Big ‘lectric bike ain’t got no soul — Seriously?

My Brammo Enertia, at a local motorcycle show.

I.C.E. bike aficionados like to poke fun at electric bikes like the Brammo Enertia.

“Sounds like a blender, not a bike.”

“Dontcha need a lengthy extension cord when you ride?”

“How ’bout a race . . . with my belt sander?”

But last weekend, one particularly insistent acquaintance had this little gem to share:

Electric bikes don’t make enough noise.  They don’t have a soul, like my bike.”

A soul.  A soul? First of all, I want to clarify: this gentleman was not speaking figuratively. I know this because I asked him, specifically, if he was being literal, or just speaking metaphorically.  He knew what I meant, and assured me that he believed, in his heart of hearts (not in his brain, of course), that his bike, a particularly monstrous black and chrome-covered heavy cruiser, had a soul, as in, a certain spiritual essence that somehow transformed his bike into an animated being, capable of manifesting qualities such as loyalty, integrity, and determination.

Loyalty: “She’s always there waiting for me, just where I left her.”

Integrity: “She never lies to me.”

Determination: “If it hadn’t been for her headlight shining the way, I don’t think I would have made it home that night.”

In a world where some religions disagree about whether dogs have souls, how am I to debate this man about whether his motorcycle has a soul?

Loyalty: “Could Newton’s law have something to do with the fact that she’s where you left her?”

Integrity: “Could it be that she never lies to you because she does not have the ability to talk?”

Determination: “It was you who had the determination to make it home. She just provided the light, generated by electricity.”

It would serve no purpose, however, to debate the  vagaries of souls and physics with this man.  So, instead, I agreed.

“You’re right, your bike has a soul.  And yes, mine does not.”

He nodded, satisfied that he has made his point.  But I’m not finished.

“Your bike is a living creature.  And it feasts on the blood and remains of dead dinosaurs.”  A puzzled look came across his face.  “Well dead dinosaurs and other organic materials… heated and compressed over the millenia. Extracted from the Earth. Refined and transported to your local gas station.  Fed to your bike’s gaping maw of a gas tank.  At which point it consumes it hungrily.”

He shook his head.  “That’s not right.” But he had nothing else to say beyond that.

“So your bike is kind of like a vampire, sucking the blood of dead … no … wait.  Vampires need living beings.  A zombie.  Your bike is like a zombie because it can thrive on dead, decayed flesh.  Except that can’t be right, either, because, and I know you’ll agree with me on this, no matter your religious persuasion: zombies do not have souls.  They are the un-dead.  Their souls have departed and their bodies are left, re-animated by some weird super-flu or extra-terrestrial source, depending on which movie we’re talking about.

“But your bike clearly has a soul, in spite of the fact that it can feast only on the refined remains of long-since-dead living things.  I suppose for all intents and purposes, your bike is more like the car in the Stephen King story, ‘Christine,’ than either a zombie or a vampire.  Say what you will about that car, it had a soul and it would not be ignored.”

By this time, my new friend was mounting his steed — I mean, his mare; starting her up, and revving the engine, the thumping heart of the beast.  The sound, which shook the ground beneath us, was part of the problem that vehicles like mine were trying to solve–it took petroleum to produce that sound, and he wasn’t even moving forward yet.

“I’ll always prefer a bike that runs on gas, pal.  I get decent gas mileage with this thing so I’m not gonna change.  You can keep your electric mixmaster… I won’t be caught dead riding something like that.” And with that, he roared down the street, rattling the windows around me.  Maybe I need to change my approach. I’m not winning the hearts and minds of my fellow riders, that’s for sure.

After he left, however, a guy in his late teens came over and asked me about my bike.  “So, you just plug it into the wall?”

“Yep.”

“No gas?”

“Nope.”

He smiled. “That’s cool.  I gotta get one of those.”

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  1. #1 by skadamo on June 23, 2010 - 4:26 pm

    More proof Brammo chose the right evangalist. 😀 Good story!

  2. #2 by Susanna on June 23, 2010 - 8:43 pm

    exactly!!! As the Neanderthal roared off, the Man of the Future complimented you on having a bike that just plugs into the wall. Don’t bother trying to convert people who won’t be converted. I think Brammo and Zero are awesome beginner bikes, and have noticed a ton of my neighbors (who don’t otherwise ride) on these electric mopeds that are sold nearby.

    Electric bikes are the ideal starter bikes because it drastically simplifies the whole process of learning how to ride by eliminating the whole clutch/gear thing. So carry a stack of MSF cards or at least memorize msf-usa.org and tell people like that kid who’s probably never ridden how fun & easy it is! I bet the insurance is a lot cheaper on a Brammo than on a Liter superbike or a Hawg.

    • #3 by brammofan on June 24, 2010 - 5:47 am

      Hey pinky! I do recommend the MSF courses to people, but I need to get some of those cards. That’s a great idea.

  3. #4 by Domenick on June 23, 2010 - 10:06 pm

    Corpus omne perseverare in statu suo quiescendi vel movendi uniformiter in directum, nisi quatenus a viribus impressis cogitur statum illum mutare.

    I lol’d.

    • #5 by brammofan on June 24, 2010 - 5:45 am

      Or, as Ivar might ask, “Hvem droppet dette eplet på hodet mitt?”

  4. #6 by eric on June 24, 2010 - 1:36 pm

    Brammofan:

    A fascinating interchange. What I believe is that your acquaintance is confusing character with soul. Many machines have character, which has been defined in many, many different ways, but might be explained as a device that through its operation ‘communicates’ the presence of the of the creative human mind in its creation and operation, through visceral, tactile/auditory sensations. This action creates strong emotional attachments for many people, particularly those who have worked on or around machines, and understand their inner workings. In an age of rapid technological innovation and change, many people feel an urge to connect with the objects/machines they buy, often in a way that recalls a ‘simpler’ time, although this can also exist in products with very high technology (witness the strong emotional attachment owners of Ducatis and Ferraris have).

    Many motorcycle owners in particular are highly motivated by the ‘directness’ of experience that riding one offers, as well as the relative ‘honesty’ of the machines. The things you see are actually the things that make it work, for example.

    I believe the resistance to electic motorcycles from people of your acquaintance’s persuasion are challenged by their perception of the machines as ‘appliances,’ which function perfectly well, but don’t provide the same visceral experiences they’ve come to associate with motorcycling. It’s important to recognize why these attitudes exist in order to respond to them in a compelling fashion.

    I believe there is a very strong argument to make to these people, because I’ve traditionally been one of them. When I read Mark Miller’s comment about actually hearing the chase helicopter flying over his Isle of Man run on the motoczysz e1pc, while traveling at well over 100mph, I realized that this is the way to connect with at least some of the ‘traditional’ motorcycle crowd. Ask them to imagine being able to hear the birds singing, the wind through the tree leaves, and remind them that one of the most important aspects of riding has always been about connecting to the world around you. Electric motorcycles are uniquely able to do this in a way that we’ve never seen before; by being so quiet, they allow us to truly savor the beauty of the environment we’re traveling through.

    Wow, that turned out a lot longer than I expected, but I hope it’s enlightening.

  5. #7 by brammofan on June 24, 2010 - 1:54 pm

    That was really good, Eric. To me, this was a keeper: “remind them that one of the most important aspects of riding has always been about connecting to the world around you.” I was just thinking about that this morning, wondering if there was a way to reduce the wind noise I hear inside of my helmet, so that I am better able to hear what’s going on around me. Because, for the most part, that wind noise is the main thing I hear.

    In a strange coincidence, my brother just called me to let me know that he has just bought a Harley trike. He said he’s looking forward to going on a ride with me.

  6. #8 by Rat on June 24, 2010 - 6:16 pm

    Carbon emissions are one troublesome type of pollution. The noise that this fossil fuel burner put out is another.

    He’s a menace to all of us on two wheels, because he is the loudest voice. And his noise annoys.

    Fortunately the Brammo is a remedy for both types of pollution.

  7. #9 by Voyager on July 5, 2010 - 12:45 pm

    What I don’t get is why other motorised bicycle riders, when faced with ‘something different’ feel threatened and compare with whatever obsolete piece of historic machinery they currently have?

    These things are not mutually exclusive – sailing boats still sail, steam trains still steam despite hovercraft and monorails…..

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