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Is electric power the way forward?

Updated: Feb 26

Before reading, please bear in mind I'm not an engineer. I play the bass guitar and fall off motorbikes! I'm hoping this BLOG will create some discussion on the subject and help educate me and our readers. Boggy.

At the MCN London Bike Show last weekend Steph was on a panel of guests with Jamie & Marc from the lightweight Adventure festival, and Charlie Borman. The subject in question was; Does size matter? Charlie is well known for his travels on the Big BMWs and more recently the Harley Davidson electric bike. Steph and the Lightweight Adventurers were on the side of the smaller bikes. It was an interesting discussion but for me its all down to personal preference. I don’t think anyone could say you can only use this kind of bike if you are doing that journey - it really is down to what you want to ride. Just because it has a smaller engine doesn’t mean it wont do the job, as Steph and Rhonda demonstrated by circumnavigating the globe (without a support truck or film crew).

It wasn’t long before the discussion veered off onto the topic of Electric Vs Internal Combustion. You probably wont know that Steph had tried to embark on a long distance electric motorcycle trip before Charlie and Ewan filmed the Long Way Up. She was in discussion with Zero motorcycles in 2018 about the possibility of riding the African continent, north to south on an electric motorcycle. In the end Zero decided not to participate, not because the bike wouldn’t do it but because the charging infrastructure was not ready. During the panel discussion at the London Bike Show, someone quizzed Charlie about why they had chosen to ride Harley Davidsons electric bike for the show. It was a simple answer.... HD were the only electric bike manufacturer who were willing to invest in the charging infrastructure in South America. For those of you who have seen the show it is clear that there was some investment in the charging equipment en route but the fact that they carried a huge diesel generator on a truck behind the bikes really tells the true story - the world is still not properly ready for electric vehicle charging.

We have seen advances in the UK with charging points popping up at motorway services and workplaces. Apparently new houses now have to be built with the infrastructure for electric vehicle charging too, but I have it on good authority that the standard that is currently being supplied is already out of date and wont handle new rapid charging systems being developed by Porsche and others.

Personally I think a little too much is being swept behind the scenes with the electric powered vehicle revolution. The power needed to charge the vehicles still has to be generated somehow, whether that be from power stations or preferably sustainable sources such as wind and solar. Battery technology has come on a huge amount in recent years but the batteries will still need to be disposed of at some point - what will be done with them? Landfill? Oceans? They will surely become a burden to future generations.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely think we need to be finding alternatives to oil and fossil fuel extraction from our planet and contaminating our atmosphere with harmful exhaust gasses. There is no getting away from the fact that the immense amount of money generated by oil extraction, processing and sales is extremely significant and governments are dragging their feet in moving away form that wealth and power. There isn’t an easy or quick fix.

I have been intrigued by the term Bio fuel in recent years. If we can run internal combustion engines on fuel that is not derived from petroleum and does not expel poisonous gasses into our atmosphere surely that is the way forward. I know very little about Bio fuel but have seen it being used and promoted in various motorsports in recent years. I always think of Back to the Future when Doc Brown returns in his flying DeLorean and tops up the tank with a banana skin and a half empty can of soda. Could that version of the future be getting close?

I met a real life version of Doc Brown a few years back (this is a true story by the way). He was my plumber but his business card didn’t say plumber it said inventor. His DeLorean was a small Renault Extra van. When he arrived to fix my immersion heater I noticed that his passenger seat was missing. I asked why and he replied that he had to take it out so he had somewhere to put his tools. Would the back of the van not be a good place for them? I asked. No, no he replied, look at this....... He opened the back of his van and the entire space was filled wan a ‘contraption’.. "I fitted my own Bio fuel engine. It runs off cow shit." He told me with a grin. He went on to explain how it all worked - I think it was a steam engine of sme sort, I’m not sure as I glazed over quite quickly, but I remember being impressed with his ingenuity and enthusiasm. I suppose a fairly significant drawback was having to collect cow pats every day, but if it means saving the planet then so be it.

I had another plumbing issue that needed attention about a year later so I called the Inventor. He answered and explained that he was in hospital suffering with burns. His new invention had exploded in his workshop and he wouldn’t be able to come and look after my plumbing. I wished him well and called another plumber. When the new guy turned up he took one look at the work the Inventor had done and, shaking his head, insisted that it would all have to come out - he had never seen such a potential death trap. Apparently I was lucky that my hot water tank hadn’t left the house via the roof with a very loud bang.

I digress. Back to the London Bike Show. While having a wander round with Simon Thomas (2 ride the world & Living Lens Photography) we stopped to admire a V8 custom motorcycle built by LEVIS (a division of Bevan Davidson International - BDI). It was an amazing looking bike, very futuristic. I noticed the chain was missing and suspected foul play - was this just a mock-up show piece? Simon was on his hands and knees peering into the rear of the bike to see if it was the genuine article. This caught the attention of one of the staff who came over and assured us it was a working motorcycle as were the others on the stand - they had been asked to attend the show at the 11th hour and had not had time to put fully finished models into their truck. On closer inspection most of the bikes didn’t have footpegs either.

It turned out that the chap who was speaking to us was Phil Bevan, one of the team leaders at BDI (second in from the right). What a fascinating guy to chat with. He clearly enjoyed talking about the company and his background, and was grateful to have 2 interested pairs of ears to talk to. Simon and I were loving it. After hearing all about the petrol engine bikes on the stand - a V6, a V8 and a V10, he showed us their electric bike. This is where Phil really got into his stride. The bike has 2 motors of slightly different power specs. One runs the bike and the other keeps that one charged. When you need the rocket boost, both kick into drive.

Then Phil spoke about something I have had on my mind for a few years - interchangeable battery packs. Not something you can do with cars but with bikes - why not? Phil explained that Shell and other big forecourt names will be offering a service where you remove your depleted battery from the bike and exchange it for a fully charged one. It would be a vending machine on the forecourt. Tap your debit card, a slot opens to insert your dead battery (where it will begin charging) and a fully charged replacement is dispensed. That makes good sense to me. The next thing he spoke about was how quickly their technology would allow the bike to be charged if you plugged it into a ‘fast charger’ at the services - 1 minute and 9 seconds to get a 200 mile range. Holy smoke. That is a game changer for electric bikes.

It turns out that Phil has a background in wind turbine technology on a global governmental scale and he went on to educate Simon and I in some detail about how the technology is there to change the world but the road blocks set up by various governments will not allow it to become mainstream yet. It was an insightful conversation and I’m very glad we met Phil. Those LEVIS motorcycles were damn pretty too.

For our MOTO Junkies weekend trail rides in Wales, electric enduro bikes would be good and the market isn’t short of manufacturers these days. Motorcycle Live at the NEC last year was full of electric bike manufacturers and plenty of them are producing off roaders. If we could get a range of around 100 miles that would suit most of our days out and if they have easily interchangeable battery packs, even better. Stash a spare in your back pack or have a lunch time meeting place where a member of our team brings new charged batteries to the group. It could work. One thing that concerns me is taking an electric bike through water - would they be okay for that - its a genuine question, I really don’t know.

But, if battery power does turn out to be one huge red herring, then what? I hear talk of hydrogen energy but often with a Danger! subtext. I remember seeing a French guy on TV quite a few years ago who had invented an engine that ran on compressed air (Guy Negre). His little van made a horrible noise and only did about 15mph but its a step in the right direction - no exhaust gasses and a plentiful supply of free fuel.

For me, Bio Fuel seems to be the most sensible solution we have at the moment but I really haven’t done any research, other than what I hear while watching motorsport events where Bio fuel is used. On the surface it would seem to be a brilliant alternative to petroleum and electricity. I ought to find out more, and I will.

We would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Do you have an electric motorcycle? If so how has the experience been so far? Do you know of other technologies that haven’t been mentioned here? Until next time. PeteBog signing off.

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