Have you seen the line in the news that “31 percent of British motorcyclists would give up riding motorcycles completely if only electric motorcycles were allowed at some point”? Predictably enough, it’s nonsense.

Here is some background. In order to shift to a zero carbon economy, fossil fuel powered vehicles will need to be phased out. The UK Government announced a ten-year plan in 2020 which would see new petrol and diesel powered cars and vans no longer sold in the UK from 2030. There was apparently no mention of sales of second-hand vehicles. Also, motorcycles were not explicitly included in the ban, but they were probably just forgotten. London already requires motorcycles entering the city to meet at least the Euro 3 emissions standard.

Despite that governmental ten-year plan oversight, the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) launched a survey to find out how British motorcyclists (or not, see below) viewed a potential ban on the sale of new internal combustion-powered motorcycles like the one on cars and vans.

This classic Sunbeam S8 looks just like an electric motorcycle, doesn’t it? Maybe someone should use this design for an electric bike.

Predictably enough, motorcyclists (and possibly others, see below) did not like the idea. But there is some argument about what percentage did not like it, and how much.

The survey, which MAG admits is “not necessarily representative”, was answered by a total of 4,805 people: 1,575 MAG members and 3,230 non-members. The survey was supposedly “based on random sampling” but was a write-in survey and MAG has no idea who the respondents were. There is not even any guarantee that all respondents were actually motorcyclists. However, MAG assumes that “respondents consider themselves motorcycle enthusiasts based on the channels through which the survey was advertised.”

This poorly written and equally poorly conducted poll supposedly indicated that 31 per cent of people who may or may not be motorcyclists would give up riding “If the sale of new petrol-powered motorcycles was banned”. But here are the questions and answers. See for yourself.

  1. If the sale of new petrol-powered motorcycles was banned, would you:
  2. Stop riding when you are no longer able to buy a new petrol-powered motorcycle?
  3. Buy a zero-emission motorcycle when there are no new or used petrol-powered motorcycles available?
  4. Buy a zero-emission motorcycle when there are still petrol-powered motorcycles available?
  5. Not give a stuff and just keep riding your Ducati Pantah until it fell apart? Okay, I put that response in myself.

Here are the answers:

  1. (Give up riding) – 425 members, 1051 non-members, total 1476.
  2. (Ride petrol as long as possible) – 942 members, 1760 non-members, total 2702.
  3. (Early switch to electric) – 208 members, 419 non-members, total 672.

California’s Zero Motorcycles is making a major investment in the UK. Haven’t they heard MAG’s news?

This is being widely reported as meaning that “31 percent of British motorcyclists would give up riding motorcycles completely if only electric motorcycles were allowed at some point” which is not what the question says. It asks about not being able to buy internal combustion engine motorcycles – it says nothing about whether you could still ride them. In other words, these people would not buy new (electric) motorcycles. But they would presumably continue to enjoy riding their existing machines.  I mean, why wouldn’t they? How many of them would have bought a new bike in that year anyway? We have a very different result from ‘giving up riding’. Question b. also means something not unlike question a. with the only real difference being the introduction of used bikes.

You knew I was going to bring up Disreali’s comment that “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics” didn’t you? Well I’m not, so there.

But whatever the details and the true intentions of British motorcyclists, the overall sentiment is obviously quite strong and worth looking at. It will just take a better survey to establish some background numbers.

The gent in blue is billionaire Anand Mahindra. He will build electric BSAs in the UK. Hasn’t he heard the news either?

Meanwhile, what’s the problem? How well-informed are those people to begin with? It only took a couple of days on Harley-Davidson’s Livewire to convert the editor of my magazine, Australian Motorcyclist, from considering electric motorcycles irrelevant to “embrace[ing] the new addiction”. According to him, “it’s intoxicating… just let that electricity flow”. And I’m not misquoting him.

Stuart is a successful racer and a self-described speed fan. If an electric motorcycle can wring such an endorsement from him then it is not only fast but also fun, which means it handles too. What more do you want from a motorcycle?

Do you want it to deplete natural oil resources and contribute to air pollution? Do you want it to smell, and burst into flames if you drop it (that’s mainly older Moto Guzzis), and annoy the neighbors with its exhaust noise? Probably not, I’d guess, although I personally don’t mind the exhaust noise bit as long as it is short of actually causing terror.

Top speed, 215mph. Zero to 60mph, 2.2 seconds. Would you knock back a Lightning LS 218?

But you want your motorcycle to go a decent distance before it needs ‘refueling’, and you want that ‘fueling’ to be quick. Okay. I understand that. But a lot of work is going into battery and motor technology. You have to admit it’s getting better all the time.

So would you buy an electric bike if it had a range comparable to an internal combustion motorcycle, and if it took no longer to ‘refuel’?

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