The First In What Will Be A Portfolio Of Electric Bikes

Electric-powered bikes are at the cutting edge of technology as the world grapples with its fossil-fuel dependency and seeks viable alternatives, and the LiveWire represents the MoCo’s contribution to that effort. Harley-Davidson teased us back in ’14 with the Project Livewire prototype, but at the EICMA “Milan Show” this year the production version finally saw the light of day. This machine brings a slew of features to the table that shows that Milwaukee is not as mired in the past as its detractors would like to have you believe with safety and comfort amenities that qualify as top-shelf by anyone’s standards. This is a thoroughly modern ride with up-to-date equipment, and even though it’s operating within a still-niche genre, there’s no problem at all in finding a suitable competitor, so let’s get to it.

Continue reading for my look at the Harley-Davidson LiveWire.

2019 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Design

2019 Harley-Davidson LiveWire
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Until the planned 975 cc Streetfighter model actually goes into production, this is the naked sportbike in their lineup.

The overall panache is new territory for Harley. Sure, you could argue that the machines from the now-defunct Buell struck a similarly sportbike-ish figure, but that wasn’t really an H-D; it was only 49-percent of one. Even the Street family that departs so strongly from the status quo falls well short of the LiveWire’s streetfighter looks. Until the planned 975 cc Streetfighter model actually goes into production, this is the naked sportbike in their lineup.

It start off bright and early with a heavily bobbed front fender and stiff inverted forks that combine to scream “performance-minded” from the nearest rooftop. Blackout treatment spreads from the rims through the rest of the design to become the dominant color, and that achromatic choice gives it a custom flavor as well even while it visually ties the bike together from stem-to-stern.

A stylized bullet fairing houses the cyclops headlight, but is so minimal that it has no other practical use other than serving as a platform for the fetching orange paint that touches the fuel tank and nothing else. Short-rise bars pull the rider forward, sportbike style, for an aggressive riding position reinforced by jockey-mount rider footpegs that are mounted plenty high to enable the body English action.

Instrumentation is handled in its entirety by the Thin Film Transistor display featuring touchscreen functionality along with a Bluetooth wireless connection that pipes in your tunes and provides you with a navigation feature. It also acts as a rider interface for the rider modes and traction control. That’s right sports fans, Harley-Davidson finally gets up to speed, metaphorically speaking, with the full spectrum of what has become the expected package of goodies for any and all serious competitors on the world stage, and I couldn’t be more tickled with an arse-ful of goose feathers. It’s impossible to overstate how huge of a step that is for a company long maligned for its apparent unwillingness to embrace the choice fandanglery, and I’m comfortable saying that the MoCo has finally joined the 21st century.

A long fuel-tank section tumbles down to the saddle rather abruptly toward the rear, but of course, it’s a lie ’cause there ain’t no fuel tank on this thing, nor is there a reason for one. The fuel cap? Yeah, it’s actually a cover for the charging ports, and there’s a dry-storage compartment under the seat for a cord that’ll let you tap into any household-type, 110-Volt power outlet for your charging convenience.

An upswept subframe section lofts the pillion and tapers off to nothing over a full-size hugger eliminating the need for an ugly mudguard, and it also mounts the plate between a pair of LED turn signals below the light bar that serves as the taillight. I’ve heard some of the Hate-Harley crowd deride the overall look of the LiveWire as a “cinder block with scaffolding.” But I, for one, think it’s cooler than the other side of the pillow with looks comparable to industry-leader Zero Motorcycles and the Brammo-based Empulse that is out of the game for the moment.

It’s definitely outside the H-D engineer’s comfort zone, and as a first effort, I think Milwaukee certainly could have done worse. At the least, it certainly bodes well for immediate future that will include more EV models from the MoCo by 2020 and a “full portfolio” by 2022.

2019 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Chassis

2019 Harley-Davidson LiveWire
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This is the first production H-D to get adjustable front suspension, and should be viewed as a huge step forward.

In a sharp departure from the norm, the factory used a cast-aluminum Trellis frame for the bones of the beast, and it’s clearly visible as it serves as an aesthetic feature even as it acts as an exoskeleton. The inverted front forks are Showa’s Separate Function Fork-Big Piston stems that see a single spring opposite the variable damper on the other side. This is the first production H-D to get adjustable front suspension, and should be viewed as a huge step forward as one of my persistent gripes about Harley is its apparent unwillingness to embrace adjustable damping features. Hopefully the MoCo will let that tech trickle down and across the entire range. Wink nudge, guys.

Out back is another Showa product; this one the Balanced Free Rear Cushion-lite shock that also busts through barriers with damping adjustments ne’er before seen on an H-D. Exciting stuff, wouldn’t you say? Cast wheels round out the rolling chassis with an 18-inch rim up front and a 17-inch out back, lined with Michelin Scorcher hoops.

Dual Brembo Monobloc calipers bite the 300 mm front discs to provide the bulk of the stopping power. Not only does the LiveWire run with ABS protection, but this ride has a traction-control feature as well, and if it works like the system the factory is testing on the trikes, it’ll electronically apply some rear brake when a wheel-speed differential is detected. However it works, it’s another big step for the factory and it addresses another of the major gripes everyone, including myself, has about the marque as a whole. You can’t see it, but this is me slow-clapping.

2019 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Drivetrain

2019 Harley-Davidson LiveWire
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The power figures from the start of the project have been somewhat underwhelming compared to most of the EV field, but like all EVs, every ounce is ready to go as soon as you crack the 'throttle,' so it's still superior to an internal combustion engine in that respect.

In an effort to keep the center-of-gravity low, H-D mounts the oil-cooled, three-phase 55 kW induction motor down low where you’d expect to find a chin fairing and/or belly pan. That’s no mean feat given the large Rechargeable Energy Storage System, or lithium-ion “battery” if you like, that rides in the blocky aluminum case between what would be the fuel tank and the drive section. Said case has cooling fins cast in to deal with the heat of charging/discharging. There’s a second smaller 12-Volt battery that runs the non-drive bike systems and an on-board Level-1 charger that’ll slowly charge the bike back up. If you’re in a hurry and have access to a proper charging station you can use the Level-2 or -3 DC fast-charge system to slam the juice in with the quickness.

The power figures from the start of the project have been somewhat underwhelming compared to most of the EV field with 74-horsepower and 52 pound-feet of torque. Gotta’ say, I’m a little disappointed with the torque output, but like all EVs, every ounce is ready to go as soon as you crack the “throttle,” so it’s still superior to an internal combustion engine in that respect.

It’s a direct-drive, so there’s no changeable-ratio gearbox or need of a clutch or shifter, just twist-and-go operation with a quiet, belt-type final drive. Harley’s are rather famous for their distinct — and distinctively loud — engine note, and the factory upholds its reputation with a specially cut gear in the drivetrain that produces a whine/howl to give you some audible feedback from the motor. I’m a proponent of loud bikes, and consider the silence of the majority of EVs to be a liability, not a selling point, especially in this day and age where everyone has their attention split between the road and their phones.

2019 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Pricing

2019 Harley-Davidson LiveWire
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MSRP will be announced sometime in January 2019.

MSRP is still TBA as of this writing, and Harley was never one to use price as a selling point so don’t hold your breath hoping for a ride that won’t whack your wallet. Price will be announced sometime in January 2019.

2019 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Competitors

2019 Zero Motorcycles S / SR
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2019 Harley-Davidson LiveWire
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Here's something I don't get to say often: Harley wins in the electronic fandanglery category.

Since the Empulse got shelved with the demise of the Victory Motorcycle brand and has yet to land in Indian’s lap or find its own production line directly under Polaris, I decided that Zero is the one to beat. With that in mind, I went with the Zero S for its similar, naked-sportbike look and bottom-tier performance profile.

Both rides follow the neo-standard design to a “T”, but Zero opts for a cleaner headlight assembly sans fairing. Personally, I like the fairing, but I concede that it comes down to taste, and thus is subjective. The Zero also carries a fuel tank-like hump so the flyline looks right, but Zero offers a charge-pack and a battery-pack that can fit there instead to speed up charging times or extend range, respectively.

Zero runs Showa suspension at both ends with the full trifecta of adjustments for a slight edge over Harley. ABS is constant across the board, and the “S” comes with two riding modes that offer variable power delivery, but that still falls short of the LiveWire’s electronics. Also, it seems Zero fails to consider any sort of traction control at all to give H-D another edge.

Zero gets some back in the power figures, though it’s a mixed bag with 78 pound-feet of grunt and 46-ponies versus 52/74 from the H-D. Since capacity and charge times are still unknown quantities with the LiveWire, I’ll refrain from posting Zero’s numbers here, especially since things seem to get bigger/better/faster/smaller every week so there’s no telling where Harley will land on that; until it does. Same with price. Time will tell.

He Said

“This is really exciting stuff. I mean, sure, the electric bike angle is pretty cool all by itself, but the traction control and rider modes puts it over the top. I fully expect that tech to trickle down sooner rather than later, right along with the adjustable suspension, and that’s just the sort of stuff H-D needs to do to be competitive in an increasingly technical world.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “When H-D teased us with Project Livewire in 2014, I wasn’t entirely convinced that it would actually see production. It just seemed so far out there for a company deeply mired in tradition. I am so happy to see the LiveWire joining the lineup and hope to see the new 975 cc Streetfighter and Pan America adventure bike joining it soon.”

2019 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Specifications


Further Reading

Zero S / SR

2019 Zero Motorcycles S / SR
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See our review of the Zero S / SR.

Victory Empulse TT

2016 Victory Empulse TT
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See our review of the Victory Empulse TT.


50 New Harley-Davidson Models In Five Years?
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Read more Harley-Davidson news.

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