from Mr Subjective, master of Aerostich conversations at November 2021

Before we know it our ICE (internal combustion engine) motorcycles will be replaced by electrics. And not specifically because the bikes we currently buy only slightly contribute to the greenhouse gas effect, but more because they are too costly to make, too difficult to ride and too tedious to maintain. Even today’s most fabulous and desirable bikes will meet the same fate as old-fashioned steam locomotives. They’ll be appreciated mostly as inspiring historical relics which required too much cost and effort for so little power and result. 

Many younger people already view older long-time riders as “the last of a breed” (gearheads/petrol-heads or whatever…) and consider our beloved ICE machines too costly and requiring too much of an ownership and maintenance commitment. Future riders will aspire to own and ride electrics partly because of their far lower maintenance requirements*, magic-carpet smooth silence, and no gear shifting. Some of the future electrics will be a lot faster than the latest and fastest ICE bikes now available, too. 

Speed, acceleration, efficiency, and synaptic-level nimbleness are all core reasons for the enduring appeal of motorcycles and scooters. It’s just hard to believe that the accompanying sweet tunable exhaust noise, along with all the vibrations and acoustical harmonics which have always been such an integral part of motorcycle experiences, are about to fade into history just as the romantic and inspiring sounds of a steam locomotive’s ‘choo-choo-choo’ hissing and chuffing, and the piercing shriek of their steam whistles has. 

I’m already nostalgic whenever I hear (and smell) a passing two-stroke ICE bike “on the pipe” — the narrow near-wide-open-throttle RPM range when the engine’s carefully engineered tuned exhaust scavenging hits its perfect harmonic, and the bike crisply leans itself out just a tiny amount more as it produces maximum power. In some ways I’m not quite ready to feel that way about the sound of a four-stroke ICE engine coming onto its cam, but it probably won’t be too long. After it’s mostly gone I’m gonna miss that music, but future generations of riders won’t.

Two general ‘news’ moments during my lifetime stand above the rest: I’ll always remember with a kind of granular clarity exactly where I was when I first watched astronaut Neil Armstrong step onto the moon live (though delayed 1.25 seconds by the distance), and similarly I will always remember where I was when I turned on a television and first watched the terrible attack that destroyed the World Trade Center buildings in NYC. Seeing repeats of those two news videos will always stop me cold.

Though not comparable in significance or emotional impact, two motorcycle-business ‘news’ moments have also stood out. About fifteen years ago I read a press release from Honda (of Japan, not their USA distributor American Honda) announcing they were going to put fuel injection, anti-lock brakes and catalytic converters on every bike they made. EVERY model, including all sizes and types. As the years have passed, they’ve done this. From their cute ‘Monkey bikes’ to their best-selling-motor-vehicle-in-the-world, the C-50 Cub (now both are 125’s) to the luxurious Gold Wings, everything they produce on two wheels has, or will soon have, these technologies. That long-ago media release was Honda saying there would always be motorcycling, for at least for as far into the future as they could see. Some of the very smartest people in motorcycling and ICE engineering telling everyone they believed it was worth the huge investment to redesign their long-ago-paid-for and highly profitable products like the Cub. It was Honda telling the world there would be motorcycles for as long as there were people, and they intended to always have some of this business. This news could not have made me happier unless they’d have also added they’ll be giving these updated bikes away free.

Then there was the day several years ago when the late movie star Peter Fonda announced he’d hired the famous Sotheby’s (or Christies?) auction company to sell off all the props and memorabilia he’d kept from the movie ‘Easy Rider’. His ‘Captain America’ leather jacket and everything. This told me the market for Harleys was about to turn downward and that after their truly phenomenal thirty year run of success, from a struggling and near-bankrupt company to a $2 billion dollar plus ultra-profitable company which along the way became a global fashion-darling, that this growth, and the coolness of this brand, was about to start to decline. Which it has.

The actual tipping point from ICE to electric bikes has not happened yet, but it is coming. The elements of riding which are the most fun and important are not all the cultural constructs, fashions and socializations surrounding riding. Rather it’s the physiological, neurological, and psychological experiences of actively balancing and guiding the machine. Riding feels as great at 5 mph/8kph as it does at much higher speeds, and most importantly, the benefits to riders — and to the society which surrounds all of us — remain the same, too, regardless of what technology makes the machine go. So even though someday not all that far off it may be unfashionable and impractical to ride an ICE bike for transport, leisure or sport, there are certain to be multiple super-fast and/or super-great electrics available for doing just such riding. They’ll be more affordable, more reliable, easier to ride and require less maintenance than the best bikes of today. And even faster, too.

Many of tomorrow’s e-motorcycle riders will come into riding as a natural transition upward from a pedal e-bike just as they’d earlier moved upward to those pedal e-bikes as a move beyond their pedal-only bicycles. When they decide to become licensed motorcyclists, the transition from pedal e-bikes to electric motorcycles will have been notably smoother and easier than what most of today’s ICE bike riders experienced.  Pedal bikes have always been a gateway drug to motorcycles. Soon pedal E-bikes will be the gateway drug-of-choice to you-know-what. 

And the rest is history.– Mr. Subjective, Sept 2021

 PS – There’s irony in the fact that earlier technologies which are relatively more challenging to operate and maintain are often (and maybe perversely?) more strongly loved by their users and caretakers. In a paradoxical way people seem programmed to balance more difficult physical, mental, and emotional challenges unconsciously yet rationally with correspondingly greater emotional attachments and satisfactions. It’s inversely proportional — The more difficult something is, the more its seemingly valued. There’s a humorous eternal truth in the classic question: “Why do you keep banging your head against a wall?” and its inescapable answer: “Because it feels so good when I stop.” Future riders of electrics may not bond quite as strongly with those bikes as we do with our ridiculously and wonderfully antediluvian ICE bikes. Which I think will be ok. It will still be more than enough.
*I’m far from a good mechanic, but still find the process of working on an ICE bike an enjoyable challenge, and the results extremely satisfying. Setting valves, changing tires, balancing wheels, changing fluids, bleeding brakes, replacing or mending broken parts, tuning, farkeling, setting adjustments for best operation and much more. I’ve accumulated a mixed assortment of the necessary tools and have always been able to arrange a small acceptable space to do this work. I get into trouble occasionally and must rely on shop manuals, friends and YouTube videos for support. It’s always too much work, and not for everyone, but with the luxury of time (though not enough is available sometimes) it generally feels nice to be able to take care of my two-wheeled friend