Associate Editor Phil Rides The Electric Motorcycle Marvel Harley-Davidson Calls The LiveWire

I wish I had a full coverage helmet. It would have been handy during my Daytona Bike Week test ride of the Harley-Davidson® LiveWire™.  Even after reading about how fast this electric two wheeled slot car was, I wasn’t prepared for the acceleration and speed of this sleek new technological wonder from the home of Milwaukee Iron.

Our PR contact at H-D, Joe Gustafson had set up a meet and greet with Harley’s PR Manager Paul James to go over the LiveWire. We reported to the Harley-Davidson demo center at the Daytona International Speedway on a very brisk (for Florida) morning at 8:15AM to connect with Paul and his team.  A 22-year veteran at Harley who began his marketing career during the launch of the new V-Twin era, Paul greeted us with much enthusiasm and was raring to go over the LiveWire with us. Personally, I think he was excited to ride one with me for a few hours and after the fact, I can’t blame him.  

The LiveWire began as a concept in 2011 as Harley realized the next generation of riders would be looking for an eco-friendly alternative to the V-Twin fossil fuel burners that dominate riding today. They also realized they needed to address certain barriers to entering the riding lifestyle, like clutches and transmissions, and the Livewire does just that. If you currently ride a V-Twin Harley as I do, and don’t feel this bike fits in your garage or riding style, that’s okay- it wasn’t designed or built for many of today’s riders so feel free to click on one of our ads or another article here in But if you want to know more about what your kids and grandkids will be riding- read on!    

According to Paul, the production bikes already delivered and in showrooms took only a few fasteners from the original concept bike that was developed and tested during that time. The rest of the production bike is new from the motor up. According to Mr. James, Harley has fulfilled all pre-orders and the initial dealer inventory deliveries and Harley are now on their first production “sprint” of builds for the next round of deliveries.

Plug N Play 

Paul was kind enough to provide us with a detailed overview of the inner workings of this Milwaukee inspired electric rocket. The magnet motor is longitudinally mounted below the RESS or Renewable Energy Storage System (AKA battery pack). The motor is of a true twisting design and engineered for performance. Since there is no clutch or shifting, 100% of the torque is available in any RPM. With no need for a tranny the design uses a single speed drive. The power output shaft comes off the back of the motor to a bevel gear drive then to a belt drive. Everything above the motor and what looks to be a gas tank is the Renewable Energy Storage System. The 15.5 kWh battery pack is made of lithium ion cells of automotive grade quality packed into an aluminum finned housing. An engineered marvel that rips your lips off.  

What appears to be the gas tank also hosts the on-board electronics with the housing containing the power inlet where the bike is charged. The onboard charger includes a level one charger for household charging from a 110 outlet. Using the power cord stored under the seat, you simply plug the bike into a household wall outlet to charge overnight. Although every authorized Harley-Davidson dealership offers a 24kW DC Fast Charge (DCFC) charging station at their facility, the LiveWire may be charged through any SAE J1772 connector (or CCS2 – IEC type 2 charging connector in European and some other international markets) at any compatible DC fast charging station. DC Fast Charge technology provides a 0-80 percent of battery charge in 40 minutes or 0-100 percent charge in 60 minutes.

Harley-Davidson dealers that sell the LiveWire provide two years of free charging to LiveWire owners on the DC fast charge. Harley is also partnering with Electrify America and offering 500 free kilowatt hours of charging for LiveWire owners. Electrify America is building out and investing about $3 billion in one of the largest charging infrastructures in the US that incorporates the SAE J1772 inlet. When asked about using Tesla charging stations, Paul shared that Tesla’s charging network is proprietary to Tesla products only, but reiterated that in the US 99% of the charging infrastructure uses the SAE J1772 inlet and nearly every public charger that’s not Tesla is the SAE J1772 for fast charging.

Nerds Rule the Ride

Fortunately the LiveWire is equipped with Reflexive Defensive Rider Systems incorporating modern technology to enhance your ride and keep you safe. Engineers designed the technology to match performance, traction and braking controls. Cornering Enhanced (C-ABS) and Cornering Enhanced (C-TCS) are designed to prevent the wheels from locking under braking and help the rider maintain control when braking in a straight line or an urgent situation. Traction control is designed to keep the rear wheel from “spinning out” when accelerating or when going straight as well as in corners.

Drag-Torque Slip Control (DSCS) is designed to manage rear wheel slip and prevent rear wheel lock due to regenerative braking. Regenerative braking happens when you roll off the throttle and can be an issue on wet or slippery roads. DSCS functions at speeds over 10 mph (about 17 kph) and works in concert with the ABS system to balance motorcycle deceleration and rider control. DSCS is integral to rear wheel ABS performance. This one feature also illuminates the brake light telling followers you are slowing down, regardless of whether the brakes are being applied or not. The REGEN feature is huge. I’ve taken pro-rider courses to enhance my riding skills on my Street Glide and the focus is typically on slow speed maneuvering a 1000LB motorcycle. The Livewire makes U-Turns like it was on rails. The REGEN feature in bumper to bumper traffic alone is worth the price of admission on this machine- at slow speeds you need not touch the brakes.

Cordless Fun

Following our technical brief we formulated a plan for a quick photoshoot and ride around Daytona Beach. Noted freelance photographer Brian Nelson was kind enough to snap some pics of your’s truly on the LiveWire, then Paul and I were off. So here is the fun part of this bike- with this kind of power to the rear wheel, the LiveWire can accelerate from 0 to 60 in less than three seconds and 60 to 80 less than two seconds. Wow. Oh, and with NO HEAT between your legs. 

Harley was wise to set up demo dyno stations in their Bike Week demo center so riders can get used to the new LiveWire experience which is like nothing an internal combustion rider can compare to. The H-D associates were brimming with enthusiasm as they walked me through the LiveWire demo experience. I’m glad I went through this exercise because to be honest, nothing prepared me for the unadulterated speed I was about to experience. Several safety measures are built into this bike’s logic and software around everyday riding experiences. Simple things like knowing when the bike is running had to be re-thought so an accidental throttle response while the bike is sitting still won’t happen. The kickstand has an electronic indicator telling the bike it is in “park-mode” thus not allowing the throttle to engage the drive.  

Following our impromptu photoshoot, Paul and I did a counterclockwise lap around the Daytona airport promptly blasting around a few choppers, sport bikes and big v-twins. This beast is FAST!  The onboard computer offers 4 different riding modes depending on your needs or desires for long range or raw speed, with the ability for a rider to build their own custom riding profile as well. Right out of the box you get Road (Standard), Sport (Hang on!), Range (Economy) and Rain (Safe). These are selected via a very well lit control screen information center in the center of the bars. For most of my demo ride I remained in Road mode as I wasn’t concerned about losing battery. The digital output shows your estimated range and during slow riding (and not in econo-mode) the system increases your range distance as the REGEN shoves power back into the battery during deceleration- very slick technology.

Pissing Off Bikers

The day we demoed the LiveWire we met at 8:30AM and it was cool and windy. I have to tell you, the bike runs very cool and the motor whine is very futuristic, yet nothing like we heard growing up watching the Jetson’s in the 60’s. With a 6’2” frame I tend to present the appearance of a “Gorilla on a Minibike” when it comes to riding anything without bags and raised bars, and the LiveWire is no exception. But this doesn’t mean I wouldn’t own one. We zigged and zagged through Daytona and ended up crossing the Intercoastal, winding our way south back to Main Street. While on A1A the bike received copious looks. When stopped in traffic waiting to get on Main many pedestrians stepped up to ask about it. My only response was  “Go ride one! It’s the fastest thing you will ever put between your legs!” I am proud to say this moto-journalist was the first non-Harley Davidson employee to roll through Main Street at Bike Week on the LiveWire and it was an amazing experience! 

We headed south to Speedway Boulevard and doubled back. We had more than one instance to roll up next to a few large groups of bikes, all v-twins and mostly Harleys, with the one exception of a guy on an Indian FTR. He and I chatted at the light then I blew his panels off.  The ability to blip the LiveWire throttle and accelerate past another vehicle is virtually indescribable. The biggest problem I had was my half helmet wanting to fly off my head- I must have re-cinched the strap 4 times. I see now why this bike uses accelerometer balancing to ensure you can’t wheelie this thing- it would leave you on your butt for sure.

Final Synapses Fired

So when it’s all said and done the question remains: Will the motorcycling world accept this new Harley-Davidson venture and the technology it represents? At the list price it’s going to be a tough sell to the targeted generation of new riders, but once a (potential) rider realizes they don’t have to know how to squeeze a clutch and shift simultaneously, I think they will be hooked. We would expect pricing to come down (like any other mass produced electronic device) once the adoption rates increase along with sales and the national charging infrastructure. The grey beard crowd may not like the bike, its look, ride or sound and that’s fine. It wasn’t built for them.

The LiveWire represents the future of motorcycling and I must say, this machine represents some of the brightest technology I’ve experienced on 2 wheels to date. I work every day in tech and if I lived in the city and wanted electric transportation to get around, I would buy a LiveWire.  I highly recommend riders young and old go and test ride the Harley-Davidson LiveWire at a dealer. Just make sure to bring a full coverage helmet, (grippy) gloves and be prepared to HANG ON!


*Photos by Brian J. Nelson, Harley-Davidson, & Phil Gauthier