The Harley-Davidson LiveWire is really well-made.

It's a funny thing to go into a review with expectations and have them smashed. We presumed this bike would be a giant let-down. Over the past few months, owners had given us data and feedback that made this bike unimpressive in our minds. "Haha, what a strange charging algorithm! And it has no level 2. Why such a comparatively low top speed?"


We have expectations based on years and thousands of miles on electric motorcycles. When a new player enters the ring, it's going to take a lot to impress us. We are impressed. It's almost embarrassing how much of a complete 180 we've done. Our video review covers most of it



What I wish to discuss is the charging algorithm the bike uses at DC stations. Unlike everyone else, this bike has a strange but predictable stair-step of charging speeds at different battery percentages. I am told the bike will, in addition to the pre-programmed criteria, also adjust itself based on the batteries being either too hot or too cold. It's unusual, but it is more clever than we gave it credit for.


Most manufacturers also won't break a battery rating of 1C in doing so, resulting in a full charge taking juuuust over an hour. Energicas charge at just over 2C resulting in full charges under 30 minutes. The LiveWire, interestingly enough, does also charge at about 1.5C but only when the battery is below 50% capacity. It then has a series of planned stair-steps that throttle it back severely at predetermined spots. You can almost set your watch to them which is reassuring and unlike any of the other manufacturers.


Here is how the H-D LiveWire charging algorithm breaks down. These pictures come from EVGo 50kW DC Fast Charge Stations.


0-37% 19-21kW
39-48% 17-19kW
44-77% 14-15kW
77%+ 8kW

It is nothing if not predictable. What this means is the bike charges very quickly for the bottom 3/4 of the battery. If you wanted to make the best possible time on a trip it would make sense to only use the bottom 75% of the battery and get a 3/4 charge in roughly 35 minutes. The remaining 25% will take about 25 more minutes. If I were planning a trip with this bike I would try to have charging stations every 50-60 miles and live a little bit dangerously on the bottom of the pack because that's where the tasty charging is.


The other thing to take away is that the bike doesn't overheat. Thermal management is one of the largest obstacles in the way of battery designers. Not only do you not want the battery to get too hot, should you decide to introduce some sort of cooling it must be uniform. If you have nice cool cells in the front but hot ones in the back this will increase the degradation of your pack. As a rule of thumb, you want all the cells in your battery within 5 degrees of each other.

Soft glow of the Electrify America DC stations

What we found on this bike genuinely surprised us. As expected, the batteries heat up from a full DC charge. What we did not expect was just how well the batteries cool, even when discharging enough juice to propel the rider at highway speeds. Any heat that built up during the charging process was shed during the ride to the point where I'm not sure that I could overheat this motorcycle. The motor is liquid cooled so it's not a concern, and the controller/inverter seemed to handle anything thrown at it as well.


All this is to say this bike has some of the finest thermal engineering we've seen on a motorcycle. If you're looking for an electric bike in a warmer climate and have concerns about damaging batteries over time, this may be the best bet in today's market.



Pros:

  • Top notch power delivery

  • Phenomenal thermal cooling on the battery

  • High performance on the extreme low end of charge

  • Good fit and finish on all components

  • Established dealer network

Cons:

  • Sorely lacking in level 2 charging support

  • Poor ergonomics for taller people

  • Mirrors provide poor vision and sometimes impede access to the brake lever

  • Narrow, uncomfortable seat

  • Odd charging behavior ranging from the charge cord lock refusing to disengage to random failures during the charging process where the station just stopped or the bike turned off. Probably something they can fix with firmware.

  • Some glitches with the calculated power consumption and range. Again, a firmware fix.

Touted features that I found myself just not caring about at all:

  • The "heartbeat". When the bike is live but stopped it faintly pulses to let you know it's on. They're very proud of this. Meh.

  • Touchscreen. It's a nice screen but I'm not using a touchscreen while riding.

  • The sound. It's a helical gear. It sounds like all other helical gears. They did not reinvent the wheel despite what they would like you to believe.

  • The subscription-based app

  • The TurboCord and the associated pocket under the seat that holds it. I find both the seat and the cord holder annoying and am more likely to just leave the thing at home. Frankly, I wish they'd omitted it and just put a beefier level 2 AC charger in that same space.


Look at that LiveWire making electric friends!

All in all, this is an exceptional product with some first-generation goofiness, much of it fixable. If you have the opportunity to test ride one I strongly urge you to. If you do, I would love to hear your feedback on what you thought of the bike because I, too, need reality checks every now and then. Happy riding everyone!

Stay safe out there!


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