Owning a Harley-Davidson is a big deal. The iconic motorcycle conjures up a vision of freedom, the open road and, er, noise. Harley’s raucous louder-than-hell V-twin engines have been deafening the neighbours and blending bikers vital organs forever, but now the iconic American brand has its eyes on the electric market. To the shock and disgust of many who love the Milwaukee-headquartered company’s two-wheeled machines, Harley-Davidson used CES 2019 to show off the LiveWire, a bike that gets on down the road using future-friendly battery power.
It’s a brave move to be honest. While you can understand many automotive manufacturers taking their products in a battery-powered direction, to many the thought of an electric Harley-Davidson is, well, unthinkable. While the company has long had an Electra-Glide model in its portfolio, a leccy-edged name is the closest it has come to a proper battery model. The business has always been firmly aimed at providing the thrill of blatting down the motorway with two giant cylinders providing a cataclysmic aural backdrop to proceedings, all while burning good old-fashioned fossil fuels. It’s been enough to inspire movies, music and so much more.
However, the LiveWire packs rather more punch than a traditional Harley-D, accelerating from 6 to 60mph in just under 3.5 seconds, which is sprightly to say the least. That’s also possible thanks to the instant torque you get from an all-electric setup, so fans of performance bikes should be in for a real treat. Adding to this cocktail of fun is a twistgrip throttle and no clutch or gears are needed in order to manhandle the bike up to its top speed. Harley-Davidson also reckons the LiveWire will be good for around 110 miles between charges, unless you ride it like you stole it of course.
For anyone used to filling up at a petrol station then the LiveWire is slightly different too, with an onboard Level 1 charger and power cord arrangement that lets owners plug it into any household socket for an overnight rejuice. The bike maker says that any Level 3 DC Fast Charge station can be used for more rapid fire recharging as an alternative. Mind you, to do this the socket is in the place of the traditional fuel filler cap, which suggests to us that grimy power cables could quickly start adding scratches to that lustrous paint scheme on the tank.
Tech fans will also revel in being able to use the accompanying Harley-Davidson App that delivers dynamic information on battery charge status and, more importantly, can let you know if some grubby Herbert is trying to touch, tamper or steal your pride and joy. And, as with any Harley, the bike will be sure to attract attention, with the radical styling showing off the tasty-looking permanent magnet electric motor that sits in the frame where the traditional V-Twin engine would normally be.
The frame, incidentally, consists of lightweight cast aluminium, which Harley-Davidson reckons makes the LiveWire great around town and even better once you head out on the highway. Compounding this is fully adjustable front and rear suspension, so enthusiasts can tweak the ride to suit their personal penchant for putting the bike through its paces. Fat Michelin tyres offer up plenty of grip and you can check your progress and keep an eye on your speed via a 4.3-inch liquid-crystal touchscreen display. Add your own custom tweaks to that with turn-by-turn navigation, personalised alerts and, if you want, music too. At least you’ll be able to hear it on this particular two-wheeled machine.
As you can see from the images, the styling is pretty cool. It’s got little in common with traditional models in the Harley-Davidson range and gives more than a nod to more street-styled bikes. Harley says it’s also developing a range of add-on accessories, which’ll let you bling up your bike like the old-school Harley folks do. The LiveWire will come in three colour combinations, with Orange Fuse taking our fancy but there’s Yellow Fuse or plain old vivid black for less ostentatious bikers out there. It’s all looking pretty good so far then.
That said, you’ll need fairly deep pockets to join this particular all-electric club. The Harley-Davidson LiveWire will come with a starting price tag of $29,799 (around £23,200, UK pricing and availability TBA), with first-off-the-production-line models being made available in August of this year. Harley’s blurb says ‘The loudest sound you hear will be your heart racing’ and that’ll certainly be the case when you open your wallet to pay that near thirty grand asking price. What might be more sobering though is when you pull out of the dealership, head down the road and think to yourself just how much you miss being deafened by a ball-busting conventional V-Twin petrol engine.
Yup, times are changing even for old-school bike makers. Harley-Davidson also caused some consternation not long ago when the company unveiled plans for a, shock horror, manufacturing plant in Thailand. However, in a global marketplace that’s increasingly competitive, it seems like they’ve got little choice other than to build products cost-effectively in locations that allow them to maximise their worldwide appeal. Quite how that will pan out on the electric bike front, however, remains to be seen. After all, is a Harley-Davidson the real thing if you don’t even hear it before you see it?