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What it's like riding Ewan McGregor’s new electric Harley Davidson

Jeremy Taylor
·4-min read
Ewan McGregor cruised from Argentina to Buenos Aires on his Harley Davidson
Ewan McGregor cruised from Argentina to Buenos Aires on his Harley Davidson

Ewan McGregor’s latest motorcycle adventure is an epic ride across 13 countries from Argentina to Los Angeles. Together with presenter Charley Boorman, the Star Wars actor travelled 13,000 miles through America in 100 gruelling days.

Long Way Up is currently screening on Apple TV+ and is the third in a series of global journeys, following Long Way Round and Long Way Down. 

This time, however, instead of choosing their more conventional, petrol-powered BMW GS motorbikes, the pair saddled up on the world’s first production electric machine – the Harley-Davidson Livewire.

The aluminium-framed bike only has a range of 95 miles on a cross country run, which made charging the batteries the biggest challenge. Finding a plug in the middle of nowhere proved almost impossible in remote locations like the Bolivian desert and Patagonia.

Harley Davidson's Livewire varies from the brand's traditional models
Harley Davidson's Livewire varies from the brand's traditional models

Livewire is one of Harley-Davidson’s most expensive machines at £29,000. The US company is better known for making chrome-laden, retro cruisers called Fat Bob and Fat Boy, fitted with noisy exhaust pipes and heavyweight engines.

Such bikes are the polar opposite to the silent Livewire, which recently went on sale in the UK. Harley won’t reveal how well its electric machine is selling here but Long Way Up is the perfect sales platform.

Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman take a break from their cross-country mission
Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman take a break from their cross-country mission

It’s hardly the wilds of South America but I’ve just ridden the Livewire around the Cotswolds and found it a unique experience. A cross between a sports bike and a cruiser, it manages to turn heads even without a thumping engine announcing my arrival in every village.

The electric motor is hidden in a torpedo-shaped block at the bottom of the bike, with a 15.5 kWh lithium-ion battery attached above. There are five riding modes, but tap Sport on the colour touchscreen and this Harley will storm to 60mph in just three seconds – that’s faster than most supercars.

The Livewire can reach 60mph in just three seconds
The Livewire can reach 60mph in just three seconds

If you are brave enough, stoking the Livewire into action just needs a rapid twist of the right handlebar grip like a scooter – this is an electric bike so no clutch or gears, it’s as simple as that.

And what makes riding the Harley so different is the response of people as you glide by in complete silence. There are no dirty looks, just a bemused smile from pedestrians used to an exhaust ear-battering.

The Livewire won't disturb pedestrians with the usual roar of a Harley engine - Josh Kurpius
The Livewire won't disturb pedestrians with the usual roar of a Harley engine - Josh Kurpius

The restricted range will trouble many bikers, although a 100-mile ride on a Sunday seems about right. It’s a similar distance to that offered in the Mini Electric or funky Honda e – although both of those cars actually cost less than the Livewire.

The Harley is great fun to ride and around town at lower speeds - its range can stretch to 150 miles. It’s also quick to charge the battery – going from empty to 100 per cent charge in just one hour.

The Harley-Davidson has usurped the BMW GS as MacGregor’s first choice - Apple
The Harley-Davidson has usurped the BMW GS as MacGregor’s first choice - Apple

Harley says more electric bikes are in the pipeline and other manufacturers like Ducati and Triumph are working on rival machines too.

While the Harley-Davidson has usurped the BMW GS as MacGregor’s first choice adventure bike, ironically the German manufacturer has just launched a machine designed to rival Harley’s retro style.

The R18 pays homage to the legendary BMW R5
The R18 pays homage to the legendary BMW R5

The R18 is a £19,000 cruiser that pays homage to the legendary BMW R5, originally launched in 1936. Long and low, the latest tourer is set to become an instant classic, thanks to a beautiful yet simple design.

Powered by an 1800cc air-cooled engine – that’s bigger than many cars - the R18 is so heavy it’s even fitted with a reverse gear. 

The R18 is fitted with a reverse gear
The R18 is fitted with a reverse gear

Thanks to the R18, BMW now officially has a boot in traditional Harley-Davidson territory, it just depends on whether you like to arrive with exhaust pipes blazing, or on an Livewire without a sound.

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