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.

More recently at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb event electric bikes are forced to employ a blaring 120db siren for safety reasons because of the open-course nature of the event.

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.

We’ve been eyeing the Turbospoke bicycle exhaust system for an upcoming electric bike shootout.

We’ve been eyeing the Turbospoke bicycle exhaust system for an upcoming electric bike shootout.

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.

  • Will

    I offer a simple solution – all competitors would be mandated to eat a pre-race meal at Taco Bell (resulting in the perfect mix of gas & electric).

  • Tod Rafferty

    Audio engineers can design a kit that would give electrics any sound track imaginable, from a 500cc 2-stroke GP bike to a P-51 Mustang to a 427 Cobra. And with some WiTooth or BlueFi jiggery-pokery, could transmit the sounds to yer phone and headset in the grandstand, so’s you could still hear them going through the Corkscrew. Like they say, all it takes is time and money. (Note to Engineering: Please include the Hailwood Honda 250 Six.)

    • El Apestoso

      Wouldn’t need to go to those lengths. Could just use the drivetrain itself and its case, along with a few modifications, and turn the whole thing into a speaker. It would rob less power than some electronics based solution, and would be infinitely cooler. When it comes to audio, it’s nearly always best to keep it as analog as possible.

  • Jason Evariste Cormier

    The LiveWire has a pleasant Tie-Fighter whoosh from the intermediate gear they use to convert the longitudinal motor to belt drive. Not very loud, but appropriate and sounds pretty neat when you are aboard it. Apparently the vapourware Mission R had a similar soundtrack.

  • Jason Evariste Cormier

    The LiveWire has a pleasant Tie-Fighter whoosh from the intermediate gear they use to convert the longitudinal motor to belt drive. Not very loud, but appropriate and sounds pretty neat when you are aboard it. Apparently the vapourware Mission R had a similar soundtrack.

    • El Apestoso

      The sound probably has more to do with the motor, since the Mission sounds much the same. Whereas the power drill sounding bikes are using PMAC motors, Mission and Harley both pack a 3 phase AC induction motor.

      I’m sure a good audio engineer could do something with the motor casing or some sort of tube or whatever to turn the drivetrain into a speaker.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    It probably is possible to make e-bikes louder with reasonable efforts. Engine rotor naturally emits high-pitched sound at really high RPMs. And it is an awesome sound. Why not add some other directly driven rotating thing to make it even louder. Special loud rubber compounds for the tires can add to the palette. Maybe loud braking pads? Loud aerodynamic fairing? Of course this all will make them slower, but who cares when it SOUNDS fast as hell?

  • Uncommon Sense

    There is something visceral about an engine screaming at its limits. I’m a huge fan of electric technology, but the one thing it lacks is soul. There won’t be any youtube videos of a guy revving his engine. No slow mo videos of back fire flames shooting out of the exhaust. Will Akrapovic and Termignoni go out of business? Fly bys at Isle of Man won’t be the same.

    From a spectator point of view, electric racing is like watching a Kung Fu movie on mute.

    • El Apestoso

      I wouldn’t worry about it. By the time EVs take over, those of us with an emotional attachment to the internal combustion engine will all either be dead, or too decrepit to care.

  • kenneth_moore

    Now that you mention it, I’m surprised Harley hasn’t patented a cool electric bike sound yet, like they tried with their “potato-potato” racket back in the ’90’s. It would be kinda fun to hear the “fags” of the future riding around with a loud “BZZZZZZZ” sound.