Consider smoking. Not long ago – let’s say a decade – it was perfectly acceptable to smoke in many restaurants and bars in The Netherlands. There wasn’t much choice – there’d be smoke everywhere on a night out. And that didn’t bother me at all. Only since restaurants and bars largely banned smoking I learned to appreciate the absence of smoke. Suddenly your clothes don’t smell, no coughing, no temptation to smoke yourself. You can focus more on foods and drinks. Without smoking it’s just better – we’ll never go back to a smoking society (which doesn’t mean that smoking will or should be banned completely – I like to smoke myself once in a while – but it can persist as a niche).

The author preparing for bike ride at ZERO motorcycles in Scotts Valley. Photo: Peter van Deventer / Coast to Coast

The author (middle) preparing for bike ride at ZERO motorcycles in Scotts Valley. Photo: Peter van Deventer / Coast to Coast

Zen and the art of zero motorcycles

On my last day in California, I drove from San Francisco to Scotts Valley, uphill from the laid back surfing town of Santa Cruz. At the company headquarters I had the chance to interview Jay Friedland, a long time electric car advocate and vice president of ZERO motorcycles – a leading electric motorbike company – for my new book. Then, I went for an electric ride. From the first moment I understood it: the elegance of electric motorcycles. There was no noise, just the faint whine of the electric powertrain – and the wind. We rode into a forest, and I could hear birds chirp and leafs rustle. The silence reminded me of running, or walking in the woods. And it wasn’t just for the absence of noise I was paying more attention: since I didn’t have to shift gear in most corners and renegerative breaking (during which the battery recharges) kicks in when I release the power handle, the riding experience was so simple I could focus on other things.

Noise enthusiasts

Think about noise and exhaust fumes from cars and motorbikes and scooters. We accept it, because we’ve never been exposed to a world without it. I’ve owned and ridden a 1991-built, four stroke, 750cc Honda Nighthawk for the past eight years and I’ve never really thought about the noise. This has changed. Just as I’d never want to go back to a world where smoking is the norm, I now feel like I’ve been to the electric future – and want to get there as fast as possible. Perhaps, just as we did with smoking, we’ll come to think of combustion engines as inappropriate. This doesn’t mean they’ll be completely banned however. Noise enthusiasts will probably cling to their Harley’s and Ferrari’s – and I don’t blame them – but they will be banned to the perimeters of civilization. And perhaps, just as with smoking, the first people who quit may not be so cool. I’ll take that risk: I’m selling my Honda.




4 thoughts on “ZERO motorcycles: the sound of silence

  1. I’m with you on the silence of the electric bike. But I have to admit I will miss, just a little, the noise of an engine. It’s only because I grew up around it though.

    I suspect in 20 or 30 years the bike riders will expect bikes to be mostly quiet and noisy cars and bikes will be as you say a niche product.

  2. My sense of environmental disquiet has increased exponentially in the past year since I first rode a Zero. After I climbed back on my SV650 and rode out from the Zero dealer, I was struck by how primitive the SV felt. But I pushed my feelings aside and told myself the Zero still had leaps and bounds to make in refinement. Since then, I’ve thought about things like in this piece of writing – I’m sick of all the smog I have to deal with in my commute, the noise, etc. And I’m feeling bothered by all the climate-related chaos going on and my own personal role in climate chnage. I’m gonna get a Zero soon and see about sourcing as much of my electricity as possible from wind power.

    The future is here; we should get on board asap.

  3. Wow, what an eye opening experience. I had never really thought about that until you compared the two. You’re right, I don’t miss the smell of smoke after going to dinner, even though I didn’t smoke myself. Your point about the electric motorcycle is a valid one and it will probably only strengthen over time. As more and more people ride electric motorcycles they’ll see that they can still ride, sans the noise, and they’ll love it! Thank you for sharing this with us.

  4. Ever been in a situation where a cardriver hasn’t seen you coming? It happens a lot.

    But if that driver can HEAR that there is a motorcycle nearby, they look twice.

    Sound on a bike is image, shure. But it can also save your life. I had to learn it the hard way. Today I make more noise.

    Not many kids run out in front of a Harley – silent cars and motorcycles? We’ll have to wait and see.

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