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Why we love engines

16th Nov 2019 8:00 am

An exciting sound is nice, but our love for engines goes much deeper.

The Harley-Davidson LiveWire is an incredible motorcycle, but it’s also the first EV I’ve ridden that aims to be a recreational machine. This has left me feeling quite conflicted. I should reveal that I’m already sold on EVs as a daily commute option, and I’d happily switch over to something like an Ather today if I could figure out a practical charging solution. EVs are cleaner, more relaxing to ride and far more easy to maintain – they just make more sense. Sure, we have a mountain of work ahead in terms of charging infrastructure, and we need to find genuinely clean sources of power and energy storage, going forward. But the fact is that humanity simply has to switch over to clean energy if we hope to continue existing in the long term, and personal transport is no exception.

Riding the LiveWire in Portland recently left me awed, yet a teeny bit depressed. Awed, thanks to its combination of superbike performance along with complete ease of use in urban conditions. Depressed, because I made absolutely no emotional connect with it along the way. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since, and in a quest for answers, I’ve been riding the slowest, simplest motorcycle in our long-term garage, the TVS Radeon. I think I’ve figured it out.

Yes, the lack of an exciting exhaust sound is significant, but I believe our love for engines goes deeper. I believe it’s the fact that we can much more closely associate ourselves with a raw and mechanical thing like an engine. We humans and engines aren’t so different after all. We both need fuel to run, we both ‘burn’ that fuel to produce energy and we’re both noisy, expressive things. Communication is what set our species apart, and what are all the sounds and sensations an engine produces, if not a form of expression and communication? Let’s not forget that we’re both also flawed and imperfect things that thrive on frequent attention and TLC.

The electric motors in EVs, on the other hand, are little more than very sophisticated appliances. Think of it, when have you ever found genuine love or affection for the mixer grinder in your kitchen, the fan on your ceiling or the phone in your hand? We can’t imagine life without them, but at the end of the day, they are simply appliances that turn on and off to do a job and that’s all the thought we give to them.

This internal conflict is a problem only our generation will face, and youngsters born into an electronic world won’t even notice the difference. But they also may not notice motorcycles at all. I genuinely hope that doesn’t become the case, but for now, I’ve promised myself to enjoy every moment we have left with these character-filled engines – even the slowest and simplest ones.

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