I have just spent two weeks with the Harley-Davidson LiveWire, and I thought I would give you the benefit of my experience now that I am wireless again. I know next to nothing about electricity and any discussion of alternating or direct current makes my eyes glaze over, but I do know an… interesting motorcycle when I ride one.
Let me dispose of a couple of furphies* before anything else. The first is that the lack of exhaust noise somehow disqualifies the LiveWire from being a ‘proper’ motorcycle.
I know that many of you live under the delusion that “loud pipes save lives”. I am sorry to have to tell you that this is indeed a furphy. Now it may be that in one or two of the circumstantial reported cases, perhaps yours! the bellowing of a bike’s pipes actually did prevent a crash. But what there is of the scientific evidence – I discussed some of it a while back – is solidly against that. Loud pipes merely confirm the citizens’ conviction that motorcyclists are drooling idiots with overwhelming feelings of inadequacy.
And that is not all. Take away the exhaust sound and your ride becomes richer, and more pure. You have an opportunity to devote yourself to the performance and handling of the motorcycle, to the visceral communication between you and the machine, without being distracted by mere noise.
Fortunately, both the performance and the handling of the LiveWire are worth experiencing. Even something as simple as filtering through the traffic (the bike is slim enough to be admirably capable of that) and then using the torque of the electric motor to blast away from the citizens in their cages at the lights is simply delightful. You can just about lose them in the mirrors by the time you reach legal top speed. Even ducking in and out of traffic on the tollway (freeway in America), which I know I should not do, becomes enjoyable because of the chuckability of the bike.
Play with the comprehensive suspension settings and the various modes or set your own, and you will find that the LiveWire can become just the motorcycle you want it to be. Few if any other bikes I have ever ridden allowed the amount of personalisation that lurks in this one. Well, none actually.
Now to so-called range anxiety. I am especially dubious about the relevance of this because there are many thousands of riders out there whose bikes have less range than a LiveWire, and I have yet to hear anyone seriously point this out as a disadvantage of choppers. Ha. Remember the scene in “Easy Rider” where Wyatt puts the money into a plastic pipe which he then inserts into the gas tank? There would have been enough space for petrol left in that tank to get out of the forecourt of the gas station, before needing to return to fill up again.
Anyone with a commute of less than a hundred miles – and there would not be many people commuting anywhere near that, I should think — will find the LiveWire more than adequate for their requirements. Plug it in at work and plug it in at home. You just need to think differently about “filling up”. Remember that it costs all of 45 cents for a complete “fill”. Or so I’m told.
During my time with the LiveWire, I did not experience range anxiety once. Indeed, I only ran the battery down below 50% twice, and both times was when I took off to a relatively distant restaurant for lunch before returning home.
Oh, there is one thing that I am not entirely happy about: the bloke who handed the bike over to me suggested that I should not leave it alone while it was charging. I presume – and hope – that this was some kind of H-D in-joke. With an 11-hour charge time that’s plain impossible.
I see that I have spent practically all of my allocated space in disabusing you of a couple of misapprehensions, and little on the charms of the bike. Let me say that is it highly enjoyable to ride, offers perhaps a little too much distraction with that video-game-like screen (which you can always tune down of course but I found it endlessly fascinating) and did not once cause me any concern because it was too quiet. Yes, I like it with very few qualifications. Even the ergonomics are good for my 5’11’ and 95kg frame, and the seat is reasonably comfortable.
Have I been bribed by Harley-Davidson to write this blog debunking some preconceptions? Well, they did give me a leather jacket some dozen or so years ago. I suspect they thought that any of my devoted readers who saw me wearing it would also buy one. The success of that ploy can be judged by the fact that it has never been repeated.
And to conclude: would I buy a LiveWire? No. But that is because of the price, which puts it out of my reach. Fifty big ones (in Australia)? Do you have any idea how much motorcycle scribblers get paid (or rather not)?
*A furphy is Australian slang for an erroneous or improbable story that is claimed to be factual. Furphies are supposedly ‘heard’ from reputable sources, sometimes secondhand or thirdhand, and widely believed until discounted. So sayeth Wikipedia.
(Photos Stuart Woodbury)