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A New Generation

October 2, 2019

After more than a century of internal combustion, the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. is looking at its future with a whole new technology.

Story by: Costa Mouzouris

Photos by: Harley-Davidson

You know times are changing when the biggest manufacturer of large-displacement motorcycles in North America produces a two-wheeler propelled by electrons. The Harley-Davidson LiveWire is the Motor Company’s first-ever emissions-free electric motorcycle, and it is an important new direction for a company that has been relying on gasoline-powered internal-combustion engines to power its products for more than 115 years.
Harley held the international launch of the LiveWire in e-friendly Portland, Ore., where, despite my initial aversion to fume-free motorcycles, I discovered that this electric bike actually makes sense – well, mostly.

Electric Heart

Riding the 2020 H-D LiveWireThe heart of the LiveWire is its 78 kW (105 hp) electric motor that produces 86 ft-lbs of torque. The fascinating thing about electric motors is that they produce their peak torque as soon as they begin to spin. From the rider’s seat that means you’re getting litre-bike torque right off the start. The electric motor uses reduction gears to transfer power to the rear wheel, and Harley designed the gears to produce the LiveWire’s unique whine. The electric motor and various other components are liquid-cooled, so there is a small radiator mounted behind the front fork. The motor is an aluminum-coloured unit that sits at the very bottom of the bike.

The bike has two batteries. A small 12-volt battery powers ancillaries, such as the lights and the ECU. The main 15.5 kWh lithium-ion battery is contained within a big, finned aluminum case that also contains the battery-management electronics; it’s the single largest component on the bike and is visible behind the frame. The entire assembly is called a renewable energy storage system (RESS), and is manufactured by Samsung. The 250-volt RESS is a stressed component of the chassis, combining with bolt-on frame channels and a separate steering head assembly to provide rigidity.

Fill ’er Up

Engine of the 2020 H-D LiveWireThe RESS takes 12.5 hours to charge fully from empty when using the provided 110-volt charger (a Level 1 charger), which plugs into a standard wall outlet. Using a publically accessible 24 kW DC fast charger (Level 3), the RESS can charge to full from completely empty in an hour. You can also plug the LiveWire into a Level 2 charger, but because of the way the bike is configured, it will charge at the same rate as when using a Level 1 charger, so there’s no advantage to doing so.
I initially was skeptical about Harley’s use of only Level 1 and Level 3 charging, as most people who drive an electric car use a 240-volt Level 2 charger at home. These chargers provide a much quicker charge rate than 110-volt Level 1 chargers, and are much more affordable and practical for home installation than Level 3 DC quick chargers are. After almost 10 years of LiveWire development, though, Harley’s engineers discovered that for the LiveWire’s intended use, Level 1 and Level 3 charging makes the most sense. Harley reps at the launch mentioned repeatedly that the LiveWire should not be regarded as a conventional motorcycle
– and if a long-time rider does so, he or she probably is not the right customer for this machine. It’s designed for mostly daily rides within a specific proximity to home and, in that context, the LiveWire’s range is good enough.

After an overnight charge, for example, you can ride off with a full charge. When a top-up is needed during the day, a Level 3 charge during a coffee or lunch break will recharge the battery with enough energy to continue your ride. The problem is that Level 3 chargers are not as common in Canada as Level 2 chargers are yet – at least not in any province outside of Quebec, where the former are plentiful. Authorized LiveWire dealers, of which there currently are 17 in Canada, will be equipped with Level 3 chargers.

Regenerative Braking

Dashboard of the 2020 H-D LiveWireClaimed battery range is impressive nonetheless: 235 km in the city (regenerative braking helps extend range) or 152 km of combined city and highway riding. Unlike gas-powered vehicles, electric vehicles get better mileage in the city because they can recuperate energy when slowing down, which you do often in city traffic. The LiveWire has regenerative braking, which can be adjusted from practically nothing to a level high enough that you can almost ride without ever touching the brakes. Because the LiveWire slows quite hard when the regeneration is cranked up, the brake light is also triggered by G-forces generated when slowing down, and the light can come on without touching the brakes.

The LiveWire has lean-sensitive ABS and traction control, as well as rear-wheel-lift mitigation, which prevents the rear tire from lifting under heavy braking. The rear wheel also has drag-torque slip control, which prevents the wheel from hopping when braking hard with the regeneration dialled up.

The LiveWire has seven ride modes: four of them are factory presets – sport, road, rain and range – and three others are programmable. The preset modes adjust throttle response, traction control and other parameters, just like on a conventional bike; range mode is designed to extend the bike’s range by softening throttle response and cranking up the regeneration braking.

Another bit of high-tech trickery is H-D Connect, which connects the bike…

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