The news of late has not been that great for the petrolhead, there has been a lot of talk about the outright ban on petrol sales in the not too distant future and City bans even sooner than that. The demise of the internal combustion engine is sad, but to me, it all pales in comparison to the exponential growth of the self driving car. We all saw the silly little google car a few years ago and it was all a good little laugh as the cute little bumbling motors found themselves in flowerbeds and swimming pools across California. But all of a sudden things have gotten serious, very serious. The joke has gone way too far, with driverless lorries already being tested across the world, they’re already here and they’re after our jobs.
Now this to me is quite possibly the scariest thought conceivable; Stephen Kings ‘Christine’ and Disney’s ‘Herbie Goes Bananas’ were made for the very reason of educating us about the dangers of sentient automobiles, but alas the warnings have gone unheard. The self driving car is now an inevitability.
“Now this shouldn’t be an issue” I hear you say, petrolheads live in a world based on freedom of choice, future car fans can just ignore them when they arrive and carry on driving the same old ‘dinosaurs’ they know and love.
But this might not be true forever. At least, it would be if one of the architects wasn’t the half-Skynet half-Bond-villain type, Elon Musk.
Musk stated as far back as 2015 that when Autonomous cars became the norm, drivers would eventually need to be removed from the equation completely. His reasoning being “its too dangerous. You cant have a person driving a two ton death machine”. It’s terrifying for me, as a driving enthusiast, to think that in my lifetime my hobby could no longer exist on any level bar video gaming.
Just try to picture a world where the morning commute is no longer free time, but an opportunity to get the laptop out and tidy up some spreadsheets for the boss, all while Tesla sells your destination history to the highest bidder. This picture only gets worse when you finally make it in to work and realise you should maybe not have ignored that software update while you were running late after getting up. Now car thieves half way across the globe are fighting to become the first to remote control your vehicle out of the country, or worse, Isis hackers are disabling your braking system again. Its a future I’ve been pontificating about for some time, and one that I am not too fond of. Perhaps it could be the end of the Fast and the Furious franchise, which is the only positive I can see, but not a good enough silver lining to be worthwhile. We need a cause or a fight to save the car and I think I may have found it. The solution to the problem of the self driving car is a big ask, but one I think could work. I think we should all go out and buy Motorcycles.
The main advantage of buying a bike over a car for future-proofing analogue drive is that the self driving motorcycle as a concept is a complete non-starter. No sane person would ever want to hold on for dear life to a self-guided missile weaving in and out of a stationary M25, not to mention the added complexity of gyroscopes and sensors needed to make one work. It would all be too time and cost consuming, and also as most people in the West use bikes mainly as a hobby and non commuter vehicle, it’s not really suitable to be replaced with such an idea even if it could work.
Motorsport, perhaps, could be made more interesting, with Motorcross becoming more of a mechanical bucking bronco competition in the countryside. But thats not really much of an argument for the self
driving riding bike. Its just a wheelie wheelie dumb idea (sorry).
From Musk’s point of view, this is fine, just ban the motorcycle completely from the roads. They’re dangerous anyway and not conducive to his ‘Logan’s Run’ utopia. But this would not be the first time people have tried and failed to kill off the Motorbike.
Motorcycles in the eyes of both Mothers and Governments everywhere are the work of Beelzebub himself, designed only to kill the rider in such a gruesome way that they become instantly unrecognisable to the coroner. So its unsurprising that both mothers and governments have already spent a lot of time and resources plotting the two wheeled menaces demise.
The EU thought they might have had the bike licked back in 2014 when they introduced the all new extremely prohibitive and complex tiered licensing system to European motorists. In the UK, at 17, all you can look forward to now is a pencil sharpener motor powering your wheels and the brown trouser effect of being constantly overtaken by HGV’s on dual carriageways.
This bike could, in theory, eventually graduate to a hair dryer when you hit 19; but only after spending considerably more money on passing more tests, and only then if you can do the maths to find a bike that fits under a certain power to weight ratio. Young riders now have to wait until the age of 24 before finally being allowed to ride whatever they want, the thinking being that by this point the rider matures and buys a car instead.
But really this has had no negative effect on the amount of riders out there, motorcycling has grown year on year in popularity despite these new rules trying to spoil the fun. In fact, bike ownership in the UK rose by almost 20% last year.
It’s not much of a surprise really, Motorcycling has much of its folklore and mythology based on rebellion. The Hells Angels, Mods and the Rockers never really cared too much about what their governments or mothers thought about their hobbies. Riding a bike was (and still is) an invitation to the ‘Badass’ club, and that, to a teenager, is just too irresistible an invitation to pass up, no matter how small the engine is.
Motorbikes embody freedom in a way no other vehicle (except maybe the jetpack) can manage, it will take more than punitive legislation to end the reign of the two wheeler. Even if the powers-that-be had the balls to ban the bike outright, they would not be able to enforce it. Motorcycles just cannot simply be rammed off the road like a car, and spike strips won’t fly either: Police forces country wide are told for health and safety reasons not to get into high speed chases. And bikers know this. It’s now reached the ridiculous point where even Scooter gangs are now a thing and they’re sadly very very successful at evading justice: the motorcycle is just an unstoppable force.
The motorbike, whilst being slightly naughty, is also a noble steed. It’s an important backbone to modern society. The bike does the important tough jobs that cars can never do efficiently: they’re our first emergency responders saving lives, they escort our diplomats safely through dangerous cities and most importantly they deliver our takeaways to cure our hangovers. The motorbike is here to stay. Full stop.
Now while cars may (for now) outnumber bikes, considerably in the West, it must be stated that in parts of Asia the ‘shoe’ or ‘boot’ if you will, is most definitely on the other foot. In Vietnam there are 10 motorcycles for every car, and I cant see that changing too much after the “advent” of the driverless car. For one the algorithm required to work out when its your right of way at an intersection in Ho-chi-minh would need to be about the length of 200 (pre 2000 size) Yellow Pages. Secondly, I cant see governments in many countries offering to help purchase such vehicles which will undoubtedly be very very expensive. Whatever Musk and his industry cronies want, to be successful they need a real world wide solution to truly replace the car. They can try to tempt lesser developed countries to improve infrastructure, but complete evidence would be required to take on such an overhaul. So, maybe, to save the car we need to make it (for now anyway) considerably less popular, a tall and impossible task I know. But, with areas back home becoming much more densely populated, perhaps its not such a bad idea to take a leaf out of Vietnam’s book and go back to the good old days. That way, keeping our beloved roundabouts of course.
I think the Motorcycle’s popularity can save the car as we know it by validating motoring as a hobby that cant just be confined to the race track. Bikes again are an inconvenience, they do not make too much sense outside of cities as a means of getting about. And yet, if you go to any pub on a nice road on a good day and you will see the place littered with helmets, leathers and lime & sodas. People who do not get driving, should be able to see that there is something in it for a lot of people if they’re willing to forgo vast amounts of cash and dignified clothing just for those rare sunny weekends in Blighty. People like Musk need to understand that the self driving car is not a one stop solution to the problem of getting from A to B, and by buying a motorcycle your speaking to governments and futurologists in the only language they seem to understand, Statistics. You see statistics and market research can be extremely dangerous but powerful things. They’ve brought the world many many terrible outcomes like New Coke, Boy Bands and the 4th Indiana Jones film (you know, the one with the Aliens). If markets are there (or as importantly, not there) crazy decisions can get made and outcomes can change. So, lets finally use these powers as consumers for good, and lets please save motoring, even make it a monkey-bike if you really want to throw them off.
Plus, as a side note, if this plan does fail and cars as we know them still get consigned to the history books and scrappage schemes, we could still have a bit of fun playing with the grey area in UK Motoring Law which is the three-wheeler.