is currently offering. It’s tempted me more than a little to sign an agreement, but I choose not to because I’m a rider, not a collector and I don’t live somewhere like Los Angeles. However, if I did and wasn’t so in love with adventure riding I would definitely lease one for a couple of years. Given the choice right now I would still rather put money down on the Pan America even though I haven’t seen the production bike yet. If the performance on the road the LiveWire displays is an indication of how the Pan America will be, I’m very excited!   

I can’t wait to see the other major motorcycle manufacturers catch up to Harley Davidson in the next few years. I never, ever imagined writing or saying that phrase until now.

The only unanswered question in this review? What are the chances the next electric Harley will be named the “Silent Bob?”

The Harley LiveWire and Kawasaki H2.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Photo Gallery

10 Comments

  1. Brandon
    August 6, 2020
    Reply

    Great article. Just picked up a livewire myself and love the machine. Lots of fun riding to be had

    • August 6, 2020
      Reply

      I’m so envious of you Brandon! Did you get yours within the first 500 First Strike club? I’m trying to figure out just how many have been sold.

  2. Don Kruse
    August 6, 2020
    Reply

    Jim, great overall review 👍 I own First Strike 175//500 and agree with you on the mirrors, I was able to correct this by adding mirror bracket extensions that pushed the mirrors 2″ forward away from your hands out 2 1/2″ to easily see around your shoulders, I’m coming up on 7,000 miles (11,265 km) ride it daily with 90% of its energy coming from my solar panels ☀️ since new. I also own a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide and a Vmax but the Livewire is so much fun to ride that they’ve both have been sitting and my garage waiting for me to do more to them instead of just cranking them up to idle once a month. Here’s an interview I did earlier this year for Harley-Davidson on the Livewire from an owners perspective, it starts off with me pulling up to my office plugging it into the sun ☀️ https://youtu.be/cGU61rEs3bc

    • August 6, 2020
      Reply

      Don that’s terrific you’ve got solar panels charging it for you! An excellent strategy to lower your cost of ownership. I love that you ride it daily and live somewhere you can. I really wish I lived somewhere I could ride more than 4 months of the year. Canadian winters aren’t kind to us up here. You First Strike owners are truly my envy, I just adore the rarity of the bike in general. I hope you keep it long term and it’s good to you.

      Thanks for reading and chiming in!

  3. Brian
    August 13, 2020
    Reply

    Very indepth article. I’m actually very impressed with the bike after reading this. I have zero interest in anything Harley Davidson but I would definitely give this bike a chance.

    • August 15, 2020
      Reply

      Thanks Brian!

      Harley is putting out plenty of effort from what I can see to welcome everyone into the owners’ group and shake off the old ideology that has been associated with them for too long. The LiveWire and Pan America are two great rallying points for them and I hope will help people like yourself that don’t enjoy the traditional products. I can understand some of the people who own Harleys have turned off many people with their snooty attitudes and tough-guy persona, but they’re not all like that. In fact, I would say most HD riders are very nice and welcoming people.
      You definitely should drop into a local dealership and inquire about trying out a LiveWire. It’s a real treat.

  4. August 22, 2020
    Reply

    Very, very well written and informative article. Wouldn’t mind buying one except for the price and an ad I saw.
    Am 72 and have a Leaf, Boss Hoss, and a couple of Runpets.
    Thanks Leo

    • Jim Pruner
      August 25, 2020
      Reply

      Hi Leo!

      Thank you for enjoying this piece. Greg and I had great fun writing it.

      Boss Hoss?! Oh wow that’s fun! I’ve never ridden one but plan to someday.

      The price is a huge obstacle, but what ad did you see that you mention?

      Cheers.

  5. MiddleAgedMax
    September 9, 2020
    Reply

    A really helpful read, thank you. I hope to get my LiveWire delivered this month. I did have to sell 2 bikes to afford it tho’ (a V2 and a V8…). Still I get to keep a Dyna and a Vrod. Can’t grumble at that!

    • September 10, 2020
      Reply

      Max I’m so envious of you! I hope you get one in the first 500 so that you will be in the First Strike club too! Cheers!

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