In Bal­ance

Pow­ered or driven by elec­tric­ity, the dif­fer­ence is in the de­tail.

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents -

Bat­tery power takes charge as our ed­i­tor points out this elec­tric lark isn’t such a new idea af­ter all.

Any­one who has taken note of the elec­tric bike scene can’t fail to have no­ticed how far it has ad­vanced over the past few years, from an in­ter­est­ing nov­elty to a more se­ri­ous con­tender. With sev­eral man­u­fac­tur­ers now field­ing full-sized adult ma­chines in the world cham­pi­onship se­ries it shows the se­ri­ous­ness with which elec­tri­cally driven ve­hi­cles are now be­ing viewed.

I say ‘elec­tri­cally driven’ on pur­pose as ar­guably all petrol ve­hi­cles are elec­tri­cally pow­ered. Don’t be­lieve me? Take the spark plug cap off your bike and try kick­ing it into life.

Elec­tric­ity as a mo­tive power has been around a long time, per­haps some read­ers will re­call the tri­als demos at Earls Court mo­tor­cy­cle shows and Olympia be­fore that. Sev­eral spe­cial ma­chines were built to re­sem­ble then cur­rent mod­els and here at CDB HQ our archive holds images of James, Fran­cis-bar­nett and Bsa-based mo­tor­cy­cles in ac­tion on a 20yd long tri­als course.

Show­go­ers could line up and pay a nom­i­nal fee to char­ity and have a go at in­door tri­als rid­ing. The scant in­for­ma­tion about these ma­chines shows they were ef­fec­tively based on a very large bat­tery, prob­a­bly from a wagon or some such, al­lied to a starter motor from the same sort of ve­hi­cle. The 20yd long course was about as far as was pos­si­ble to travel be­fore the bikes needed plug­ging in. I seem to re­call the ses­sions were 20mins long ev­ery cou­ple of hours, though mem­ory may be lack­ing on that one.

In­trigued by this sub­ject I did a lit­tle more re­search and hap­pened across a feature in The Mo­tor­cy­cle of Septem­ber 28, 1932. Reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor ‘Car­bon’ penned a feature en­ti­tled ‘Why are there no elec­tric scoot­ers?’ Read­ing his words of 80 years ago it was clear the mo­tor­cy­cle world had the same con­cerns about elec­tri­cally driven ma­chines then as it does to­day.

These con­cerns are bat­tery life, charge du­ra­tion, charg­ing time, bat­tery weight and so on, the ad­van­tages be­ing touted were re­mark­ably sim­i­lar as those to­day, be­ing no noise, no ex­haust pol­lu­tion and very few me­chan­i­cal parts, and ‘Car­bon’ felt such a ve­hi­cle would do a lot to com­bat the anti-mo­tor­cy­cling prej­u­dices of cer­tain parts of so­ci­ety – yes, even then we were re­viled…

He went on to ad­dress the prob­lems of stor­age bat­ter­ies and would they, in 1932, be up to the job? He of­fered as proof the suc­cess­ful climb of Por­lock Hill in Som­er­set by a bat­tery-driven three-wheeler. Por­lock Hill is no­table, even in 2018, as the UK’S steep­est A-road and 80 years ago a suc­cess­ful climb of it would be some feat. He went on to ex­plain the bat­tery was a 36v be­he­moth weigh­ing in at 245lb with a fur­ther 45lb of elec­tric motor do­ing the driv­ing. It was claimed at the time the ve­hi­cle had a range of 65 miles on one charge.

Okay, so far all very amus­ing but had the elec­tric ve­hi­cles re­ceived as much de­vel­op­ment as petrol ones the sit­u­a­tion may well be dif­fer­ent. In re­al­ity the mo­tor­cy­cles we use in clas­sic, twin­shock or what­ever class you ride in are not that dif­fer­ent from the vin­tage pe­riod… petrol goes in one end, some­thing makes a bang and poi­sonous gas comes out the other end, in be­tween the ve­hi­cle moves for­ward. Maybe now we have more gears rather than sin­gle speeds and a clutch to help con­trol things rather than di­rect drive but, hold on wasn’t the Me­cateco Caroline San­di­ford ar­ranged for me to try at the Dirt Bike Show also equipped with a gear­box and a clutch?

It is hu­man na­ture to avoid de­vel­op­ment un­less there is a need for it, and rest as­sured man­u­fac­tur­ers are fo­cus­ing on de­vel­op­ing al­ter­na­tive tech­nol­ogy and the con­cerns high­lighted in 1932 are be­ing ad­dressed.

If you doubt this or raise an eye­brow then con­sider bat­tery power tools which are now uni­ver­sally used in my for­mer in­dus­try. I re­call a lad I worked with turn­ing up on site one day with a bat­tery screw­driver, in shape and size rather like the medium-sized grease guns in mo­tor­cy­cle tool kits. We all gath­ered round as he set to and fit­ted a hinge to a door, in went the first screw, we clapped, the sec­ond screw went in slower, we nod­ded, the third screw went half way in and the bat­tery was flat. We laughed se­cure in the knowl­edge such things would never re­place our spi­ral ratchet screw­drivers. These days, bat­tery tools last for hours and charge in mo­ments. There was a need for it to hap­pen, so clever peo­ple did the work.

The same will hap­pen with elec­tric ve­hi­cles and there will be a time when such things will be self-charg­ing as the need grows, so ways to re­duce size and costs will be found. In the mean­time I’m go­ing down to my work­shop to see if I can fig­ure out why the lit­tle blue spark at the end of the elec­trode on the plug in my Bulto has stopped ap­pear­ing.

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