2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire First Ride Review

Shredding the light fantastic on Harley’s first-ever EV.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire on road.
Livewire styling straddles the line between familiarity and newness, combining traditional elements like a bikini fairing and false gas tank with a blocky battery pack and underslung permanent-magnet motor.Harley-Davidson

It had to happen. The 116-year-old brand synonymous with thumping V-twins was bound to dip its toe into electrification, and the long-awaited 2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire is an inevitability sure to leave the traditionalists perplexed and the futurists intrigued.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire on road.
When a bike has no “pipe side,” symmetrical photo ops abound.Harley-Davidson

LiveWire represents a startling shift for those raised on the potato-potato thump. But in many ways this $29,799 EV is a rolling embodiment of what happens when Milwaukee traditionalists not only acknowledge the march of progress, but embrace it wholeheartedly. First and foremost, LiveWire looks like no other hog before it—a good thing, considering this is a fresh-slate opportunity if ever there was one. Rather than nostalgically hat-tipping the past or visually rehashing the V-twin glory days, the new EV offers an entirely fresh take on two-wheeled transportation. Sure, there's an obligatory false tank and a familiar bikini fairing, but the finned 15.5 kWh lithium-ion battery evokes an appropriately monolithic, brick-like form that's framed by a cast-aluminum chassis.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire cast-aluminum casing.
A cast-aluminum casing places visual emphasis on the LiveWire’s permanent-magnet motor.Harley-Davidson

Stealing glances from the mostly black-anodized structure is an underslung permanent-magnet electric motor that’s shrouded in a cast-aluminum shell. Harley isn’t nicknamed The Motor Company for no reason: The powerplant is showcased with a metallic case that visually pops, in spite of its out-of-the-way placement. Situated down low for advantageous weight distribution, the motor produces 105 hp and 86 pound-feet of torque, enough to propel the 549-pound bike to 60 mph in a claimed three seconds flat.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire in front of black tile wall.
Harley’s available H-D app sends a smartphone notification if and when somebody messes with the LiveWire while left unattended.Harley-Davidson

The acceleration figure feels credible and, more importantly, easily reproducible because it takes very little technique to achieve maximum thrust. Swing a leg over the dual-seat saddle and the ergonomics come across as more upright and jaunty than most Harleys extant; think more XR1200, with its wide handlebars and slightly forward reach, than the legs-forward Dyna or V-Rod. There’s also the matter of interface, which combines some familiar switch gear like separate left and right turn signal buttons with new elements like two thumb-operated joysticks and a voice-activation button.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire headlight and handlebars.
No uppercase allowed: the Harley-Davidson name gets an oh-so-modern lowercase treatment here.Harley-Davidson

There’s also a 4.3-inch TFT screen, but don’t let the tech fool you; much of the LiveWire’s operation is fairly intuitively learned, despite the depth of customizability that includes individually controllable power delivery, regen levels, and throttle response settings. Although the seven modes (four of which are preset) can be easily switched on the fly via a hard button on the right grip, fine-tuning the three custom settings requires stopping the bike, disengaging the so-called propulsion mode (which is the equivalent of being “in gear”), and scrolling through a menu to set the sliders, ironically enough like an old-school audiophile graphic equalizer. Incidentally, it’s remarkably easy to hold down the TC button (just above the horn), disable the nannies, and engage in a one-handed burnout since there’s no clutch lever to go with the direct-drive, single-speed transmission.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire on road.
Without the din of a V-twin to drown out ambient noise, LiveWire leaves plenty of headspace for wind noise and the whine of the beveled primary drive at speed; Harley's manufactured sound adds yet another layer to the sonic experience.Harley-Davidson

That said, riding the LiveWire is a revelation for those steeped in internal combustion motorcycles. Roll-on throttle delivers intuitive, easy-to-control levels of power that translate to smooth, thick torque. You won’t get the initial punch of intense off-the-line acceleration you would from a big-bore V-twin, but it doesn’t take long for the electrons to accumulate and get the LiveWire shooting forward at a remarkable pace.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire air ducting to aid thermal management of the battery.
Air ducting aids thermal management of the battery, which is also liquid-cooled.Harley-Davidson

Get going, and the acceleration is addictive, accompanied by a faint, manufactured sound. The sonic effect lends the bike a whirring, futuristic din that’s harder to notice onboard than it is externally. More than once, I found myself rolling off the throttle and taking advantage of the regenerative braking to scrub speed off without pulling the right lever, then flicking the right grip and launching forward in a satisfying blast of (nearly silent) speed. The gap between 60 mph and 80 mph is closed in only 1.9 seconds, and while maximum speed is electronically limited to 110 mph, it feels like there’s plenty more room left to go from the motor, which can spin up to 15,000 rpm.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire rear Showa Balance Free Rear Cushion-Lite monoshock.
The rear Showa BFRC-lite (Balance Free Rear Cushion-Lite) monoshock does an admirable job of damping the bike’s considerable heft.Harley-Davidson

Showa’s Big Piston fork and BFRC-lite rear monoshock are fully adjustable, and do an admirable job of masking the LiveWire’s considerable heft. There isn’t the compliance you’ll find in a lighter-weight bike, but in a curious way the LiveWire rides much like you would expect a heavyweight Harley should, at least in a straight line: with an unwavering, authoritative presence. The surprise, however, comes on twisty roads where the EV comports itself rather nicely, shifting weight and cornering at unexpectedly high speeds.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire twists and turns on road.
Use the high-energy regeneration setting, and LiveWire can negotiate twisties like these without tapping the brakes.Harley-Davidson

Although not a slice-and-dice canyon carver, LiveWire still managed to unravel the twisties above Portland, Oregon, with surprising ease. Brake feel from the Brembo Monoblocks was good, and easy enough to make you forget about that whole energy-flowing-back-into-the-battery thing that happens when the stoppers are applied. LiveWire range is rated at 95 miles combined, or 146 miles if you stick to the city; based on nearly 65 miles of hard acceleration, some high-speed cruising, and a few quick smoky burnouts, we’d say those estimates are easily achieved (and, if you have the patience to ride more conservatively, surpassed).

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire leaning on road.
LiveWire holds a corner sure-footedly, leaning up to 45 degrees on either side before peg scraping ensues.Harley-Davidson

LiveWire is equipped with an onboard DC Fast Charger capable of going from 0 to 80 percent in 40 minutes, and can also be hooked up to a standard Level 2 charger. Unfortunately however, it absorbs Level 2 chargers at Level 1 rates—meaning only 13 miles of range are added every hour, making it a painfully slow process.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire on bridge.
Ride quality becomes a tad more jarring over uneven surfaces like pavement joints, but the prevailing mood is controllability, not wallow.Harley-Davidson

While diehards will argue that Harley-Davidson’s eBike arrives several beats behind time-tested players like Zero Motorcycles—who incidentally charge less of a premium for electrification while offering greater range—the LiveWire nonetheless takes a strong stance in defense of itself. Sure it’s a pricey proposition (and the lack of Level 2 charging is a serious bummer), but it is also very a premium product with a look and feel that’s commensurate with its brand cachet.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire turns on road.
LiveWire acquits itself nicely on wide sweepers, where Harley's first-ever use of cornering ABS adds a layer of reassurance.Harley-Davidson

And while The Motor Company also promises a series of other battery-powered rides including some lightweight models promising an MSRP under $1,000, the admittedly pricey LiveWire means a lot more than those conciliatory offerings. This motorcycle is disarmingly substantive, nicely finished, well-composed, and exhilarating to ride. But, most importantly, it is very much a Harley-Davidson.

2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire on sidewalk beside road.
LiveWire’s techy styling touches are at home in urban environments.Harley-Davidson

Gear Box

2020 Harley-Davidson Livewire Specifications

PRICE $29,799
MOTOR Permanent-magnet electric
BORE x STROKE N/A
COMPRESSION RATIO N/A
FUEL DELIVERY N/A
CLUTCH None
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE Single-speed/belt
FRAME Cast-aluminum
FRONT SUSPENSION 43mm Showa inverted fork, three-way adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.5-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Showa Balance Free Rear Cushion-lite (BFRC-lite), two-way adjustable for preload and compression damping; 4.5-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Radial-mount 4-piston calipers, 300mm discs
REAR BRAKE 2-piston caliper, 260mm disc
WHEELS Cast-aluminum; 17 x 3.5-in. front; 17 x 5.5-in. rear
TIRES Michelin Scorcher Sport; 120/70-17 front, 180/55-17 rear
RAKE/TRAIL 24.5°/4.3 in.
WHEELBASE 58.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 30.0 in.
BATTERY CAPACITY 15.5 kWh lithium-ion
CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT 549 lb.
WARRANTY 5-year, unlimited mileage (battery)
AVAILABLE Fall 2019
CONTACT harley-davidson.com