Livewire rear

The most shocking news of 2014, as you probably heard, is that Harley Davidson beat all the Japanese OEM’s to the electric motorcycle market. While they claim the Livewire is not scheduled for production, they do have a large demo fleet touring the nation. At the International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach, CA I took one for a spin.

The demo route was a short jaunt through Long Beach, just enough to get a little taste of what the Livewire can do. Although part of the route was on the Grand Prix course, we weren’t really allowed to open it up to full capacity, but instead were led at a chill cruiser pace appropriate for the bike and the neighborhood.

Harley worked closely with leading electric powertrain developer Mission motors and the motor is excellent. The power delivery is smooth, but more impressively so is the regenerative braking. On many other electric motorcycles, especially my superlight Zero FX, full regen requires a delicate throttle roll off.

With the Livewire, you’ve got equally strong braking but it’s smooth as silk regardless of how suddenly you close the throttle. The mechanical brakes work fine too. The motor has a sound, louder than the Zero and quieter than the Energica. While the Energica sounds like some kind of alien spaceship, and can get annoying, the Livewire sounds like a proper electric motorcycle.

The bike is more café racer style than anything else. It’s low slung and has a fairly long wheelbase and excessively wide rear tire. This made for slow, heavy turns compared to the sportier electric bikes I’ve ridden. When I returned, I mentioned this and was told the steering gets noticeably heavier with as little as two psi missing. The mechanic checked and sure enough my bike was down 2psi. Another rider felt the same, but the two others on our ride said it turned fine. All of us are experienced riders.

Susanna & Jen

Goofing off on the job, it’s how we keep ourselves entertained.

As Mark Gardiner wrote, this shows that Harley is trying bold new avenues to reach new customers. As their major fan base is aging and young hipsters go for the British (old and new) or vintage Japanese bikes, Harley knows they need to do something pretty different to show they’re not just for creepy old men anymore. I used to like Harleys until I worked across the street from a restaurant that was popular with the RUB’s (Rich Urban Bikers).

They’d rev their engines for a good 20 minutes before taking off, leading me to never want to hear another Harley or have anything to do with the sort of men who ride them. What’s great about the Livewire is that riders can pose all they want and actually have conversations with passers-by instead of annoying them.

Check out their tour schedule here and sign up to take one for a spin. You’ll notice they’ll be in Miami for Art Basel, but weren’t in Daytona for speed week, a popular vacation spot for old-school Harley riders. Would you buy an electric Harley? Why or why not?

I spoke with Harley’s Media Relations Manager Jen Hoyer, and she said the Livewire has had a very positive reception everywhere they’ve taken it. Full interview is here: