Imagining The Past Into The Future
By Greg Shamieh
I rolled the Matchless G80 out the garage door, and into the light.
I rolled the machine back onto its main stand and then reached down to turn on the fuel petcock. I pulled the cap from the oil tank – peering within to make sure that there was still some oil left in its recesses. I pressed the carb priming button – ‘the tickler’ – until raw fuel spilled onto the top of the cases. A G80 doesn’t have a key – there is just an ignition switch on the dash – I gave it a flip. I stood on the left footpeg and swung a leg over – using the kickstart lever to slowly rotate the engine to just short of top dead center on its compression stroke. The G80’s spark is controlled by a manual advance lever on the right handlebar – I swung the lever to about 2/3s advance, petitioned the lord with prayer, and kicked.
I was rewarded with a solid ‘foomp’, a little bit of valve clatter, and then a slow, solid and steady idle – ‘whoompwhoompwhoompwhoomp’.
I pushed the bike off the stand, rolled the down the driveway, and toed it into first gear, rolled left, and motored up the road.
I’d been nothing but happy with my 2025 Kawasaki Ninja 920. The bike was small, light, narrow, and its highly tuned supercharged 4 cylinder engine had proven smooth and powerful enough to carry me both to work every day and around the continent on my personal wanderings. The bike’s advanced electronics had helped to keep me safe on the road – Kawasaki had taken the bold step of adding the Bosch Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) radar and lidar sensing functionality from the automotive universe to the Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) suite in 2021 – initially adding functions like adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning – but as time went by more advanced functions like lane keeping and active collision avoidance were also added.
I’ve always loved riding in New Mexico – the combination of mountain roads and high deserts always had me coming back for more. One story told to me by the owners of a bar near the White Sands Missile Range had always stuck with me though. They’d related to me how before every test, the Air Force would send an Officer to visit them to inquire about their daily receipts (which they’d always overstate), said Officer would write them a check, and then they’d keep the joint open that day, laughing all the way.
Until one day an errant cruise missile hit the hill behind the bar.
“Broke every window, mirror and booze bottle in the whole place. Now when they fire we go to Albuquerque.”
I was blasting up US 54 towards Almogordo – the landscape is open, and a 120 mph cruise speed seems neither out of place or ill-advised – there’s just nothing here to hit. Without warning, the Collision Avoidance radar sensor on the Kawi’s dash indicated a hazard condition – first yellow, then immediately red, then automatically applying the brakes – hauling the bike down from speed faster than I could even begin to process what was going on – by the time we were under 60 mph I was completely awash in the noise, bouncing parts, fire and flame of whatever this was.
The star and bar roundel insignia indicated the crashed wreckage was one of ours – so sorry to all you Area 51 They-Are-Out-There-Guys. I was together enough to put a boot down as the bike crisply stopped itself – something moving in the upper right part of my visual field proved to be the chute of the pilot who’d been able to successfully punch out of this former aircraft.
I clutched in and turned the Kawi around in the roadway, trolled about 50 yards up the road away from the burning debris, pulled on the shoulder, killswitched it, and placed it on the sidestand. ‘Rider assistance’ my ass. I pulled off my helmet, did the tiny convulsive dance of way too much adrenaline, and waited for the emergency vehicles to show up.
My Jetpack Aviation Speeder had sure changed my normal office commuting routines.
I reflected how worried and affected by road congestion I used to be – using Google live traffic data would produce different routes to the same points each and every day as cars crashed, roads collapsed, and local weather conditions flooded out roadways, and dropped trees and whole hillsides onto the highways.
How quaint that seemed now.
I engaged the bike’s ‘arm’ key, and then pressed the starter button. As each of the four turbojet engines hit 18,000 rpm or so, they’d light off, hit required oil pressure, and then pass the starter input to the next jet. With all four engines lit, I gently put some no load rpms into the turbines, trying to work some heat into the system and the oil. After a minute or so, with some temp showing on the gauges, I snapped my visor shut, rolled up some thrust, and leapt skyward from the pad at the rear of my driveway.
At 3000 feet, I activated the flight plan I’d filed with the new National Autonomous Flight Control Automation System (NAFCAS), and engaged the autopilot. My former road-bound trip, which averaged about 75-80 minutes, showed a flight time to touchdown of about 18 minutes. NAFCAS took the Speeder up to an altitude of about 11,000 feet, and a cruise speed of 150 miles per hour.
I’d have a few minutes to think about my plan for the day while I admired the rather stupendous view.
I can remember a time when members of one of the OG Online Motorcycle Clubs – The Internet BMW Riders – were having ‘spirited conversations’ about whether AntiLock Braking Systems (ABS) were a positive development. Now BMW has an R1200GS that rides itself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VaZlTsoj0Hc It doesn’t need you at all.
How the heck did we get here?
If I had told you about any if this 15 years ago you’d have straight up thought I was stone crazy. Now, if you want to put down a deposit on the Speeder, you can go here – https://jetpackaviation.com/speeder-pre-order/#pre-order – and order one.
To steer clear of The Lawyers, I am required to mention that the v 1.0 Speeder you would order there is not fully autonomous. It will go to altitudes of 15,000 feet at speeds of 150 mph, though.
The thing about the future is the fact that its constantly showing up in those milliseconds while we’re distracted and not looking, and that no matter what it is, it’s a surprise every time.
The motorcycle, as a tool for mobility, is certainly changing, and changing along with it are the motorcycle business, the business of writing about it, and even what it means to be a rider.
Who could have predicted electric motorcycles – silent transmissionless drive with 3 second zero to 100 times?
The news out of the design studios at Harley Davidson, Yamaha and even Ducati are filled with e-bicycles, e-mopeds, and light electric scooters. Small startups producing all of these urban use lightweights are now ubiquitous. City Planners everywhere are redesigning downtown and edge urban areas around bike lanes to accommodate all of these lighter transport modalities. For the young people looking for a first ride, these less expensive, more agile and more practical rides are both a lot of fun to ride and also make a lot of sense. Heck, with e-bikes you can even get a little exercise, but not too much.
The biggest electric motorcycles have a lot of their design decisions driven by the need to move 500 pounds of motorcycle around. Make that bike 80 pounds and the math improves considerably.
I recently had my first experience with a rental electric scooter, and except for the ill-advised high speed run on a cobblestone street in Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood, these things are a whole lot of fun. I do advise sticking to smooth sidewalks or macadam, though – these things are hardtails.
There’s no limit to how far the downsizing can go, either.
My son and sometime riding buddy Finn has a case of the moto-hots for a thing called a OneWheel Pint. The Pint is a single slick racing tire from a go cart that has been mated to an electric battery, motor and gyro-controller chassis that looks like a regular skateboard. The control unit is functionally similar to a Segway – lean forward, and the board goes forward. Lean back and it slows and stops. The thing is surprisingly quick, surprisingly agile, and the control circuitry seems really well implemented – it appears like these things should be a fast trip to face plant central, but they seem to be easy to ride. Best of all, you don’t have to park it, you don’t have to rack it, when you get where you’re going, you just stick it under your arm, and go inside.
I’m beginning to see his point, here.
Motorcycle Magazines are changing faster than motorcycles, too. First off, the very notion of a Motorcycle Magazine – as a printed thing on paper – is fast on the road to being one of those concepts that, a few short years into the future, might be something that will only elicit confused looks from onlookers when the term is used. The motorcycling community has seen print publications that seemed unassailably eternal just vanish without warning from the stage. Motorcyclist Magazine – which was beyond its hundredth year of publication – stopped printing, conducted layoffs, and turned into an online only publication. Motorcyclist’s sister publication – Cycle World – still exists as a 4 issue a year magazine, but much of its staff and online presence are shared with Motorcyclist’s. The EasyRiders universe, which at deepest water consisted of 5 or 6 paper titles, slowly collapsed back into only EasyRiders, the went digital only, and then folded tents. EasyRiders appears to be a jeans and sportswear brand now. SanFrancisco’s CityBike – a bastion of deep thought and excellent writing – went digital, and folded shortly therafter. Instead of being colors printed on paper, and filled with words designed to illuminate both the subject and the reader, the Motorcycle Magazine of future is a thing on your smartphone. Even writing about motorcycles itself is kind of in trouble – I’ve had motorcycle manufacturers tell me that they only work with media that concentrate on video, and can prove they already have established YouTube channel subscriber levels. One only needs to look to Ari Henning and Zach Courts – who walked away from the moto-print universe and now star in a television and streaming show called Throttle Out on Motor Trend – to see how true this is.
As someone that is much better looking in print than I am as a Vlogging Host, I could wake up one morning soon and be as relevant as kickstarters and magnetos.
Motorcycle Manufacturers have to deal with all of this stuff and more. The basic technology is changing in fundamental and material ways, the needs and attitudes of younger consumers are changing as fast as that if not faster, and the overall rate of people taking up the sport has been falling for the last several years. The more established and older brands have an even tougher time managing their place in the changing motorcycling continuum because their heritage actually holds them back from making transformational changes.
The sport that you and I both love is changing now, just as it always has. The rate of change might even be accelerating, but I’m not so sure about that. Keeping an open mind about anything that shows up with two wheels (or three, or in some cases one) and looks like fun is where this all starts – we’ve never been able to predict the future in any way other than to be surprised when it shows up.
Too much deep thought about what lies ahead, though, is making my head hurt. Finn just blasted past the office window with what looks like a brand new OneWheel. That thing sure looks like fun. I’m going to head outside and ask to have a go.