Motor Monday: Harley’s LiveWire

Posted by: Matt Iasenzaniro onJuly 27th, 2015

If you were in Inglewood this past weekend you may have noticed some hubbub around Kane’s Harley Davidson dealership. That’s because Harley is on the 2nd year of their LiveWire Experience tour and Calgary was lucky enough to be on the agenda. The LiveWire Experience tour is a show and tell (and ride!) for Harley’s new LiveWire electric motorcycle concept, taking feedback from current and potential Harley customers in order to craft the production version of the bike, as well as giving people likely their first opportunity to ride an electric bike. Last year Harley Davidson took comments from 15,000 customers and gave out 6,800 test rides in 30 American cities. This year they’re going international, with tour stops in Europe, Asia and right here in Canada.

The bike itself isn’t the first of its kind but it’s definitely something unique, and not just because it comes from the last company you’d expect to make it. Aside from the text-less badges, the only clue you’d have that the LiveWire could be a Harley is the belt connecting the transmission to the rear wheel. In place of the cornerstone air-cooled V-Twin engine you’ve got a longitudinally mounted, 55 kilowatt, three phase electric motor pushing 72 horsepower through a transmission which lost its clutch and gears. Of course this means you don’t get the distinctive Harley brap, but people will still know what you’re riding just by listening. With the motor mounted sideways, power needs to be redirected 90 degrees via a bevel gear. This gear gives the LiveWire a sound they liken to a jet engine. Just, you know, quieter… and more futuristic. While the power number is in line with a modern sport touring bike, the delivery is instantaneous and nothing like any bike you’ve likely ridden. Aside from that, it rides like any other street bike. To further pull this Harley into the iPhone age, they’ve replaced standard gauges with a full colour touchscreen like you’d find in a modern car. The screen is used for standard monitoring of charge, range and trip, along with selecting drive mode between maximum power and maximum range. All of this, combined with a naked street look, comes together to form not just a great bike, but a significant step from the norm for Harley Davidson.

The goal of the LiveWire is very clearly to appeal to a customer segment which currently has little to no interest in Harley Davidson, and I think they’ve done a great job. It’s the first Harley I’ve ever been interested in, and it should do a great job of altering the perception of Harley Davidson as a company who can’t (or won’t) move forward. It’s a bold move, let’s see if it pays off. That is, of course, contingent on them actually producing and selling this bike. Harley Davidson have said a production version is at least 2 years out but would happen this decade. Despite the high quality of the LiveWire we saw this weekend, there’s still work to be done. A similarly powered Zero SR with Power Tank will get more than double the LiveWire’s range and starts at about $21,000 CAD. Harley has already said $20,000 is what customers want to pay but that they can’t be profitable at that point. Well, I know a lot of people will be willing to pay a bit extra for the Harley name, but there needs to be some big improvements to range before they’ll be able to justify it.

But maybe pricing them to sell isn’t the goal. Maybe the goal is to prove that Harley isn’t what we all think they are, or that electric motorcycles aren’t just for niche manufacturers, or maybe the engineers in Wisconsin just wanted to have some fun. I think I’d like any or all of those are true.



When he’s not busy writing about cars or travelling the auto show circuit, he’s reviewing apps and video games related to the automotive world. In his spare time, Matt is a motorcycle enthusiast, trying not to kill himself riding along with the crazy local drivers. He is also a weekly contributor in the Motor Mondays segment on News Talk 770.

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