2021 LiveWire ONE First Ride Review: Lightning Strikes Twice


Harley-Davidson debuted its first electric motorcycle—the LiveWire—to unanimous critical acclaim in July, 2019. Despite all the accolades, the model’s $29,799 MSRP presented a barrier to purchase that many early adopters couldn’t overcome.

Fast-forward to May, 2021. The LiveWire still struggled to find its footing in Harley’s lineup when the Motor Company split the electric bike into its own brand. That shift threw the LiveWire a lifeline, with the 2021 ONE coming in at $21,999—nearly $8,000 less than its predecessor.

The spin-off didn’t just slash the price tag, though. Compared to its Harley-Davidson counterpart, the LiveWire ONE reduces torque to 84 lb-ft and horsepower 100 ponies. Despite those power concessions, the ONE retains a 146-mile city range. That figure may sound impressive, but optimism typically colors manufacturer range estimates.

To test whether those claims hold up in the real world, we lived with LiveWire ONE for one month in Los Angeles, California. With enough range for the commute, enough performance for weekend rides, and a reduced retail price, the LiveWire ONE now presents a more practical proposition for early adopters. However, motorcycles—even electric ones—don’t just exist on spec sheets, they have to live up to those expectations on the road.

In The City

2021 LiveWire ONE - Skyline

LiveWire reports that the ONE can reach up to 146 miles in the city, 70 miles on the highway, and 95 miles in combined conditions. Long-distance commuters and travelers may scoff at those totals, but with a majority of the charging station infrastructure based in metropolitan areas, most LiveWire ONE riders will reside in the city anyway.

For that reason, we tested the LiveWire ONE under several commuting conditions. To maximize the mileage, Range mode remained engaged throughout each test. Compared to Road and Sport modes, Range reduces power to 40 percent, limits throttle to 55 percent, and bumps regeneration to 80 percent. Those settings may seem like a significant power compromise but acceleration is far from sluggish. The slower roll-on also helps riders navigate tight city traffic, though throttle pickup in Sport is quite tractable at low speeds as well.

Along with the lower power parameters, the high regen rate also optimizes range. The feature is most beneficial where acceleration is light and braking is abundant, like stop-and-go traffic or residential neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the LiveWire ONE’s regenerative properties weren’t enough to achieve the claimed 146 city miles on one charge. Nevertheless, the ONE reached a respectable 120 miles before requiring more power.

Riding at 25-30 mph would certainly make that 146-mile figure more feasible, but restricting a rider to those speeds isn’t realistic—or safe. Regardless of the reported max range, 120 miles is plenty for an urban commuter. However, restricting routes to city streets isn’t ideal for many riders, and users can really open up the electric bike on the highway.

On The Open Road

LiveWire may have been optimistic with the ONE’s city range, but it sells itself short on highway mileage. Remaining in Range mode, the LiveWire managed 80 highway miles before the 15.4 kWh lithium-ion battery needed more juice. In addition to Range mode’s battery conservation, the cruise control also stretched the LiveWire’s highway legs. If the commute features an even mix of surface streets and interstates, the LiveWire goes even further, living up to its 95-mile estimate. Under those conditions, even some suburban commuters could make the ONE work.

Unfortunately, fully recharging the LiveWire from a wall socket requires 12 hours and 30 minutes, which may dissuade long-distance commuters from relying on the electric motorcycle. Luckily, recharge intervals drop drastically when utilizing a Level 3 station. However, the one-hour and 15-minute charge time still exceeds LiveWire’s one-hour estimate.

In Road mode, the LiveWire increases power to 80 percent and reduces regen to 30 percent. Sport mode kicks the performance up to 100 percent power, 80 percent throttle, and 80 percent regen. If you’re willing to sacrifice miles for smiles, Sport should be your go-to mode. Those looking for more practical power can opt for Road mode, but with equal throttle response, more power, and less regen (compared to Range mode), the performance benefits aren’t as favorable.

For that reason, Sport and Range modes work best in the canyons. Sport mode allows the user to blast out of corner exits and the high regen mimics heavy engine braking on corner approach. Conversely, Sport mode’s power delivery can become overkill in tighter confines. In those situations, Range delivered the same speed-shedding regen (as Sport) while offering a manageable throttle response. Of course, users can also create custom ride maps to tailor the system to their riding style.

No matter which mode the rider chooses, the LiveWire One is every bit as nimble as its predecessor. The 562-pound curb weight may seem heavy off the stand, but it’s negligible at speed. With a 24.5-degree rake and a 58.7-inch wheelbase, the One carves through technical sectors yet remains planted at full lean.

2021 LiveWire ONE - Mountains
2021 LiveWire ONE - Twisties

The Showa big-piston fork and balance-free monoshock may favor sporty riding over cruising, but the suspension is supple enough for poorly-maintained urban roads too. Big hits such as potholes and speed bumps can be a little jarring, but the fully-adjustable suspenders enable riders to dial the compression, rebound, and preload to their liking.

Tethered to the Past

The ONE may sport bleeding-edge tech and high-performance equipment, but the Bar and Shield’s influence still shines through the new LiveWire tank badge. Harley bin parts like teardrop mirrors, non-adjustable levers, and one-inch handgrips call back to the Motor Company’s cruiser lineage as opposed to LiveWire’s future. Even the oblong headlight and slim blinkers hail from the now-defunct Softail Breakout and FXDR.

2021 LiveWire ONE - Switchgear

A majority of the repurposed parts only result in aesthetic inconsistencies, but the switchgear feels particularly out of place on such a technologically-advanced motorcycle. Leveraging standard Harley controls, the right switchgear houses the right blinker button, display layout toggle, and ride mode switch. With the throttle and front brake lever at the right handgrip, reaching those controls is frequently inconvenient and sometimes unsafe.

Oversized buttons and a symmetrical layout may suit H-D’s cruiser lineup, but it’s a step back for an electric naked bike. Ironically, without a clutch lever to engage, the rider’s left hand is even freer to adjust settings or activate turn signals. Given LiveWire’s newfound independence, hopefully, the brand can develop its own equipment in the future, or at least adopt the Pan America’s controls in the meantime.

Along with the switchgear, the hefty brake levers and axial master cylinder feel like an odd choice for a high-performance motorcycle. The twin four-piston Brembo monobloc calipers up front and the two-pot Brembo binder out back provide more than enough bite and stopping power.

However, with an axial master cylinder feeding the radially-mounted clampers, feel and response at the lever is very cruiser-like. Similar to the braking on Harley’s big baggers, lever travel is very restricted, delivering limited feedback in return. Just like the parts bin controls, LiveWire would fully realize its high-performance ambitions by transitioning to a radial master cylinder.

Conclusion

2021 LiveWire ONE - Underpass

The 2021 LiveWire ONE not only delivers all the fun of its predecessor, it does so at a fraction of the price. Of course, $21,999 is no small chunk of change, but the LiveWire’s value prop skyrockets when compared to the Harley-badged unit. No, the ONE isn’t suited for long-distance travel, but no electric motorcycle can make that claim (at least not yet). The current technology and infrastructure simply haven’t advanced enough to accommodate such high mileage and short charge times.

However, what the LiveWire does, it does well. The electric bike may not live up to its maximum city range and charge times may exceed claims, but it surpasses almost every other expectation. Urban commuters and canyon carvers will be best served by the ONE, but pairing the model’s proven performance with a new MSRP now presents a much smaller barrier to purchase.



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