Thursday, September 24, 2009

 

The all-electric motorcycle: Don't count on it


At least not for now.

As is my usual modus, allow me to preface a somewhat critical piece with a bit of balance: I have nothing against the concept of an all-electric motorcycle. Truth be told, I actually think it's a pretty great idea. In fact, I've often said that the day some very bright engineering and design team releases onto the market a 150-mile per hour, 6,000-dollar, all-electric motorcycle with a 200 mile range and a 10 minute recharge cycle, I'll be the first in line to buy. I mean that sincerely.

Unfortunately, that's not where the technology is right now. The average all-electric motorbike has a range of about 30 miles, a top speed of about 40 miles per hour, a recharge time of about eight hours, and a pricetag that'd get you a Hayabusa or Ducati race replica. And I won't even mention the costs associated with replacing worn out battery packs.

Yet, industry insiders and outsiders alike -- particularly in the mainstream media -- repeatedly represent the all-electric motorcycle as if it were a fully perfected, cheap, dependable mode of transportation. It's not. Far from it, in fact. In all but a precious few real-life riding applications, the electric bike is a generally useless purchase for anything other than helping holier-than-thou eco-mentals feel superior to their petrol-burning neighbors.

The way electric vehicles in general are marketed is partly to blame for the misconceptions surrounding the true state of the technology. For example, the Tesla Roadster, an ultra high-dollar, all-electric sports car, is marketed as having an almost 250-mile range. However, on the BBC television series Top Gear, the Tesla was found to have a range of only 60 miles. It was also noted that the 109,000-dollar car requires a battery pack replacement every 30,000 to 70,000 miles at a cost of almost $30,000.

All too often, these truths eventually come home to roost for the electric vehicle industry in for form of failure. Motorcyclist Magazine recently reported that the Vectrix electric motorcycle company is apparently on the verge of bankruptcy right now after pumping over 50 million dollars and more than a decade of R&D into its all-electric line of scooters and bikes. It makes one wonder if those who dropped 12 Grand or more for a new Vectrix will be left in the cold from a support standpoint should the company fold completely. And it's not just Vectrix. The list of financially troubled or failed companies producing similar products is considerable.

My aim here is not to trash the concept. As I said, it would be great if someone made all-electric technology tangibly viable, and I hope efforts continue. My aim is to make sure that you, the motorcyclist, are thinking critically so that you are not duped into a purchase you might later regret. Look to the realities, not the hype. Unless the buying public expects and accepts only the very best from the electric motorcycle market, it likely won't get it.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

 

Ghosts, memories, and the changing seasons


The first real nip of autumn was floating in the West Texas air when I awoke this morning. Summer is over now, and it won't be long until green turns to yellow, then yellow to gray as we move into the cold months.

The onset of autumn, for me, has always carried with it a certain somberness -- but more so this year than in years past. You see, I turn 40 this autumn. Yep, the big four-o. But as if that isn't enough to become introspective about, I also get the added bonus of having been laid off a few weeks ago from an Art Director job of almost five years which I absolutely loved. Sadly, it seems I'm yet another casualty of the lingering economic contraction. So here I am now, sending out resum├ęs and scrambling to prove my professional value to people I generally don't know, all as the hour glass of my life is being flipped at its statistical halfway point. It's a lot for me to process right now, I'll honestly admit. The whole situation has left me a little depressed, and whenever I get depressed, I sometimes find myself lost in the happier memories of my past.

A sizable portion of that nostalgia, as you might imagine, has to do with motorcycles and motorcycling. I think of the many bikes I've had, the trips I've taken, the friends I've made, as well as the friends I've lost to the ride. Honestly, I don't know if doing so ultimately helps me or not, but these flowing mental tapestries of the past are what I use as a cloak of escape from time to time when I need a break from my stresses and anxieties. So imagine my surprise when I found a thread on a local motorcycle message board by a kid who now owns the beloved 2000 ZX6R I sold a few years ago to make room in the stable for my Kawasaki 1200. Talk about memories flooding back.

The bike (pictured above with me when it was new in 1999) has not fared particularly well since I sold it in 2007, having changed hands several times. I could write a very long story on how I got that bike, how thankful I was to have it, and all the blessed memories I made while riding it alongside lots of truly great people -- some of whom are still my best friends, some of whom I've unfortunately lost touch with, and some of whom are no longer with us. The guy who owns it now is using it partially as a stunt bike, which likely means it won't be around for much longer if the videos he posted in the thread are any indication. It could be worse, though. At least it's still running and on the street for now.

I say that because my most pressing fear when I initially decided to sell the bike was that an inexperienced rider would get ahold of it and be killed in a high-speed crash. For a short while, I even pulled it off the market and decided to keep it. It was only when a guy named Toby (a level-headed 37-year old) approached me about selling it to him, that I changed my mind again and finally decided to let it go. It was disappointing to later learn how Toby sold it after only a few months of ownership, but these things happen. Motorcycling isn't for everyone, and I totally understand his decision to sell. Still, when I learned the news, a heavy sense of regret over my selling it was thereafter with me.

Via the video, it was a bit difficult to watch the old girl looking so banged up and being flogged, especially after I had spent eight years' time and money keeping the bike in mint condition. I thought of how clean I had kept it, the valve adjustments and oil changes I had given it, and the otherwise letter-perfect periodic maintenance the motorcycle had received. And now, here was some 20-year old guy wringing its poor little neck in a parking lot, cracked bodywork, noisy valvetrain, ruined suspension and all. I kept thinking, Get off my bike! You're destroying it!

But it's not my bike -- not anymore, I thought. And in the very next moment, I fully realized that I needed to let it go. Once and for all, turn it loose. It's not healthy to hang onto things in such a way. Whatever happens to that bike physically in the future has no bearing on the joy it brought me or the things it taught me. It's ultimately just a hunk of plastic and metal, and a material thing which -- like all material things -- will eventually go away.

Maybe that's partially what I'm struggling with over this whole 'turning 40' thing. Part of me wants to be 25 forever. But I can't be. None of us can. Much like with the times I spent riding my old ZX6R, perhaps I just need to hold onto the valuable things I gleaned along the way like experience, friendships, knowledge and wisdom, and let the rest of it go in preparation for life's next adventure -- professionally and otherwise.

George Carlin once said that life is just a series of dogs you own. If there's any truth to that, then for me, life has been a series of motorcycles. And that particular ZX6R was a very important chapter in the life and times of Tim Kreitz. It was, in a sense, my twenties and thirties -- the summer of my life, now past. And perhaps that's why I couldn't part with it emotionally until just today.

I enter the autumn of my life in the autumn of the year. Fitting, I suppose. I know the winter will come soon enough, but for now I suppose I must remember that there is crisp air, a clear sky, and plenty of riding still left to do. It would be a shame to look back in the coldest moment of winter's grasp and realize that I didn't enjoy, for its own sake, the natural beauty of falling leaves, graying hair, ripening pumpkins, and love and friendships that grow even stronger over time. I pray that God will grant me the ability to do this as fully as possible, and that I might also bless others in the process.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

 

Biker clothing that provokes cagers is a bad idea


There seems to be an alarming trend developing in motorcycle culture. More and more often, riders are wearing over-the-top gear and garb designed to attract the attention of cagers in negative ways. The shirt pictured at right is a good example. Or should I say, a bad example?

As motorcyclists, we all get frustrated with cagers from time to time, especially this time of year. They cut us off, encroach on our lanes and space, tailgate, and a myriad of other offenses which can result in mishap. But in my opinion, we cross the line when we wear offensive language or symbols intended as some watered-down form of retaliation. It's a poor idea for many reasons.

I know few experienced riders who would recommend doing anything that could potentially result in provoking a cager. You won't ever win against a car or truck, no matter how tough your shirt implies you to be. For the frustrated **** shoveler in the '82 Chevette behind you who is on his way home from his worst day of work ever, an inflammatory message on your shirt could be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back.

Moreover, wearing this kind of stuff does more to make us look bad than it does them. We're the ones who appear lesser in intelligence and common sense, no matter how effectively the garb actually does deter the probability of going unnoticed by the average inattentive driver.

Studies have shown that the two things which make a rider most visible (aside from proper lighting) are bright-colored safety gear and retro-reflective material such as decals or tape. If you've never seen how retro-reflective decals work at night, you'd be amazed. They can actually be more effective than a bike's own lighting on some models. In any case, it's a much better method for making your presence known than by intentionally trying to piss people off.