Tuesday, May 28, 2019

I admit it: The future belongs to electric motorcycles

Outboard motor mounted on stern of canoe.
This convinced me: internal combustion isn't worth the effort.
My wife was right: electric motors will rule the world

There seems no doubt that electric motorcycles will be the future of two-wheeled transportation. Maybe they'll be more like scooters, or dirt bikes, or powered bicycles. But they will be electric.

Smooth, quiet, easy to start and increasingly affordable, electrics will make my 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet not just obsolete — it already is that — but seemingly just not worth the trouble.

My kick-start-only Royal Enfield Bullet is running fine — for the moment anyway. But I did just get a severe lesson in the disadvantages of internal combustion: from my outboard motor.

The tide was high on the river this morning and my wife Bonnie said "why don't we put the motor on the canoe and go for a ride?"

That would be the outboard motor that hasn't been started in — what? — 25 years? But it's easy to launch the canoe when the tide is high, so, I said, why not?

It's all my fault. In 1979 Bonnie, observing that we live on a river, bought me the canoe for my birthday. She selected one with a square stern so it could carry a motor, and she bought a tidy little electric trolling motor and marine battery for it.

But no. Mr. Smarty Pants had to look a gift horse in the mouth and insisted on returning the electric and replacing it with a gas motor. You could carry extra gas, I pointed out, but extra batteries were impractical.

Idiot. Bonnie was thinking of spur-of-the-moment outings, a dawn ride into the park just upriver, or maybe martinis on the boat at the picturesque lake downriver, all easily in reach of an electric motor. Romantic sunset cruises. Boating by moonlight. The pop of a champagne cork over the gentle hum of the electric motor.

No. I gave up 40 years of those pleasures in exchange for a heavy, noisy, stinking, polluting bastard of a two-stroke outboard motor I long ago consigned to the attic rather than deal with.

Even when it was working it was a workout for your arm pulling the cord a couple dozen times to get it started.

Even just launching the canoe with the heavy motor fitted is impossible. You have to launch and then awkwardly attach the motor from the dock.

But now — after 25 years of not even bothering to try — I'd have to get it started.

I couldn't find the instruction booklet; I've had it all this time, but now that I needed it, it's gone. The two-stroke oil I have in the garage has been aging in its can for 40 years. It's probably fine, but surface rust on the can seemed to have obliterated writing on the exterior. One thing I could still read: 50:1.

That's a ratio, of course. It means 50-to-one. In my hurry I read it as "50-50." There is a difference, a big one. A two-stroke diesel motor might have run on the half-and-half goo I mixed up, but it was soon apparent (pull! pull! pull! pull!) that no gas engine was going to start on half oil.

Draining it out, to start over, would be no problem because, as Bonnie pointed out as I poured fuel into the tank, "It's leaking out!"

And so it was. Rotted fuel line to blame. That meant a trip to Pep Boys, where a helpful counter guy finally found some fuel line that "might work." It did — kinda — but it quickly became apparent (pull! pull! pull! pull!) that I would now also have to get the oily mixture out of the fuel filter and the carburetor.

I began unscrewing anything that looked like a drain. Every drain I managed to open instantly bathed my hands in fuel. All the rags in the house, and — long story — a bucket of water were soon contaminated with fuel oil.

I had created a Super Fund site in my back yard.

But the motor finally started. It did. After five hours of fiddling. Unfortunately, by now, the tide was at its low point making launching a chore.

We just gave up. I don't think we had any champagne anyway. But next morning, with the tide up again, we did go for a cruise through the neighborhood.

Golly, that thing is loud! I wish I had worn earplugs.

I'm going to look at electric trolling motors.


  1. All true David but to be fair there is no way the battery on your electric motor would have lasted 40 years. and they would be in the bin, serviceable. Stick some Castrol-R in the old girl and enjoy the od'r-de-1980 GP!!

  2. Even our UK "narrow boats" on the canals are taking to electric drives. I shall miss the old "thump, thump" of traditional canal boat engines, but I must admit that the quiet hum of these new motors enhances a peaceful holiday.

  3. Well, For a, perhaps, more rational take see Holman Jenkins in today's Wall St. Journal. There's surely a place for lektricky things but there's no romance there... Cheers, Phil

    1. The Journal's pay wall stopped me cold, but Jenkins has been quoted in the past as saying this: "I have motorcycles and I would never want an electric motorcycle, but also when we do drive in my family, we are often jumping in the car to do a drive-by Thanksgiving through, you know, multiple relatives in the Philadelphia-New Jersey area so we need a car that will just run and run and run for 12 hours. We don't have time to recharge."

  4. This type of battery can endure higher ambient temperatures that a wet-cell battery and can provide extended operating times that other battery types, but it does require special equipment to maintain it properly. Trolling Battery Advisor Reviews This charger comes in many sizes, so you do have to match the correct charger for your size battery.


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