Harley Davidson Project LiveWire Hits Boston (and lets me ride one)

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Yeah, bitches, I just got back from riding my H-D LiveWire.  And yes.  I’m impressed.

Let’s cut right to the ride video, shall we?

This is probably pretty much what you can expect when the show comes to your town.  We watched a brief video talking about the basics and differences between electric drivetrains and gas, and for the first time I got a glimpse into what these new rider guys were in for.  Most of the stuff – no clutch, instant torque, like that – I was ready for even when I was building the bike, way before it was time to ride it.  If you hadn’t been through that process, you’d be going, wuuuut?  No clutch?  …and probably grabbing for it every time you slowed to a stop.  There are more than a few things I now take for granted that these guys were going to experience all at once for the first time.

We then got a talk through on the rules and startup, as shown in the video, and took an all too brief run down one of Boston’s finest roads – the Revere Beach Parkway.  We never got to the beach, though, sadly, and notably never got to Kelly’s Roast Beef, either.  (I was staking that place out for a sammich and a great place to take some shots of the bike…  alas.)

Now then, take a good look at the end of the video.  Those are grabs from a big screen in the tent, and if you look close you’re going to see some major guts exposed.  They’ve been pretty tight-lipped about components and specs, but at least we get the general layout from the drawings and models.  It starts with some pretty wacky concepts too.  I was a little surprised they left this out there, but it was really interesting from a design standpoint.

OK, some stills.  Here you go.

I got the arm of an engineer and twisted it a little, and he’s showing me where the battery pack is.

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The 4 bolts you see on the aluminum housing bolt right into the battery box.  From what he said, the entire thing is practically one big module that slides into place.

When the bikes are charging, they port fans to the fronts of the bikes…  here:

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I asked, and he said they were not necessary, but cooling the battery and controller, more or less just because they could.  The controller is in front, pretty much the same place as the Empulse if memory serves, here:

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I liked this little aft-mounted radiator.  I’ve got to assume it’s coming off the motor.

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There’s another bigger radiator in front, above the controller.  I’m going to assume that cools the controller, since there’s no heat-sink visible.

Here they are charging and being fanned:

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OK, those mirrors?  They’re useless, and I’m a fan of low-mount mirrors.  I saw one set adjusted like this, and tried them out.  They worked fine, but were turned almost 45º down from “stock”.  If there’s one thing I can complain about on my ride, it was the unnerving sensation of riding without mirrors.

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So one guy on Endless Sphere asked me to “tink” everything and find out what was plastic and what was metal.  Here’s this shot again:

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That center thing with the V struts?  That’s milled aluminum, with some pretty pronounced milling marks.  Go ahead, click on the photo and you’ll see what I mean.  Those are marks, not digital photo artifacts.  That piece to the right, forward?  That, and the roundy piece behind the brake lever are both the finest, virgin plastic.

A couple of things it doesn’t have.  No onboard charger at all.  No ABS brakes.  No passenger seat.  This may seem insignificant, considering what the intention of the bike is, (and by the way, you can say all that about the bike I built, too), but to add any or all of that stuff along with a 100-mile pack will be pretty difficult, considering the space available.

Riding the LiveWire

First, let me say, for all the noise made by Harley spokespeople about the sound, it’s unremarkable. I rode a Zero SR a month or so ago, and it has a very similar sound, not quite as loud, and I didn’t notice the high frequency kicking in like the Harley does at 60mph or so.  If nobody had mentioned it, I wouldn’t have noticed it, in spite of the efforts of Harley to make people think they invented the sound of an electric drivetrain.  I’ll flat-out call BS, but then, I don’t have to try to sell bikes to Harley enthusiasts.

The bike pulls way harder than I was expecting, except, like the Zero, at the very bottom end.  I honestly don’t know if this is the characteristic of an AC motor (the Zero is also brushless) and it’s me being used to my PMDC motor with RC lipo cells, or if it’s some tuning of the throttle ramp in both to keep people from hurting themselves.  Once you’re up to speed, you’ve hitched a ride on a hellbound train.  It’s a blast.  I’m going out on a limb and saying it pulls harder than the Zero, but only by the seat of my pants.

The bike’s handling is really tight.  It feels like the center of gravity is really low, and it’s as predictable as the day is long.  At the end of the video you’ll see me doing a little circle, feet up, almost at the locks, without a care in the world.  As far as the rider position goes, it felt perfect to me.  The bars seem exactly in the right place, though I’d run something a little narrower, and it fit like a glove.  I’m 5’7″, and this is a rider position that I prefer, having ridden cafe bikes and the like for most of my life.  I’ll add, the Zero SR, not so much.  I didn’t feel at all comfortable on that bike.

Conclusions?

It’s been really hard to not get sucked in the huge speculation party that’s been all over everywhere on the web, on every story, on every list of comments, but I find that to be pointless.  You can say whatever you want, but the fact is, nobody knows the complete background story on this bike, and nobody knows what the future holds for it.  I honestly have about 4 drafts put together discussing that, but trashed them for having no more point (and no less, as well) as anything else anyone has speculated.

There’s one thing I can say with confidence though.  Harley has brought electric motorcycles to the attention of the general public.

Here’s a short list of some of the better posts about it.  These are not motorcycle, motorsports, or “green tech” media.  This is stuff normal people read:

Forbes

New York Times

Wall Street Journal

Wired

Bloomburg

Go ahead.  Click through, there’s some great reading there.  I’ll wait.

As I said in my post about the Zero SR, that bike defines a watershed moment because the bike is head and shoulders above it’s predecessors and competition, and is now better than I, or many others can build.  It also holds it’s own against much of the gas-bike market.

The LiveWire is a watershed moment because Harley has brought the electric motorcycle into the public vocabulary.

I’m completely convinced that what the LiveWire is accomplishing (and what, coincidentally they say they’re trying to accomplish with it), is getting butts in seats, and letting people experience the ride.  And that, my friends, is what’s new in motorcycling…  not the powertrain, not this particular bike, but the experience of a high-powered electric motorcycle. After this tour is over, more people will have had that experience than in all of motorsports history.

There’s one other pretty much undeniable conclusion.  The players that are going to benefit from this in the short term and likely the long?  Those who can deliver a bike to a buyer today.  Zero has been very vocal about how this is a great thing, and others as well, featuring Zero.  Forbes devoted a story to this idea: If Harley-Davidson Makes An Electric Motorcycle Does That Make It Okay? …and take a look at this story in Consumer Reports of all places…  talking about electric motorcycles being fun.  Imagine that.

In spite of all the theories, speculation and punditry, and regardless of what this means for Harley Davidson and the LiveWire project, this is the point in history that fast, fun electric motorcycles became inevitable.

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4 responses to “Harley Davidson Project LiveWire Hits Boston (and lets me ride one)

  1. I ride a 2013 Zero S with the modified 660 amp controller. I’m a rather recent bike rider here in Los Angeles, but the ease of riding this bike with no clutch or shifting is such that virtually anyone can do it with minimal practice. As for power, the modification dropped my 0-60 time from the stock 4.8 seconds to an astounding 3 secods flat! I’m just getting to the point where I can almost open it up from a stop. It’s scary quick!

    I consider this the ultimate commuting vehicle for good weather. Here in LA, you can ride year round with less than 15 rain days per year. Lane splitting is legal here and this bike’s 350 lb mass and low center of gravity allow for very easy and relatively safe lane splitting. The instant torque gets you through any slot quickly.

    Electrics will take over the daily riders pretty fast. The longer distance people will come around once the range improves and DC fast charging is ubiquitous.

  2. What is very clover and welcomed from from HD is that they are creating a ‘demand’. Once you experience the simplitcity of such a powerful motorbike it is hard not to compare the feeling to a gasbike.
    Brammo and Zero are newcommers, they started with EV. HD on the other hand is wellknown for noisy and smelly machines, the Livewire will give the opportunity to ‘normal’ people to check what these electric motorbike are capable of.

    That will be great! Thank you a lot HD!

  3. HD would be significant in this space because of their substantial existing dealer network. The dealer networks for the existing players are extremely sparse by comparison. HD can take the risk and crush the competition. I expect HD to buy one of the two other players in the next 18 months or so.

  4. Pingback: Motor Starting Torque (Stall Torque) and Motor Types | The Electric Chronicles·

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