It’s always exciting to test a motorcycle from a new brand, even if it’s not quite “new”. In the case of LiveWire, it’s a new electric motorcycle company owned by Harley-Davidson. Regardless, when you have a new imprint, the offspring invariably has a corporate culture that sets it apart from the parent, at least initially. LiveWire is starting off modestly, debuting with the 2021 LiveWire One, a reworking of the Harley-Davidson LiveWire. Let’s see how the two models differ, and how well the LiveWire One performs out in the wild.
Although the 2021 LiveWire One looks identical to the Harley-Davidson LiveWire, there are several changes to the electric powertrain. Output is lowered a bit, with the LiveWire One putting out 84 ft-lbs of torque at its peak, compared to 86 ft-lbs on the H-D. The H-D LW had 105 horsepower on offer, compared to the LW1’s 100 horsepower. Weighing in at 562 pounds, the Live Wire One is 13 pounds heavier than its H-D predecessor—we’re not sure why.
The LiveWire One has updated software from the Harley-Davidson LiveWire. A Harley-Davidson insider told us that “the software has been evolved based on learnings from H-D LiveWire for enhanced usability and stability.”
All these changes result in the 2021 LiveWire One having an MSRP of $21,999, an enticing $7800 less than the Harley-Davidson LiveWire. Did H-D LiveWire buyers pay an early adopter tax, or are the LiveWire One purchasers getting a loss leader? That’s difficult to determine, but we suspect it’s a bit of both. Regardless, our expectations for a $22k machine are much different from one that’s knocking on the door of 30 grand. We’re going to move forward with this test, judging the LiveWire One on its own merits, rather than constantly comparing it to the discontinued H-D LiveWire.
The 2021 LiveWire One is an astoundingly exciting motorcycle to ride, and that’s because of its high-performance motor. The 84 ft-lbs of torque the One has at its disposal compares favorably with the 90 ft-lbs of torque the Ducati Streetfighter V4 produces. Keep in mind that the One’s torque is available as soon as you crack the throttle, while the V4 requires spinning the engine up to 11,500 rpm to enjoy the pull. Although the 100 horsepower might not impress you, when you ride the One, the last thing you will think is that it’s underpowered. It is a rocketship with a whir rather than a roar.
Four distinctive power modes provide considerably different riding experiences. The power modes—Sport, Road, Range, and Rain—determine power output, throttle response, and regenerative motor braking, and you will never confuse them. If you don’t like the four presets, feel free to adjust each of the four parameters to your taste within one-percent increments. Essentially, the four power modes are simply recommendations and starting points. You can fully and precisely personalize each one.
Selecting between the power modes is easy, and you can do it with the throttle open. The right turn signal switch is a rocker design, so it doubles as the power mode switch. Click on it, and the mode instantly changes, and then cycles through the four available modes.
Sport mode is viciously fast. Twisting the throttle to the stop in the Sport mode requires your full attention. From a standing start, you’ll be at 60 mph in three seconds flat, according to LiveWire. We didn’t measure it, but it happens incredibly quickly. Less than two seconds later, you’re at 80 mph, and all you’ve done is hold on. There are no gears—the clutchless one-speed just keeps going faster. Although the acceleration tapers off a bit over 80 mph, it’s still strong into triple digits. While LiveWire claims a top speed of 110 mph, we saw 115 on the 4.3-inch touchscreen TFT dash, and the motor didn’t hesitate along the way.
Despite the power of Sport, the throttle response is manageable. At less than full throttle, the power comes on smoothly, though still with plenty of push. If you’re in the 10/10ths mood, it’s a blast. At less than that, it is still workable, as long as your input isn’t ham-fisted. The Sport power delivery takes some time to get used to, and it’s fun to learn the limits as you go.
Unlike internal combustion engines with adjustable engine braking, which typically reduce the effect, the Sport mode adds a bit of regenerative motor braking to the package. Remember, this motorcycle weighs 562 pounds with a full load of electrons, and it doesn’t get lighter as you go. The twin Brembo front calipers and 300mm discs are great, but a little passive assistance from the rear wheel feels welcome when attacking corners. You can set the motor braking to a minimum manually if you want, but that may not be the best plan of action.
Click the 2021 LiveWire One into the Road mode, and things settle down considerably. Throttle response is noticeably detuned, though still very aggressive if you twist the throttle with abandon. LiveWire says the power is padded down, but you won’t feel that as much as the change in throttle response. To make for a relaxing ride, the regenerative braking is at a minimum, so the One seems to almost freewheel with the throttle off. If you start riding hard in Road mode, be aware that your braking points for corners will be much sooner than in Sport mode. While I never overcooked a corner in Sport, I did a few times in Road because of the lack of passive rear-wheel braking. The foot brake is good, though I’d like to try the One with a left-hand rear brake.
Range mode isn’t as dull as it sounds. Although power is down from Road, the throttle response is the same. In the city or the canyons, throttle response trumps overall power, so it moves. The high level of regeneration braking allows you to brake far later going into corners. It takes a bit of getting used to, as the One slows down quickly if the throttle isn’t on. When switching between modes, it’s easy to let off the throttle far too early in Range mode. Some riders felt like they were faster in the canyon in the Range mode than any other mode. For me, I prefer to have maximum power, maximum motor braking, and a bit softer throttle response, which is why LiveWire allows personalization of the power delivery.
Rain mode is also more fun than it sounds. Although the One has minimum power, throttle response, and regeneration braking, it’s still reasonably quick if you twist the throttle hard. If you are at all calm with throttle input, then it does accelerate considerably slower than the other modes, and the near freewheel feel off-throttle prevents the rear wheel from skidding while decelerating. Should the road be wet, I’ll happily use Rain mode.
In all modes, cornering-aware traction control is there to stop the responsive torquey motor from spinning up the rear Michelin Scorcher Sport. It is defeatable, at your own risk. More wisely, you can select between three levels of intrusion. A six-axis IMU sends pertinent information to the computer.
The 562-pound LiveWire One is more agile than you could possibly expect. The prodigious and instantaneous torque production keeps the LW1 light on its feet. Diving into corners doesn’t feel ponderous, though you feel the weight in sequences of S-turns. The battery weight is kept close to the center of gravity, so there aren’t any poor handling traits.
The smooth power delivery of an electric motor only helps handling. You don’t realize how much gear changes impact handling and stability until you eliminate them from the riding equation. The consistency of a single-speed transmission means the motorcycle and tire contact patch remain perfectly stable. That connected feeling gives the rider a great sense of the road and confidence in the level of traction. This is one of the features that make riding an electric motorcycle in the canyons so much fun.
Showa takes care of the suspension duties admirably under difficult conditions. Managing that much weight on a sportbike is not easy and requires a stiff setup to prevent wallowing. The suspension feels good in the canyons, though it will bounce you around if the pavement isn’t perfect. Occasionally, you will hit something unexpected, and the result is jarring. In town, you feel every bit of road texture, which is not what you want. Adjustments are there for the taking, but you can’t change the necessarily taut spring rates.
We were amused to see Harley-Davidson Scorcher Sport tires on the LiveWire One. Shouldn’t those be LiveWire Scorcher sport tires? The Michelin-made tires have the thankless job of holding traction for a heavy sportbike. Fortunately, they’re up to the job and have impressive feel. Still, if we had the LW1 longer, we would be looking into different rubber, though we’re not sure which aftermarket would best handle the weight and torque of the LW1—that would be an interesting comparison.
As hinted at before, braking is highly dependent on the regeneration setting. If you don’t want the regen braking, then you’re asking quite a bit of the Brembos. Cranking regen to the maximum makes a huge difference in slowing down, though it requires recalibrating your perception of when to shut off the throttle. ABS is standard, non-adjustable, and not intrusive.
Electric will take over if engineers can figure out how to make a battery-powered motorcycle as light as an equivalent internal combustion motorcycle. There are lots of advantages, however, they are outweighed (heh) by the battery poundage. We compared the LiveWire One to the similarly priced Ducati Streetfighter V4 earlier. The Streetfighter V4 has about the same torque output as the One, twice the horsepower, and, crucially, the V4 is over 100 pounds lighter. The early onset of the LW1’s torque makes it no slouch in motor performance, but there’s no getting around those 100 pounds when pushing any envelopes.
Range is still an issue with the 2021 LiveWire One. We have a 100-mile test loop we frequently use. It has freeway portions, city sections, and lots of twisties with considerable elevation changes. LiveWire claims a range of 146 miles per charge in the city, which is plenty. Just 70 miles at highway speeds isn’t much, though. We know from experience that speed and hills kill the range, so the 100-mile loop wasn’t going to happen. We used a bailout, eliminating several long climbs, replacing them with an easy long high-speed canyon downhill. After 84 miles, the charge was down to 12 percent. If that’s the maximum length of your typical ride, you’re golden. If not, electric isn’t ready for you. You can recharge the LW1 in an hour at a fast charge station—not something you can reliably find in rural areas.
The ergonomics are decisively, though not excessively, sporty. The One is a naked upright, with the handlebar being average width, though lacking much of a bend up or back. It’s comfortable enough for the sport riding range, though a more upright stance would be welcome when getting the 146 miles of urban riding out of the charge. The knee bend is natural.
If you’re looking for a premium commuter or urban motorcycle, the 2021 LiveWire One is tough to beat. It has plenty of power, runs through traffic stealthily, and is easy to handle at the slowest speed due to the lack of a traditional transmission and clutch—you can’t stall it or be in the wrong gear. It’s easy to be exacting when lane-splitting and filtering, and without making a racket, you are past your next traffic victim before the cage-dweller knows you are there. Keep in mind that your silence makes you less visible, so adjust positioning appropriately. If you need to bring anything along on your commute, you’ll be investing in a backpack.
Make sure the wiring to the plug you want to use for charging is up to the job. I have a Fiat 500e and have charged it from the same outlet for four years without a single issue. However, the LiveWire One repeatedly tripped the circuit breaker on the same outlet without anything else plugged in. I tried another outlet in the garage—the washer and dryer use it—fortunately, that was a success. Regardless, if a circuit is robust enough for charging an automobile battery, that should be sufficient to keep the LW1 satisfied. Charging from a plug is slow, so you won’t have a full charge in the morning if you’ve depleted the battery on a ride the night before.
Being a high-tech motorcycle, the LiveWire One is compatible with your iOS or Android smartphone via Bluetooth or USB. It has the expected phone, tuner, media, and navigation interfaces, with voice recognition functions. We had a relatively limited time with the LW1, and I preferred to spend it riding rather than doing IT.
When at rest, the LiveWire One has something called a “haptic heartbeat.” According to LiveWire, it is “adding a touch of humanity to electricity.” That’s a bit of an oversell. It’s a regular little thump that appears like clockwork, rather than offering the comforting irregularity of a heartbeat or engine running. I like it because it reminds me that the motorcycle is armed and ready to go. You don’t want to absent-mindedly twist that throttle at a stop, thinking the motor is switched off!
Harley-Davidson was wise to spin off its electric motorcycles into a new brand. It will allow the LiveWire motorcycles to be developed independently, without the expectations of the Harley-Davidson brand name. Also, marketing will be similar to other high-end electronic devices—watch for something called a “brand experience gallery” soon. I guess I’ll mention that I thought the new brand should be called Dyna, as that would tie in with H-D history, and the name denotes electricity. That fell on deaf ears.
The 2021 LiveWire One is a superb ride, with an approachable price that will entice quite a few riders to enter the world of electric motorcycles. It’s difficult to imagine anyone being disappointed with the performance of the LW1’s motor—it’s a beast. Before making the jump, riders have to recognize the limitations of electric motorcycles—primarily weight, range, and recharging time. If those aren’t deal-killers and you can work within the One’s rules of engagement, you’ll be rewarded with an exciting and satisfying motorcycling experience.
Hello everyone and welcome once again to Motos and Friends—the weekly Podcast brought to you by the editorial team at Ultimate Motorcycling.
My name is Arthur Coldwells.
In this week’s first segment, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the much anticipated Yamaha MT-10 SP. That’s the model with the Ohlins semi-active suspension. It’s only been available in Europe for the last couple of years, but finally the good news is, that it’s coming to America. The big question is, whether the extra 3k you’re going to have to pony up for the Ohlins is actually worth it, or perhaps there’s just not that much improvement over the stock KYB suspension that has suited the Yamaha MT-10 so well until now?
In the second segment, Associate Editor Teejay Adams chats with Val Collins. Val grew up on motorcycles and learned to love speed, however her real love is Formula 1 tunnel-boat racing. These are the guys and gals that are strapped into a tiny cockpit and then hurtle down the straights at 120 mile per hour and pull 5G in the corners. We attended the recent season finale in Lake Havasu and watched our friend Mike Quindazzi try to take the win. Val chats with Teejay about her love for two-wheels and tunnel-boats. Yeah, it’s crazy stuff.
From all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode and have a great Thanksgiving Holiday!