Living Electric : Day to Day with the Harley-Davidson LiveWire
With Teslas, and Chevrolet Volts and Nissan Leafs routinely appearing on roads across Canada, it’s inevitable electric motorcycles will soon become mainstream vehicles too. The auto segment is far more developed in this regard of course and even in Victoria, British Columbia, where electric cars, e-bicycles and e-scooters are quite common; an electric motorcycle sighting is very rare indeed.
The current BC government says 2040 is the last year consumers can buy an internal combustion road vehicle. The United Kingdom and countries in the European Union have similar goals. For those targets to be achievable, electric motorcycles must be part of the mix.
As discussed in previous issues there are many electric motorcycle startups but few established players. No doubt, there will be a shakeout of the segment making it imperative to get bikes on the road in substantial numbers. Harley-Davidson jumped in early with the LiveWire, hoping to establish momentum.
We took delivery of the new 2020 LiveWire from Barnes Harley-Davidson in Victoria with the goal being to ride the bike daily and gain perspective of what life might be like with an electric motorcycle. Although I rode the original prototype during its cross-country tour in 2015, Barnes H-D staffer and LiveWire specialist Steeve Lesperance provided a comprehensive briefing before I departed.
The new LiveWire is a completely different bike, he said. This comment seemed interesting, as the prototype had struck me as well on its way to being production-ready, though at the time there were still some development challenges including a limited range.
The flag raised most often regarding electric motorcycles is range, so let’s look at that. The Harley-Davidson LiveWire has a factory-spec range of 235 kilometres in the city and 152 km during mixed use riding. The 152 km range was within 10 to 15 km of what the bike’s instruments would predict each day based on my previous ride when the battery charge was 100 per cent.
I found that a 30-km ride at an average and consistent rate of 90 to 100 kmh would use 19 per cent of the battery’s capacity. On a slower route home, averaging between 50 and 60 kmh, the same distance would consume 16 per cent of battery capacity. Consumption was consistent and the bike’s electric motor drew the battery down at a predictable rate. Repeating the same ride or the same distance would result in the same draw-down on the battery
There were no surprises during our time with the bike when consumption changed dramatically.
The LiveWire’s multi-function display features several options to monitor battery charge and range. A segmented bar across the bottom of the display acts as a gauge with the remaining capacity of the battery shown as decreasing bar length just like a fuel gauge.
While useful in determining the battery’s remaining capacity, the more important figure is the one beside the bar, which continuously monitors your expected range. This figure, more so than on a traditional bike, is the one to watch as most rides have a destination. The range will fluctuate as the bike continually monitors your speed and riding habits.
Among the display’s selectable graphics is a vertical bar showing estimated range and a maximum and a minimum range based on current riding habits. The LiveWire keeps you informed in many ways so the rider is always aware of kilometres to “empty.”
I had the perception charging the Harley-Davidson LiveWire would be a more complicated process, perhaps because of the extensive information in the owner’s manual. But this wasn’t the case. Under the seat is a heavy-duty power cord with a large docking port at one end that fits into the charging point located under the traditionally placed gas cap on the “tank.” The other end is a simple three-point plug that will fit any socket in your garage.
There is nothing exotic or specialized about the plug meaning regardless of where you ride, if that location has electricity, you can charge your LiveWire. You don’t need to find a dedicated charging station and you don’t need any equipment that isn’t already on the bike. The plug end of the cord blinks blue while charging and solid blue when charged. The display also counts down charge time and shows the battery’s charge level.
There are several things to consider when charging the LiveWire if you have a distance to travel that exceeds the range of the battery or if your time is limited. The battery charges much faster to 80 per cent of its capacity before slowing to reach 100 per cent.
An 80 per cent charge is about a 120 km range in mixed riding and is likely adequate for most rides as the difference between 80 per cent and a full charge is only 30 km in range. The reason for the battery charge rate to drop substantially between 80 and 100 per cent is to protect the battery.
There are two types of chargers available if you are on the road and need a boost from a public charger. The best option is a fast charger if you can find one. Petro-Canada, for example, has created a network of fast chargers across Canada, the first of which is only a few kilometres from our office here in Victoria. At a fast charger you can achieve 80 per cent in 40 minutes and 100 per cent in 60.
The Petro-Canada fast chargers accept a credit card but many others often require membership in an app. The apps and accompanying maps point to locations where you can find a charge. The two apps most frequently posted are ChargePoint and Flo. Not only do they find charge stations they also allow you to pay and track your usage.
Around Victoria, as with most urban centres, there are a wide range of charging stations because there are many electric cars in the city. However, not all chargers are fast chargers, which are large fuel pump sized devices often equipped with two charging lines and ports that plug directly into the bike. Smaller stations in public areas, rec centres, parking lots and stores will have a docking attachment but charge at the same rate as a home charger.
The owner’s manual suggests the majority of charging take place at home through a regular socket using the onboard charging cord. Harley-Davidson recommends a 4:1 ratio of home charge to fast charge as the slower charging will extend battery life. Forcing a fast charge into the bike is like rapidly filling a balloon with a fire hose. It will fill in a hurry but eventually the balloon will stretch and degrade.
Day to day the Harley-Davidson LiveWire works best in urban conditions or on short country rides, so home charges through a garage outlet are more than adequate. From a 50 per cent charge my LiveWire test unit repeatedly indicated a full charge would take about five to six hours including the slowdown in charging rate to reach 100 per cent.
Living with the LiveWire’s range is simple once you learn how the bike reacts to your riding habits, how far you can expect to ride under different circumstances and where charging opportunities exist. After the learning curve, planning rides becomes second nature.
Riding the Harley-Davidson LiveWire
There are few surprises about actually riding the Harley-Davidson LiveWire. Really, it’s pretty much just like riding anything else except there’s no clutch or gears to change and even that isn’t unheard of in the traditional market. As you might expect, because of the electric motor throttle response is completely linear and sufficiently weighted so there is little chance of inadvertently blipping the accelerator—with the exception of the “Sport” mode. Maneuvering at a precise two-kmh pace around the garage is as simple as maintaining an even 100 kmh on the highway.
There is a quiet whine at initial takeoff but it is quickly drowned by wind noise. Is it fast? Yes! Twist the throttle slowly and the bike will keep accelerating. Twist abruptly and the LiveWire will take off immediately and from any throttle position. Harley-Davidson has electronically limited top end to 180 kmh although some reports say it’s capable of more. Horsepower equivalent of the engine is 105 with 86 foot-pounds torque available immediately. Compare this to Harley-Davidson’s V-Rod with its liquid-cooled 1247cc engine and 83.4 foot-pounds torque.
There are four standard riding modes and the differences can be dramatic. Sport mode is for performance situations with the input from the throttle shortened allowing power to come on very quickly. This takes some getting use to because acceleration is abrupt, almost like flicking a light switch, and not many conventional bikes can replicate the ride experience. Sport is a very purposeful mode and not intended for everyday riding.
“Road” mode has the most traditional feel with smooth linear power on the throttle and an expected deceleration off the throttle.
Deceleration changes dramatically in “Range” mode, which is intended to increase riding distance by increasing the regenerative power when the throttle is released. The bike quickly slows down from the drag on the rear wheel. After riding the bike for a day in Range I found that releasing the throttle is basically like an engine braking option while only grabbing the lever to come to a final stop. Even on a downhill slope in Range mode, the bike will come nearly to a stop with the throttle closed.
The final standard mode is “Rain,” which flattens both acceleration and regeneration so there is less loss of traction on wet roads. It is also the mode the manual suggests for starting out as a rider new to the bike as it is a gentle introduction to the power delivery characteristics. There are three additional available modes that can be programmed to personal preference. Among the many display options on the screen is a power/torque widget illustrating mode, maximum torque and maximum regen.
But what does the LiveWire feel like compared to a combustion powered motorcycle? The best comparison of its visceral feel is to that of a big torquey inline-four with smooth, constant acceleration and very little vibration. Imagine riding that inline-four midway between idle and redline and perhaps one gear lower than you would normally notch. The revs are high and throttle input is immediate. A rich sense of pending momentum seems to lie just beyond every slight twist of the throttle, powerful accelerations are always immediately available, and you are never at a disadvantage in traffic.
At a stop the bike pulses slightly, which is more noticeable if you have the front brake lever pulled. Always covering the brake is a good idea because there is little else beyond the two green bars on either side of the display and an icon or two to let you know that a throttle roll will result in movement. Old habits die hard, but never once did I inadvertently blip the throttle. I did however occasionally dip my toe for an imaginary shift.
The Harley-Davidson LiveWire weighs 249 kilograms with the battery (the single heaviest component) centred down the middle of the bike and the motor hanging below. The bike carries the balanced weight low. It feels solid and planted but not heavy. Seating is upright and quite aggressive giving the rider good control over the machine. Comfort is reasonable although it’s unlikely most riders will spend more than two consecutive hours in the saddle.
The LIveWire’s functions include cruise control and Bluetooth connectivity for music and phone and a navigational system. Apps with cell connections to the bike can monitor its charge and track it if stolen. As a premium priced machine, it comes with a suite of advanced rider aids.
While it’s too early to say exactly how long a LiveWire battery will last, other electric vehicle applications have shown battery lifespans are long and generally trouble free. The LiveWire’s lithium-ion battery is covered by a five-year warranty and can be extended after that period. Ten years might seem a conservative estimate but much may depend upon following factory recommendations for charging and, as stated frequently and forcefully in the manual, never attempting to do anything to the battery: leave that to the professionals.
Two points worth mentioning about the battery are to never charge the battery in the rain and that the battery can be expected to lose 20 per cent of its charging capacity over five years although there are factors that would lessen or increase that rate.
Living with theHarley-Davidson LiveWire : The Week
The Harley-Davidson LiveWire is excellent for around town: quick, clutchless, emissions-free and efficient but to have it serve only an urban role would not be fair. I never felt in jeopardy of being stranded considering the number of charging stations around the greater Victoria area and the range of the bike. The fact that the draw-down on the battery was replicable for equivalent distance and riding speed was all the more confidence inspiring.
In only a short time, a rider becomes aware of what to expect and what to attempt. I might not attempt a 150-km round trip without the option of a charge but because of the predictability of consumption, I would probably push those limits. The biggest hurdle is remembering to plug in at night.
The future success of electric motorcycle depends on several key factors: convenience, ease of use, practicality and cost. There is no getting around the last factor as most electric motorcycles, especially desirable ones, are expensive. The LiveWire is priced $37,250.
It isn’t an option for everyone but Harley-Davidson says there will be other offerings in the electric lineup and hopefully some will be more affordable to a broader range of buyers. The costs of electric bikes are about economies of scale. There simply are not enough of them sold to bring the prices down dramatically – yet.
Part of any future success for e-motorcycles as a genre will depend upon bikes like the Harley-Davidson LiveWire coming from companies with strong brand recognition to put a focus on the segment and prove them as viable choices and easy alternatives for many riders and purposes.
From my perspective, riding the LiveWire is as enjoyable as a traditional motorcycle and I’ll admit it felt good knowing I was powered by electricity. Living with the bike for a week as a daily rider was something to get charged up about.
- John Molony, Canadian Biker