Code Break - Electric Motorcycles - The Golden Age

By Keith Code, Photography by Adam Campbell

You've found this fantastic, deserted, smooth, twisty road in the middle of nowhere, transporting you to cornering nirvana. Carving the turns, glimpsing fantastic scenery, you're riveted and enthralled-until you run out of gas. So the question is: Would you have any better luck finding a can of gas by the side of the road or a power outlet to charge up an electric bike?

I haven't managed it yet, but I'm trying to come to grips with electric bikes. One day electricity-or perhaps hydrogen fuel cell or nuclear power-will rule. Intellectually I know they'll be better, quicker, more controllable, far less messy, certainly quieter and definitely popular with environmentalists. But is that really enough to make us love them?

We are in the golden age of internal-combustion engines. It's never going to get better than this. There aren't going to be any more startling technological breakthroughs. Sure, there will be refinements, making the engine safer and easier to ride. However, neither of those are the reason any of us started riding.

The barriers and problems of the past are just that: past. Horsepower? It's available in unheard-of quantities. How much do you want? Throw a pipe and a tweak on your 400-pound liter-bike, crank it up to 14,000 rpm and you've got 200 horses covered by a three-year warranty.

How about reliability? Going 40,000 miles on today's sportbikes is entirely possible-they don't even burn oil. Brakes, tires, suspension, electronics ... all of these things are space-age already. We've arrived.

Today, you can buy a streetbike off the showroom floor that would have been capable of qualifying on the front row of a MotoGP grid 10 years ago. Change the tires; leave the mirrors, passenger pegs and turn signals on if you like; strap a decent pilot on the seat and win on a bike that costs less than $25K. Ten years ago, a 500cc GP bike cost about $1 million to lease for one season. Nowadays, a MotoGP bike costs $3 million.

There were electric and steam-powered cars before the turn of the last century, but we somehow got hooked on gasoline. We're currently raping and plundering the planet for the stuff like a bunch of junkies looking for a fix. If you put yourself on the streets of America a hundred years ago, you'd have seen and smelled a lot of horse-puckey everywhere. No smog layer, though.

Yeah, electric bikes would be pretty cool, now that I think about it. It would be easy to get over not having to warm up a bike on a cold morning, or figure out how to hold back the gas nozzle's vapor boot to fill the tank without dripping on the paint. Having full torque from idle on up solves what engine-builders struggle with every day of their lives: broadening out the power curve. The Tesla e-sports car, for example, produces maximum torque from zero to 14,000 rpm.

The one part I can't reckon with, though, is the sound-or rather, the lack thereof. All gearheads love the sound of an internal-combustion engine. I can still get off on the six-cylinder 250cc Honda GP bikes of the '60s. Go to YouTube and listen for yourself. Admittedly, once I discovered earplugs my fascination with the sounds of gas power diminished. I do like it quiet-I'd much rather spend my attention on riding. Intellectually I can handle it, but emotionally I'm not prepared to give up having that snarl and growl in the background. Maybe I, too, am just a relic from the past, tweaking old ideas and waiting for the next engine revolution.

By Keith Code
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