Picture this, your buddies are dragging knees and pushing hard on their favorite canyon road, the familiar sound of inline 4 cylinder engines in everyone’s ears, then all of a sudden you’re there, no one heard you approach from behind and all they hear now is a bit of a high pitched whine. You’re riding an electric! Then someone else swoops in, this time the sound is deeper but different, and what’s that smell? French fries? A biodiesel sportbike. Could it happen?
Where does innovation come from when designers plan a new motorcycle? There’s a rush to innovate in the automotive markets and with $100 oil, it’s easy to see why but does it make any difference to the average motorcyclist? When you’re driving your car, sure, but when you’re out for a ride, not much.
In the U.S. and much of the rest of the world, motorcycles are not necessary, they’re fun but most people need a car and with $3 dollar a gallon gas there’s an obvious need to make the car affordable and economical. On the other hand, motorcycles use a lot less gasoline to begin with, an extra dollar or two on the fill up doesn’t have much impact on your riding frequency so the bike has to provide something else, fun, thrills, freedom, friends but unless you’re a very committed environmental activist, taking out the fun for the chance at a few extra miles per gallon won’t be very appealing. Besides, there are already lots of small displacement high mileage bikes out there so motorcycle companies trying to distinguish themselves as innovators need to look elsewhere. How about appealing to the desire to have something radically different?
Rapidly developing electric vehicle technology is probably one of the best bets for dramatic innovation while keeping the fun factor high. KillaCycle is showing how fast an all electric drag bike can be and there’s an equivalent 4 wheeler the Current Eliminator. Really quick all electric vehicles are pretty neat.
More people are seeing the advantages of diesel, too. I still wish the Thunder Star turbo diesel sport bike would move forward, that has some serious potential and I’m still not sure why a major manufacturer hasn’t tried that route. The VW Polo 3 cylinder diesel engine the bike is built around gets high praise, it just seems like an obvious move, but maybe I’m missing something.
The point is, motorcycles have no pressing need to innovate in the era of high priced gasoline unless the pumps run dry but why not innovate anyway, just for the heck of it? Automatic transmissions are nice and tilting 3 wheelers are cool but new fairings and graphics or a few more horsepower don’t mean much but if you can keep up with your buddies while riding an electric or diesel, now THAT would be cool!