2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire | First Ride Review

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire action
Harley-Davidson’s new LiveWire electric motorcycle is seriously sporty, shockingly fast and whisper-quiet–everything a typical Harley isn’t. And that’s just the way Milwaukee wants it. (Photos courtesy Harley-Davidson)

Imagine telling the average Harley-Davidson or American V-twin enthusiast a few years ago that not only would the Motor Company produce and sell a naked sportbike in 2020—certainly not an outrageous concept—but that it would be an all-electric one.

That last bit would have not only raised an eyebrow or two among the faithful, it would have likely burned a few clean off their respective foreheads simply from the heated blowback of the responses. Just about any Motor Company fan will tell you: Harley-Davidsons and electric-power EVs just weren’t meant to be talked about in the same sentence.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire action
With 17-inch wheels, Brembo brakes, fully adjustable Showa suspension and 45 degrees of cornering clearance, the LiveWire is by far Harley-Davidson’s sportiest motorcycle.

But as we all know, that’s exactly what’s happened. Harley-Davidson has not only built a naked sportbike that’s sleek, futuristic and sexy, with wide wheels, sticky tires, sporty suspension and a lean-forward riding position, but one that’s electrically powered, with not a molecule of internal combustion waste emanating from its non-existent exhaust system.

It’s a simple truth: Harley-Davidson can’t continue to exist solely by selling Big Twins to aging baby boomers who, in a decade or so, will be mostly out of motorcycling. Like the rest of the motorcycle industry, Harley needs new blood and new markets, and feels very strongly that a line of electric two-wheelers led by the high-end and high-price ($29,799) LiveWire is a prime way to reach them and teach them.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire
Look Ma, no pipes! No pipes means no “potato-potato-potato” rumble that has been Harley-Davidson’s signature sound for decades.

“It’s a bold goal, helping encourage and develop the next generation of riders,” Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich told me over breakfast at the launch, “but we think we’re on the right track with the LiveWire, our future electric offerings, and our More Roads To Harley-Davidson efforts. Motorcyclists know that nothing is more spectacular than two-wheeled travel, right? Spreading that word among a more general population, and building riders in addition to building great motorcycles…well, that seems like a pretty strong concept to us.

“That said,” he continued, “we are not limiting in any way our emphasis on traditional Harleys; if anything, we’re more energized than ever about Sportsters and Softails and baggers and the like. But we do need to branch out, and see electrification as a key avenue there. We very much intend to lead the way in the electrification of the sport.”

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire charger
The LiveWire comes standard with a Level 1 charging cable that can be stored under the seat. At standard 110V, Level 1 charging takes 12.5 hours to go from 0% to 100% battery charge.

If leading the way means introducing the world’s most advanced electrically powered motorcycle, then Milwaukee has very clearly put its money where its mouth is. I was only able to get a few hours on a LiveWire during the July launch, but thanks to a thorough tech briefing, and following that a morning and afternoon ride around town and on some of the faster roads in the hills surrounding Portland, Oregon, I got a pretty good idea of what it is and how it works.

First off, there’s a lot of tech here. Leading the list is an all-new electric motor that’s liquid-cooled, offers 105 horsepower (78 kW) and 86 lb-ft of torque. Although the motor can produce nearly all of its torque immediately, a controller doles it out in a rapid, linear manner, similar to a traditional throttle. It gets its power from a 15.5 kWh battery that offers, according to H-D, a range of 146 miles in the city and 95 miles of combined stop-and-go and highway riding. Level 1 plug-in charging (e.g., at home or work) takes 12.5 hours for a full charge via an included charger cable. Since the bike has an SAE Combo CCS connector like many American and European electric cars, it can also be charged at thousands of Level 2 stations around the country (but at Level 1 speed). Approximately 150 Harley dealers nationwide (with more to come over time) will also offer fast Level 3 one-hour charging and two full years of free charges, and the bike can also be charged at thousands of public Level 3 DC Fast Charging and Electrify America stations around the country.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire battery motor
The LiveWire’s frame wraps around a massive lithium-ion battery pack, below which is the all-new Revelation internal permanent magnet synchronous motor with water jacket cooling.

The LiveWire also has ABS and traction control, a 4.3-inch color TFT touchscreen display centered just above the handlebar, seven selectable Ride Modes (Sport, Road, Range and Rain, plus three customizable modes) and HD Connect, which links owners to their motorcycles (free initially, then for a monthly fee) and offers tons of status and service information via a smartphone using the Harley-Davidson app.

Climb aboard and you’re immediately struck by the riding position, which is more Ducati Monster or Suzuki GSX-S than Sportster or Softail. Its ergos invite a slight forward lean, with semi-rearset pegs, a mildly upward-bent handlebar and scooped seat locking you into position—the reason for which will become apparent soon enough. It all feels reasonably normal…right until you push the starter. The color info-screen lets you know that things are ready to roll with a green light, but in place of a chugga-chugga/potato-potato rumble you have silence (though the battery and motor give off a little “buurp” of movement to let you know the bike is alive and running). Give the right grip a little twist and you’re off, the bike moving forward smoothly and predictably to your right wrist’s commands.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire TFT display
The LiveWire’s 4.3-inch color TFT touchscreen display offers massive info. “Green” means twist-and-go!

In stop-and-go traffic I found the LiveWire super easy to ride, which says a lot about the refinement that’s been baked into it during eight years of development. Throttle response at slower speeds was immediate, linear and controllable, the bike demonstrating no lurching or driveline lash whatsoever. Steering was light and precise, and the brakes crisp and predictable, both of which helped the LW feel considerably lighter than its 540-plus pound wet weight might suggest.

Other than a low whine under acceleration the LiveWire is totally quiet, eerily smooth and almost completely unobtrusive in an aural and vibrational sense. The Harley folks call this “Minimal NVH,” which means minimal noise, vibration and harshness. Accelerating away from a light or tearing down a side street you find yourself listening to wind noise and the tires slapping against the asphalt. It’s an entirely new experience, and one that proved compelling all day long.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire action
The LiveWire’s chassis specs are decidedly sportbike-like: 24.5 degrees of rake and 4.3 inches of trail, with 120-70 and 180/55-spec wheels and tires, in this case sticky Michelin Scorchers. It’s a bit heavy at 549 pounds and has a longish, 58.7-inch wheelbase, but doesn’t feel it on the road thanks to crisp steering manners and firm suspension settings.

You’ll get that same feeling when you ride the LiveWire hard and fast, too. I immediately found myself running through turns faster, looking for pavement irregularities to hit while leaned over to see how the chassis behaved, and then hammering the throttle at the exit, trying—in vain, for the most part—to find what I figured would be mid-level traction, suspension and handling limits. I didn’t find much of that at all, which tells me that all the bluster I’d heard at the tech briefing about chassis and engine refinement, optimized frame geometry, suspension quality and power delivery wasn’t bluster at all. The thing is shockingly fast, amazingly smooth, easy to get used to and ride quickly, forgiving and, most of all, big fun.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire seat shock
Stubby, stepped two-up seat perches the pilot 30 inches off the ground. Tuning knobs for the fully adjustable Showa BFRC-lite shock are easily accessible between the seat and rear wheel.

Nitpicks are few and far between, unless you’re talking seat-to-peg distance, which for my multi-surgery knees is a little tight. Suspension settings, which worked well for my XXL-sized butt, are probably too firm for average humans in terms of spring rate and compression. The bar could use a little more pullback and maybe an inch or two extra in height, and the seat seemed a little thin on padding.

The larger questions, of course, involve range and price. The first isn’t going to be quite enough for a lot of folks, and the latter is likely to be too much. That’s just the way things stand at this point in EV development. You’re either on board and willing to accept the trade-offs for the bennies, or you’re a skeptic.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire action
Harley-Davidson’s LiveWire is a break from tradition in more ways than one, with a sport-standard design and ergonomics. Which makes sense given that it will go from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds flat.

But EVs are coming, like it or not, and despite one’s perspective on price and range, the LiveWire is a superbly designed, compellingly competent, seriously fun and fascinating-to-ride motorcycle…a Halo bike that should represent Harley-Davidson well as it moves into the EV space in the coming years with a wide range of electric two-wheelers, from mid-range EVs to mountain bikes to kids bikes and lots more.

So while that futuristic fortuneteller might have seemed pretty crazy a few years back, this time he was absolutely right.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire
Styling-wise, the LiveWire is an impressive machine, with fit and finish on par with its premium price. Its available in three colors: Orange Fuse (shown), Yellow Fuse and Vivid Black.

Author Mitch Boehm is the Editor of Rider’s sister publication Thunder Press and a former Editor of Motorcyclist magazine.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire Specs
Website: harley-davidson.com
Base Price: $29,799
Motor Type: Revelation internal permanent magnet synchronous motor w/ water jacket cooling
Battery: 15.5 kWh lithium-ion
Transmission: Single speed w/ spiral bevel gear primary
Final Drive: Belt
Wheelbase: 58.7 in.
Seat Height: 30.0 in.
Rake/Trail: 24.5 degrees/4.3 in.
Suspension, Front: Showa 43mm USD SFF-BP fork, fully adj. w/ 4.5-in. travel
Rear: Showa BFRC-lite shock, fully adj. w/ 4.5-in. travel
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Rear: 180/55-ZR17
Claimed Wet Weight: 549 lbs.
Claimed Range: 146 mi. city, 95 mi. combined stop-and-go/highway

23 COMMENTS

  1. This is not a naked sport bike. This is a $30k commuter bike. A naked sport bike rider expects to do much more than70 miles of spirited riding on an outing, and waiting 12 hours to charge because of the limited number of level 3 chargers, instead of 5 minutes to fill a tank, is not an option. The only good news from this is that HD got the geometry and handling right. Hopefully they can do the same with their upcoming ICE naked bike. And hopefully that will be price competitive with other naked offerings, because this certainly isn’t competitive with comparable EVs.

  2. Reviewing the 2020 Harley Livewire without making the comparison to the 2020 Energica Eva is like reviewing a Chevy Bolt and never mentioning or comparing it to a Tesla Model 3.

  3. How is the Livewire such an awesome machine when the Zero SR/f, Energica EsseEsse9, and Energica Eva 107 have the same or better features for significantly less and are available now?

    It would be nice if one of the many reviewers who are writing these Livewire first rides would have actually ridden the main competition. So far, the vast majority of these reviews come across as marketing fluff pieces instead of an honest assessment of what amounts to an over-priced latecomer to the EV market that completely missed the target (unless that target was 2015 models).

  4. “You’re either on board and willing to accept the trade-offs for the bennies, or you’re a skeptic” Uh…no. The facts are there are already better options out there that address these major shortcomings.

  5. For 30 thousands a rider can do much better,70 miles range is a joke,seriously . 70 miles oh boy look at me go ,a 500 mile trip would take a week,and then reality hits you have to ride back. All this enviro BS is for the birds,if this is the future then,ride while you still can. 30 thousand dollars,WTF.

  6. Just goes to show HD did all its consultation from within their ranks, “never mind the facts, my minds made up”
    I think they will have an awful lot of these collecting dust in some warehouse. 12 hours to charge…yeah right, sign me up.
    Seems like typical HD attitude.

  7. THIRTY THOUSAND $$$. HD HAS LOST ANOTHER PIECE OF THEIR MINDS. THEY PAY THEIR ENGINEERS A LOT OF MONEY TO COME UP WITH THIS BIT OF BRILLIANCE. I SAW ONE OF THESE, I CANNOT REMEMBER THE BRAND, AT A LOCAL BIKE GATHERING A COUPLE YEARS AGO IN EPHRATA, PA. I WONDER HOW MUCH HD PAID FOR THE RIGHTS TO PUT THEIR HD ON THE TANK? REALLY! I CANNOT WAIT FOR THE LINES TO FORM!

  8. No one ever talks about what will happen if you run out of electricity. AAA is not going to bring a gallon of electricity . Everybody comes to my area to ride (near the Dragon) and they want to ride ALL DAY and start early the next morning. I’ve never seen a charging station anywhere ….especially one that could handle a bike sitting there for 12 hours . Totally insane . I really just don’t see this idea working as more than a VERY expensive novelty for the Starbucks crowd. One more giant step in the pussification of the American male.

  9. I think the R&D money H-D spent on the Livewire would have been better used to rectify the problems with their internal combustion models. Cam chain tensioners onTC88s, (they did finally fix this on 06 and later but it did not help on my 04), compensating sprocket problems (clunking). And my god all the problems with the M-8s. Sumping, fluid transfer into primary, hydrolic clutch, it goes on and on. And the company’s temerity in dumping loads of cash into a doomed electric program while all the faithful bend over and grab a handful of cheek! The real reason they want to branch out is because the product they are known for and have survived on for over 100 years has turned into crap.

  10. As I sit here with my Big Twin in the parking lot, I cannot imagine buying a Live Wire. But, we are not the target market. I think the buyers will be people who own a Tesla and who have already bought into the electric revolution. There are a million Prius’ that have been sold. I think Harley got this right in that they need a new niche, not to sell bikes to us old guys. As to the $30k, there are plenty of young urban techies who can spend that without difficulty. And, they are going to ride 20 miles to work so range is not a big deal. My only thoughts are that this should have been more of an urban enduro optimized for potholes and curbs. And, in time I bet it will have a stabilizing system where at a stop lights it largely stands by itself. Further down the road would not surprise me if there was a secondary electric motor on our big twins and that same stabilizer. How many times at a gas station two up have we seen an Ultra have an OOOPS. Something to be said for Whirr and bike stabilizes for a few seconds while you get your foot down or a little power on. Can be done. But, if there is any one truth to Harley, it is through a 115 years they are survivors. And, when we are gone, damn thing will probably be able to fly. Actually mine can fly also, but it does not land well. New ones I am sure will do better.

  11. Despite all the naysayers on here, (and yes I love my V Twin), my hat goes off the Harley-Davidson for looking into the future of motorcycling and coming up with a plan for when all of us baby boomers have passed or can’t ride any longer. I’m sure in their vision this is just the first of many models (and varying prices) that will lead HD into the future of motorcycling… ya gotta start somewhere… this is a good start..and it’s really fast and comfortable and handles really well…… and heh, it may not be for us touring and cruising types, but it sounds like it’s one hell of a sport bike! Mitch is always right on with his reviews. Good for Harley-Davidson… they needed a new bike in the Electric world that got everybody’s attention. Mission Accomplished! I wish them the greatest success!

  12. Like other models that never made it, if you want one, just wait 10 years and you can get a new 2020 model in a crate. By then of course the competition will have 400 mile range and one hour charge for 410K

  13. There is going to be a market for this bike. No, it’s not a big thumping twin, but it represents the future of transportation. Harley is a premium brand, and this is a well engineered bike that won’t necessarily make Harley cash rich, but it shows a willingness to look at the future and jump into the market with an innovative, mass produced bike by an iconic brand. It’s a huge gamble, but one that hopefully assures a long and prosperous future for a great American brand.

  14. I would have been much happier if HD had just made the V Rod into a decent sports bike with a competitive price $10000 $12000.Why they never did is still a mystery to me.

  15. For me, it’s a great idea but wrong in design. I ride a cruiser now. I’ve considered an electric motorcycle but not even Harley-Davidson builds an electric bike i want to ride.

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