Motorcycles

Survey: 31% of UK motorcyclists would quit riding if forced to go electric

Survey: 31% of UK motorcyclist...
No gasoline? We quit, say 31% of UK motorcyclists in a new survey from the Motorcycle Action Group
No gasoline? We quit, say 31% of UK motorcyclists in a new survey from the Motorcycle Action Group
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Some of this result can be attributed to a poorly worded survey question
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Some of this result can be attributed to a poorly worded survey question
No gasoline? We quit, say 31% of UK motorcyclists in a new survey from the Motorcycle Action Group
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No gasoline? We quit, say 31% of UK motorcyclists in a new survey from the Motorcycle Action Group

In order to shift to a zero carbon economy, fossil fuel powered vehicles will have to be phased out. The UK Government announced last year that new petrol and diesel powered cars and vans will no longer be sold in the UK from 2030, a target that only Norway expects to beat with its own ban starting in 2025.

Motorcycles have not been explicitly included in the ban, but a UK rider advocacy organization has polled some 4,805 motorcyclists to ask how they'd react if petrol-powered bikes were restricted from sale.

The respondents were mainly enthusiasts, as opposed to a random sampling of daily commuters or license holders, so you'd expect to see some resistance to the idea. And indeed, only 8.1 percent of those polled would want the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) to immediately accept such a ban, with 36.4 percent saying they'd want MAG to delay it and 55.5 percent in complete opposition to such a proposal.

But when asked what they'd do if such a ban was implemented, a surprising number of riders – 31 percent – said they'd quit riding altogether when new petrol-powered bikes become unavailable, rather than continuing to ride petrol-powered bikes as long as possible before switching to electric (56.2 percent) or buying a zero-emissions bike early when petrol-powered models are still available (13 percent).

Now, some of this result can surely be attributed to the clumsy wording of the survey, as shown below.

Some of this result can be attributed to a poorly worded survey question
Some of this result can be attributed to a poorly worded survey question

But the overall sentiment stands, and it's worth discussing. Motorcycle riders – enthusiasts in particular – have some genuine reasons to resist going electric. When you ride for fun, you want to be able to pile on big miles in a day, while applying throttle the way my grandad applied butter and salt to potatoes.

Using current battery technology, a fast sports touring ride covering 500 miles (800 km) of ground would require several long charge stops, and I've ridden with plenty of riders who start staring daggers if somebody takes too long to smoke a cigarette. Bigger batteries aren't necessarily the answer, either; motorcycles rapidly become less agile as they gain weight.

Then there's the noise thing, which comes in two forms: "loud pipes save lives," and "I just really like the sound of my engine." As to the first, while nobody will ever be convinced to change their opinion, several studies have concluded that the "loud pipes save lives" meme has no basis in evidence.

A Romanian study earlier this year illustrated why; when a car's running its engine at ~2500 rpm with the windows shut and quiet music on the stereo, drivers simply can't hear anything, even when bikes with 110-decibel aftermarket pipes are revving to the redline, as little as 10 meters (33 ft) away. Here, check out the video, as if it'll make any difference.

Do loud pipes save lives? Now you have the answer!

As to enjoying the sound of a screaming engine, I can sympathize. Loud noises are exciting, especially ones that rise in pitch and volume accompanied by a rush of acceleration. The soundtrack of a roaring superbike or a thundering cruiser definitely adds to the adrenaline and the experience. On the other hand, you don't need engine sound on a single-speed electric the way you do on a combustion bike. You're always in the powerband, as it were, with big torque and acceleration available whenever you want it. RPM is much less important, so the sound is no longer essential information.

But to spit the dummy and quit outright, to give up riding altogether rather than have anything to do with an electric motorcycle? Way to miss out on a hell of an experience. The light bulb came on for me back in 2014 with the Zero SR, and the monstrous Lightning LS-218 cemented things for me: riding electric is different, but it's awesome. Without the engine noise, the vibrations, the clutch or the gear lever, there's a pure "you and the painted lines" feeling that lets you concentrate on precision cornering, enjoying super-detailed road surface feedback through the bike and a mammoth rush of speed whenever you want it. It's a different animal, to quote the late, great Kobe Bryant, but the same beast.

Energy storage will be solved, fast charging infrastructure will be rolled out, and combustion vehicles will eventually cease to be sold, however long that takes. The electric-only age is coming. It will offer performance levels even more extreme that what we've been treated to in the oil age. And if you're too hung up on petrol bikes to enjoy it, it seems to me you're only robbing yourself.

Source: Motorcycle Action Group

28 comments
28 comments
Daishi
This is a topic that I'm sure will ruffle some feathers but I will say living in the US that there is a level of noise where it's indeed possible to be heard. Some motorcycles are modified to be deafening loud to the extent that they will shake the windows in houses within a city block when they pass by. I find it kind of rude and attention seeking. If someone is so afraid of being on a motorcycle that the only way they are willing to do it is if it's so loud even the deaf know they are coming from a mile away maybe it's best for everyone that they trade it in for something they feel safer in. I am in love with the intoxicating sound of a supersport at high RPM though. When I hear them go by it makes me miss mine.
David V
I don't think many motorcyclists have ever ridden an electric bike. So the survey is pretty worthless.
Do the same survey with riders who have already ridden an electric bike and the figures will be way higher.
I've had the chance to ride the Harley Livewire and it's a bomb. Only the high price (35k€) stops me from buying one. I admit it's really a one-up urban machine but that would suit many. It's only time before we see more electric 2 passenger bikes on the market with a reasonable range. So when and where could I ride my 1944 Harley WLA...
Don Martin
And how many that currently are not riding would start if decent electric bikes became available and affordable?
Worzel
At my age, its a moot point. I dont even know if I'll still be in this world in nine years time. While in my youth, I expected to cover up to 800 miles in a day, those days are long gone. Partly due to traffic congestion, speed limits, and/or my personal strength and stamina. So I'll leave all such considerations to those who'll be affected by them, and good luck to them.
*Joe*
My '97 GSX-R 750 was my first new bike with a quiet factory exhaust, and I had lots of problems with people cutting me off and merging into my lane. About a month later I put on a slightly louder (not Harley loud) Yoshimura exhaust and it made a huge difference with people's awareness. I continue to put aftermarket cans on my bikes, and the thought of a silent bike is concerning because of clueless idiots in cars. And since I drive a car with the radio on too, I know you can hear bikes from inside them even if the bike isn't redlining at 110 dB. Maybe Romanian cars are just super insulated compared to others.
Catweazle
Back in 1964 at the Blackpool motorcycle show, the Lucas stand had two electrified trials bikes, a BSA C15T and a Greeves Scottish, with a small trials section on the actual stand and I had a ride on the BSA.
Crude by today's standards, power control was an on/off switch, but good fun.
That must make me one of the first electric motorcycle riders ever!
I still ride and own a 1950 Mk V Douglas 350cc, a 1957 Ariel Red Hunter VH 498cc and a 1957 BSA Clubman Gold Star 498cc.
There is no way an electric motorcycle will ever approach the appeal of any of those, especially the visceral feel and sound of the big Goldie as it comes on the cam and the inch and a half Amal GP carb starts to breathe around 4,500 RPM.
Yes, electric motorcycles may be fast, but they've got no soul!
MarkA
Loud pipes save lives. No doubt about it at all.
When I ride my Ducati with loud pipes I generally get a buffer around me of at least 50m both in front and behind. This in Belgium, where otherwise I'd have car drivers constantly tailgating.
jerryd
No one will miss them and their needlessly loud polluting machines that need constant care.
And so many new riders coming in as so fun, low cost, no motor to maintain the losers will be a rounding error.
I gave up riding ICEs long ago after getting tired of keeping the machines running, bad gas mileage and been driving EV trikes, subcars for 29 yrs now at under $1/day.
piperTom
I expect there will be a market for some kind of speaker for mounting on an electric bike (or car/truck) so that a deafening roar can still be had. As for myself, I'm an advocate of Quiet, so I will be looking for laws to limit such racket.
DavidB
I drive EVs and will eagerly replace my ‘19 Honda Rebel 500 with a reasonably priced electric motorcycle IF AND ONLY IF someone makes one that looks like a motorcycle. I despise the ducktail rear end of all existing e-bikes. If that’s the only choice, I’ll ride my Rebel until gasoline is no longer available.
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