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Batteries not included

By Terry Roorda

With Christmas right around the corner I know many of you are stressing out about what to get me for a present, and I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that—as I’ve pointed out repeatedly in the past—you really can’t go wrong if you stick to the three B’s: Bikes, Books and Booze. Those remain my three principal areas of interest and I’m only pointing that out again because some of you got confused last year and sent me gift cards for Bed, Bath and Beyond. Pay attention, people.

Some additional clarification is called for this year, however, and it has to do with the Bikes gift category. While pretty much anything relating to bikes makes a thoughtful gift for me, there’s one glaring exception: Don’t buy me an electric motorcycle. I really don’t want one, and I don’t make that assertion lightly. I realize electric bikes are all the rage of late, garnering beaucoup coverage in the moto-media and making high-profile appearances at the drag strip, salt flats and even the Isle of Mann TT. I also realize they’re ostensibly a green transportation solution, and I’m all for going green wherever practical, and on top of it all, the major players in the emerging E-motorcycle phenomenon are American companies and we at Thunder Press are devoted entirely to the homegrown motorcycle market and culture. So my natural inclination is to embrace the genre and cheer it on, but I just can’t. The things leave me cold, and that’s because, try as I may, I can’t get past the mode’s critical shortcomings, which are two.

The first seemingly insurmountable failing of the current crop ofE-machines is their ludicrously short cruising capacity which, generally speaking, is in the 25 to 60-mile range. That’s laughable. Fully charged, these bikes can’t travel any farther than a Sportster running on reserve, and unlike that Sportster, when you’re out of juice you’re pretty much screwed unless you’ve carefully planned your outing to end up back at the house or at an electrical outlet somewhere where you can expect to spend upwards of four hours topping off the batteries. Sounds like fun, no?

I actually have some sense of what that’s like in practice, and not because I’ve ever ridden an electric motorcycle, but because I’ve ridden with a buddy whose XLCR’s charging system had crapped out. That was back in the ’80s when a group of us were heading up to the Redwood Run on Friday night, and my buddy Terry (no relation) realized his beloved CR was running on battery power—again. It wasn’t the first time his charging system had pooped the bed, and he’d come prepared for it, packing a fat battery charger in his tank bag and plugging it in at every bar stop. Between bars, we closed ranks around him so he could run without lights, and after every recharging session we’d bump start the bike to avoid using the starter. It worked out pretty well, and wasn’t really an inconvenience since we always stopped at every bar anyway, and spent a good hour or so at each. We covered the 135 miles up to the run in about six hours, which was about average for us—and about the same time it would take to do it on the best of the current electric offerings. Reflecting back on it now, I realize that that XLCR was arguably the first plug-in hybrid. Who knew AMF was so far ahead of the times?

The other critical shortcoming of the electric breed has to do with the hot-button issue of motorcycle noise emissions—the E-machines don’t generate any. They’re no louder than a golf cart, but they’re street-legal, a lot faster and a lot less conspicuous, and that presents safety issues for both the operator in vehicular traffic and for pedestrians in the urban settings where these bikes are most likely to find use. The issue of hybrid cars’ silence is already a big deal, as the peril they present to pedestrians—especially the vision-impaired—has begun edging out the loud pipes complaints as the whine du jour of the meddlesome. And in the case of a motorcycle, it’s not just the pedestrian who ends up getting creamed in a collision.

None of which is to suggest that I can’t envision situations where it would be advantageous to be able to zip around silently at high speeds, but they all involve illicit activity or, at least, serious mischief. (Stealing up behind road-hog bicyclists with an aerosol boat horn, for example, and watching them load up their Spandex.)

Fortunately, unlike the stunted cruising range of battery-powered bikes, their low-dB problem is solvable. The solution, in fact, was devised way back in 1963 by Mattel. That was the year they introduced the awesome V-RROOM Hot Rodder Engine with its little dashboard, keyed ignition and baby thumper featuring “Real Motor Roar,” to a generation of aspiring motorheads; the same generation that ended up riding Harleys with deafening exhaust pipes. Go figure. The V-RROOM was the coolest thing I’d ever seen when I was 10 years old, and though I never owned one because the $4.39 asking price was too rich for Santa’s blood, I wanted one so desperately I ached. I still do. You can find them on eBay. Hint, hint.

It’s all right here in the diaries.

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