Electric bikes – The missing senses

Phil Hall asks what truly makes a motorcycle, and whether electric bikes are capable of the same experience
Electric Bike race start
Electric Bike race start

Some time ago I wrote about electric bikes. The article got a very interesting response, all very polite but mostly with the unstated meaning that I was a crusty old fart who needed to get with the times (I, of course, am).

The suggestion was that I didn’t really know what I was talking about and that, if I were to ride an electric bike, I may change my mind.

Well, I’m sorry but I don’t believe I will. If you’ve ever been in a discussion about racing with someone, you’ll know what I mean.

“Well, what would you know, you’ve never raced,” is the last refuge of someone who knows that you’re right but can refuse to admit that you are on the basis of having experienced something you haven’t.

Of course, it is nonsense, as someone said on TV the other day, “I’ve never fallen off the Empire State Building but I don’t need to do so to know that it’s going to kill me.”

Moto Expo Melbourne - Harley Davidson Electric Livewire
Harley Davidson Electric Livewire

So, thank you for the offer, but I’ll pass. You see, electric bikes are a crock. They are an experiment in social engineering that is based on emotional blackmail.

Electric bikes are the Emperor’s New Clothes. Everybody knows that the king is naked but nobody is game to say so for fear of being seen as out of step with what the rest of society thinks is great.

Why is this so? Well, I detailed many of the reasons in my previous article, but the bottom line is that they are the answer to the question that nobody asked.

They are the motorcycle manufacturers’ attempt to be seen to be environmentally friendly, to save the planet, to be “green” etc, yada, yada, yada.

All of this is firmly rooted in the increasingly discredited theory of Global Warming. The name has been changed of late, as you’ve probably noticed because real science has shown that the earth isn’t really warming at all due to human activity as Gore and his band of charlatans predicted (but, of course, Gore et al made a parcel of money out of the scam while the party lasted).

No, it’s not Global Warming any more, it’s “Climate Change” and, in the name of this tissue of lies billions of dollars are being wasted to save us from ourselves.

Victory Empulse TT Electric Motorcycle
Victory Empulse TT Electric Motorcycle

Of course the movement has reinvented itself on safer ground this time. It was altogether too easy to say that the planet was warming, but it was impossible to prove, so, let’s stick with a premise that can be proved, shall we?

The climate is changing, and we are to blame. Note the very clever way that the alarmists have linked two concepts and made them one. If you unlink them, the dishonesty is clear.

Of course the climate is changing, it always has and it always will, that is proveable. But we are to blame? Well, that is not proveable, but it can be asserted and many will believe it.

Josef Goebells, Hitler’s Propaganda minister put it this way, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

A number of riders got involved in some racing action on Thursday before the on-track action officially starts in Japan as they took part in an electric mini bike race.
Japan – electric mini bike race.

So electric bikes, and vehicles in general, are being developed based on the conviction that, if we change over to them from the horrible, polluting and environmentally irresponsible internal combustion engine we will be doing our bit to save the world for future generations.

As I said, the fundamental here is emotional blackmail of a highly sophisticated variety. Don’t get on board and you are an environmental terrorist, hell-bent on destroying the planet and leaving an environmental wasteland for our successors.

I have absolutely no doubt that, in a century from now, our descendents will look back on the Climate Change con job and laugh at how gullible we were. But that is then, this is now.

Apart from being a maverick who is unwilling to fall in line just because I am told that I need to, I have a problem with electric bikes that has an emotional basis rather than a scientific one.

It is that an electric bike (I refuse to call them motorcycles, by the way, for reasons that should be obvious) is missing some of the fundamentals that first attracted us when we decided to ride a motorcycle. Let’s look at those factors.

Victory Empulse TT Electric Motorcycle
Victory Empulse TT Electric Motorcycle

Riding a motorcycle allows you an intimate contact with the environment around you; there is a feeling of excitement when you tip a bike into a corner that you can’t get with a car. There is an element of danger that most of us find attractive to a lesser or greater degree.

The performance of a motorcycle is better than almost all cars on the road and the “bang for your buck” factor vastly, immeasurably, exceeds what even the best supercar can deliver.

Motorcycles are versatile, nimble, able to go places that a car can’t go and they confer upon the rider a sense of superiority over one’s fellows that can only be experienced by actually getting on and riding one.

In short, motorcycles provide a unique and satisfying experience that can be experienced in or on no other vehicle. That is why we love riding so much.

And, to be fair, an electric bike can provide all of those experiences, but it still falls short and the areas where it does fall short strike at the very foundation of why we ride.

Victory Motorcycles TT Zero Electric Prototype - Lee Johnston
Victory Motorcycles TT Zero Electric Prototype

While efforts are being made (and quite successfully, too) to increase the range of electric vehicles (the distance they can travel before having to be recharged) they are still inadequate when compared to a motorcycle.

A motorcycle can “recharge” at the petrol pump in a matter of minutes and the rider can be on his/her way. A long and tedious recharging process is what faces the rider of an electric bike.

I am certain that manufacturers will eventually solve this problem also (throw enough money at a problem and you’re eventually going to develop a fix for it) but it is still hardly satisfying or sensible.

But that issue is still not as serious as what is missing in an electric bike and what is missing is feeling. Those who have ridden them say that the acceleration is amazing, a linear thrust of power that starts at zero “revs” and keeps delivering.

Who could fail to be impressed with that? But what is the rider doing while this is taking place? Well, he’s not changing gear for a start because the bike doesn’t have any gears. He’s not involved in the process of the progress, he (or she) is just turning on a switch.

Mugen Zero TT machine
Mugen Zero TT machine

And what is happening while this forward progress is taking place? Well, it’s hard to say because there are precious few auditory clues to let the rider know.

The element of noise is basically missing. Now, whether you subscribe to the ‘loud pipes save lives’ philosophy or not, (I don’t), the fact is that motorcycling is such an auditory experience.

When any group of motorcyclists gather the game of ‘name the bike that’s coming from its exhaust note’ is either played out in public or in the riders’ heads.

Electric bikes are silent (or virtually so). There is a safety aspect here too. While loud pipes do not save lives, per se, the noise that a motorcycle makes is an auditory clue to others around that a motorcycle is in the vicinity.

I was loaned an electric PUSH bike for a race meeting early this year. What a fabulous little flivver it was. It allowed me to zip around the pits and surrounds with minimal effort by me and it saved me heaps of pain in my game leg. But I found that it was diabolical when around people because they simply didn’t hear me coming.

Now, about noise, let’s look at motorcycle sport for a moment. Yes, they are already racing electric bikes. I wonder what the experience is for the spectators sitting in the stands? Somehow seeing a silent bike whizzing by is likely to be less than satisfying compared to Dovi belting past at 340km/h on the Ducati?

Josh Hill, Alta electric motorcycle
Alta electric motorcycle

Now someone is going to say that the problem of an electric bike’s silence can be easily solved by using the electronics to synthesise the noise that a real bike makes. Of course it can be, but where’s the honesty in that? It is like eating a plastic chicken because it looks like a real one and it’s equally dissatisfying.

And there’s more. In 1985 a friend convinced me to go to a drag race meeting at Willowbank. It was an all-bike meeting so I guess he thought I’d be interested. Now, despite a history of interest in drag racing that went back to my early teen age, I’d never had any desire to see an event where the race was over in under 10-seconds and you didn’t turn corners.

Nevertheless, to be gracious I accepted the invitation and went along. Boy, am I glad I went. Top Fuel was the featured category and the star on show was “Pommie” Pete Allen on “The Warlord” drag bike.

Talk about blow me away, I thought it actually would! It wasn’t just the noise though, that was incredible enough, it was the feeling. Top Fuel bikes are visceral, they are 7.9 on the Richter Scale; they take your body and pound it to submission and that’s just for the spectators.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to actually ride one. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had in motorcycling.

But electric bikes don’t have that raw, aggressive, dangle you over the jaws of hell persona. They are silent, efficient and basically soulless.

With presenting the experimental vehicle eRR BMW Motorrad goes one step forward and shows the possibilities of an all-electric drive in a supersport motorcycle. Regarding design and chassis technology the eRR leans on the supersport motorcycle S 1000 RR, however using an all-electric drive.
Experimental vehicle eRR BMW Motorrad. The eRR is based on the supersport motorcycle S 1000 RR, using an all-electric drive.

If you will, try this experiment. Call up a really exciting motorcycle race video on YouTube and watch it with the sound muted. Crazy? Yes, but it sort of conveys the point I’m trying to make.

You will miss completely the sound of the racing and find (I’m sure you already know) how much the noise is an integral and essential part of the experience.

You will also note (you may not have thought of this) that the rumbling that you get from your computer’s sound system (especially if you have a decent set of speakers) is also missing. It’s not just silent, but it’s smooth. Then ask yourself, “Is this what I really want in a motorcycle?”

The missing senses that make an electric bike not a motorcycle cannot be synthesised. Only an internal combustion engine can do that, and, for that reasons as well as a philosophical one, I remain unconvinced about electric bikes and will continue to call them bikes rather than motorcycles.

There is a satisfaction that a motorcycle provides that, at this stage, only a motorcycle can provide.