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2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire review: Fun with electricity

Harley's LiveWire bike sent ripples throughout the motorcycle industry when it launched, but does it live up to the hype?

Harley's LiveWire is controversial, though its riding experience is anything but.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

Go back in time 10 years and ask anyone which major motorcycle company would someday release an electric model, and I bet nobody would have guessed it'd be Harley-Davidson. Yet here we are, it's 2020 and the LiveWire is a real bike that you can buy. But is it worth the nigh-$30,000 asking price?

To start with, it's hard to ignore how the LiveWire looks. It is -- to my eyes -- a gorgeous machine. Everything about it seems to have been considered not from the point of how it would fit in with the rest of Harley's stable, but rather, how the brand could make a definitive statement on electric motorcycles. Aesthetically, I think Harley hit that nail on the head. With its massive finned battery case riding atop the almost Hellcat-blower-like electric motor, the LiveWire is just the right mix of Americana and futurism. I think of it as being cyberpunk for boomers, but in a good way.

Being electric, it doesn't really sound like a Harley, either, something that will likely put off quite a few brand loyalists. But that doesn't mean that it lacks an audible personality. The LiveWire makes a really pleasant and surprisingly aggressive electric whirr that lives somewhere between a Star Wars speeder bike and the Jetsons' spaceship.

Part of the LiveWire's unique aesthetic appeal comes from Harley's decision to go outside its own parts bin for major components like the suspension and brakes. H-D-branded brake calipers would probably have been fine, but adding big Brembos is just like adding jewelry to the bike. Ditto the excellent and fully adjustable Showa Big Piston suspension. It shows a commitment by H-D to cast off the yoke of tradition to make the best bike it can.

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Does the LiveWire benefit from these lovely radially mounted Brembo monoblock calipers in a practical sense? Maybe, but it definitely benefits aesthetically.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

The LiveWire's electric drivetrain is called the "H-D Revelation." Is it a revolution for the brand? Yep, totally. Is it a revolution for electric motorcycle powertrains? Nah, not really, but that doesn't mean it's not good. The LiveWire puts out 105 horsepower and 86 pound-feet of torque, which is hardly world-beating, but is plenty to make the bike feel quick around town. Being electric, that torque is immediately available, which goes a long way toward making pulling away from stoplights fun.

The power is instantaneous and there's no sense of jerkiness in the throttle. One thing that is especially nice is the inclusion of cruise control. It's always nice to have on the freeway, though I wish there were some kind of momentary throttle hold button so I could more easily adjust my wrist in town. On a gas-engine bike, you get to reposition your hand on the throttle with shifts, but that isn't the case here, and thus I end up with a grumpy right wrist after a couple of hours.

The lack of cruising range on the freeway is a real shame, because the bike feels utterly stable and smooth. It's a surprisingly pleasant ride at freeway speeds despite the lack of wind protection, but watching the charge gauge go down quickly is a bit unnerving.

The battery pack has a capacity of 15.5 kilowatt-hours (compared with Zero's 14.4-kWh unit) and offers a claimed range of 146 miles in the city and 70 miles on the highway at 70 mph. That last number might seem kind of underwhelming, but it's just an unfortunate fact of EV technology that long, steady-state running isn't really where it's most efficient.

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The LiveWire isn't blessed with an overabundance of on-bike storage like the Zero, but this tilting seat that reveals a little cubby that holds the Level 1 charger is pretty trick.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

Thankfully, the LiveWire is capable of DC fast-charging, which can take some of that sting away. But in doing so, Harley sacrifices the ability to use a Level 2 charger, so if you're not on a DC charger, then you can expect a long wait before you get back on the road. I live in Los Angeles, so DC fast chargers are at least somewhat common, but if you're in a less urban or EV-friendly area, this might be a real concern.

From a rider electronics standpoint, the LiveWire is the most advanced bike you can get from Harley. It's the first bike to include the Reflex Defensive Rider Systems (RDRS) that I experienced on the Street Glide I reviewed in 2019. It packs lean-sensitive ABS, rear-wheel lift control and traction control into a bike that can really make use of that lean-sensitive part of the equation. The system works well and I didn't find it to be intrusive, even during hard braking, though that might be a different story on wet roads.

The LiveWire's LCD screen is bright and clearly laid out, if a bit minimal. There are several user-selectable rider modes, including Road, Sport, Range and Rain, as well as several customizable settings. Bonus points to Harley for making the display a touchscreen that works with gloves on, too. The stock ride modes are really nicely set up, and I find myself sticking to Road mode most of the time for its general smoothness and totally adequate performance.

Speaking of performance, the bike's on-road manners are impeccable. The suspension soaks up small-to-medium bumps well, and isn't especially crashy when confronted with a big pothole. The saddle is well-padded but narrow, and at a height of just 30 inches, the LiveWire experience should be comfortably accessible to all but the shortest riders. Braking is perfectly competent thanks to the bike's big Brembos, with 300mm twin front rotors and stainless-steel brake lines.

From a weight standpoint, the LiveWire is unshockingly (see what I did there?) heavy, though not by typical Harley standards. The bike weighs 547 pounds, which means that if it tips over, you'd better hope you didn't skip the gym recently. One negative thing about the weight is that the bike feels somewhat top-heavy when moving around at low speeds. Get it up to regular road speed and that sensation goes away, but it's something to be cautious of in parking lots.

But is the 2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire worth its $30,149 asking price, before taxes and dealer fees? Mostly yes. The bike is a halo model for Harley -- an object of beauty, with lovely build quality and impressive performance. It's easy to see where Harley spent its money (Read: everywhere), and while that price tag certainly stings at first look, it's really not that crazy.

That being said, the LiveWire -- like all electric motorcycles in 2020 -- is not practical for anything beyond cruising around town and looking cool during local commuting. You're not going to take it up to the canyons and ride alongside your friends on gas bikes, because you'll have to bail partway through to try and find a DC fast charger. But if you're a more casual rider with a lot of extra cash, then you should absolutely be considering the LiveWire.

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