Fuel prices are increasing all the time. In the United Kingdom they are approaching £1.50 a litre which equates to almost £8 a gallon, and things are only going to get worse and fuel prices will go up across the entire world. We all still need to move about and get to work but government will tell us to use public transport, and this can often be more expensive than using vehicles. The costs include the loss of time, as public transport often takes longer to get to places and the inconvenience of not being able to commute door-to-door.
Therefore we need a solution and one is staring us in the face. In the developed world we don't see as many motorcycles and scooters as we once did. In the developing world especially places like India and Asia, motorcycles and mopeds of the dominant form of transport because of their low cost to buy and run. I believe one solution to the growing cost of transport is to switch back to motorcycles that can be more efficient both in terms of fuel economy and even space on the road.
In this article we will look at the history of motorbikes, why they are more economical, their problems and benefits, and then try to put with the conclusion as to whether switching to motorcycles could really save the planet and our wallets.
History of motorbikes
Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Germany made the first motorbikes in 1885. This motorbike was effectively a bike with stabilizers, and had no forks and relied upon the stabilizers to keep it upright rather than using the principles of bicycle dynamics. It was intended as a test bed for their engine rather than a production vehicle.
The first machine to be called a motorcycle was built in Germany in 1894 and at the start of motorcycling many bicycles was adapted to use engines, rather than be custom built as a motorbike.
The United States of America started to produce a lot of motorcycles start of the 20th century with manufacturers like Indian and Harley-Davidson. Later on DKW, now Audi, became the world's largest manufacturer of motorcycles. BSA in the United Kingdom then became the largest manufacturer until now when the motorcycle industry is dominated by Japanese companies such as Suzuki and Yamaha. These companies combine some millions upon millions of motorcycles all around the world know what you will most likely find or see on the roads today.
Why they are more economical
In a conventional engine, petrol or diesel is injected into a cylinder and then burnt to create high-pressure gas that pushes a piston that turns a crankshaft which creates motion by linking to the wheels. More fuel is needed to push along heavy vehicles, more un-aerodynamic vehicles and engine designs that are naturally inefficient. Energy is also lost when we break which cannot be recovered in most cars.
Motorbikes are more efficient as they weigh a lot less meaning they take less energy to get up to speed and when travelling along hills. They are also smaller making them more aerodynamic, which reduce the amount of energy needed to move along a flat bit of road. As less power is needed, the engines can be made more efficient and smaller which saves weight again but can also made to be more efficient with fuel.
Motorbikes and mopeds are also more efficient or economic in terms of space. A single car space can be divided to fit 2 motorbikes. Most people commuting probably only have one person in the car so it wouldn't matter whether they had a single seater or a 7-seater people carrier.
If you said to someone that you wanted a motorbike, and they didn't own one already, they would probably mention that motorcycles are unsafe and that you will automatically die by owning one. It is true that the risk a higher incidence of accidents with motorcyclists but this isn't really telling the whole picture.
For not a lot of money, the average motorcyclist can obtain a motorbike which could you know to 60 in around 3 or 4 seconds and go on to up to 150 to 180 miles an hour. This may only cost between £8-£10,000 in the United Kingdom. In contrast to get a car this fast you'd probably have to pay upwards of £100,000 if not more.
Because of this a lot of the people who regularly ride motorbikes do so as a hobby and as a pleasurable pursuit. They are effectively piloting very fast vehicles and they greatly enjoy doing it. The problem comes with that if people ride aggressively they are more likely to cause accidents to themselves, rather like if someone was driving a Ferrari around the same road. There isn't a statistic comparing drivers of high-end supercars with high-end superbikes the accident rate, but I would hazard a guess that the accident rates would become much more similar.
The percentage of motorcyclists who have quick bikes is much higher than percentages of car users that have fast cars, meaning that the average motorcyclist is likely to have a faster bike than the average car drivers has a fast car. This skews the statistics. Motorbike safety is compounded by the fact that drivers often aren't looking for motorbikes and that they can be more difficult to see at dusk and dawn.
The benefits of motorbikes
- More fuel-efficient
- More space efficient
- Cheaper to buy
- Cheaper to run
The problems with motorbikes
- Less convenient for families
- Regarded as stereotyped in some countries
Alternatives for high fuel economy
There are some alternatives to motorbikes if you want something, which is highly fuel-efficient. Scooters, which do come in electric varieties, can be an alternative although they may not be quick enough to travel long distances.
You could purchase a highly fuel-efficient car such as a Ford Fiesta in kinetic or any number of turbodiesels. Although these still won't get up to the high levels of economy that a good bike can do.
I must confess that I don't currently ride a motorcycle. I know people that do and I know that many of them have crashed and injured themselves. I do however think that they will play a greater role in transport the future.
Have you switched to using a motorbike instead of a car? Will an increase in fuel prices cause you to make the move? Do you know someone who has bought a motorbike recently? What do you think are the problems or benefits? Feel free to leave a comment below.