Let me make my understanding plain. I understand electric motorcycles are coming. Some are already here. Some are even being raced.
I understand that as far as the environment is concerned, electric motorcycles, and indeed electric vehicles, are the bright and shining future that will stave off the melting ice-shelves, pump water back into our dead rivers, succour the honey bees, and allow Hollywood starlets to feel #empowered – more empowered even than when Harvey Weinstein could no longer ask them for massages.
And all of this is important as Hell. And I care very much about all those things. I really do. But I will never buy an electric motorcycle.
I am not even interested in riding them.
Four years before Harley launched its acclaimed-by-people-who-need-Harley’s-advertising-dollars Livewire, it spent some time and effort flying journos in to try the prototype. I was one of those journos, even though I am not a journo.
A few of us rode the Livewire around the Sepang racetrack carpark, then maybe two kilometres up and down the track’s access road. And then we went home.
It was, technically, an exciting new development, for sure. And ultimately, one of the most soulless, unengaging, and uninteresting motorcycles I have ever ridden.
It was missing two crucial things.
It did not sound like a motorcycle. And it did not provide that critical organic feel, that vibration, that response, and hence connection to the power only internal combustion can provide.
Yes, I understand the “instant torque from standstill” thing. It is certainly there. And I still don’t care. Not even a little bit.
It’s like riding tinnitus – that annoying and often madness-inducing high-pitched whine some people suffer from. You can take all the torque in the world and throw it straight into the sea if the motorcycle fails to provide any auditory attraction.
One of the great and unique things riding bikes provides riders is the aural joy of hearing the exhaust note.
Harley, the very same company now hanging its corporate hopes on the whining Livewire, once tried to patent the unique “Potato, Potato, Potato” sound its Big Twin engines made at idle.
It knew perfectly well what attracted customers to its big, clunky, poorly-braked, and ill-handling bikes. I’m willing to bet very few people will be rushing out to purchase a $40,000 Livewire.
And not one of those very few people will be a person who truly delights in riding motorcycles. I do not want to ride a whining, keening electric bike.
Not now and not ever. And I won’t change my mind about it.
I do not want to ride a bike that doesn’t tell me it’s alive via the handlebars – at idle, or at speed, or when I’m down-changing like a fiend into a savage corner. Especially then.
No less a personage than BMW’s Development Director, Klaus Frölich, gets it. He said at a recent European industry event:
“There are no customer requests for BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles). None. There are regulator requests for BEVs, but no customer requests. If we have a big offer, a big incentive, we could flood Europe and sell a million (BEVs). But Europeans won’t buy these things.”
And it’s not only Europeans.
I’m thinking the only people who will buy electric motorcycles (or indeed cars), are people for whom such a vehicle is merely transport.
No-one who enjoys the visceral, primal, atavistic joy of the ride, and who rides for the sheer thrill and pleasure the ride provides, will ever buy one. No matter how much torque these things make.
The only other people who will buy one are those who are forced to do so through government legislation. Klaus said as much. The only people who want electric vehicles are legislators.
And they only want them because they think it makes them sound all environmentally ‘woke’, and it’s just too hard (read: economically damaging to the government’s big-business buddies) to stop mining coal, stealing water, or clear-felling forests.
Let’s instead, and again, place the onus on the poor consumer and make it his business to be environmentally helpful, and make him buy an electric vehicle.
Which is the only time I will buy one. When I am forced to do so. When there is no other alternative except being jailed as a dissident. And maybe even not then.
That is several decades away in real terms. So I probably won’t live long enough to have to surrender in that way.
In the meantime, no force on earth will compel me to buy or own or even have any real interest in riding an electric motorcycle. Because it’s not a motorcycle. It’s an appliance.
Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.
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