“The motorbike is a very sensual thing”: will the bikers accept to lose their vroom? | Electric vehicles

The throaty roar rising from the boot stands was Flag Marshal Shane Adderton’s signal. The 34-year-old technician has been involved in the motorcycle world since his teenage years, and volunteering at Mallala Motorsport Park, South Australia’s racing mecca, has always given him a special thrill.

“When you hear them start and leave the pits, that sound is something you look forward to,” he says. “That note of the exhaust – the emotion it creates is part of the attractiveness.”

The vromage of the pits also serves a more practical purpose. As Flag Marshal, it was Adderton’s signal to come out and wave the bikes into place, pointing out all the dangers and dangers on the track.

One day of racing at Mallala, Adderton completely missed his signal. When he first officiated in an electric motorcycle race, Adderton learned a valuable lesson: he could no longer count on a deafening rumble of warning. “I didn’t even know the e-bikes were on the track until they passed me,” he says.

Adderton, a technical caddy, enjoys tinkering with his four bikes, but lack of understanding of mechanical workings means he’s not sure to add an electric model to his collection.

He is not alone in his reluctance. That throaty roar he loves so much has inspired not only art and culture, but thousands of clubs around the world full of dedicated people roaming the roads with nothing between their bodies and an internal combustion engine except one. good set of leathers.

But eventually these engines will become a thing of the past, and motorcycles must be a part of it. Global Market Insights estimates that the international electric motorcycle market will grow from $ 42 billion in 2020 to $ 56 billion by 2027 – but this analysis assumes increased government support and tighter emissions regulations.

Thyron Van Vuuren on a Voltron-Evo electric motorcycle at Queensland Raceway in 2016. Photography: Tony Castley

The sound of the engine’s silence

For such small vehicles, conventional motorcycles have an inordinate environmental impact. Although gasoline-powered cars are more polluting overall, they are subject to more stringent exhaust regulations than their two-wheeled counterparts, which emit higher levels of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and carbon monoxide. ‘nitrogen.

The quest for ever louder engines is contributing to this problem, with the removal of emission gears, a popular modification by bikers to give their exhaust systems extra resonance.

“There is something guttural and intense in [conventional motorbikes] that resonates through you, ”says Michelle Nazzari. “Obviously there are the carcinogens and all that you have to think about, but there is also a beauty to that. “

Nazzari was a little keen on oil herself, rummaging through farms with her two-stroke all-terrain motorcycle, but then devised a plan to make emission-free motorcycles while driving through Colombia in 2010. She co-founded Fonz Moto . company and these days its rides provide a different kind of thrill.

When she leaves her workshop in Redfern, Nazzari takes out one of her electric motorcycles and escapes two hours south of Sydney to Macquarie Pass.

“This is one of the best rides in New South Wales,” says Nazzari of the winding hairpin bends that lead from the coast to the dramatic expanses of the Southern Highlands.

Without the distraction of the engine noise or the chills, Nazzari says she feels more present in the moment, with the only vibration coming from the texture of the road.

“Having no vibration in the powertrain, you can really focus on the quality of the ride, without worrying about the clutch,” she says. “When you walk into real winding chunks, you can really feel it.”

Regarding the safety concerns of silent bikes, Nazzari retorts that the quiet engine means the rider can be more aware of the dangers around them. “You can hear everything that is going on around you and are much more present for that reason,” she says.

Social media feeds for the Sydney-based electric motorcycle company are replete with what Nazzari describes as “emasculating comments” about the lack of vroom.

Michelle Nazzari, co-founder of Fonz Moto with one of her electric bikes
Michelle Nazzari, co-founder of Fonz Moto, with her Fonzarelli NKD. Without the sound of the engine, “you can really focus on the quality of the ride.” Photograph: Dennis Lindsay / Style Rider Motorcycles / Instagram

“One of the questions most frequently asked by opponents is, ‘Are you doing one for men? », She laughs. “They’re just trolls I guess, with that masculinity thing around the sound.”

The comments turned from sexism and homophobia to a simple rejection of silence. “Fill that in,” read one person’s point of view. “I’m going to stick with my 2000 R1 which makes me smile when I hear it rev up… can’t be called a gasoline head if you like EVs.”

“Autonomy is a real problem outside the cities”

Boris Mihailovic, one of Australia’s leading writers on motorcycle culture, doesn’t think he’ll ever go electric. The burly, tattooed author of Altar of the Road Gods has been a vocal critic of electric models, which he says look more like devices than actual motorcycles.

“Motorcycles are a very sensual thing,” he told Guardian Australia. “I love the noise they make… The first thing a lot of people do when buying a bike is put the exhaust system in place and put on a more precise exhaust. Ducatis, Harleys – they live off the incredible hearing pleasure they provide.

Mihailovic, who advises Australian electric motorcycle maker Savic Motorcycles on how to appeal to true oil enthusiasts, says he personally needs “that connection between the dinosaur explosion and the throttle”, and believes that at least half of bikers will be resistant to the new technology. “Motorcyclists are generally an aging population, men aged 50 and over. ”

Manufacturers of electric motorcycles, he says, are therefore turning to the younger generations. Mihailovic suggests they’ll be more interested in the emissions side of things, as well as the instantaneous rapid acceleration offered by the electric. “The younger ones are happy to avoid the thunder and the lighting and just ride on the lighting without the thunder,” he says.

But a problem for many cyclists is the lack of charging infrastructure to facilitate the long-distance road trips so emblematic of biker culture.

“Autonomy is a real problem outside the cities,” says Mihailovic.

Michelle Nazzari on an electric motorcycle
Michelle Nazzari e-motorbiking: “When you step into real twisty tracks you can really feel it. “ Photograph: Mark Kolbe / Getty Images

Meanwhile, Australian Electric Vehicle Association National Secretary Dr Chris Jones says federal and state electric vehicle policies at best neglect electric motorcycles and in some cases deliberately exclude them.

“Governments have spent the past 30 years demonizing motorcycles as coffins on wheels,” he says. “The last thing they want to do is promote such small, efficient, traffic-free ways of getting around after demonizing them for so long.”

Jones is an electric motorcycle enthusiast himself and was one of the engineers behind the Voltron-Evo that dominated the Australian electronic racing circuit in the mid-2010s. the development of racers convinced him that Australia could have a thriving electric motorcycle industry if supported.

Jones wants to see state government grants available for electric cars extended to motorcycles and stricter emissions standards for conventional motorcycles. Others in the industry are pushing for the removal of the stamp duty – a policy already in place in ACT and New South Wales.

Whatever support electric motorcycles ultimately get, the open question remains whether bikers will be able to overcome the cultural attachment to the vroom.

Back in Adelaide, Adderton did not completely rule out getting an electric model. He’s heard that they accelerate a lot faster these days and could be good for commuting around town. Adderton is also aware that not everyone is as passionate about the rumble of engines as he is.

“I have friends who have bike paths in the hills and they make a lot of noise,” he says. “So yeah, I could see the electricity was good over there, you know – out of consideration for the neighbors.”

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