THE idea of electric-powered bikes isn’t new. Over the last few years, plenty of big names and players have taken steps towards harnessing what is regarded as the fuel of the future, with some even going to the extent of racing electric-powered prototypes in the infamous Isle of Man TT races. In short, the technology works, and many big names are already hard at work developing it for the not-so-distant future.
Amongst them is the famed American bar and shield marque, Harley-Davidson. The brand shocked the world late last year when it revealed its Project Livewire initiative, proving to all its rivals and doubters that it is ready to take on the future in full force. Though this did not go well with many of the brand’s petrol-powered purists, Project Livewire is a groundbreaking feat in its own right, and has since been slowly reshaping people’s perception of the brand and technology through its Project Livewire Tour.
So, when the chance to test-ride this demonstrator during the Project Livewire Tour’s one and only stop in the region came about, we wasted no time and rushed off to the Sepang International Circuit to do it. And, despite a rather short stint in the hot seat of the Project Livewire demonstrator, there was plenty for us to dissect already. Here’s what we managed to garner from our 10-minute long ride with this All-American and all-electric two-wheeled wonder.
First of all, we’ll break the bad news to you by reporting that the Project Livewire demonstrator is not a production bike that is on sale anywhere today. H-D merely created a handful of these demonstrators specifically for its Project Livewire Tour, which is aimed at garnering feedback and perception from invited riders worldwide. The good news here is that whatever data and information garnered during this tour will undoubtedly be used by H-D to develop its electric-powered production bike in the near future.
Back to the bike itself, and if the images provided haven’t clearly shown you, the Project Livewire demonstrator looks breathtakingly good in real life. Though smaller and much more compact in the flesh, there are plenty of details and areas of its design that contributes significantly to the bike’s cool factor. Highlights here are the café racer-inspired looks, the modern and high-tech full LED lighting units front and aft, the rich use of shiny billet aluminium trims, and the exposed cast aluminium trellis frame – H-D’s first chassis of such design and material use in fact.
H-D designers deserve some credit for giving the electric motor’s exposed bits near the bottom some styling work to look like a regular petrol-powered engine. What we loved most here were the sharp lines of the tail section, faux fuel tank, and strict single-seater layout, all of which exuding a fairly aggressive and sporty stance. Overall, this mix of classic and traditional H-D traits with modern and high-tech touches is a welcoming sight for most, scoring high merit here with its broader appeal beyond the eyes of the brand’s purists.
The first thing that grabs your attention once you are astride the Project Livewire demonstrator’s hot seat is how far forward and low its handlebars are placed – typical of any café racer design. Mounted neatly top and centre just forward of the faux fuel tank is a large TFT touchscreen instrument panel that richly displays all the necessary readouts in fullcolour. Starting this bike is also an experience as there is no turn-key process and subsequent loud rumble to life. Instead, it is the silence of toggling of a few switches and buttons, followed by faint sound of the brake lines and oil-cooler being pumped up.
Riders can choose between ‘Range’ and ‘Power’ ride modes via the aforementioned touchscreen during start up, but our testride was limited to the ‘Range’ mode only for economic and convenience reasons. This however did little to hamper the Project Livewire’s impressive traits from shining out when we took it out for a quick spin.
Propulsion comes courtesy of an oil-cooled three-phase AC induction motor that is mounted longitudinally to create the bike’s slim profile. It generates 74hp and 71Nm of peak torque that is sent to rear wheels using a specially designed single-speed transmission primed with a bevel gear and H-D’s signature belt-drive unit. Power is drawn from a lithium-ion battery pack stacked above the motor. H-D remains coy about the Project Livewire’s battery specs, only revealing that it takes roughly three hours to fully charge it via its Level 2, 220-volt input port. Given its size and dimension, foreign experts have estimated it to have a 7kWh capacity.
Don’t let the seemingly small power figures fool you, this powertrain felt lively and responsive with the motor type’s linear and direct delivery. At full twist, you would be thankful of the café racer ergonomics as it lets you hang on to the bike easier when getting up to speeds rapidly. Speaking of which, the Project Livewire is capable of sprinting from standstill to 100km/h in just four seconds, and felt very much in its prime when cruising at 130km/h.
For many purists, the awkward moment comes when you note the bike’s soundtrack, or lack of it so to speak. The near-silent electric motor sounds akin to that of an aircraft’s jet turbine spooling up to speed, making a unique and somewhat mechanical whining sound unlike any other electric powertrain we’ve seen and heard. Crucially, it boasts more or less the same uniquely identifiable effect as how H-D’s V-twins are against its peers, boosting its cool factor even further.
What surprisingly felt good were the Project Livewire demonstrator’s sporty handling traits. The lightweight but rigid all-alloy chassis is primed with a pair of upside-down Showa Big Piston forks up front, and a cantilever shock unit at the rear, all being fully adjustable types. The suzzies felt somewhat stiff without being too harsh, similar to those primed in sport bikes. Matching the suzzies are a set of grippy Michelin Scorcher tyres that measure 20/70-18 in front and 180/55-17 at the rear. All this, along with the fair amount of ground clearance, and a decently balanced weight distribution, meant that manoeuvring the Livewire and its claimed 210kg (dry) weight felt fairly easy when we rode it across the twisty access roads encircling the Sepang International Circuit.
What needs some getting used to here is the electric motor’s regenerative engine braking feature. The motor wasn’t programmed to coast, meaning the system kicks in almost immediately when you ease off the throttle, capturing energy that is otherwise wasted here to recharge the batteries. This is in fact a pretty neat trait as it helps slow the bike down further without having to strain the standard-equipped brakes. Speaking of which, the Project Livewire is adequately primed with a single disc, pinslide, twin-piston caliper unit up front that is matched to a single disc unit at the rear. Despite lacking ABS, both front and rear discs, as well as the motor’s regenerative engine braking work well together in bringing the Project Livewire to a halt easily and fairly efficiently.
Overall, the Livewire demonstrator bike is an impressive tour-de-force of design, technology, and innovation. This stylish, fast, and tech-laden creation has impressed most, if not all of those who have test-ridden the Project Livewire Tour. The fact that it was created by a celebrated company that many thought would not have ventured into the zeroemissions arms race adds further to the Livewire’s cause in the eyes of many enthusiasts and non alike. H-D’s prospects for the future looks certainly bright, and almost certainly electrified as proven by the Project Livewire.