I WAS admiring the LiveWire — the new, all-electric motorcycle from Harley-Davidson — in the showroom at Fraser Motorcycles in Sydney when I got into a conversation with the dealer, Warren Fraser. I had ridden the LiveWire at a Press Day recently so I knew what an amazingly fast motorcycle it was.
“The problem,” I said, “is that you can’t leave the city on it. If you did, it’d run out of batteries before you got home; you’d be stranded on the side of the road.”
“It’s not as bad as you think,” he replied. “There are charging stations all over Australia. Sure, it might take the best part of an hour to charge but you usually spend more than that in the pub when you get there anyway.”
“Still, it’s a worry. I’m off to Dubbo next week for a screening of the movie Stone at the drive-in. I don’t reckon it’d make in. It’s a long way between major towns with charging stations.”
The conversation quickly changed direction as we reminisced about the good old days and our memories of the biker cult movie Stone. I’d actually seen it at a drive-in theatre on the Sydney’s Northern Beaches as a young biker — we’d all turned up on our bikes and the management had let us sit on our bikes and watch the film — so it seemed appropriate to return to a drive-in to see it again, even if it was a 400-plus km ride to Dubbo.
A few days later I got an unexpected call from Greg Ryan, a senior manager at Fraser Motorcycles.
“You bastard,” he said. “Warren tells me you’re taking the LiveWire to Dubbo next weekend and I’ve got to go with you, to make sure you don’t wreck it!”
“Cool,” I said. “I can be Ewan McGregor and you can be Charlie Boorman.”
“Get stuffed!” he replied. “You’d better come see me so we can work out the route.”
We decided to meet Friday morning at Fraser Motorcycles in Concord, ride to Lithgow to charge the bike at the Workies Club (and have an early morning beer), ride to the Civic Centre in Orange (and have a mid-day beer) for another charge; before riding the final leg to Dubbo (for a late arvo beer). Greg would follow on a new M8 Road Glide
The ride over the Blue Mountains to Lithgow was as sensational as you’d expect on the fastest production motorbike in the world. It has so much grunt it doesn’t need any gears (or a clutch). It’s like riding something from Star Wars. You’d buy this bike for its sensational performance. The rush of acceleration is truly mind-blowing.
On the other hand, there’s no potato, potato idle; no setting off car alarms accelerating up the street; no familiar Harley vibration. You certainly wouldn’t be wearing a ‘Loud Pipes Save Lives’ T-shirt. There’s also no ape-hangers or floor-boards. This is a race bike with low handlebars and mid-controls; and the mini-fairing does little for creature comfort at highway speeds. But damn it’s fun to ride.
The LiveWire recharges the battery when you back off — the motor turns into a generator — which gives it a lot of motor-braking — so you end up using the brakes a lot less. It’s something you get used to quickly, and in fact, I liked it a lot.
You can adjust the amount of motor-braking/ battery regeneration by switching modes. Apparently, when it’s raining, you have to change it to Rain Mode to cut down on the motor-braking or your back wheel has the potential to lock up.
The dash tells you have many km you have left before the battery goes flat and, after 129 km, we arrived in Lithgow with 36 km in reserve. Charging took 54 minutes before we were on the road to Orange.
Same story in Orange. Plenty of charge left and 55 minutes later we were on the road to Dubbo. The distance was slightly further, at 148 km, but we reckoned we’d be okay.
And this is where the story takes a turn a slight turn. I pulled over outside the Wellington Hotel and said to Greg, “We ain’t gonna make it. The dash says we have 48 km left; the sign over there says it’s 51 km to Dubbo. We’ll have to push it the last three km.”
Greg turned into super-Harley-man and took control of the situation. After speaking to the publican of the Hotel, he had the LiveWire plugged into a 240 volt outlet in the beer garden while we had another drink.
We had been plugging the LiveWire into EV stations for electric cars until now and the charging been rather fast — less than an hour — but the 240 volt supply at the pub was somewhat slower — probably about 11 hours for a full charge — but we only needed a top-up to get the last three km so a couple of drinks later we were on the road again.
Greg also rang Harley-Davidson about why the charge hadn’t lasted as long on the last leg. Turns out the LiveWire recharges itself every time you back off the throttle, which was fine riding over the Blue Mountains with lots of ups and downs, but not so fine now we were riding on the almost flat plains of Central West NSW.
We spent the next couple of nights in Dubbo. There were a couple of hundred motorbikes in town for the screening of Stone at the drive-in; the Friday night they were running a documentary on the making of Stone; during the day Saturday there was a 200 km ride organised which more than 100 bikes attended; a great band was playing at the drive-in later Saturday; and, of course, Stone the movie was started once the sun went down.
There were a couple of hundred motorbikes in the drive-in for the screening; and most of the riders had brought folding camp chairs to sit on next to their bikes to watch the show. The soundtrack was being broadcast over large speakers, and if you were in a car, you could tune in your radio to hear the soundtrack. One clever Brain had tuned in his CVO Electra Glide radio and, you guessed it, was looking for jumper leads after the show.
Congratulations to Westview Drive-In who organised the event. They created a great weekend and are promising to make it an annual event.
Sunday morning saw us re-charging the LiveWire, topping it up actually because we had charged it the day before, before our ride home. Greg had decided we should go back via Mudgee; the distance from Dubbo to Mudgee and from Mudgee to Lithgow was about 125 km each, and would save us from the longer 148 km trip to Orange.
It was all going well until I pulled over just before Mudgee.
“We ain’t gonna make it,” I said. “The dash says we have one km left; the sign over there says it’s eight km to Mudgee.”
Greg turned into super-Harley-man again and took control of the situation. I had stopped opposite a big old house, and after speaking to its owner, he had the LiveWire plugged into a 240 volt outlet in the front yard while we lounged on the front verandah. Really nice people. They even asked us if we wanted to use the toilet.
Half an hour later and we were on our way to Mudgee.
Not much to say about Mudgee. We plugged her in and went to the pub. 50 minutes later we were on the road again to Lithgow.
I had suggested we stop at the Cullen Bullen pub on the way to Lithgow. It was about 100 km and would be a good chance to check how much charge was left. Unfortunately, the Cullen Bullen pub had shut down some years ago so we continued until I pulled up at a service station just outside Lithgow and said, “We ain’t gonna make it. The dash says we have 15 km left; the sign over there says it’s 18 km to Lithgow.”
Greg turned into super-Harley-man again and took control of the situation. Before long he had an extension lead running out the door of the servo and plugged into the LiveWire.
After another phone call to Harley-Davidson, Greg accessed the menu on the LiveWire and changed the specs from 70 percent recharge to 100 percent recharge.
In all fairness, every time, the LiveWire battery was just missing out by a few km. Would this fix the problem, give us the extra km we needed? The next ride, from Lithgow to Sydney, would tell.
The extra motor-braking was noticeable but not especially intrusive. Racing up to a corner, you simply backed off a little to bring your speed down, and then let the LiveWire loose through the corner. A serious load of fun.
I also didn’t find the low handlebars and mid-controls all that uncomfortable — until we got back into the Sunday arvo traffic in Sydney. 20 km of crawling traffic had my wrists aching; meanwhile, watching Greg wrestle with the heavy hand clutch on the Road Glide while we crawled along at a snail’s pace for 20 km, made me appreciate the ‘no gears; no clutch’ of the LiveWire.
When we finally arrived back at Fraser Motorcycles in Sydney, the LiveWire still had 58 km left on the dial. Changing the recharge amount had done the trick; giving us considerable more mileage on a single charge.
It’s hard to be ‘different’ in a much copied world. This motorcycle is ‘different’. Everywhere I went on it, people would stop to have a closer look; they wanted to know more about it.
It’s not cheap — but it’s beautifully built (as you’d expect from Harley-Davidson), it uses the best brakes and best suspension, and I can’t even imagine how much Harley invested in its development. It’s simply a premium motorcycle at a premium price.
I loved my three days on the LiveWire for lots of reasons — but the thing that really had me hooked was its performance — its acceleration is staggering! Count to three. One, two, three. This motorcycle accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.9 seconds.
The LiveWire is an amazing motorbike. I know, it’s not a Harley in the traditional sense — but it may just be the future of motorcycling.
If you get the opportunity to test ride one at the local Harley dealer, go for it. This motorcycle will have you grinning from ear to ear.
photos by Grainne Saunders; words by Skol