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Why Harley? Questions mount for the 2019 Livewire


The 2019 Harley-Davidson Livewire

The title of this blog may sound accusatory, but I’m genuinely curious. I sincerely have so many questions regarding the production and release of the 2019 Harley-Davidson Livewire.

The Project Livewire concept bike

​First, some background. In June of 2014, Harley went around the world with Project Livewire. They toured with a fleet of electric concept motorcycles, to gather information and feedback from Harley riders in an effort to see if there was enough interest in the bike, as well as what people's expectations were regarding electric motorcycles. The campaign wasn’t just on location, as H-D reached out to the masses online in an effort to crowd source ideas; to see what potential buyers wanted, liked, and/or disliked.

Concurrently, Harley was doing their best to market to a younger demographic. They used Marvel’s Cinematic Universe as a marketing machine, flashing the new Street Series motorcycles, including the Project Livewire bike in Avengers movies hoping to attract a new generation of riders.

This is where the questions start to accumulate.

I will admit, I am a part of the problem. I am a guy that has a short attention span. When I see something I like, I want it now. I know I’m not alone in this instant-gratification generation. That being said, I believe Harley-Davidson has really missed the mark. Why generate so much hype for a motorcycle, geared towards a younger and eager age group, if you aren’t going to deliver on that bike for half a decade? I don't buy (pun intended) the argument, that younger riders can't afford a new Harley. Where there's a will, there's a way, and if a young person wants a new Harley-Davidson, they will find a way to get one. So, I believe the time to release the Livewire was simultaneously with the Street Series, when you saw them both, with Captain America and Black Widow weaving in and out of explosions on these machines.

Project Livewire in Avengers: Age of Ultron

And really, this is the least of my worries with the Livewire. Just days ago, Harley began the push to create some hype around the Livewire’s release in August. Their webpage has a handful of pictures and blurbs about the bike, and ads have started to run, claiming that the future is here with this new motorcycle. Frankly, all of this has produced more questions than answers for me. Where is the spec page for this motorcycle? Why is everything so vague? Why is the future here now, when I could’ve bought a production electric motorcycle 10 years ago?

I get it. It’s an ad campaign. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have these questions answered, especially when the asking price for this bike is (starting at) $29,799!!! Yeah, that price deserves three exclamation points. Here’s why. I just mentioned that electric bikes aren’t new. They’ve been available for many years, and the tech has really come around. Just take a look at Zero Motorcycles, founded in 2006. They have been shipping their bikes in volume, since 2010. So, I have to control myself when I visit live streams, or forums discussing the Livewire, with riders saying things like, “Everything costs more when the tech is new. Prices will come down, when it’s not new.” “It’s a Harley, so you’re going to pay a premium”

My Zero DS test ride from 2017.

Let’s address these comments before I move on. First, like I’ve already mentioned, the tech is not new. Just because it’s new to you, or to Harley, doesn’t mean it’s new. In fact, you can buy a Zero DS Electric motorcycle with the about the same mile range (on a single charge) for almost $19,000 less. Which leads me to the second comment; since when is the H-D premium worth an insane 63% price hike over the competition? Just for a quick compare, the 2019 Yamaha Bolt (a close competitor with Harley’s Sportster line) starts at $7,999 and a comparable 2019 H-D Sportster starts at $8,999. That’s a modest 11% mark-up for a Harley. Totally reasonable, in my book. Even if you bought the most expensive Sportster (starting at $11,999), you’d be looking at a lofty 45% increase, which is closer to that absurd 63%. But, that kills the Harley vs Zero argument, as the Zero will outperform the Harley every day. Even if you were comparing the Livewire’s pricing to a top of the line Zero DS (which mile range is almost 100 miles over the Livewire) you’d still be paying 45% more for the Harley. On top of that, Zero’s have been in production for almost a decade, meaning they have been fine tuning their machines to perform better and be more efficient. It's also given them time to accumulate a vast amount of feedback from their customers.

Another minor consumer-related beef I have, has more to do with Harley-Davidson as a company, and less explicitly the Livewire. I would think that riders considering the Livewire have some concern for the environment. Harley does have a webpage, with a small section dedicated to their contribution to the environment and sustainability (be it only a few short paragraphs), but nowhere on the Livewire’s page is there a mention of the environment, sustainability or renewable energy. I would have at the very least expected a link to H-D's Sustainability and Community Responsibility page on the Livewire’s page. That just seems like a lack of preparation or planning on H-D’s part to overlook something that is likely a priority to riders who will consider buying an electric motorcycle. Like I said, it’s a minor beef, but an oversight that would be so easy to rectify.

2019 Livewire (tank and front)

And finally, let’s talk about H-D Connect, for the Livewire. H-D Connect is a service that will allow you to “connect remotely through your smart phone using the latest version of the Harley-Davidson App. Check bike vitals like battery charge status, see its location on a map, and get security alerts if it’s been bumped, tampered with or moved”. This seems like pretty low-tech stuff, considering car apps can do things like start your car remotely, lock and unlock your doors, adjust your car’s thermostat, and much more. And again, in comparison to the Zero motorcycle’s app that can adjust the bikes torque delivery settings, set the bikes top speed, set riding modes, and get real-time performance data. The Zero app, as well as the car apps I mentioned are generally free to download and use. And there’s the kicker, the H-D connect service will be free for a year, but only available for a fee after that year. That’s right, after a year, your $30,000 motorcycle will require you to pay extra to use the app’s features. If you want to compare that to Tesla’s Premium Connectivity package, don’t. The Premium Connectivity package is a service that is an upgrade to what you already get standard when you buy a Tesla. All of this goes without mentioning that I was already skeptical about Harley-Davidson being able to execute on an effective, bug-free tool. So, to ask customers to pay for that tool boggles my mind. And frankly, the high premium you pay for the all-electric Tesla is where the comparison with the electric Livewire should end.

2019 Livewire front

So, if you can’t tell, this is a topic I’m passionate about. Especially, since I was a fan of the Livewire before all of these non-specific specifications came out this week. The lack of transparency surrounding this bike makes me feel like they’re trying to hide something, or at the very least hype a bike that will inevitably underwhelm. I want to understand the timing. For me it doesn’t make sense to release a starting price, if you don’t have specific numbers to back up said astronomical price. I also want to know why the sound the Livewire makes is being used as a selling point. In comparison to the rumbling exhaust on a Milwaukee 8’s v-twin, the Livewire is going to be virtually silent. The silence was something I thought was really unique, and fun about the Zero when I test rode it, so why pump the sound up as a point of emphasis for the Livewire?Like I said, I have so many more questions, and much that has been released about this bike has lead me to more questions than answers. For now, I’m with the mass of online commenters who have been completely turned off by the price tag on the Livewire. August is not that far away, and hopefully H-D will have those specs available sooner, rather than later, that will hopefully rationalize, even if just a little, why I should spend Road-Glide-Special kind of money, on an electric motorcycle.