Two-Wheeled Red Barchettas

Motorcycles will probably prove to be the real-life Red Barchettas.

You may remember the great Libertarian anthem by the classic rock band, Rush. It depicts a future world in which private cars are verboten since passage of the Motor Law. But an old heretic, a Giles Corey of tomorrow, has illegally kept a sports car — the red barchetta — hidden away in his barn, carefully preserving it for his nephew.

I think Rush missed it by two wheels.

Motorcycles will be the red barchettas when they finally do pass the Motor Law for real.

In a way, they already are.

Motorcycles are not amenable to the idiot-proofing that has become the focus of new car design. Or rather, the ethos of riding is profoundly different than what has become the ethos of driving.

People who like to ride . . . like to ride.

It is the whole point of the thing.

Why else would you expose yourself to the elements? Increase the physical demands on yourself?

The physical risk?

You have to hold the bike up and maintain balance. You have to use your body — not just your hands — to steer the thing. “Multi-tasking” on a bike does not mean texting while driving. It means using your feet and your hands — all four! — to choreograph the unfolding play.

It is almost impossible to passively ride a bike.

There is no possibility of being asleep at the clip-ons. It requires focus, being in the right-now.

Bikers, like pilots, develop keen situational awareness — because right or wrong, legal or not, if the bike goes down the butcher’s bill will be steep. A biker cannot afford to assume that if the light’s green, it’s okay to proceed. You had better confirm its okay before you rotate the throttle and enter the intersection. Bikers know what happens when they assume a non-signaling car won’t turn left in front of them — so they assume the non-signaling car will turn in front of them and they have an alternate/escape path already mapped out in their heads.

Riding a motorcycle is a lot like driving a car used to be . . . a long time ago. Back when failing to pay attention was lethal to flesh as well as sheet metal and the only brain responsible for keeping the car on the road and not in a ditch was the one sloshing around in the driver’s skull — as opposed to a transistorized ECU in the kick panel.

Less and less is expected of the driver — beyond making the payments. While there are still a few holdouts who respect the art and so resent the idiot-proofing, the dumbing-down and nannying, the majority seem to welcome it. The do not want to drive. They’d rather be doing something else while transiting from A to B.

There is lots to do inside a new car, much of it having nothing to do with driving. There is WiFi, Apple CarPlay, DVD video. A growing number of cars can accelerate — and stop — without the driver touching either the accelerator or the brake pedal. Some automatically steer the car, too.

Passivity has become the all-but-official object of the exercise. Just as plants crave Brawndo, it is becoming very clear that a large slice of the car-driving pie would rather not drive at all.

But will automated cars be the undoing of motorcycles?

It doesn’t take prophetic vision to see that, as automated cars go from being technically feasible on the road to being mandated by law — for “safety,” of course — it will be argued that non-autonomous motorcycles cannot be allowed.

They would be divergent — not subject to the control grid; free to go this way — or that way, at the random discretion of the guy in the saddle.

It will probably be technically possible, at some point, to automate the operation of a bike. There is already a prototype that can’t be dropped; gyros and actuators keep it upright. The same methods used to control a car’s throttle and braking automatically could also be applied to bikes.

But then, the guy in the saddle would no longer be a rider. He’d be as much as a passenger as the “driver” of an automated car. In which case, why not at least be inside — enjoying the heated seats while texting or listening to the latest radio gabble on SiriusXm or maybe checking email?

Then again, riders are not like drivers and most would give up on bikes, if they became automated.

Which leaves the many two-wheeled red barchettas still out there, tucked away in barns and garages . . . the Motor Law be damned.


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