Harley-Davidson’s electric motorcycle has finally (finally, finally) been released at CES in Las Vegas. And with its debut comes a handful of important details that will make or break Harley’s entry into the electric market. Given Harley’s situation at the moment, the stakes may be even higher than that.
They also showed off two new concepts, all part of their coming range of electric motorcycles. From Harley’s site: “We intend for the all-new LiveWire motorcycle to be followed by an exciting portfolio of two-wheeled electric vehicles.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article did not cover navigational features on the Harley-Davidson LiveWire. Harley-Davidson has confirmed that navigation is turn-by-turn through H-D Connect. They've also provided a top speed: 110 mph. More specs will be provided as the bike ends its pre-order stage and heads to showroom floors.
OK, you’re here for the specs. Let’s talk numbers. First, a favorite of electric evangelists: acceleration. Harley says the LiveWire will do 0-60 in “under 3.5 seconds,” which seems decent. Except a V-Rod will do that too, as will an old Katana 600. HD argues that their Revelation powerplant has an advantage over gas bikes, as they can deliver “100 percent of its rated torque the instant the throttle is twisted, and 100 percent of that torque is always available.” Harley has not released any figures quantifying that torque, or top speed for that matter. They didn’t give weight, either. Being a Harley EV, I’m sure it’s torquey and hefty.
What we do have is a range, an enormously important part of this story. The 2020 LiveWire is rated for “an estimated 110 miles of urban road.” Exhale, inhale, and consider that we don’t know exactly what that means. Is this like the Empulse TT, which was really only good for 60 percent of its range with Lemmy at the controls? Or has Harley underrated this machine somewhat to make up for twist-happy hoons? There’s also a chance it simply goes 110 miles per charge under average use. We have no way of knowing yet.
There’s one more key detail they’ve released. The price tag on this machine is $29,799.
So why would a potential buyer pick the LiveWire over, say, a Zero S, which offers twice the range for $10,000 less (ZF14.4 with Power Tank)?
First, Harley’s leaning on tech to add value to the LiveWire. Most significantly, the LiveWire is the first motorcycle to use H-D Connect, an app-controlled cellular connection that links the rider to the bike. The LiveWire is the first American electric motorcycle to carry tech of this caliber. Users can view vehicle location, available range, nearest charging stations, tamper alerts, and service information from the app.
Then there’s the construction of the bike. As we closed out 2018, Lemmy predicted the LiveWire would be a luxury bike for “the well heeled customer who isn't as eager as an early adopter to deal with the kinds of problems Mission or Brammo customers had, but is keen on making a statement through his motorcycle choice and doesn't mind paying for the privilege.” Its price confirms Lemmy’s thoughts, and the rest of the bike should follow suit. Harley’s been testing this platform for a few years now, so I expect it to feel well-sorted on the road. Its fit and finish should also be nothing less than excellent. Failure is not an option on either of these points if they’re betting a whole line of bikes on this release.
Last, the machine’s romantic qualities. Its design is one of the best in electric streetbikes, at least to my eyes. (I like some pretty weird bikes, so I’m maybe not the best judge.) Harley’s making a big deal about the sound, which reminds me of spinning up a ball bearing with an air compressor, which you should not do. I can’t tell from YouTube videos if it really sounds different from other electric bikes, but if it does, that’s neat. The real attraction here is being the first to have one. To the right buyer, that’s worth it. An electric Harley to confuse people, and leave them scratching their heads at stoplights, is a special kind of fun for a special kind of person.
So what is the LiveWire, exactly? A next-gen electric motorcycle with a massive early adopter tax? The start of a new era for Harley-Davidson? A road to nowhere that took four and a half years to get from prototype to market? And what does this mean for the additional electric two-wheelers on the way?
I have no idea, and I don’t have $29,799 to find out. If you do, preorder is available now.