By Andy Goldfine

I sent the essay of Bruce Haedich to Andy Goldfine great thinker and creator of the Aerostich riding suit, classic and futuristic defence technology. With Andy I occasionally share ideas, thoughts and scripts that I consider interesting; he responded almost immediately announcing that he was going to publish B. Haedrick article on his pages and adding comments about it.  

I believe that Andy answer deserves a separate page as a contribution to the ongoing debate on motorcycling sustainability. Go till the end (the Post Scriptum) to fully understand the title and enjoy below Andy thoughts:

Paolo, thanks for sharing this very clever essay. It is fabulous on two levels:

  • Very creative. Clever and well-written.
  • Seems true. (I’m neither for or against ICE or electric vehicles, though.)

Every technological advancement adds a slightly heavier load upon the planet. There are no exceptions. The computer I’m typing this on maybe more energy-efficient, powerful and durable than the computer that proceeded it, just like the latest bike is engineered to be more energy-efficient and better overall than the previous model, but when every comparable is factored in, the total load on the planet is always heavier the newer the product is: A 1915 Ford Model T has a greater environmental impact than a horse drawn Studebaker wagon made of hardwoods and iron, and a 1965 Land Rover car has a greater environmental impact than the Ford T. It follows that a Tesla electric car has a greater overall impact than an old Land Rover. 

There’s not much we as consumers can do about any of this. We can consume and enjoy, or become a monk or nun and join a monastery and grow beans and apples and wear hand-woven robes and humbly ride old bicycles. Or we can become a newly born Luddite or an Amish farmer and pull our steel-bladed plough with draft horses. But as ecologically good for the world as those choices are, I’m not interested. I like convenient ice cream, scotch whiskey and pizza too much, and I’m not giving them up. Not to mention riding motorcycles as much as possible.

Life is about compromises. And being a hypocrite is unavoidably part of this package. Regarding actually protecting our environment, Greta Thunberg is at one extreme and most of the world’s autocrats, plutocrats, merchants, traders, technologists and strivers are at the other. Somewhere along this virtuousness spectrum and possibly not too far from the middle, is me.

When it comes to my own cars and motorcycles, I do my best to consume and enjoy what I: A) can afford and B) meld into my life with some awareness that there is no ‘free lunch.

My bike and car consumption values are expressed by having models which: A) tend to feature longish production lives, and B) tend to be on the ‘basic’ side of the spectrum of today’s available technology, and C) are comparatively more durable. Those values have changed little since I began my adult life as a worker and consumer.

It may not be a mainstream way to consume automobility. For example, because I mostly ride or pedal, if it happens to rain when I am inside a car, simply watching its wipers clearing the windshield is always a satisfying miracle. Computer-assisted driving (and everything else new) is great, but for me, all taken together the latest technology doesn’t beat the wonder of even the simplest one-speed windshield wipers doing their trick.

I am grateful to have, and deeply enjoy, the incredible wealth of two automobiles. One was bought new at a young age and is now 48 years old with about 105,000 miles behind it. It was manufactured in a series of incrementally improved versions from I think 1948 until 1984, and mine has never been back to an authorized dealer. The other I bought used (I’m it’s 2nd owner) at 5 years with about 100,000 miles. It is now 15 years old and has about 115,000 miles. This newer one is hugely better and far more high-tech: Fuel injection, disc brakes, climate control, power windows, etc. It is far safer, faster, quieter, easier to use and tremendously more long-term durable. But both remain equally enjoyable: One with its single-speed wipers and the other having several wiping speeds with multiple adjustable-wiping sub-modes. Both are equally miraculous for motoring through rain.

My bikes are similarly owned. One’s 1975 and another is 1994, both single cylinders, both Hondas. The 94 was also bought new, and oddly, Honda still manufactures this model, which turned out to be lucky for me because many important repair parts for the earlier 75 are now unobtainable. There also are two old BMW airheads with about 500,000 miles between them. Both were bought a couple of years after they were new, and both are now enshrined in dry storage in the basement of our home thanks to an incredibly understanding wife. And there are two ’newer’ bikes, an 03 Suzuki 400 DRZ and a 07 BMW R1200R. Both were acquired three or four years after they sold new to someone else. The Suzuki is (again, fortunately) still in production. I choose to attempt to do most of the recommended maintenance and occasionally required repairs for all these bikes except the OBD-ported fuel-injected 07 BMW. Partly because I’ve always been nearer the hammer-and-pliers end of the mechanic spectrum than the engineering-degreed race-tuning technician end, and because I’m running out of time to invest in learning new things, which forces a more careful evaluation of what to spend one’s time learning. I can always read a shop manual, and like everyone else these days I learn a lot (and get confidence) from infinite YouTube how-to-videos.

I consider myself fortunate to have these fine machines under my administration. By accident of birth location and historical timing I deal mostly with such circumstantial “first world problems”, and this is more than a cliché. When I’m thinking clearly, I’m thankful for each problem, no matter how intractable or difficult it may seem. And when it comes to the products my small business makes, and which I originally designed and continue to attempt to market and improve, I’ve taken the same approach. Make things that work well, are reasonably reparable, and which last a long time. 

Like nearly everyone I’m doing my best to get along with the people in my life and to take care of the world in the tradition of my birthright’s Jewish teachings, of which I know only the most basic elements. But it’s been enough.

The world we all live on seems to be a very ancient solar-powered organism or system, following actionable rules we have evolved an ability to somewhat formulate, share and use. And however imperfect those rules are, at any given moment they just have to do. I strongly suspect this situation will continue long after we and all our descendants are gone, and don’t believe interplanetary colonization will be financially practical any time soon, if ever. Regardless of that possibility all of us live in the here-and-now and must do the best we can with the reality we find directly before us.

The only thing I know for sure is that reality always wins. 

PS – The greatest thing which has been achieved during our lifetimes has not been putting a man on the moon or eradicating deadly diseases or the ‘green revolution’ which helped mostly eliminate large-scale famine. Or any of the thousands of other incredible technological and intellectual advances which have occurred during our lifetimes. No, humankinds’ single greatest recent accomplishment has been unwinding the DNA code, which for the first time shows indisputably how all humans are 99.8% genetically exactly the same, and finally proving that after all is said and done ‘race’ is merely another cultural construct being put before us by those who on some level or for some reason believe they have something to gain by doing so. It will probably take a few hundred years for this recent discovery to sink in everywhere, just as it did when the earth was eventually proven to actually be round and not flat, and (separately) that our planet goes around the sun, not vice versa. The coolest thing about life, from both a practical and a philosopher’s point of view is how reality always wins.