The author going like stink. Photo credit: Mark Watson
I recently celebrated the one-year anniversary and 10,000km mark on my Harley Davidson Livewire.
I should start out by saying that after a year I really, really love this bike. Not just because it’s electric, but mostly because it’s prodigiously fun, does 99% of what I need and, so far, has not missed a beat.
Although I am now very familiar with the Livewire and have put it through a pretty wide variety of riding scenarios, I’m still learning about some of the features of the bike. I have also had a lot of questions about ownership, features and behaviour and so, bear with me, but here are 25 things you might not know about a Livewire.
The number one question is what the bikes top speed and acceleration is. It’s (limited) to 180kmh and will do 0-100kmh in 3 seconds. There are faster bikes, but the acceleration really is very fast and for the vast majority of riders (including me) it’s plenty fast enough to be worthy of a great deal of respect and will get you into trouble if you aren’t careful.
This brings me to question two which is power delivery. The combination of no clutch or gearbox and a ride by wire, digitally programmable throttle response means it is sublimely smooth, eons ahead of an ICE bike. This means you can get the power to ground far easier, it’s more responsive to input and deliciously, buttery smooth.
This is gold for a motorcyclist.
Question three is traction and wheelie control and I have an admission to make. The Livewire, like many modern bikes has a very sophisticated six axis ride control and safety system including traction and wheelie control, all of which is adjustable. I had assumed (in the absence of an owner’s manual) that hitting the traction control button meant I was engaging traction control when the light came on, but no. The light comes on to warn you it is disabled, I recently learned. I also assumed that in custom mode turning Traction Control to Lo, meant it was at its lowest setting, but no. Lo means lowest level of wheel slip or highest level of traction control, I recently learned.
Discovering this was nothing less than a revelation for me because it was like unleashing a beast that was lurking within and gave me an all new, more brutal experience after almost a year of ownership. Fully unleashing the beast also disables all sensibilities including wheelie control and so, used in the right controlled conditions it will spin the rear wheel revealing copious clouds of smoke and once hooked up, will pull very nice wheelies. For the inexperienced, I warn you this is a brutal mode that should be treated with huge respect.
I know I’m supposed to be saving the planet, but can I have some fun on the way?
The next issue is sound. Yes, it has a sound – a combination of low-grade mechanical noise from the bevel drive gears and a sort of sonic howl that rises in pitch with speed but relatively speaking it is very quiet. Its not everyone’s cup of tea and takes some getting used to but I love it. It provides a familiar and handy gauge of speed and acceleration similar to what ICE riders will expect, except it’s all one linear symphony. Along with other owners, I am learning that depending on how tight your drive belt is, this sound may vary slightly between settings or bikes.
Question four was about thermal build up after multiple fast charges which is a challenge for air cooled batteries that feature on most electric motorcycles, including the Livewire. I have never had a problem and have deliberately tested on some 35degree days. I noticed no discernible change to charging speeds or performance and have not heard a single report from other owners, unlike some other bikes that seem to be experiencing this issue. I can say after 10,000kms I have not ever experienced a discernible power loss as a consequence of temperature or battery state of charge.
In fairness, I haven’t done repeated back-to-back tests under any kind of scientific conditions or flogged it senseless on for hours on a racetrack.
I have been digging really deep on this issue to try and understand how the battery is internally constructed, looking for clues about the (passive air cooling) thermal management strategy that seems to work really well, but to no avail. Harley and cell manufacturer Samung SDI have kept their construction and thermal management strategy under a very tight veil of secrecy so I don’t know why it apparently works so well, but it does. There are a number of temperature graphs and gauges on the dashboard which allow you to monitor what’s happening.
Question five is about range. Firstly, its critical to understand that the Livewire has a 15.5kWh battery (13.5kWh min usable) and weighs almost 250kg. These are key factors in range.
It uses fuzzy logic to continuously update range expectations on the dashboard, based on your riding style and the energy consumption, which is affected by gradient, wind, temperature, rider weight and how flappy or aerodynamic you are (I’m on the flappy side, 6 ft and weigh about 100kg). My commute is 40kms each way and mix of 50,60&70kmh city streets and about 12kms of 80kmh. My range is typically about 220kms on this commute and the best I have seen is 240kms. The dash also shows Wh/km which also varies with riding style. Around town I usually hover around 65 Wh/km which equates to a theoretical range of 238km.
I have also done some touring with light luggage and used the cruise control to sit on 110kmh, sitting bolt upright banging down the freeway. My range in this scenario varied between 110km and 135km which was mostly affected by gradient and wind. I recently added a screen which based on should improve this by about 10%, making 150km of highway range achievable. Notably, these range figures were NOT using 100% of the battery, but rather, around 70-80% leaving a comfortable safety margin and making good use of DCFC which slows down at about 80% SOC.
My typical response to this question is “around 120km on the freeway and around 250 in town”.
Question six is about range display. It is important to understand that range displayed will vary with conditions and riding style – so you need to use your brain a bit. It does include a gauge that shows minimum, maximum and current range so you can get a sense of adventure and still arrive which I like.
I also recently learned that the main battery capacity/range display can be adjusted to calculate range over a long or short time period. I recently experimented with this in short mode and it was amazing to see how speed and conditions rapidly affected the range expectations – it changes every minute or so. Interestingly, for a fleeting few moments I saw an amazing 285km of range predicted.
Question seven was about charging cost. Here in Australia at home and at work, my charging cost is zero due to solar and a generous employer who offers free EV charging. The highest cost I have experienced was 50ckWh which equates to $7.75 for a 100% charge and represents a premium convenience price. For comparison a 20-litre tank fill on an ICE bike is currently around $43 for similar range. It is very cheap to run.
Question eight was about servicing. Australia is pretty unique with an alleged sum total of 27 Livewires in the country, so it stands to reason servicing options are pretty limited. The International Livewire Group recently posted some photos of the US training academy where Harley (now Livewire) trains dealers from around the world and the photos were very impressive.
What I can tell you is that if you search on the official Australian Harley Davidson site six dealers show up under the category Electric Vehicles, which sounds about right. I recently had my first
8,000km service done in Sydney and for reference it only took a few hours and cost $350, which is cheap for a Harley service I am reliably told.
The manual details the servicing intervals which are every 8,000kms, following an initial 1,600km service. The majority of work is very standard and pretty basic for any motorcycle mechanic notwithstanding the need for authorised servicing to maintain warranty. Apart from tyres, brake pads, fluid etc the transmission fluid and gasket needs to be changed on the bevel gear once every 32,000 kms and is a slightly higher cost as a consequence.
Question nine is about luggage options. The Livewire has no storage space other than for the charger adaptor cable and a few small tools under the seat as standard. There is a small range of HD branded luggage including tank bags and rear bags that can be purchased or, you can adapt a wide range of aftermarket baggage solutions. I have opted for Kreiga luggage including a tank bag and 30litre rear bag which I reckon is pretty good and very versatile, using straps to hold it all in place. I have also recently added some small 1 litre bicycle panniers which tuck in and fit very discretely for wet weather gear which I’ll leave on permanently.
Question ten is about the big hole in the rear fender/mudguard. Harley fitted a terrific full wheel mudguard at the rear which theoretically stops all the water leaving a skunk trail up your back but inexplicably added a big hole right at the far end. According to a source I have in the US this hole was added “purely for styling and to show off the rear tyre” but diminishes the entire functionality of the mudguard and was deleted on later models. It’s pretty easy to plug with a sheet of rubber which I have done.
Question eleven was about the regen brake light. A quirk of EV’s is that if you are decelerating with regen only (ie not using the brake lever) then on some earlier models of vehicle the brake light didn’t activate which was a bit dumb. Harley integrated a brake light system to the regen so you can feel comfortable other road users know what you are doing, even on regen because the brake light triggers.
Its worth noting here that the regen on the Livewire is fully adjustable on closed throttle from 0-100% and is pretty aggressive at 100%. Personally, my favourite riding mode allows “one touch” acceleration or deceleration based purely on throttle position and I have it set at 100% most of the time.
Question twelve is about diagnostics. The dashboard has some basic diagnostics and a “clear cache” function that I use occasionally to clear minor errors, alerts or bugs, most often caused by me moving the bike around without the key fob present which triggers some security stuff. On one occasion my left hand indicators stopped working inexplicably and clearing the cache solved it. I also recently found the secret to getting into a more advanced diagnostic menu, which also provides software versions and theoretically the ability to do updates via a USB port.
The advanced diagnostics are accessed by putting the bike into parking mode (hold the left hand menu toggle down for 3 seconds) the quickly switching the bike on and off from the right hand control, which opens a whole new menu system. The parking mode used on its own, powers up the lights and USB C port for phone charging.
Question thirteen was about fusing and cut points. There are several fuses all located under the tank cover, detailed in the manual and all very accessible. The tank cover is held on by two torx screws and all owners should get in here and have a good look so they know where to go in the event of a problem. Harley also engineered the tank cover to be “torn off” easily in the event of a major issue by first responders and I can see how that would be easily done. Under the tank cover you’ll see a clearly marked “cut point” that renders the vehicle safe for them to do their thing.
Question fourteen is about DC Fast Charging ramp rates. Now, different chargers will inevitably behave slight differently but my experience has been that at anything less than 50%-60% SOC, the bike will happily accept 20kW of DC charging. Above 50% it progressively starts to reduce, presumably based on a combination of battery temperature and charger response. By around 80%-90% charge rate will reduce to around 5kW and the final 10% is at around 2kW charge rate.
The net result is around 1 hour to charge from empty to full, but on longer trips I typically charge from around 20% to 90% and stop slightly more frequently, but charge in about 30-40 minutes, assuming chargers are within range.
The Jolt charging stations and app provide a very handy display of the charging and ramp curves when you have completed your charge session. Interestingly, I queried Jolt about the noticeable “step downs” in the charging curve as the bike filled up and they were not able to tell me if that was caused by the charger or by the bike. That’s a topic I’ll follow up on in the future.
Question fifteen is about the AC charging rate. The Livewire has a 1.5kW on board AC charger which is a trade-off between being painfully slow but not blowing breakers on average household circuits which have additional load. Its conservative but reliable. Personally, I would prefer to have the ability to max out a 10A circuit at 2.4kW but understand their rationale.
I’ve monitored my AC charging at home extensively in 5 second intervals and it is a virtually flat charge curve from 0-100% at full 1.5kW power.
Question sixteen is about Bluetooth integration. Like most Bluetooth, connection can be a bit hit and miss and some of the forums talk about apps that can help make it more reliable. Personally, after re-pairing a few times, I have a faultless and trouble free connection every time now, to my iPhone.
I use Bluetooth to connect to my in-helmet comms allowing full voice connectivity to most apps on my phone and can see charging status, what I’m listening to etc on the dashboard. Once connected I can control my phone and many apps using the toggle on the right hand handlebar and it works really well.
Australian Livewires don’t have the benefit of the full HD Connect system (despite the online promises!), with my service agent describing the challenges in Australia with comms that HD have apparently had, stalling HD Connect here. However, I can use the HD app’s built-in navigator which is pretty decent and it cleverly pushes nav commands to the dashboard too. It’s a little clunky, wont let you jump in and out of the app while navigating without stalling but works well enough.
Question seventeen is about the suspension and setting it up. The Showa suspension on the Livewire is probably best described as middle to upper range gear. Fully adjustable, very decent and some of the best gear of ridden on in ages.
Like all bikes, personalising the set-up is crucial and requires adjustment for the load and riding style. I have mine site up in a sort of slightly plush sport setting. I really like the Racetech method for measuring static and dynamic sag and found that once I softened the front and rear a bit and got them working more level and in unison the ride has been much better. Its really worth spending time on this.
Question eighteen is about belt and wheel alignment. Harley has extensive experience with belt drives and have a really robust and simple solution (compared to previous belt drive bikes I’ve owned). The rear wheel on most motorcycles can be slid back and forth in the swingarm to adjust belt or chain tension but this requires a (tedious) wheel alignment almost every time. Harley instead uses a fixed rear wheel position and a beefy belt runner/tensioner which is adjusted on an eccentric pivot to keep the belt tension correct. Simple and effective.
Notably most bikes use a chain drive which is cheap, ubiquitously available and allows a lot of flexibility to adjust gearing. The downside is a bit more noise, maintenance and mess but I do acknowledge my flexibility is limited by the belt drive system.
Question nineteen was about the cruise control. Many modern bikes have a cruise control but its my first time having one. It is operated by a simple toggle switch on the left hand handlebar control and works like pretty much any other system.
My experience is that it works seamlessly and really well, adjusting speed seamlessly and smoothly. Particularly for highway riding, it makes eco riding really simple knowing the bike is providing the exact and bare minimum of power required to maintain a constant speed.
Question twenty was about screens and aerodynamics. As a rule, motorcycles are very poor aerodynamically predominantly because the rider causes horrible turbulence as the air passes over us and it increases exponentially with speed. As an example, at a mere 100 km/h, 80% of a motorcycle’s energy is spent just overcoming air resistance.
Screens and fairings do help however, along with careful positioning of the rider. Like most motorcycles, the Livewire was arguably designed with the following priorities 1)look good 2)feel good and 3)be aerodynamically efficient. So its not awesome.
However, my Livewire has a small aftermarket screen which I added recently to help at least push the air in a better direction. On my previous electric motorcycle it was clear when I did the same thing that range improved by around 10-15% based on some years of riding experience so I expect similar on the Livewire.
At this stage there are no screens or fairings designed specifically for the Livewire, but there is a wide range of aftermarket choices that can be fitted. If you are predominantly using a bike for commuting at lower speeds, screens or fairings won’t change things much, but of you are going to be touring it’s a worthy modification
Question twenty one is about accessories and spares. Harley Davidson are masterful at providing an extensive array of accessories to customise your bike. To date, there is only a small array of accessories available although many standard parts can be fitted from other Harley models (eg grips, mirrors, footpegs etc) and I expect this will grow over time.
Livewire (Harley Davidsons new company dedicated exclusively to the electric brand) also recently added an online store where you can buy a small selection of model specific parts which I also anticipate will expand over time. There is also an online store where a smalls election of accessories can be purchased via a US based owners group featuring a number of 3D printed parts.
To my knowledge there are no accessory or modification parts available to enhance the battery, drive train or electronic behaviour of the bike, so hot ups are off the table for now.
Lastly, specifically for Australian owners its predictable that with such a small group of owners present, genuine parts and accessories are held in pretty limited supply. Having said this, I recently had to order a new 12V battery and was delighted to get outstanding service and find the part was in stock in Sydney where I live – full credit to Harley for this.
Like all big brand parts and accessories, you will pay a slightly premium price but so far it has not been outrageous.
Question twenty two is about quirks and faults. I have been fortunate that I have had no major issues at all and only a couple of minor quirks in ten thousand kilometres of ownership.
The first issue is a warning symbol that has appeared on the dash occasionally, which presents me from changing ride modes. It appears that is most likely caused by me moving the bike around without the security fob present (the bike is keyless), which seems to trigger a security glitch of some sort. Clearing the cache (very simple via the menu) clears this warning every time.
The second issue I have had is that my indicators inexplicably stopped working randomly one day. Once again, clearing the cache and resetting the bike resolved this immediately.
The third issue was a quirky lesson for me that happened recently when my bike tipped over in the shed and laid on its side overnight (it fell off my front wheel stand, entirely my fault). Luckily it was saved from damage when the handlebar landed on a wooden box, but it was completely dead. I few panicked messages to my secret support contact (!) revealed a quirk of the security system.
When the Livewire tips over, the flashers will trigger and the (logical assumption is that the bike will be picked up by the owner) as an alert. However, in my case it continued all night because I didn’t know, which drained the 12V accessory battery and because the main HV battery is disconnected in this case as a safety measure, the 12V battery cannot be recharged as normal.
The 12V battery powers all the accessories and the display so with it flattened the bike was dead. Recharging or replacing this battery solved the problem, but is not something that is well understood.
Question twenty two is about 12V power. Most modern motorcyclists need and expect a healthy 12V accessory capability to recharge mobile phones, cameras, power heated hand grips or seats and so on. The Livewire has a USBC outlet for this purpose but oddly is very low power and barely keeps up with a modern phone being used in anger on multiple applications. It is powered from the miniscule 12V 2AH Lithium battery, which is probably why it is power limited. Just why Harley chose such a tiny 12V battery when there is 450W (32A) DC to DC converter on board is not evident but I can only assume that the on board computers, ABS systems, coolant pump and other parasitic loads must be substantial.
Although not formally factory recommended, a number of forum owners discovered that the bike is fitted with a discretely hidden 12V accessory port like most modern Harleys, and the factory accessory harness from any Harley store plugs straight in.
This allows you to power accessories directly from the DC to DC converter, rather than the battery which makes eminent sense and in my experience (and many other owners), works perfectly. Consequently, I fitted an additional dual USB charge outlet which can power everything I need.
Question twenty three is about support. One of the primary reasons I switched to Harley Davidson was that I hoped a mega motorcycle brand would provide better chances of ongoing support than smaller brands. My previous experience with a smaller brand was not great, although I accept the challenge as an early adopter in a tiny EV market, in a country where EVs have been treated with utter disdain form a policy perspective.
This is very challenging territory for electric motorcycle owners in Australia and you need to accept this up front; you simply can not expect the same level of support when you are one of only thirty owners!
Having said this, my experience to date has been really good in three primary ways. Firstly, although the bikes aren’t even for sale now every time I ring one of the major Harley dealers they are super helpful and very interested. Secondly, the internet and particularly several Facebook owners groups, YouTube channels and a Forum group are a goldmine of experience and generally great advice and support. Thirdly, I am particularly fortunate to have a contact at Harley Davidson who was factory trained at the Livewire academy and has been very generous with his time and advice.
Question twenty four is about handling. Firstly, you need to understand that the Livewire is designed as a short distance sports cruiser. It sits quite low but has a sporty stance and feel, albeit a bike that weighs 250kg. Having owned twenty five motorcycles I can say this is one of the best handling motorcycles I’ve ever owned and I put this down to three primary things.
Firstly, it is equipped with really good quality suspension, tyres and brakes and has a neutral but slightly sporty geometry with 17 inch wheels. Adjusted correctly I am able to ride the bike very hard in sporty conditions and not withstanding a little effort to flick the weight from corner to corner it is a very capable and great handling sports bike for most riders. It is not a Ducati Desmocidici or Yamaha R1 bred for the racetrack but for most mortals it is fantastic.
Secondly the inherent benefit of electric motorcycles is the lack of reciprocating mass, vibration and low-down weight distribution. This means that it simply doesn’t feel as heavy as it is, especially in cornering because it doesn’t have to overcome as much mechanical inertia. I love this about electric motorcycles.
Thirdly, because you aren’t dealing with gear changes and the consequent on and off of power delivery, it feels sublimely smooth and the geometry isn’t being constantly affected by the rise and fall of the suspension as power is loaded up or unloaded. In simple terms, you are always in exactly the right gear and can just wind more or less on which upsets the bike far less.
Apart form making it a far simpler bike to ride, it also takes less mental energy because you simply don’t have to think about as many things, a fact that has been borne out by owners who have compared heart rates and others statistics on ICE v electric motorcycles. You will arrive less exhausted on an electric motorcycle!
Question twenty five is about the six axis control system. Most modern bikes have highly developed rider aid systems and once again this is new territory for me and absolutely wonderful.
The Livewire has a six axis computer measuring wheel slip, wheelie control, lean angle, speed and a bunch of other stuff. The net result is that the bikes rider aid system will (depending on the settings you enable) override your throttle input if you do stupid things in milliseconds (!).
Now a purist might scoff but since owning this bike I have been blown away by how many times I have felt the bike determine I am an idiot, and adjust the power delivery for me. I’ve felt it momentarily limit power exiting my favourite tight right hander at speed and cranked right over, preventing a rear wheel slide. I’ve felt it limit power delivery as I’ve crossed painted road markings taking off from traffic lights, preventing a loss of rear wheel traction. I’ve felt it limit power delivery hitting wet patches as the back starts to lose traction. I’ve felt the ABS modulate braking for me entering my favourite left hander a smidge too fast.
Its astoundingly fast, powerful but not overly invasive and clearly made for people my age who aren’t as sharp as they used to be but full of enthusiasm. And for the purists, fear not you can disable it all and have a brutal “it’s all your fault if you crash” ride if you want to.
Personally, I think every motorcycle should have a system like this.
So, there you have it. The Livewire electric motorcycle is undoubtedly not everyone’s cup of tea but for most riders – trust me you’re going to love its incredible array of sophisticated features and most importantly the fun it delivers.