Sorry, it Isn’t . . .

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It’s important to be clear about what we’re talking about – whether it’s men and women or motorcycles and scooters.

The other day I read a review of an electric scooter that used the word motorcycle to describe it. This is akin to referring to a biological him as her in that it is misleading. And more than that.

It is an attempt at conflating the actual with the ersatz.

This is usually done purposefully, for the purposes of substitution. It is why the word vaccine was used (is still being used) to conflate drugs that do not immunize with those that do. The misleading word usage was done to trick people. To get them to accept the ersatz by conflating it, etymologically, with the actual.

This same trick is being used to get people to accept electric scooters – by calling them “motorcycles.” The idea being to get them to accept the elimination of motorcycles by getting them to think they aren’t being replaced by scooters.

It has been easy – so far – to get people to accept the replacement of the cars they have been driving with electric cars. In principle, at least. Because there is commonality. Electric cars and engined cars have four wheels and almost all of them have automatic transmissions, too.

They are appliances.

Engines have been homogenized; all are water cooled, most are turbocharged fours and few of the run-of-the-mill have any distinctive personality. They are mostly hidden under the same black plastic covers and the only thing that matters to the people who drive such cars is that they go – and that they are  quiet and reliable. They do not shift. They get in, push the “start” button – and off they go.

This is how scooters operate, too.

Some have engines. Some have motors (and batteries). None have gears to shift. One sits down, presses the “start” button – and off they go. There is nothing at all wrong with this, if that is what you want. Nor with the selling of it, to those who want it.

But it is a lie to call this a motorcycle. No matter how much it is made to look like one. Just as no matter how much a man is made to look like a woman, he will never be one.

The thing is impossible.

But it is possible to confuse people. It is the point of the thing – when the object is to replace one thing with a different thing.

The people pushing electric scooters know perfectly well that very few people who like motorcycles have any interest in making the transition. Motorcycle people like engines – all kinds, ranging from singles to twins to flats and Vees. It is the engine that defines a bike and makes one brand of bike and type of bike different from other bikes. This matters to people who buy bikes. It is why motorcycle engines are often the centerpiece of a bike.

Electric motors are all alike. They make no sound. They have no character. Just like an escalator.

Motorcycle people also like shifting for themselves.

Attempts have been made in the past (as by Honda) to sell motorcycles that did not require the rider to shift for himself. These sold poorly and soon were no longer sold at all. It is both a matter of pride and part of the experience to be able to shift for oneself and to actually do it. The point of the ride being not just to get there, as in most cars. As in electric cars.

Almost anyone can ride a scooter – for the same reason that almost anyone can drive a typical car. Neither requires much skill, which is why it is not especially gratifying nor – dare it be said? – exclusionary.

There are precious few things left in this world that are not drearily open to everyone, without much effort. The dumbing down – in the name of “safety,” usually – being responsible for this. But motorcycles are nothing like this. They are forbidding things to those who do not know how to ride – and how to shift. They are like airplanes in this way – and there is a similar feeling of accomplishment for the rider as for the pilot, who has mastered a skill and knows what he is doing.

There is little to do on a scooter – other than push the start button and get going. Just the same as in a typical car, electric not. Almost anyone can do it. This takes away from the satisfaction of being able to do something more than push the “start” button and get going.

On a bike, shifting gears is about more than just shifting gears. On a bike, one uses the gears to control the bike; to shift power to the rear wheel, so as to shift traction to the rear – important to the stability and tenacity of the machine. One could do the same on an electric scooter, of course – but not in the same way. It is the difference between riding an escalator and scaling a cliff, yourself – with your own hands and feet.

On a scooter, there is much less for these to do.

The motorcycle’s rear brake lever (controlled by the rider’s right foot) is as relevant – on a scooter – an appendix. The left lever on a scooter being a mere affectation as there is no clutch. Nothing for your left foot to shift, either.

Just push the “start” button – and go.

Not (again) that there is anything wrong with that – as such. But – please – stop calling it a motorcycle.

Because it isn’t.

. . .

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45 COMMENTS

  1. “Motorcycle people also like shifting for themselves.”

    There is nothing to shift in an electric motorcycle. They have so much wide range torque they need no gears at all. Zero motorcycles run the motor direct to the rear wheel with a belt. No gears, no tranny, between the motor and the rear wheel.

    ICE bikes need to shift because of the serious lack of torque compared to electrics.

    No clutch, no tranny on electric motorcycles.

    Energica uses a single gear. One gear, cannot be shifted. It is just to change the RPMs to where their motor gives the best performance for their sprocket sizes. It’s more designed for racing. So Energica has a gearbox with a single gear in it. Same gear riding at two MPH as with riding at 150 MPH.

    Yeah, electrics are not motorcycles, they perform so much better they should not be called motorcycles at all.

    The other day I was riding my Harley Road Glide in some very slow traffic. My left hand was very tired because of the clutch. Had to use in constantly in the very slow traffic (accident far up ahead). Boy, was I wishing I took one of my electrics for that trip!

    -Don- Reno, NV

    • Hi DonTom,

      Yes, of course. An eBike has lots of torque. Just like any other EV. It also has all the personality of – well, a battery. Or an electric motor. There’s so little for the rider to do that he might as well just take a nap.

  2. Once upon a time, in some dirty corner of the internet, I came across a fairly entertaining “argument” between sports bike enthusiasts and a lone (in this words) “grizzled” Harley Davidson rider.

    The sports bike guys mocked and ridiculed the Harley guy mercilessly! I remember in particular they told him that his bike was a “scooter”! 🤣 Because, you know how some of those huge bikes have the massive faring, cruising pegs, saddle bags and some even have the Indian fringe or maybe a couple of flags flying. Massive luxury two-person seat, etc, etc.

    The sports guys had valid points but I still think there is a certain coolness in the huge-bike almost-scooter thing. Heck, yet another bike that I’ve always dreamed about is a Honda Goldwing! I think they’re fucken cool! Go ahead and make fun — you’re just wasting your time! 🤣

    • Hi XM,

      The current Goldwing is remarkably fast and agile. It’s quite something – and you have to ride the thing to believe it. They’re not my cup of tea because they’re just too damned big and too damned heavy. I am the farthest thing from a Saaaaaaaaafety geek, but a bike that weighs close to 1,000 pounds is a lot to deal with. Even for someone like me, who is tall (leverage) and strong. If you’re not, it’s easy for that weight to get away from you just “walking” the bike around. And if you drop it, good luck picking it up!

      • Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s way too much bike for me! I would probably destroy the bike and/or kill myself with it! They really do seem pretty cool though.

        • Hi XM,

          You might as well have asked me what my favorite muscle car is! Damned hard to pick… But one of my personal favorites was the XL250 I stupidly sold back in the early 2000s. This bike took me so many places, on and off-road. It was just unkillable. I once accidentally rode it through what I thought was a puddle that turned out to be a small pond. Dragged it out of the water (it had been fully immersed). Removed the spark plug; used the kicker to push most of the water out of the cylinder, dried the spark plug the best I could and – after some kicking – it kicked right back to life. It was dirt cheap to ride, too.

          I miss it, often.

  3. I actually like scooters but only the gasoline engine type and not because I don’t know how to ride. I started on the dirt with a Honda XR75 and an ATC 70 (3-wheel). Later a Yamaha YZ125. That was when I was just big enough to even handle those respective bikes. In fact, the YZ125 (actually my older brother’s bike) was a bit too big for me at the time.

    I rode the shit out of those bikes, like a maniac.

    For a short while I also drove around some lawn-mower (Briggs & Straton) “mini-cars” (owned by a friend) for many days and countless hours. Again, balls out.

    When I lived in San Diego, I decided to get a scooter for local putzing around, to the grocery store and what not. I started with a Honda 80cc but I killed it because every second that I was on it, I was full throttle. People tell me, they’re not designed for that. I moved up to a Honda 250cc scooter. That one, I could even drive on the freeway! I killed that one too but TBH, getting it used, it didn’t start out in the best shape.

    I later had a no-name brand 150cc which was stolen. At one point I had a very rare 2-stroke 50cc vintage moped (!) which was also stolen!! Lovely San Diego… fucken shit-hole armpit, if you ask me. I forget the name of the moped, a four letter Italian name but not Puch.

    I even entertained the idea of bolting on a 2-stroke 50cc onto a bicycle! I also did local BMX racing as a kid. Never got the motorized bike. I would still do it TBH but I’ve got a 58 yr old brittle body, so I couldn’t go balls out like I used to do.

    I always dreamed about getting a 600cc Suzuki Bergman which (IIRC) has a chain (rather than a belt) and maybe even can shift (but no clutch).

    I always missed having pegs, no right foot brake, and no ability to control the scooter via shifting. I made hugely good use of that capability on the dirt. The better to drive like fucken Evil Knievel!

    But, once again, just like with cars. I have zero interest in an electric scooter. I still have an interest in an enduro or even a small trail bike like the Honda Trail 125. I actually had one of those for a while in San Diego too! I love the damn thing but it broke down and, believe it or not, also got stolen. FML

    Maybe now that I don’t live in a fucken shithole, I could have a nice hobby enduro/offroad. I dunno. Life is crazy these days and I have to concentrate on getting another ICE car while there’s still time.

    But fuck and electric scooter, it’s completely gay. And anyone that ride an electric Harley deserves nothing less than ridicule and mockery. Or any other make believe “motorcycle” for that matter.

    Yes that’s right. Even the scooter guy will make fun of you!

  4. ‘It has been easy to get people to accept the replacement of the cars they have been driving with electric cars.’ — eric

    Likewise, now the cool green kids want to take away your gas range and replace it with an electric stove that fundamentally sucks.

    But the internal machinations in Clowngress have gone wonky, with the Freedom Caucus temporarily defeating consideration of a ‘Save Our Stoves’ bill to spite Speaker K-Mac, a veteran californicator:

    ‘Eleven House Republicans – most of them in the Freedom Caucus – joined Democrats on Tuesday in voting against a rule to advance four bills attempting to overturn Biden administration regulations to control gas stoves, in order to send a big ‘f-you’ to Speaker Kevin McCarthy for breaking his promises to the Caucus and negotiating a debt deal that largely favors the Democrats.

    ‘One bill, the Gas Stove Protection and Freedom Act, would prevent the CPSC from banning or substantially raising the price of gas stoves. That agency made a formal request for information related to gas stoves in March.

    ‘The other bill, dubbed the Save Our Stoves Act, would keep the Department of Energy from implementing a proposed energy efficiency rule for gas stoves.

    ‘Concerns about a ban were ignited in part by comments from CPSC Commissioner Richard Trumka, Jr., to Bloomberg News in January. “This is a hidden hazard. Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned,” he said.’

    https://tinyurl.com/5d4ejdan

    As Ayn Rand might have said, when the legislative body of your country is considering a ‘Save Our Stoves’ act, you may know that you are living in a terminal failed state.

  5. Hey, can’t blame all those guys on everything. Takes two to create conflict.

    What about the Native Americans in 1876 at the Little Big Horn River?

    What about the Lakota and Sioux who had been driven from their native lands in Minnesota in and around New Ulm?

    Let them eat dung said a BIA officer back then. Lincoln hanged 29 Sioux and moved then to Standing Rock in North and South Dakota.

    Custer and his band of merry men were massacred by Crazy Horse and another 5000 Indian braves who had had enough and those savages took matters into their own hands.

    July 4, 1876, the Centennial Celebration of Independence Day was a somber occasion.

    You can kill Native American tribes until the cows come home, you’re not going to be able to kill them all. At some point, there will be a karmic effect.

    First it was the Native Americans, gotta go after somebody. Had to get tired of all of the killing starting with the Trail of Beers all the way to Oklahoma.

    Then the railroads run rail into Kansas and buffalo were slaughtered for hides and bones. A Sharps 50 caliber was the rifle of choice.

    All human life is important.

    “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for those we despise, we don’t believe in it all.” – Noam Chomsky

    Right from the horse’s mouth there, you tell us, Noam, we’re all ears.

    Putin is expressing himself, he is free to do so. Not many agree, just too bad.

  6. Of a piece with the conflation of scooters with motorcycles, there has also been a trend toward labeling oversized battery packs as “generators,” despite the fact that they don’t generate anything. If you search for “generator” on Amazon, the first few devices are actual generators, with gas engines powering an alternator (or maybe a generator-inverter combo) that produces AC power. Scroll down a bit, though, and you start seeing devices such as this:

    https://www.amazon.com/-/dp/B082TMBYR6/

    They call it a “solar generator,” on the assumption that you’ll use solar power out in the boonies to charge the thing. It’s basically an oversized version of a USB battery pack, with a few dozen lithium-ion batteries connected to an inverter. It doesn’t generate anything by itself; it needs to be charged by being plugged into a wall outlet…or, maybe, an actual generator. Yet they’re calling it a “generator.”

  7. Interesting too that in my state, you could take the test on a little scooter and be licensed to ride any motorcycle you could get your hands on (not positive whether that’s still the case).
    I took my test on my girlfriend’s 49cc Honda scooter with continuously-variable drive 40 years ago, and I have a motorcycle endorsement on my license to this day.
    I’ve always been good with a gearbox, having driven farm tractors since I was 5 and worked my way through college driving tractor-trailers over the road. But I would be scared to death to have a real motorcycle between my legs on a public road. And I would be dangerous.

  8. There are plenty of motorcycles out there with an automatic transmission. Please don’t say it is “the shifting” that separates them.

    • Hi Buck,

      No, there aren’t. And the few that have been offered have never sold well. Maybe you are including three wheelers. But those aren’t motorcycles, either.

      • The only one’s I can think of are the Honda Goldwing and Africa Twin, and both are also avail. with regular manual trans. Don’t know the split take rates on them.

        • Hi Chris,

          Yup. I doubt they ever sold more than a handful of them. There was also the Honda-Matic of the mid-late ’70s; it flopped, too.

          An automatic motorcycle being kind of like non-alcoholic “beer.”

      • Hi Eric –
        I actually own one of those true motorcycles with an automatic transmission. It’s a 1980 Honda CM400A, 2 cylinder with a 2-speed clutchless transmission. 1st gear is for off the line grunt and then you can foot-shift it into 2nd. Fun bike… not super quick, but a nice cruiser. It’s biggest issue is it’s HEAVY…like Gold Wing heavy. If it goes over, it’s a pain to get it back up. I know this first hand.

        • Hi Bill,

          Yup! I remember them.My maniac friend Graves may even have one (this guy has a bunch of Honda Dreams from the ’60s; I got my two stroke S1250 from him).

      • Eric,

        An increasing number of bikes are coming with automated, DCT transmissions. They’re available on Honda’s Goldwing, Rebel 1100, the Africa Twin, and on the NC750X. While you can use paddle shifting with these bikes, you don’t have to.

        • Yes – and it’s a terrible trend.

          One that has a rip tide effect. Eventually, what was available becomes standard and before you know it, bikes are just like cars: Over-teched, over-expensive, user-non-serviceable disposable appliances.

          • Thankfully, it’s not one that’s really taken hold yet. One, Honda’s the only company I know of equipping bikes with DCTs. Two, only four of their models can be equipped with DCT. Three, there are whole companies whose lineups consist of manual tranny only motorcycles, such as Royal Enfield.

            • Amen, Mark –

              My hope is that this vile business of transitioning motorcycles into scooters does not take hold. But the fact is there are lots of people who are enamored of not having to do anything. Or rather, want the machine to do it. Like “gadgets.” Think they are “cool.” I channel Monty Python and tell them: I fart in their direction.

              • Eric,

                That’s why I’m a fan of Royal Enfield bikes. They have tech only where it’s needed or makes sense, e.g. EFI, ABS, and compact, LCD panels with dual trip meters, gear indicators, and fuel guages. They don’t have cockpits that would be more at home on the Starship Enterprise; they don’t have rider modes; and, as of right now, they don’t even have an liquid cooled bike! Plus, RE’s are simple and basic enough to work on yourself; for example, the valves have the dead simple screw & locknut adjustments, not the complicated, PITA shim & bucket.

    • Even if that were true the clutch kinda does make a very huge difference. Try to pop a wheelie with an automatic! NFW AFAIK

      And, just like with cars, the automatic trans doesn’t let you have full control of the RPM. In cars these days, it’s almost like they purposefully keep you OFF the power band.

      I want to keep off the brakes. From my experience, I get better control of the vehicle that way, regardless of the scenario.

      So maybe just “shifting” by itself doesn’t make the biggest difference but that clutch sure as hell does!

  9. Eric,

    Back in the old days of the original, two stroke Vespa scooters, they had to be shifted too; the clutch and shifter were both located in the left handlegrip. You pulled the clutch, then rotated the handlegrip to change gears. Both motorcycles and scooters required shifting at one time, so that can’t be used as a metric to distinguish one from the other.

    No, what separated motorcycles from scooters (and what still does, really) is the arrangement of the engine, controls, etc. On a motorcycle, the engine was in between the wheels and below the rider; the rider sat astride the motorcycle, while putting his feet on side mounted pegs. OTOH, with scooters, the engine was down below in front of the rear wheel; in fact, the engine, transmission, and rear wheel were and are connected with one another. The rider puts his feet on a floorboard and is protected by mud flaps. That’s how scooters and motorcycles are differentiated; it’s the layout that distinguishes them, not their drivetrains. As stated above, scooters used to be shifted too. Does that make them a motorcycle? No.

    • ‘what separated motorcycles from scooters’ — MarkyMark

      Scooters as military vehicles:

      ‘The Vespa was inspired by the small olive-coloured Cushman Airborne motorcycles that were dropped by parachute during WWII into the Italian industrial heartlands of Milan and Turin to be used by troops in the fight against the Germans.

      ‘On April 23, 1946 Piaggio applied for a patent with the Central Patents Office at the Ministry of Industry and Commerce in Florence, describing the Vespa as “a motorcycle [sic] with a rational complex of organs and elements with body combined with the mudguards and bonnet covering all the mechanical parts”.

      ‘In the 1953 film Roman Holiday, it could be argued that the scooter should have also received star billing after Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, as it’s the images of them riding it through Rome that have helped the film endure.’ [See photo toward the bottom of this link.]

      https://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/history-icon-la-vespa

      Since Cushman also makes golf carts, maybe it is the progenitor of the EeeVeeee as well. Or its co-parent, along with Steve Jobs’ iPhone [see third image from the top, above].

      • That’s very interesting! I know of Cushman scooters, but I had no idea that they had military pedigree… 🙂

    • Technically Marky is correct.

      But I wouldn’t dare roll up to a biker bar on an electric hog, let alone try to explain to them that it is not, in fact, a “scooter.”

    • Yup, exactly! As I mentioned above, I like scooters (for what they are) but don’t pretend they’re a motorcycle even if they have a huge engine (like the Bergman), etc.

      A scooter is a scooter and is not a motorcyle.

      I’ve heard people call them “a motorized chair on wheels”! LOL Because of how you sit on them.

      For hot-dogging and full-throttle madness a small engine bike (moped, scooter, trail bike, motorcycle) is a fun thing IMO. Relatively safe if you have some experience but you can still break your neck.

      I like big bikes too but never had one. I would probably kill myself TBH. I get on a bike and I want to fly off a jump or head over some whoop-de-dos and usually don’t think about the consequences until I’m about to eat it! 🤣

      I still think a Suzuki Bergman 600 would be a fun scooter. Fuck, I want them all TBH. Probably won’t happen but as the ICE car bans become reality, *any* gas engine bike is still a good idea IMO. And I don’t want to spend fucken $30K on a bike either!

  10. And please stop calling the car ID a VIN Number. VIN stands for Vehicle Identification Number.
    Calling the ID a VIN Number is saying: Vehicle Identification Number Number.

    • And “PIN number”
      And “ATM machine”
      And “HIV virus”
      And “LCD display”
      And “UPC code”
      This has been a pet peeve of mine for decades, and now it appears there’s a name for it: Redundant Acronym Syndrome (which often is called, ironically, “RAS syndrome”). The term is annoying in itself, because many of these are not acronyms; just initials. To be an acronym it has to be pronounced as a word, not as individual letters.

      • ‘Redundant Acronym Syndrome’ — Roland

        … lampooned by Firesign Theater as the Department of Redundancy Department (DRD).

        If the DRD does not yet exist in the bowels of the US fedgov, soon it will.

        Just as the ‘Biden Bribery Bunch’ could be loosely described as a triple redundancy. After all, that’s what they do. Ten percent for the Big Guy moves mountains.

    • YES, YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES! It also drives me crazy when people talk about having a “CDL license”…

      • Yeah, there are lots of them. Another thing that annoys and puzzles me is the double “is.” As in, “The reason is is that…” A lot of very smart people do that, and it is baffling. I suspect it might have grown out of “The reason being is…” I also hear the occasional “is was.”

    • ‘please stop calling the car ID a VIN Number.’ — Doug

      Yeah, no:

      ‘It is wrong to think of “yeah no” as an oxymoron and a sign of inarticulate confusion. “Yeah no” is what linguists call a discourse marker.

      ‘Discourse markers are usually short and sometime vague-seeming parts of a sentence which serve semantic, expressive, and practical functions in speech. They can indicate assent or dissent (or sometimes both). They can indicate attention, sarcasm, hedging, self-effacement, or face-saving.’

      https://blog.oup.com/2019/03/where-phrase-yeah-no-come-from/

      Please specify your preferred pronouns and discourse markers.

      • Jim, that’s another one that gets under my skin. I’d say the times when it is used to answer two questions (one that requires a negative response and one that requires a positive) are very rare. Most of the time it’s just sloppy speaking. People will throw it in when they haven’t even been asked a question: “I think electric cars are the future and yeah no we have to do something about climate change.”
        When I look up things like this I almost always find that somebody has already come up with a name for it – plus, as the article mentions, coffee mugs and T-shirts.

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