Definition of a Motorcycle: A bicycle with a motor.
Fair enough; nothing about size. But what do we understand as a bicycle?
Actually the registration on my motorcycle reads 'bicycle' so in law it is a vehicle with two wheels, one behind the other, with a motor. Note: the one behind the other is important for in the UK at least two wheeled powered vehicles with the wheels side by side are not road legal.
My first motorcycle had a 125cc engine. If it fell over I could pick it up.
My second motorcycle had a 200cc engine. If it fell over I could pick it up.
So it was for my 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th,8th,8th motorcycles. My 9th had a 500 cc engine, but I could still pick it up. My 10th and current motorcycle has a 660 cc engine and the one time it fell over I strained my back picking it up.
Today my machine is considered as medium to small! When I had my first 125 cc motorcycle a 650cc motorcycle was big and anything bigger was huge. Medium bikes were 250 cc to 500 cc.
Our car has a 998cc motor. It develops around 60 bhp, around 45 kW. My motorcycle around 40 bhp or 30 kW. Motorcycles are available with 100 bhp, 75 kW and much more. Engine sizes are mostly in the 800cc to 1500 cc range. There are some even bigger up to 2300cc. There are also some smaller. Between 600cc and 800cc, but often with highly tuned, so quite powerful motors. A lot around 125 cc, suitable for learners bu with power restricted to around 10 kW. In between 125 cc and 600 cc there are a few motorcycles, and, interestingly, quite a selection of scooters.
But what is this emphasis on size doing for motorcycling?
The green argument is now very weak as fuel consumption for many bikes is much worse than cars.
In the hands of inexperienced riders the large powerful bikes cause harm, especially to the riders.
The size of the bikes often means that in city traffic the size advantage over cars is lost. In fact very few are used as car substitutes. In many cases they are 'weekend' toys, mainly for boys.
Safety and misuse makes motorcycling and motorcycles easy targets for the powers that be.
So why has this situation arisen?
That is easy. At first there were no restrictions on the size of bike a learner could ride. Then for many years in the UK it was 250 cc. A nice limit as 250 cc is a practical general purpose size. Then it was reduced to 125 cc. This reduction also included a power restriction.
The power restriction tells it all. Speed and power go together. At first real power only came from a bigger engine, hence the 250 cc limit. As technology moved on the power of 250 cc machines became such that many were greater than much larger machines from an earlier era.
A better solution for motorcycling would have been a non size related power restriction. It did not happen.
At the same time acquiring a motorcycle licence became harder. In reality the effect the authorities hoped, motorcycling withering away did not happen.
First of all the increased difficulties in getting a motorcycling license meant it gained a kudos not available to car drivers. A challenge.
Secondly a generation who had passed their motorcycle test in easier days now had disposable income and dream to youth. The born again bikers.
Neither group wanted an 'everyday'motocycle. the manufactures obliged, and continue to do so with bikes of increasing size, power and kudos. There is an element where power is not prime, the 'easy rider' cruiser look. However size is and many bikes of this type have motors larger than most cars.
However; it is not all doom and gloom.
Small to medium weigh bikes have been replaced by automatic scooters. The generation of power bike owners is getting older and many will drift towards something more manageable. I personally am thinking my next machine will probably be a 250 cc scooter or similar.
As yet the 'eco' benefits of motorcycling have not been pushed. One benefit of warmer weather though is the increased length of the practical motorcycling year. There is also the fact that motorcyclists vote. Ken Livingstone lost as Mayor of London after making some anti-motorcycling statements. The amount he lost by was around the estimated number of London motorcyclists.
So; is motorcycling committing suicide?
Well yes, in the short lived fashion sense. As a practical eco alternative in a crowded energy depleted world, probably not.
I just wish motorcycle manufacturers would learn that, and start making practical bikes.
I want a light weight, around 250 cc that does around 120 - 150 mpg.
12 years later: 2022
Well well well! It is not often that a plea, or a predicition comes out positive, but things are certainly changing.
My 660cc finally broke its back, literally the frame broke after 22 years and 50 000+ miles. Motor was still going strong.
A new bike was called for; nothing too big, I am getting on a bit. Well for once there was a choice, a real choice of sub 500cc motorcycles.
I quickly settled on a new Royal Enfield Meteor 350cc, and I am not alone as in the first half of 2022 it is best seller in the over 125cc group.
No wonder. 350cc. Cruises at 50/60 mph and will hit 75mph pushed, useful on the odd bypass; no one is going to use it for long motorway runs. On top of this 90 mpg. Going from, 60 mpg to 90 mpg as fuel prices rocketed was a surprise benefit. Even coped two up very well.
Other than quick overtaking it is perfect, and as I am happy to cruise, go with the flow high speed overtaking is not a requirement.
Royal Enfield's real return, initially with there old 500cc suitable updated bu then the new 420cc Himalayan followed by the 650cc Constellation Twin, then the 350 meteor range and others to follow.
Honda evidently sell a similar 350cc single in India which has not made its way to these shores. BMW sell a 300+ single but have yet to push it. KTM make a nice 350 and evidently the Yamaha MT-o3 300s are pretty good. Just yesterday i read about the new Triumph sub 500cc singles coming our way.
While the Royal Enfield Meteor at around 20 bhp is a bit low for many. Practically it works well as the torque is high suggesting a well controlled lower revving motor. Some 300s make up to 40 bhp, but need 12000+ rpm to get there.
Even RE are producing newer variations of the Himalayan near to 30 bhp.
So I can answer my question; Motorcycling it seems is not committing suicide at the moment, and i think electric bikes do have a real future for many reasons.