Alright, you grumpy old bastards on social media – no one is trying to pry your classic bike from your cold, diabeetus-riddled hands. No men in Tesla shirts are going to kick over your Norton Commando and tip your fuel down the sink late at night. But we get it. We’re reticent about the electric motorcycle as well. Even if we don’t vomit all over Facebook about it.
Because we love the combustion engine here at Return of the Cafe Racers as much as you. And despite our enthusiasm for the electric motorcycle movement, we don’t believe they’ll completely take over in our lifetime. And certainly not yours. But electric motorcycles will be de rigueur one day. Yes, they’ll need a range of 300km and a fast charge or easy battery swap. But they’ll shake the market up. It’ll be when people realize the genius of no moving parts in an engine. Of instant power delivery. Of truly programmable engine mapping. And most blessfully, no more idiotic Sisyphean ‘what oil should I use in my bike’ threads on motorcycle forums.
We believe in the electric motorcycle. As people who reek of oil and petrol and love tearing apart motorcycles and our remaining hair; we know they will be glorious. And that’s us; balls-deep in the custom scene and salivators of all things that suck, squeeze, bang, blow and spit. So take this article, our grumpy boomer friends, as a big totally-not-gay-hug and a quiet word of reassurance that everything will be alright. In fact, it will be amazing. For both the custom scene and the motorcycle scene as a whole. So read on, gramps.
Naked Body Shaming
We have to admit many of the custom electric bikes we’ve seen aren’t inspiring. Builders are just bolting a big-arse battery into a frame, taking some pics and speed-dialing BikeExif. But there’s far more potential to be unlocked. Think of the bodywork. That’ll be the defining characteristic of new builds.
Half fairing, full fairing or paired back unibody design — the possibilities are endless. With an electric powerplant, a motorcycle doesn’t have to look like, well, a motorcycle. Without having to work around air intakes, fuel lines, cooling systems or getting your fat tummy around a gas tank you can make whatever you want.
Hard edges, sharp details or big, sweeping curves… people will push boundaries. With textures, shapes and materials. And while the initial design process will mean longer lead times, replicas of customs you see on pages like these will be more easily accessible. Do you like the latest ride from ‘Insert Name Motor Co.’? Buy these six ABS panels and you too can have one to impress your friends and enemies.
So without physical restrictions, builders won’t need to look at other motorcycles for inspiration. Customs will be less of a rehash of the great bike designs of your youth. They’ll look to any element of iconic man-made industrial design. Classic cars, art deco steam trains, a MkIX Spitfire or Dolly Parton’s chest will all be considered.
The Next Generation
So the best custom shops of the future will have more in line with hot rod builders than motorcycle customizers. They’ll work with ABS plastics, talk shit about things like panel gaps, even lines, brackets and working with CAD. That computer-based world is scary. But you’ll be delighted to know that computers can be used for something other than spreading misinformation and looking at pornography.
It’ll be unlike anything you’ve seen so far. And a few people will rise to the top. They’ll be maestros who work magic with raw material. People like Craig ‘The Aluminum Whisperer’ Rodsmith. People with an eye for big, dramatic design like Winston Yeh from Rough Crafts. The best bike shops will have more in common with coachbuilders than those skinny-jean wearing democrat-voting sodomites you detest. It’s also likely the best custom shops of the future won’t be from your neck of the woods.
The Shift to the New World
That’s right, the age of the rich, western bike builder is fading. And it has been for a while. Take a look at our workshop location map. Sure, people in the developed world are bolting replacement tanks on bikes and switching wheels. But how many people are building components from scratch in your neck of the woods? I’m betting it’s between slim and bugger-all.
Fat with laziness and weighed down with USD, we’ve collectively lost the ability to make anything. In my country, we had a master of fabrication, Bernie Willett, who passed away three years ago. He could make anything out of aluminium. He was an artist. And when he died his skills died with him. Nobody has taken his place. Nobody here will.
But in the developing world, these lost trades are still being practiced. ‘Practice’ is appropriate in some cases, with questionable welds and materials. But they’re getting better every day. We’re already seeing some killer builds come out of South East Asia and South America. And those fellas don’t order their parts online. They make them from scratch. They form metal by hand.
Factory Farming Electric Motorcycles
In forty years time, a brand-new electric bike will be simpler than Miss South Carolina ‘07. It’ll be a battery, frame, forks and a swing arm and that’s it. You’ll be able to select whatever kind of bodywork you like, the dealer will clip it on and away you’ll go, happily gliding down the road on a giant plastic phallus. Or whatever shape you want. But this is where things get interesting…and not just because you’re riding an enormous nutsack.
The aftermarket will enable you to completely transform your electric motorcycle. It won’t be messing around the edges with tank badges, seat trim or a new headlight nacelle. You’ll be eyeing off huge, all-encompassing panels that will completely change the look of your electric motorcycle. It won’t be putting clipons on a factory UJM. A couple of thousand bucks from your kid’s college fund, an hour in the shed, and you’ll be looking at a completely different motorcycle.
A Clean Sweep
And the tidy little details on a custom build will be easier to achieve. For you, and for the pros. Processes that required more fiddling than entry to the catholic church will now be small, tidy and seamless.
Think of the cockpit of a motorcycle. The view forward. You’ll have no tacho, no clutch cable, no oil pressure light. You can do a lot of things when you don’t need old-world spaghetti hanging everywhere cluttering things up.
And with that extra room comes the option for extra doodads. Inbuilt, smaller screens, GPS options, music to pair with in-helmet audio. You’ll never have to go without Springsteen’s overrated slop ever again.
Think of the Possibilities
Hopefully, that’ll get you excited about the potential of electric motorcycles in the custom scene. But while we’re here, my irrelevant friends, a few words about electric motos as a whole. Just in case you’re still a cynic, here are some more broad reasons to tent your pants about the world you’ll likely never get to see.
I know you’ll loathe to give up your obnoxiously loud, obnoxiously tiresome engine. I know that because collectively you whine about it more than you whine about Millennials. And while we agree that there’s nothing as fun as opening up a screaming inline-four, a growling triple or thumping twin there’s something else that’s fun about riding motorcycles. Going f*****g fast.
Instant torque and mountains of power available from a standstill is nothing to be scoffed at. And while all the track records have slipped back in favour of the internal combustion engine, there’ll be more power available more quickly and more simply.
They’ll also be infinitely more tuneable. The pulsing power delivery of, say, a single could be replicated in the wet and when the heavens clear you could make the engine smooth as glass. Hell, they’ll even be able to replicate classic engine behaviour. Want to know what it’s like to ride a Vincent? Download that, plug it in, ride it around the block and remind yourself just how crap they really were.
And lastly, silence is, as you told us for years, golden. Deathly-quiet electric motorcycles mean more areas open to enduros. More possibilities for racetracks. Imagine the course you could set up in your neighbourhood without the NIMBYs scrawling letters to the council.
The Electric Light at the End of the Tunnel
So, dear friends, I hope this will set your minds at ease. Things will change in the years to come. And while I’ve been reticent about it in the past, I can now clearly see the future and some of the unrecognized potential it’ll bring.
Est. 2006 Return of the Cafe Racers is the world’s premier cafe racer focused website. They publish regular features on custom motorcycle builds, riding gear reviews, how to guides and event coverage from around the globe. If you’re a fan of cafe racer motorcycles and style read more at returnofthecaferacers.com