Saturday 7 February 2015

The perfect sustainable vehicle ?

I know that perhaps  bikers aren't naturally cast in the role of eco-warrriors: But then I read about the new law in Paris to ban motorcycles built before 2000 from the city centre. It is a blanket ban based purely on the age of the vehicle that ignores the actual emission figures - it is being done in the name of fighting air pollution. And apparently there are plans to adopt some sort of similar scheme in the future for London.

I know I can't claim that my old Harleys are exactly environmentally friendly. Certainly not in comparison to the MoCo's latest experimental model the "LiveWire'. But the again there are some wider considerations when it comes to green issues. 

Large capacity motorcycles tend to be owned by enthusiasts. People who cherish their vehicles and lavish a lot of their money - and  their own labour into keeping them on the road. As a result we tend to hang on to our machines rather than change them every other year. And so bikes that by rights should have been consigned to the scrap yard years ago are kept under tarpaulins in corners of garages waiting only  to be tenderly coaxed back into life and reborn in some new reincarnation. Especially the 'enthusiasts bikes' - the BMWs, Guzzi, Triumphs ...  and Harleys. We spend hours in our  garages tinkering and fettling these machines - often flying in the face of common (and economic) sense that  dictates it would be easier to simply buy more modern bikes. 

Perhaps we do it because we get a perverse kick out of working on keeping them on the road precisely because doing so is deemed to be impractical. From a sociological point of view (and at the risk of being pretentious) it gives us a sense of striking back against the sense of alienation - 'or disconnected-ness' - that is endemic in capitalism. I feel connected to my bikes because I (more or less) know how they work, I can see and feel how they work and (theoretically at least) I can fix them. In contrast, when I open the bonnet of my modern car I am confounded by a set of black plastic boxes - I can't even identify most of the engine components let alone start working on them.

But what's good for my soul is not good for big automotive business: So the manufacturers now give us sealed units and black-box engineering that uses computer diagnostics rather than spanners to fix our machines. Ultimately all this leads to the environmental obscenity of built-in obsolescence and disposable products. 

So just maybe a ratty old Harley should be the symbol of environmental sustainability rather than that favourite of the self-righteous - the Toyota Prius.

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