Harley-Davidson’s electric motorcycle LiveWire creating buzz at Daytona Bike Week

By March 14, 2020General Posts

The Harley-Davidson LiveWire’s cool factor seems undeniable among Daytona Bike Week testers, but if you have to buy cool it comes at a $30,000 price.

This is one Harley-Davidson you won’t likely see around town during Bike Week. At least not yet.

And it’s one you definitely won’t hear.

Harley’s new LiveWire, just now winding its way into the market, is a mystery to many, as well as a culture shock — “A Harley without the rhythmic thumping?”

This thing sounds more like a sewing machine.

But so far, if first impressions mean anything, the LiveWire is also a hit. Test rides at Harley’s demo station — outside Daytona International Speedway — are producing one group after another of impressed bikers who, briefly, unsaddled from their traditional Hogs for a proverbial ride into the future.

“As I was riding it, I was thinking this might be my next bike,” says 71-year-old James Lamoureux, a longtime biker from St. Johns County. “Harley, they took a long time, but they did a great job. This thing is cool.”

The cool factor seems undeniable, based on the overwhelmingly positive reviews from testers. But if you have to buy cool, it comes at a price. The LiveWire sells for about $30,000, roughly $10,000 more than you’d pay for a traditional Harley Softail at Bruce Rossmeyer’s Daytona Harley-Davidson.

“It’s very impressive. Everything about it,” says D.J. Richter, part of a group of Indiana visitors who tested the LiveWires as a group.

But at $30,000?

“Thirty?” Richter replied. “It’s not that impressive.”

But the LiveWire, five years in the making after its 2014 conceptual introduction, wasn’t designed to flood the market. At that price, it has no chance to help Harley attract the much younger demographic the manufacturer — and industry as a whole — needs in order to remain viable as the avid motorcyclist population grows grayer each year. Entry level, gas-powered Harleys, after all, are available for well under $10,000.

It’s apparently all part of the marketing strategy.

“Just like the electric car market, Harley released the best of the best,” says Shelly Rossmeyer Pepe, Daytona Harley’s general manager. “In this case, Harley said they would come out with their ‘halo’ bike, the best of the best, then bring out less expensive models, different models without certain components or luxury items.”

DeLand rider Glen Abbott, who writes travel pieces for Harley-Davidson’s H.O.G. Magazine, couldn’t wait for future options. He attended last year’s national dealer show at Harley’s headquarters in Milwaukee. He went through the demo process, which includes becoming familiar with the LiveWire’s instant throttle on a stationary LiveWire atop a dyno, followed by a street ride.

“I have two other Harleys. Had no intention of buying an electric bike, but I took it for a demo ride and just fell in love with it,” Abbott says.

The LiveWire has a range of about 150 miles, so Abbott mostly rides it around DeLand or as far as New Smyrna Beach. Plugging it in to a standard home outlet will recharge the LiveWire overnight. Fast, DC-powered charging is available at Harley dealerships and takes just an hour.

Any concerns about dealing with an electric motors’ charging needs seem to disappear once you ride the LiveWire.

“I started riding Harleys in the early-’90s,” says Abbott, a 62-year-old Rhode Island native. “This is so different than anything you’ll ever ride. It has instant power. You don’t shift. You have 100% of your power right from the get-go. It’s smooth and quiet. I like big loud Harleys too, but this is different.”

Sitting outside the New Smyrna Beach Harley dealership, where he helps with hospitality during Bike Week, Abbott says he occasionally gets some good-natured teasing from friends and fellow Harley riders. He also reads some negative online reactions to the LiveWire from older, traditional Harley riders. But in personal encounters, all is well.

“I think everybody appreciates it,” he says. “No, it’s not for everybody, but I haven’t encountered any negative sentiment.”

Back at the Speedway, Harley employee Meghan Zettelmeier ushers testing riders onto the dyno LiveWire for an explainer on the clutch-free throttle system. From there, it’s on to the test ride.

“It seems like everyone that gets off of it has a big smile on their face,” Zettelmeier says. “We have some people who come in doubting it a little bit, but the second they get off they have a huge smile.”

Sherry Butler, part of D.J. Richter’s Indiana group, was among the smiling reviewers.

“Very fun, very peppy, and so easy to control,” she says.

The one universal issue, among all those testing the LiveWire, isn’t necessarily a bad issue to riders like Butler.

“I kept feeling like I was reaching for the clutch that isn’t there,” she says. “And that’s not a bad thing.”

A few I-95 exits north of the Speedway, Daytona Harley-Davidson has sold four of the LiveWires since December. Until Harley begins mass-producing lower-cost electric motorcycles, Rossmeyer Pepe doesn’t expect to flood the local market with the debut product. But beginning in April, the dealership will begin a summerlong promotional effort to bring people in for a look and, if licensed to ride a motorcycle, a test drive.

“I’m proud to say that Harley really outdid themselves when they created this machine,” she says. “The quality of the machine is unbelievable. The performance, the cool factor, they definitely nailed it.

“Will you see people changing from what they’re currently riding? I don’t see people coming in to trade from their current motorcycles to a LiveWire, I see people adding a LiveWire.”

People like Abbott, whose DeLand garage took on a third motorcycle when he recently added his electric Harley. He sees the LiveWire, and any electric product currently in the pipeline, as a needed attempt to keep Harley-Davidson viable into future generations.

“The big challenge they’re facing is an aging demographic,” he says. “They’re trying to appeal to younger riders. Obviously, if they don’t appeal to new markets and new demographics, they’re gonna die off.

“I think it’s short-sighted for people to feel Harley can only build internal combustion engines forever.”