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Our Fiends Electric May 10, 2009

Posted by markswill in Cars and Bikes, Media.

For the last four years a Sunday in early May has meant watching several dozen dedicated eccentrics tearing around my home town on electric bicycles. Wearing a variety of fancy dress, naturally including a feminist in a fish costume, the competitors circulate the mean streets of Presteigne for an hour, or until their batteries and/or leg muscles expire, to achieve the most laps and win an imposing trophy finely-crafted from re-cycled tin cans.

And this being a ‘transition town’, you won’t be surprised that the race, or ‘rally’ as it must be known for health and safety reasons, has become part of a bigger, weekend long event –‘Green Wheels’. This year it became a kind of mini-alternative motor show where a wide range of electric and hybrid vehicles were displayed, some as eccentric as their sandal wearing constructors, others from pukka motor manufactures like Citroen, Toyota and most impressively, Morgan.

My loyal reader may know that for the last three years I’ve entertained launching a consumer magazine covering low-carbon powered personal transport, a notion piqued by last year’s oil price hikes but for all the usual reasons, financing has been impossible to find. And just as it inspired the idea in the first place, the Green Wheels weekend has once again rendered it a modest no-brainer: if nigh on a thousand people will descend on a remote Welsh border town to attend seminars, get legless at boisterous evening entertainments, race electric bikes and more importantly, buy them, then surely a lot more of them would buy a magazine three or four times a year to keep them up to, er, speed?

I won’t bore you with the numbers, but it’s hard to see how such an organ would work unless it received substantial sponsorship and that avenue, too, has proven a dead end. Interestingly (perhaps), this is not, as in so many cases of magazine launch lust, because the information is out there in abundance on the web… although of course it might be a few weeks time.  But my own completely subjective research around the Green Wheels green field site confirms that alternative transport enthusiasts want something they can read on the bog.

Be that as it all may, should a magazine of this ilk ever see the light of day – with or without me pedaling it – I’ll doubtless be accused of rank hypocrisy given that I own no less than four fossil fuel-powered vehicles. Attracting further irony, if not opprobrium, is the oldest of these, a gorgeous 1982 Lancia Gamma Coupe, which requires horrid leaded fuel and achieves barely 25mpg driven with a light right foot, which of course it isn’t. In my defence, I should say that I drive only a few hundred miles a year in the Gamma, a couple of these being to attend the nearest classic car show which again takes place in Presteigne a month after Green Wheels and enjoys about the same attendance, albeit mainly local residents.

The enthusiasms of the classic car world are well catered for by magazines, one of which I used to scribble a column for until I was replaced by the latest editor’s best friend on Christmas Eve (subsidiary thought: why do so many people get sacked during the season of good cheer?). My predictable ‘screw you’ reaction was to pursue an idea I’d long had for launching an  enthrallingly original new classic car rag, but that oxymoron also fell by the wayside when the business plan bespoke an All The Hours God Sent management requirement and rewards that wouldn’t keep a man and his Gamma in lead replacement fuel additives until 2012.

But men’s – and it largely is men’s – passionate interest in things that move is what unites the classic car and the alternative tyre-tread movements, and many other movements too. Unsurprising then that most of my scribbling and all of my successful (and some unsuccessful) magazine launches over the last forty years have involved wheels and engines. Equally obviously, some of my, and possibly your, favourite books also cover transports of delight, which is why I recently found myself returning to Winston O. Link’s extraordinary photographic record of ‘The Last Steam Railroad in America’ (published in the USA by Abrams) and am re-reading my late colleague L.J.K. Setright’s beautifully written ‘Drive On – A Social History of the Motor Car’ (Granta). You should do too.

The point being that whilst we are clearly and necessarily on the cusp of a low-carbon future, our appetite for things that move us – in both senses of the term – will not be diminished by either a dearth of petrol or the wretched homogeneity of vehicle design that the near collapse of the word’s car manufacturing industries will surely accelerate. What form the objects of our motorised desires will take in this uncertain future I dare not second guess, but I’m damn sure that someone will find a way of building a niche media around them.

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1. Paul N. Blez - May 11, 2009

Hi Mark,
How appropriate to read your blog the day after I raced the Agni-Lynch powered Mavizen TTX01 all-electric, GSXR-based demonstrator at the Thundersprint in Northwich (see http://www.thundersprint.com. Despite being down on power and ludicrously overgeared, not to mention the handicap of being ridden by an ageing has-been who never was, it proved to be faster than all manner of classic and modern motorcycles and over a second faster than the time I set on the Yamaha Tmax last year. In preparation for the event I also had the pleasure of riding an improved, Ducati-based electric bike down at the builder, Steve Ali Labib’s south coast workshops last Friday. His workshop is full of ‘pedelecs’ of all kinds, including a super-low recumbent tricycle (2F1R) which does about 40mph thanks to its 5Kw motor and on which he commutes twelve miles to work every day.
Electric vehicles are the coming thing, ain’t no doubt about it!

Paul N. Blezard - May 11, 2009

Sorry, in my previous comment I should have mentioned that the TTX01 was built to help promote the first Zero Carbon TT race, the ‘TTXGP’ which takes place in the Isle of Man on June 12th 2009, the same day as the Senior TT. For loads more information see http://www.ttxgp.com. The TTXGP is the brainchild of Azhar Hussain who reckons that the electric bikes will be able to compete with petrol-driven machinery on equal terms within five years. In the meantime he’s planning a whole series of zero carbon races worldwide. At the time of writing, there are 23 entrants for the TTXGP, including 7 teams from the USA, one of which is from the people who built the Killacycle drag bike which does the standing quarter mile in 8 seconds!

2. DickP - May 11, 2009

Mark – yesterday I was in town on my PX125 and pulled up next to an elderly lady on a HUGE Vectrix electric scooter – as long as a minibus – which left me for dead when the lights changed. Apparently they’re v expensive, and she told me she only gets 40 miles per charge, but they don’t half shift


3. Pooh - May 18, 2009

Problem isn’t just the top speed 0-40 times etc….Its the sheer tameness of electric stuff. When I was a little kid my dad got me a motor roar…A battery driven plastic engine look alike that sounded just like a real engine should. Therefore I suggest as you pull away on you leccybike2010 it should sound like a Jota at the least…perhaps we could download engine noises from the net like an MP3…….Vincent anyone?

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