Growing up in the seventies I remember the dark days of the energy crisis. I remember our home oil tank being replaced by a gas supply (yes more fossil fuel) and I can remember everyone saying that cars were going to get smaller. And they did for a while.
There must be a certain smugness surrounding any electric motorcycle rider right now in the midst of a fuel shortage.
And so recently we went to Harley-Davidson (part of M&P Swansea) to review the latest LiveWire – their 105 horsepower, 250Kg venture into the age of electric transportation.
First impressions were of a beautiful futuristic, almost alien piece of design and engineering. Once you get your bearings, you can make out the location of the motor and the battery which dominate the design and that the bike is perhaps more compact than expected.
This is hardcore engineering at its best, in a consumer product.
All of the bikes on the demo day were keyless so you could just hop aboard and ride away. Strange feeling when you’ve grown up with machines that need a key and even a kick to get going.
If you think about H-D and you aren’t an owner, you are probably thinking acres of chrome and some classic road movies like Easy Rider or Sons of Anarchy. Wind in your hair (no helmet?) and straight open roads in glorious sunshine. What you get with the LiveWire is more like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
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And so, to the crux of the matter. Bikers like bikes that rumble and pop and burst with energy. You fall in love with motorcycles and riding them; it gets into your psyche. LiveWire is lovable for sure, but it is more Star Ship Enterprise than highly tuned Hot Rod. What it perhaps gives up in sound it gives back in pure engineering excellence.
The location of the charge point where the fuel cap would have been and the fact that there’s still an archetypical liquid fuel tank, as with most electric motorcycles, are perhaps signs to orient the user and to ween them off their thumping internal combustion machines.
The absolutely clincher for me is the fact that the LiveWire has been designed as a user experience. Yeah, yeah that sounds a bit pretentious but really these guys have thought about feedback and what might be needed to displace their internal combustion siblings. Stop at the lights and the thrum of your bike with the occasional flick of the wrist is actually a display of peacock pageantry. The LiveWire has a heart. And it beats. You can feel that the thing is alive despite the absence of revving and popping. That’s amazing attention to detail addressing a basic piece of user feedback.
Talking of feedback, cue Ewan Macgregor and Charley Boorman. These guys made the BMW GS the success it is and presented it as a lovable work horse of global and consequently epic proportions. Enterprisingly H-D gave them a couple of LiveWires with knobbly tyres and a few upgrades and then let them loose on South America. ‘The Long Way up’ features the intrepid duo riding their LiveWires 13,000 miles from the southern tip of Argentina to Los Angeles. By all accounts they had a blast and the bikes faired well. They did need to stop regularly to charge up highlighting the infrastructure problems which EVs have in general but apparently that’s where the stories began. That’s where the interactions lay and perhaps, we all need to change the way we operate and modify our expectations.
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Would I buy one? Yup I would. There are rumours of a price drop and a move into LiveWire becoming a stand-alone brand which makes a lot of sense as this is techy stuff – not necessarily the same audience of riders.
And the clincher for me is the heart. Engineering is about heart. Have a heart.
Prof. Neil Barron