A 20th century biker rides a 21st century bike

posted: Aprl 20, 2024

tl;dr: First and foremost a motorcycle should be fun, and the e-motorcycle I rode certainly was...

I have ridden the future: an electric motorcycle. More specifically, a Harley-Davidson LiveWire S2 Del Mar. Sometimes, when a new technology appears, I am skeptical of its ultimate success: see my takes on smartwatches, drones, and windmills (note the date of each post). However, I am convinced that electric motorcycles are going to succeed and capture a major portion of a growing motorcycle market over the next two decades.

One big reason is the experience itself: the S2 Del Mar was fun! That’s the primary reason I and most bikers ride. I didn’t get a chance to test the stated zero to 60 mph time of 3 seconds, but the bike had plenty of acceleration for my needs. I could slow the bike considerably just by letting up on the throttle, with the front and rear brakes needed only to come to a complete stop. The bike is light and easy to throw into turns.

At stop lights the bike lightly pulses every few seconds just to let you know it is on, as there is no other noise. That makes it a lot easier to speak to the e-motorcyclist next to you. When riding there is some wind noise and tire noise, but overall the bike is remarkably quiet. Since I am someone who believes that “loud pipes save lives”, which is one reason I got louder pipes for one of my Harleys, the quietness presents a minor safety issue. E-motorcycle riders will have to rely upon other means to get noticed by drivers.

The S2 Del Mar’s seating position is reminiscent of a Japanese sport bike; supposedly the S2 Mulholland has a slightly more comfortable, cruiser-style setup. That starts to hint at the big downside of e-motorcycles: battery range. LiveWire claims the two S2 series bikes get around 110 miles on a full charge, with less under strenuous (high speed and/or uphill) conditions. That’s perfectly fine for being an around-town bike, a daily commuter, or for taking shorter rides, in which case you can prioritize control over comfort in the seating position. But 110 miles is far too low for serious long-distance touring.

A gray and black motorcycle resting on its kickstand next to a red curb in a parking lot, on a cloudy day

Harley-Davidson LiveWire S2 Del Mar

I have two Harleys, a Sportster Iron 1200 that I use around town and for shorter rides, and a Heritage Classic 114 that I use for longer rides and touring. The S2 Del Mar could easily replace my Sportster. It is priced a bit higher than Harley’s Nightster and a bit less than the Sportster S, so it’s in the proper range. If I was doing a group ride of more than 110 miles with other bikers on gas-powered motorcycles, I wouldn’t inflict my recharging woes upon them: I would just take the Heritage instead. But I am not exactly the target market for the LiveWire.

The LiveWire and other e-motorcycles are going to be most appealing to younger riders, especially brand-new motorcycle riders. Because the variable-speed electric motor propels the bike from zero to maximum speed without need of any gears, there is no shift lever and no clutch. This removes two of the five primary motorcycle controls, leaving just the throttle and the front and rear brakes. It is shockingly easy to ride: you just twist the throttle to go faster, and let up on the throttle to slow down, and apply some brake if needed. The only way to make it easier would be for the bike to read the rider’s mind. I foresee a whole generation of riders learning on e-motorcycles, then owning and riding e-motorcycles, and never having to learn or deal with a traditional gas-powered motorcycle with a clutch, shift lever, and gears. It will be similar to cars: I’ve heard that 99% of new cars sold now have an automatic transmission, and so few young people know how to drive a manual transmission that a car with one has de facto anti-theft protection, as few thieves can drive it away.

I witnessed three future e-motorcycle riders last night, after dark, while walking the dog. I heard a strange humming sound, saw a couple of moving points of white light on the road, and then three teenage boys zoomed past on e-bikes, whooping it up and having fun. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine these boys in a few years graduating from an e-bike to an e-motorcycle. The distinction between the two actually is somewhat artificial: where does an e-bike stop and an e-motorcycle begin? The main differences are top speed and how they are treated under the law.

I’m a believer in e-bikes, although when I was the age of those boys I would have been going a bit slower but getting more exercise on my pedal-powered bicycle. Now that I’ve taken my first ride on one, I’m a believer in e-motorcycles.