Every now and then some old idea comes around again, often with a twist of current technology. I had no idea that bicycles with coaster brakes were still being sold. I thought those things went out in the 1980s. Admittedly, bicycles with coaster brakes are satisfying to ride because they are so simple. You don’t have to think about changing gears or forgetting which brake lever works on which wheel, which is completely opposite that of a motorcycle, as a learned a few years ago on my mountain bike. (Yes, I went over the handlebars, and yes, I was wearing a helmet.) Today’s bicycle with coaster brakes can be called a beach cruiser or a beach bike. I bought one the other day at Acme Bicycles in Saxtons River. While I could have opted for a vintage American bicycle at twice the price, I went for a used beach bike of Chinese manufacture, complete with whitewall tires.
Why would an over-60-something guy like me buy a beach bike? Because I am fascinated by the new/old concept of a bicycle with a motor. Yup, I own two motorcycles, but simply being motorized is not the point. A cheap, simple bicycle with a cheap, simple engine should get incredible gas mileage, right? That’s my thinking. I’ve been seeing motorized beach bikes all over the Internet, as well as seeing them on the road locally. The first time I saw a guy riding one I could immediately tell that the bicycle coming up the road was not being ridden under human power ... the speed was simply too great. The guy riding it was also wearing goggles and a helmet, too. So who is riding these things?
One type of individual riding motorized bicycles are folks with suspended driver’s licenses. That should instill a bit of confidence on our roads, eh? Picture people riding motorized bikes at well over 30 miles per hour, just as drunk as they were when they got tagged for a D.U.I. in their car. But wait, that could potentially be a good thing. Think about it for a minute. The chances of an intoxicated individual killing themselves while riding a motorized bicycle is greater than having them take out others in a booze soaked crash. You could look at it as a Darwinian weeding process, thus reducing the number of alcoholics that are never going to stop drinking anyway. Before I get letters, please, I’m joking here. But not by much.
Others riding motorized bicycles may be people too young to get a driver’s license, possibly people too old to continue having a driver’s license. Then there are people interested in saving huge amounts of gasoline by riding a motorized bicycle. That would be me. I get more than 40 miles per gallon on my 2010 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. We’ve got cars that can do that, so how efficient is that motorcycle, anyway? Not as much as I had thought when I bought it, but I will say that after a few years of ownership it probably hasn’t worn in enough to get its maximum MPG. Once it has 10,000 to 15,000 miles on it the Triumph will probably push the high 40s. Still, a motorized bicycle could do a lot better, yet there is one problem, and its one of engineering.
Motorcycles are designed to have engines with their various forces and amounts of torque and the speed at which the wheels must turn and the steering head must negotiate. A bicycle is really designed to be human powered at human speeds, except for the occasional downhill coast that could see you approaching 50 or 60 miles per hour depending on a whole bunch of factors. Having a motor with too much power on a bicycle is going to crack frames and heads, and I’m not talking cylinder heads. The little 50-cubic centimeter motors are probably enough for the average bicycle to handle. However, the Chinese manufacturers of these motor retro-fit kits are selling units with 60 and 80 ccs of displacement, and you can even put on a 125-cc motor if you are good with tools and some fabricating. I just don’t think the frames can handle the forces that motors bigger than 50 ccs will create. Still, I want to have one, and now I have about half of what I need to create one. I’m going to forego anything bigger than 50 ccs.
Flimsy frames and low speeds be damned, I’m still going to catch the motorized bicycle wave. I suppose I can chalk it up to doing my part for the environment and the conservation of energy. Somebody has to do this stuff, so it might as well include me. If I like it, I may even think about catching the electric motorcycle wave; while not cheap, that should also be a wave worth catching.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.