The sound of a V4 could be heard in the distance. More than one and they were miles away. The spectators strained forward anticipating a flash of colour. The noise got loader and suddenly they appeared. It was the two silver Nortons in the lead followed by a gaggle of others. The sound was melodious as the gear changes echoed off the buildings. It felt like the ground was shaking. The engines almost shrieked as they went up through the gears, disappearing into the distance. Someone said, "The TT Zero is up next." "Yeah" was all his friend replied.

In a world where increasingly, people have to be seen to be doing "the right thing", everyone seems to be jumping on the electric vehicle bandwagon. If you don't make moves in this direction you will be perceived to behind the times, or worse still, uncaring about our fragile environment.

The FIM and Dorna have decided to play their part by announcing that there will be a MotoE in 2019. They have done their best to recruit all the out of work riders they can to pilot the new green machines. Seasoned MotoGP watchers are salivating at the thought. Compared to MotoGP, this could be like watching grass grow. It may be surprising, but I doubt it. The TT Zero e-bike event at the Isle of Man TT races hasn't exactly set the world on fire. I don't know about you, but contemplating thoughts of racing without the noise leaves me cold. More than that, chilled to the bone, an alien thought. Just like trying to envision bike competition where electricians become the new performance tuners.

Not only is it happening with bikes, but Formula 1 has been dumbing down their engines for years and now they've also got Formula E, which is the greatest event that nobody wants to watch. And what's more, they've also banned grid girls, bloody hell! They must have been exploiting them. This green energy political correctness and eco trendiness is rampant, but when it encroaches on your beloved petrol head culture, you tend to take it personally. Even Harley are in on the act with their Project Livewire. Is nothing sacred? They have even engineered in a sound to help the rider feel like their riding something with an engine in it. Virtual engine noise, is that our future? Best of luck with trying to convert their big twin owners.

It looks a bit like a MotoGP bike from a distance,
but the sound will be similar to what you are hearing now.

Looking at electric power from a purely logical point of view, and this can be difficult when you have a percentage of petrol running through your veins, you have to concentrate on the practical aspects. How well does it work? Electric motors are no problem, they have been around since not long after electricity was invented and are relatively simple and cheap to make. Electric bikes could be turned into silent missiles if there was room to make the engines bigger, but it's difficult because the other part takes up so much space. When you start looking at the other part, the batteries, that's when you run into problems. Batteries are archaic. They have been around forever and haven't changed much since day one. Sure, there're a lot more efficient than they used to be, but the basic design is still the same, it's just been refined. They are still big and heavy.

The batteries are a problem in more ways than one. They are one of the biggest, if not the biggest cost in producing an electric powered bike. It takes half a day to charge them up rather than a few minutes to fill a tank. You would be looking to get about 5 years out of a battery or batteries, if you're lucky, and this wouldn't necessarily depend on just mileage as batteries tend to deteriorate over time. Then you would probably be looking at a cost equivalent to an engine rebuild to keep the bike going. If you tried to sell the bike after about four years, you would have to spring for this cost or take a big dive on the resale. Either way, it's a big expense.

Until someone comes up with a new way of storing electricity, a new battery, we are still stuck with the long distance problem, without going into the power to weight one. There would be countless intelligent minds working on a solution daily, as the commercial rewards would be huge. I'm sure someone will come up with something better but it could be decades away. They've already been trying for more than a century.

And then we get down to the electricity. With all those nuclear and fossil fuel plants churning out our green energy, it's bound to last forever. And what about all those wind and solar farms, surely that's as green as hell? Well maybe the clean energy could be made sustainable, but it would mean a hell of a lot of panels and propellers, as well as trying to dam up any potentially hydro-electricity producing river in sight. And if the roads ended up being flooded with electric vehicles, there would be no prizes for guessing what would happen to the price of electricity.

I can't help but feel that someone is going to come up with some other form of viable energy source before the roads are saturated with electric vehicles. Honda, Toyota and Hyundai are pursuing hydrogen power but at this stage at least, it seems to have as many shortfalls as battery power. Who knows, oil companies may even have feasible options that they've had tucked away for years. If they did, and decided to bring it out when it was looking like it could be more profitable than oil, all hell would break loose. Politically incorrect on a whole new level. Time will tell.

Harley's Project Livewire

You have to wonder what the roads would be like in an e-world.
Anyone who has ridden on the road for any length of time, knows about this - a brain dead motorist will stop at an intersection, you will see them look straight at you and then proceed to pull out in front of you. Anticipating this, is one of the keys to survival on the road.

The jolly e-bike warrior would have new challenges to look forward to. It would then be not only "I didn't see him officer", but "I didn't hear him" as well. Load pipes save lives, any noise saves lives. And forget bikes for a moment, how many more road accidents are there going to be if there are millions of silent cars on the road. Some pedestrians are going to have a problem as well. As for silent driverless ones, you'll be picking yourself up off the floor after you've contemplated your chances of long term survival in that little scenario. And what a cop out for the car owner, "The driver didn't see or hear him".

An electric motocross bike could be handy

There are however, areas where electric bikes would make some sense. For those who commute in a city, the limited range is not going to be much of a problem and the bikes could be charged overnight. The lack of noise would not be so much of a problem as there is so much noise anyway. Not having to use a gearbox could also be good as heavy city traffic can sometimes be a grind. The linear power delivery suits stop and start riding better than a conventional engine. If you only use a motorcycle for city work, this would be an option, but if this is all you use a bike for, your missing out on the best part anyway. Electric powered bicycles make even more sense because pedaling was never much fun, and then there's the hills. There are also probably quite a few who would like the idea of cruising along listening to music in their headset without the sound competition coming from the engine. The local motocross riders could also blast their top heavy bikes around their tracks without having a guilty conscience about all the noise they are making.

Advances in technology may be able to overcome some if not eventually all the current shortcomings in electric bikes. There are a lot of small manufacturers who are innovating as well as the big players. It is a lot easier for someone to start up an operation building electric powered bikes than trying to develop reciprocating engines from scratch. It is also much easier to get reliable high performance from an electric motor. One thing that they will never have though, is that glorious connection between the living mechanical components and the rider. There will probably be a whole new generation that doesn't know about this and most likely doesn't care. The manufacturers would be counting on this.

The thought of having a high-powered electric bike to go for off for a silent cruise on, when and if the urge arrived, is appealing, it is a motorcycle after all. Something to be looked at as a different experience, rather than a replacement for the one you already have available.

Electric powered vehicles in addition to what we already have are something to be welcomed, the more choices and innovation, the better, but there are those who see a totally electric future with no room for pistons, gearboxes and symphonic decibels. This is dangerous ground!
Let the e-bike riders sail along in their silent merry way, but if the dickheads and do-gooders in the bureaucracy ever try to legislate away real motorcycles, it would be grounds for a revolution.

Written by Paul Harmon. 28-4-18

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