Harley-Davidson LiveWire Prototype

HotWired? Harley-Davidson LiveWire Prototype

2014 has turned out to be “Year of the Harley” for me. Prior to July 4th of this year I’d never ridden a Harley, but that day I rode one to Hollister for my first Harley rally. September 13th marked my first steps inside a Harley dealership, when I went to the Dudley Perkins H-D 100th anniversary party. Just a month later, I found myself in another H-D shop: Sonoma Harley-Davidson, for a trip around the block on the LiveWire electric prototype.

H-D’s Project LiveWire is touring the country, giving a few riders the chance to hop on one of their hand-built machines for an escorted, well-behaved ride—no wheelies/stoppies/burnouts/fun. Sigh.

Though I’m new to Hogs, this was not my first time on an electric motorcycle. I commuted on a Zero for a week and enjoyed a brief canyon session on a Brammo over the summer. I’m certainly no electric motorcycle expert, but I felt like my expectations were well informed.

Presumably because these machines were designed to woo loud pipe diehards to the (dark) green side, LiveWire engineers emphasized the auditory output of the electric motor. There was a bike set up on rollers, and when someone rolled on the throttle hard, for those few seconds you couldn’t hold a conversation without shouting. On the Zero, I could strafe a row of pedaling spandex at 80 MPH, but the LiveWire sounded like it had Screaming Eagle… battery packs? Loud electrons save lives?

NOBODY wanted to be on the first bike behind the lead rider, which was fine with for me, since it meant that I would have at least one shot at yanking the throttle. I also wouldn’t have to worry about the caliber of rider in front of me. Before rolling out, we sat on the machines while the other riders learned the controls and starting procedure and I tried unsuccessfully to adjust the under-bar mirrors. Like much of the H-D accessories catalog, the LiveWire’s mirrors were heavy on style, with near-zero functionality.

Maybe I’m being too harsh—after some careful adjustment, I did have pretty sweet view of my left knee and right boot.

Once on the road, I twisted the go stick and was not disappointed. I’m a huge fan of ATTATT (All The Torque, All The Time) and the LiveWire delivered. Like most electric bikes there is one “gear” and no clutch, and like most electric bikes rolling off the throttle creates an “engine braking” sensation that also serves to put a little bit of juice back in the batteries.

The LiveWire’s regenerative braking was so aggressive that I did not touch the brakes for the entire ride, including the time that the lead rider and I came to a complete stop after losing the rest of the group before the second turn (facepalm goes here). I would have played around a bit with the brakes, but again, the mirrors might have well been a set of picture frames, and the last thing I wanted was to be the small spoon for the guy wearing chaps behind me.

The suspension felt better than expected, but I did only go five miles. The same can be said for the overall comfort and balance of the bike. Granted I did only turn five times…all rights. I understand it is a “priceless” prototype (one of the guys hinted it was a six-figure prototype), but all I can tell about any bike in five miles is if I want to ride it more than five miles. Hint: the answer has always been yes.

That said, I was very impressed with the LiveWire. Not as an electric bike—I would much rather have a Brammo—but simply by the fact that Harley is trying something that runs counter to their heritage, a factor that looms large over everything the Bar and Shield folks do. With any luck they get enough positive feedback to take some version of the prototype to production with real range and hopefully real mirrors.