Is it ‘math’ or ‘maths’? The former is true in the United States, the latter occupies that position in Australia. But we can’t have that. Two words for the same thing? They need to be reconciled, obviously. But… how?

That is essentially the question that confronts physicists when they try to make classical, Einsteinian physics work with quantum physics. Not only can’t they seem to do it, but nobody even appears to have an idea of the direction in which they might find that reconciliation.

Side view of the Revatu Black Pearl. John Henry would have loved it. Could you?

I don’t share that problem with my ‘math’ and ‘maths’ parable. How do you reconcile them? Here the answer is with ‘mathematics’. And just like that, physicists in my opinion need to find the overarching physics that lies above the classical and the quantum worlds and contains both. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Easy to say, but seemingly impossible to do. Sure. I understand that. But at least it’s a pointer to an admittedly far more complex solution. That’s what parables are for.

Can we find another use for this concept? I think we can. How about resolving the supposed, but not perhaps necessary, conflict between internal combustion and electric motorcycles?

Being the well-educated crowd you are, you will know that Grandma Duck’s electric car from the well-known comics featuring the other Donald was based on a real car. It was a Baker Electric Coupe. Why did this ‘Aristocrat of Motordom’, which guaranteed freedom from ‘the Uncertainties of the Explosive Motor or Steam-Driven Vehicles’ not outpoint Henry Ford’s explosive Model T? After all, it was manufactured (and presumably sold) from 1905 to 1918. Therein lies a story, but let’s check out a bit of history first.

There is no shortage of modern steam bikes. Sadly, they are rarely practical.

It is often claimed that the idea for the electric motorcycle was first suggested by the very chap who first patented the concept of the motorcycle itself: Louis-Guillame Perreaux. He patented it in 1871. But he was beaten to the patent office in this case. Joseph Marie’s patent drawing of April 28, 1869 details an electric motor to power a “Vélocipède magnéto-électrique.” This is probably the oldest patent in the world for an engine other than steam to power a motorcycle.

And there you have the first battle for motorcycle production: it was the established champ, steam, against the, er, shocking contender, electricity. Steam was well ahead in actual use, so it was natural the first functional motorcycles were steam powered. As well, electric bikes suffered from the cumbersome size and unhandy weight of batteries (sound familiar?). But they sort-of held their own until internal combustion overtook external combustion as propulsion, and even later.

The production of electric cars peaked in 1912. When Henry Ford introduced the mass-produced and petrol-powered Model T in 1908, it presaged the death blow to the electric car. By 1912, a petrol car cost only $650 while the average electric sold for $1,750. Internal combustion cars also had a far better range than electrics (sound familiar?).

BMW Kunst has a few designs in the running for weirdest bikes; not bad looking, though.

Electrics are back today, and I won’t bother going into the much-debated advantages of petrol over electric and vice versa, mainly because a third contender is waiting in the wings: hydrogen. Does hydrogen make it easier to construct an overarching answer to the question of power supply for motorcycles? Is external combustion (the coal-fired power station that supplies electricity) better than internal combustion? That’s not just a choice between electricity and petrol.

Honda has a design for a fuel cell bike ready to go. I could not find any designs for pure hydrogen propulsion.

Hydrogen can drive a motor vehicle by internal combustion, just like petrol or diesel. Keep in mind, though, that almost all of the current proposals for ‘hydrogen’ motorcycles in fact use fuel cells. These make electricity from hydrogen, so the bikes using them are just electrics. True hydrogen vehicles burn hydrogen directly.

And yes, all right, I understand that mains electricity can be generated by renewable power sources. That same electricity can also be used to make hydrogen, with potentially less loss than transmission by power lines. Methods for separating hydrogen from water are being improved constantly. And no, that water is not lost. It’s returned to the hydrosphere when the hydrogen motor drives your motorcycle.

Interesting thought here. Our bikes are called ‘motorcycles’, right? Well, the term ‘motor’ applies to an electric device. Internal combustion ‘engines’ are not motors. Does that point to an electric future? Maybe we need to check with Nostradamus.

And yes, of course there had to be a silly suggestion…

Really, the overarching solution we are looking for in this three-way battle is simply the most effective, appropriate and ecologically sound way of propelling our motorcycles or ‘enginecycles’. And I suspect the reconciliation will be between electric and hydrogen. Petrol has too many problems. My suggestion would be that just as classical and quantum physics co-exist (albeit uneasily) so will electric and hydrogen motorcycles.

Hydrogen for long distance, refueling by ‘gas’ stations that look just like the present ones on mo… on bikes that also look much like the present ones. Electric for around-town and maybe even weekend blasting, recharging at home or your place of work.

And what, I wonder, will be the next form of propulsion that will arise to challenge those two? Can we… agree?




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