Ever thought what life would be like without bikes? I imagine it would be some sort of bleak dystopia where everyone drives Toyota Camry’s, thinks the Ferris Wheel is an exhilarating experience and that this guy is attractive. And what would happen if in the year 2014, someone tried to invent the motorcycle? Would it be accepted? Would people buy it? Would politicians even allow it to be taken on the road? Well, we’ve hitched a ride with Jerry O’Connell and John Rhys-Davies and visited an alternate reality where the motorcycle is only just now being invented…
In the year 2014, Mr Nakumura, an engineer at the Honda Motor Company is presenting his invention to the CEO of the corporation, Mr Takanobu Ito and the members of the board. This is a transcript of that presentation:
Mr Ito: Thank you for joining us, Mr Nakamura. The board and I have been hearing murmurings of your great invention. It appears it is true that your skunk works division have been busy. Please, proceed.
Mr Nakumura: Thank you, Mr Ito. And thank you members of the board.
It is true. My small team and I have been busy working these past months on a dream I have had for a very long time. Ours is a company with a wonderful history of performance vehicles, but I feel that we have not stayed true to them in recent times.
I believe today you will see a truly revolutionary product. Both from an engineering perspective but from a social perspective. This is something that I believe could transform transportation around the world. And not just from a practical point of view but also by way of creating a new category of high performance vehicle. A new subculture, even.
I first thought of the idea when watching Olympic Cycling at the velodrome. Here we have a sport involving a mode of transport and one that goes at a moderate pace. I then looked to one of the growth areas in performance vehicles over the last decade – hot hatches. Small cars that have great performance but don’t cost too much. That tells me that people want performance but most can’t afford the prices of true sportscars. Which also means that there are probably many that want performance but can’t afford a hot hatch.
This invention is a combination of the two. But it’s so much more than that. I believe that once you ride this machine you will never be able to turn back or think of transport in the same way. Behold, what I call the motorcycle.
Mr Ito: A bicycle with a motor, essentially?
Mr Nakumura: Oh, so much more. A bicycle is okay for short distances. It cannot replace the utility value of a motor car. But I believe the motorcycle can. So think about the agility and maneuverability of a bike combined with the speed and performance of a high end sports car. This will make a hot hatch look like a mail van in comparison and a bicycle like a child’s toy.
Mr Ito: It doesn’t look very practical. Where do you put your shopping? What happens when it rains? Where do you put your family?
Mr Nakumura: Well, there are solutions to all those perceived problems. But to be honest I don’t think that’s really in issue. All those problems exist with bicycles. In fact in some respects they’re reduced by the motorcycle because of its power. You can easily fit luggage compartments on the back or the side. There’s room behind the rider to have a passenger. You can’t do that with a bicycle.
And no, you can’t have your entire family on it but how many people who buy our cars need to carry a family around? Maybe 25 per cent? And the rest of the time they have three empty seats. You’re looking at this from the wrong direction. Don’t think of it as a replacement for the bicycle. It’s an alternative to a car – and an extremely powerful and maneuverable one at that.
Mr Ito: Yes, perhaps you can elaborate on that. Mechanically what do we have here? You mentioned it had the speed and performance of a high end sports car. What are we comparing it to? How big is the engine?
Mr Nakumura: The prototype uses an inline 4 cylinder engine. Other variants I’ve thought of include configurations from 1 to 6 cylinders and arrangements such as V twins, even inline triples. But the inline four seemed to be the best suited for the power of this prototype and we of course have experience with that configuration in many of our cars. I envisage a range of power plants, just like in cars. From the small and economical to the fast and powerful. For my main prototype and one that I think will be very popular, it is one liter in capacity.
Mr Ito: Hmm. That’s not too far off some of our smaller cars. What sort of output does this generate?
Mr Nakumura: 178 horsepower.
Mr Ito: That’s more than most of our entire range. How much does this weigh?
Mr Nakumura: Around 429 pounds with all fluids.
Mr Ito: I’m sorry, but what? That’s a power to weight ratio approaching 0.41 horsepower per pound. We’ve never made a car with anything approaching that. The NSX didn’t even have a power to weight ratio of a quarter of that. And you’re proposing this for the mass consumer market?
Mr Nakumura: Well not everyone will go for this particular output. I do have some more powerful examples if you’re interested. I just strongly feel we need to produce something exciting for the market. We’re even more boring than Toyota nowadays.
Mr Ito: Mr Nakumura, with all due respect, what you’re proposing here appears to be a legalized version of suicide and one that will surely bankrupt this company from wrongful death lawsuits. You cannot in good conscience advocate the selling of something as dangerous as this!
Mr Nakumura: Well, I believe that it should be up to the individual to decide such a thing.
Mr Ito: Perhaps you need to visit our legal department and see the stuff that keeps them up at night. What you’re proposing would give them PTSD. Anyway, with all this power, what kind of safety measures do you propose to have? That surely must be a chief concern for you. Although I can’t exactly see where the seat belt is.
Mr Nakumura: There isn’t one, the injuries from a rider being strapped to a 429 pound object in the event of a crash would be horrific. No, the rider is not restrained to the bike, they would be thrown from the bike in an accident. Unfortunately that is the lesser of two evils, so to speak. I mean, we would be recommending the rider wear a helmet, similar to that of a race car driver and similarly, protective clothing of some sort. Given the nature of the vehicle, the best form of safety is not to have a crash, really.
Mr Ito: You are aware of the consumer climate we live in, don’t you? We once sold a car that had a sharp edge on a weld under the bonnet that cut a person. We were sued for millions of dollars because of that. People start lawsuits because the hot coffee they bought turned out to be hot when they spilled its contents on themselves, resulting in burns. Yet you want to produce a vehicle that offers virtually zero safety in the event of an accident?
Mr Nakumura: Well, I think we can adapt common ABS systems to use on the bikes. But only when they’re standing up straight.
Mr Ito: What do you mean by that?
Mr Nakumura: Well, you see, because it’s a single tracked vehicle, we’ve encountered a few tendencies where the bike is likely to, well, fall over.
Mr Ito: Go on…
Mr Nakumura: I mean, the same would occur in a bicycle but of course it doesn’t have the power to be so apparent. If the bike is lent over too far at too high a speed and the motorcyclist loses traction, it will effectively fall down and slide along the ground. Worse however is if the rear tire loses grip and then regains grip in a violent manner. Under the right circumstances so to speak, it will throw the rider off…
Mr Ito: That’s almost akin to selling a car that can flip itself over. Do you remember the public embarrassment Mercedes felt over its A-Class that could roll under an intentional swerve? But this sounds worse. This sounds like your invention can crash without the motorcyclist even trying.
Mr Nakumura: Well, I think you’re making it sound worse than it is…
Mr Ito: On the contrary, it seems worse than it sounds. Do you know that in many countries, you cannot sell a car now unless it comes with a variety of electronic aids? Governments mandate a certain amounts of reinforcing to protect occupants in side and head on collisions. Within a few years the first driverless cars will be on the market and in ten years they’ll probably be commonplace.
What you have here, Mr Nakumura, is a dangerous toy. A loaded gun that you aim at your own face. There is no place in today’s civilized world for a socially responsible company like ours to even consider such a vehicle. But even if safety was not a factor, I do not see the commercial appeal. It’s uncomfortable looking, it’s impractical and if you want to scoot through traffic, someone could buy a bicycle for a fraction of the cost. I can’t even begin to imagine the legislative steps that would need to be undertaken to even train people to pilot your motorcycle.
Mr Nakumura, I don’t doubt the engineering prowess of what you have made here. But I’m afraid this is something that we cannot and will not support. Please hand over all your concepts and designs to our skunk works department and see if there’s anything of use for them to put towards our next family sedan. Thank you.
And so the motorcycle never came to be. And the world was a sadder place and the squids of the ocean felt something remained missing…