Outer space carries no sound. If George Lucas hadn’t bent interstellar rules and added sound effects, Star Wars would cease to be a sci-fi masterpiece. Imagine a silently exploding Death Star with a subtitled “Bang!,” Han Solo mouthing “pwew, pwew, pwew” for the Millennium Falcon’s laser guns, and TIE Fighters screaming by without making whatever that super cool sound is they make.
Electric motorcycle racing faces the same noiseless conundrum: Cutting-edge electric racers from Mugen, Victory, Zero, et al. circulating premier road racing courses in near silence. And the sound they do emit is more nauseating than it is awe-inspiring. To enhance the viewing experience and attract racing enthusiasts, road racing series incorporating electric motorcycle racing into their schedules should take a lesson from Hollywood and introduce some badass sound effects.
In 2011, at a combined round of TTXGP and the e-Power championships during the Laguna Seca MotoGP event, I sat in the nearly empty grandstands watching and listening to the race. The bikes didn’t bark with engine braking when entering Turn 11 and failed to emit an RPM-increasing scream when accelerating out of the tight corner. I had to strain my ears to discern the high-pitched whine the bikes did make traveling at top speed down the front straight.
The electric bikes competing at Laguna Seca were lapping the dry lake bed circuit within 10 seconds of Jorge Lorenzo’s YZR-M1. No one was paying attention, though, because no one was there to witness the event. The lack of interest is due in part to a small field and large gaps between competitors, but also because of the vacuum in which the series competes. Proponents of electric motorcycle racing denying the importance of sound to the perception of speed are preaching false sermons.
Gearheads and race fans dig cool sounds, and the love affair begins at a young age. I must have been an exceptionally well-behaved kid in 1978 because Santa was good to me that year. There wasn’t a motorcycle parked underneath the X-mas tree (mom said Santa’s workshop needed upgrades and couldn’t afford to make motorcycles), but for me, it was the next best thing: A Schwinn Hornet complete with a number plate, a suspended seat and a faux gas tank. It was as MX as you could get sans engine.
The coup de gras, however, was the Mattel Roar Power, a handlebar-mounted device that when twisted like a motorcycle throttle emitted an engine-like sound, completing the package of my pedal-powered MXer. I wasted no time donning my snowsuit, taking the Hornet outside in Ohio winter temperatures and launching it and myself off ice-hardened snowdrifts, emulating what I had seen at Ohio Hills MX Park. That summer, while other kids were still taping playing cards to fork tubes to simulate the sound of speed, I was twisting the hell outta my Roar Power.
I’m not suggesting teams affix children’s toys to their race bikes, but something needs to be done, because racing is just as much about cool noises as it is going fast. I’m all for keeping electric motorcycles quiet on public roadways, but silence has no place on a racetrack.
Is it possible to engineer an electric motorcycle engine with a cool sound? I don’t know, but if not, there must be a way to manufacture some kind of inspiring noise. Sure, it may be akin to lip syncing, but a bunch of electric motorcycles screaming around a race track sounding like TIE Fighters would be a helluva lot better to what they don’t sound like now.