The days of fossil fuel are numbered. As much as we would like to deny it, humankind will have to come up with a viable alternative to internal combustion engines, and in my experience so far, the solutions haven’t been very impressive. That might boil down to not having ridden the right kind of electric motorcycle, but there is something about not having a gear lever, clutch lever and an exhaust note that seems all wrong. Until a few weeks ago, in Sepang, Malaysia.
Until then, I had only seen the Livewire in pictures that had been all over the interwebs. It isn’t hard to see why. The Livewire’s styling is a modern take on the flat track racer that Harley was so famous for back in the day — the XR750. The design is quintessentially street fighter — flat handlebars, rear-set footpegs, a single, round LED headlamp and the most unconventionally placed rear view mirrors (which makes them quite useless, by the way). This is a most un-Harley-like Harley, and that has a lot to do with the most important part of the Harley equation being missing — a massive V-twin engine. In its place is a 55 kW induction motor that is held up by a cast aluminium trellis frame — the 74 bhp motor makes 7.2 kgm of torque, in a frame that is more Ducati than Harley-Davidson.
I can quite honestly say the Livewire is unlike anything else I have ridden thus far. The first thing that you notice is the lack of noise. The entire startup process is more like setting up a microwave oven, rather than a motorcycle. Put the switch on, select the riding mode in the touchscreen instrument console and off you go. Even though all the switchgear and the levers will keep reminding you that this is still a Harley-Davidson, the moment you twist that throttle, everything else is forgotten. The Livewire can hit 100 kph in under 4 seconds, and with no gear shifting and no tapering off of the torque, that acceleration is delivered with a freight train ferocity that propels it towards the electronically limited 150 kph top speed. It is a most unnerving experience. All my life, velocity has always been accompanied by some kind of exhaust note. Here, there is no single cylinder thump, no V-twin mini-explosions and certainly no four-cylinder whine. Instead, there is a whirring noise that, even Harley agrees, sounds a lot like a jet turbine.
The un-Harley-ness extends further. Every single Harley I have ridden has always required a sizable effort to change direction — but the Livewire is the most neutral-handling Harley ever. It doesn’t take Dwayne Johnson-esque biceps to muscle it around and neither does it overwhelm you by turning into corners too quickly. Directional changes are calculated and precise; a lot of this has to do with the centre of gravity being so low, as also the sticky rubber that is mounted at either end. You would think that getting used to not having a clutch or gear lever would take a lot of, well, getting used to. Not so with the Livewire — it takes all of two minutes to become comfortable with the e-Harley. Before you know it, you will be leaning it over to angles no Harley has any business being at, and if you really put your mind to it, you can pull some massive powerslides coming out of corners.
A lot of petrolheads have been going on about how they will be fortunate to not be around when petrol engines die out, but after having ridden the Livewire, I’ve gotten a peek into the future. I’ll tell you this much — if the future is anywhere near as exciting as this, those old geezers are going to miss out on a lot of fun motorcycles. After all, which internal combustion engine will ever be able to boast of delivering peak torque right from standstill?
OTHER BRIGHT SPARKS
Brammo Empulse R
The Empulse R makes 54 bhp and 9.2 kgm of torque, which can propel it to a claimed 177 kph. Oh, and it’s one of the only e-bikes with a 6-speed gearbox.
The SR takes it one step further from the Empulse, with 67 bhp and 14.7 kgm of torque. It’s good for 164 kph and a 0-100 kph time of 3.3 seconds.
The same bike that finished fourth at the Isle of Man race, the Mission R makes 163 bhp and 18.4 kgm of torque, to hit 100 kph in three seconds and a top speed of 241 kph. Phew!