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How to power a motorcycle in a dystopian world? (1 Viewer)

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I can't use anything high-tech because at the end of the story an EMP wipes out electronics, and the hero needs to ride off into the sunset. I was thinking of a '64 HD Panhead, but where could gasoline be found? Any ideas for other transportation, or how to find gasoline?
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
There would be gas in the tanks of all the modern cars whose electronics had blown. On a larger scale most gas is stored in underground tanks and the pumping systems would blow, so if he could work out a way of getting it out ...

It might seem these sources would be exploited, but there would be pretty widespread chaos, and besides most vehicles designed in this century probably have sophisticated enough electronics they would be useless so it would not be a priority to exploit gasoline storage systems for most, they would have nothing to use it in.

There would be other stores as well as public garages, like any army or airforce base would probably have an emergency supply, and order would break down very quickly as food supplies stopped being delivered so there might not be anyone guarding it. Maybe something like survivalists with all the latest gear who found none of it worked and abandoned their base, or were willing to trade for something basic that did work. Farmers often have fuel supplies, but more commonly diesel. The thing is with most combustion engines not working anymore the demand for gas would be near zero, so any that was stored could be traded for something like food, which would run out quickly as distribution failed.

My bike once ran out of petrol in central London where there are no garages and bought a can of petrol lighter fuel. It got me to the nearest garage, but it ran abominably, I am not at all sure alcohol would work. It is used to make fuel 'greener' but they only add a small percentage to regular gasoline, and I am pretty sure it lowers the quality even then.
 

Sir-KP

Senior Member
Why not make something up?

If it takes years to reach the dystopian situation, people would have found a way to get over the petrol shortage, though it may come with greater cost or less effective.

For example, using rechargeable battery that needs to be charged in the sunlight for 8 hours. Or maybe recharged by treadmill/pedals which is a very exhaustive process.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Why not make something up?

If it takes years to reach the dystopian situation, people would have found a way to get over the petrol shortage.

Not with an electro magnetic pulse, the national power grid would go as well as anything containing any sort of microprocessor, anything connected by wires would pick it up and fry. There would be total chaos, food production and delivery systems would be down, expect about a fifty percent death rate within a couple of months and growing. Essentially you would be back to nineteenth century technology with twentieth century population numbers and no infrastructure. You might be able to import electronics from somewhere unaffected, but there would not be the stocks to supply demand for more than a few real basics. I don't know what causes it, but it probably comes from H bombs in orbital space or the sun, so it would also screw up the upper atmosphere, CFC's nothing, there would be nothing to bounce radio waves off or stop pretty nasty radiation levels. We really are living pretty much on the edge some ways.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Great ideas - I like the idea of hand pumping petrol out of abandoned fuel stations, but in this world automobile engines went electric before the collapse of society (some states here in the US are mandating no gasoline powered cars sold after 2035). It strikes me that farmers might still run diesel engines, and so my character might ride a motorcycle modified to use that.

I did some research and learned that moonshine of 150+ proof can be used to run car engines - I also worked with a guy years ago that rode a 1949 Indian Chief - with a flathead engine, and he claimed he had run moonshine in it when he was caught without fuel in Patagonia.

https://slate.com/culture/2012/08/c...hine-fact-checking-the-new-movie-lawless.html
 

ehbowen

Senior Member
Great ideas - I like the idea of hand pumping petrol out of abandoned fuel stations, but in this world automobile engines went electric before the collapse of society (some states here in the US are mandating no gasoline powered cars sold after 2035). It strikes me that farmers might still run diesel engines, and so my character might ride a motorcycle modified to use that.

I did some research and learned that moonshine of 150+ proof can be used to run car engines - I also worked with a guy years ago that rode a 1949 Indian Chief - with a flathead engine, and he claimed he had run moonshine in it when he was caught without fuel in Patagonia.

https://slate.com/culture/2012/08/c...hine-fact-checking-the-new-movie-lawless.html

A motorcycle modified to use Diesel? Good luck with that. Diesel engines may superficially resemble gasoline engines, but internally they're a whole 'nother kind of cat. Much higher compression, injectors instead of spark plugs...trust me, it needs to be designed as a Diesel from the ground up. Possibly someone out there makes a Diesel motorcycle (I know some company...Thielert?...a few years back came out with a Diesel [actually, Jet-A but operating on the Diesel principle] aircraft engine), but if so I've never heard of it.

Your moonshine idea is actually much more workable, and believable. Of course, you could also reach back another fifty years and put your character in an authentic Stanley Steamer...that will run on anything liquid which will burn!
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
It's well possible, google diesel motorcycles and there are a whole bunch of bikes, even a YouTube video on how to go about it. Years ago there was a small company in Scotland turned out something called 'The Robin' with a tiny diesel engine (Talking from memory here) , Not terrific performance, but went for miles on almost nothing. Reminds me of that old joke.

"How come everything is named for you? The bat mobile, the batcave, everything."
" You have the Reliant, Robin."
https://www.bing.com/videos/search?...4D75E70A51B22A1C46ED4D7&view=detail&FORM=VIRE
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Good points all around - and thanks again. I'll go with the moonshine bike. In the story the bike is MMC's transportation and doesn't play much of a roll beyond that; I just want it to be plausible.
 

CyberWar

Senior Member
Pretty much everything manufactured before the 1990's should still run, or at least be repairable with existing supplies, so I don't think an EMP would cause that much of a technological setback. What it would do, however, is cause a sudden reversal in which the more advanced countries find themselves suffering far more than developing nations still reliant largely on 20th century tech which is largely impervious to EMP.

As for obtaining fuel, one novel way could be recycling plastic waste and going as far as mining pre-collapse landfills for it. Most plastics are essentially polymerized hydrocarbons extracted from oil, so it is possible to to de-polymerize them back to oil as well. During the Cold War, both sides invented plastic pyrolysis machines to manufacture fuel from plastic garbage in the eventuality of a nuclear war. The technology didn't really catch on because it was at the time part of classified military projects, and because relatively cheap fuel was widely available. Nowadays, similar devices are used in recycling plants. In case of a global EMP disaster, they wouldn't even need extensive repurposing to start producing fuel as soon as the owners can get power back on and fix the control systems (which should be possible with existing spare parts).

Most military equipment would survive the disaster as well. The majority of army vehicles in contemporary use are upgraded versions of Cold War designs which were built with nuclear threat in mind, their electronic components being EMP-hardened. The military might lose some capabilities like GPS navigation (which relies on satellites that would likely be destroyed or disabled) and precision-guided munitions, but overall they would still remain a viable fighting force. Where it comes to power generation in facilities of strategic importance, an EMP would likely cause little more disruption than a lot of blown fuses - strategists have had decades to plan for contingencies in case of a worldwide EMP attack since the discovery of the phenomenon, after all.

So generally speaking, it would be the civilians in First World nations that would feel the brunt of the EMP armageddon - no longer being able to use one's smartphone to log in Facebook would certainly be the very definition of apocalypse for many. But it would hardly be an end of technological civilization, merely setting back the technological progress by several decades.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Wow - you guys are amazing. Thanks so much.

The bike isn't intended to be a character or major plot point; I just need a way for the MC to get around that's plausible - so I'll probably go with an antique motorcycle fitted with a flat-head engine running on moonshine.

As the plot currently stands, the EMP occurs near the end of the story - and it will come from a nuclear device detonated in orbit above North America, so it's a (somewhat) local phenomenon. The world of the novel is dystopian; the USA has fallen, first under a tyrannical government, which then collapsed into a myriad of city states which are at war with each other and with a band of rebels living in the wilderness called the Tribes. The EMP will be used to disable arms used on both sides - handheld railguns - but burning out the computer chips and destroying the code that make them work.

I think what you've all given me will be enough to make the tale plausible - which is my goal.

Again thanks.
 

MistWolf

Senior Member
The bike isn't intended to be a character or major plot point; I just need a way for the MC to get around that's plausible - so I'll probably go with an antique motorcycle fitted with a flat-head engine running on moonshine.
Where is your character gonna get the moonshine? Alcohol doesn't deliver as much energy as gasoline and delivers poorer "gas milage". There will be a need to scavenge or trade for alcohol. I suppose it could be a world where a lot of people are running stills for medicinal purposes.

If the EMP doesn't come until the end, the character's motorcycle can be anything you want. It can be an electric with solar panels for recharging. It could even use a fuel cell which can turn hydrocarbons into electricity. Currently, there are electric mountain bikes.

Another idea is to use a flywheel to power the bike. The flywheel can be spun up by pedaling the bike, an electric motor or by coasting the bike down a hill.

It'a unlikely an EMP will destroy all electronics. It's easy to make a faraday cage which will protect electronic devices from EMP damage. Placing a cell phone in a microwave will protect it from EMP, for example.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Where is your character gonna get the moonshine? Alcohol doesn't deliver as much energy as gasoline and delivers poorer "gas milage". There will be a need to scavenge or trade for alcohol. I suppose it could be a world where a lot of people are running stills for medicinal purposes.

If the EMP doesn't come until the end, the character's motorcycle can be anything you want. It can be an electric with solar panels for recharging. It could even use a fuel cell which can turn hydrocarbons into electricity. Currently, there are electric mountain bikes.

Another idea is to use a flywheel to power the bike. The flywheel can be spun up by pedaling the bike, an electric motor or by coasting the bike down a hill.

It'a unlikely an EMP will destroy all electronics. It's easy to make a faraday cage which will protect electronic devices from EMP damage. Placing a cell phone in a microwave will protect it from EMP, for example.

Wherever there are people, there usually is alcohol.
There are electric trolleys and trucks that are more commonly used - mostly to move larger groups of people. These vehicles, and the military weapon of choice (a hand held rail gun) are cobbled together and the components not well protected. Without shielding it's likely they will be fried. The EMP will come from old orbiting weapon systems (old as in before the governments fell apart), and are accessed via a few remaining intact communication systems via a hack. It's intent is to end a conflict that is about to consume two armies.
Running on alcohol and without any sort of electronic systems, the bike will be used to carry the main characters off into the sunset at the conclusion of the story.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
There is a problem with flywheels powering vehicles in that they have a gyroscopic effect which makes them difficult to steer. Flywheels get more effective as they get larger, which is obviously restrictive on a bike and there are problems with attitude, horizontal or vertical mounting. You wouldn't want it laying the bike over to one side, or stopping you from doing so on corners.

I once had a plan for a multipurpose simple vehicle that consisted of a basic frame, flywheels and batteries in the wheels to reclaim braking energy and store energy. It could be supplied with various methods for charging it up, from the grid, solar, a small steam engine run on a fuel like straw, a tiny two stroke, or even a static bike, so it could be used anywhere, on or off grid. The body would build out of short lengths of tube that would interlock like tent poles, with y's and t's for creating shapes. That would be covered with fibre glass matting, then coated with resin, so you could build any shape you wanted or follow one of several standard builds. The idea was to have something as versatile as the Honda C90 but next stage up economically. It could be a tractor for a smallholding, a local bus, or a sportscar for a city boy, completely personal in body shape, independent of energy suppliers.

Sometimes my ideas are not that great in reality :)
 

MistWolf

Senior Member
...the military weapon of choice (a hand held rail gun) are cobbled together and the components not well protected.
I didn't take the railguns into consideration when I was talking about the EMP not frying everything. I was focused on pre-porkyclypse devices. Interesting that folks chose to build railers in a post porkyclypse world.

Running on alcohol and without any sort of electronic systems, the bike will be used to carry the main characters off into the sunset at the conclusion of the story.
Ah. That does change my understanding of what you're looking for. Sounds like your characters have a difficult choice to make in the end- Do we have a celebratory drink, or pour the last bottle in the tank and ride off into the sunset?
 
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Joker

Senior Member
I'm not sure why cars wouldn't still be commonplace. As far as I know, there aren't any electronic components in the engine that wouldn't be a pretty quick fix, and gasoline should be abundant especially in the US, Russia and Middle East.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I didn't take the railguns into consideration when I was talking about the EMP not frying everything. I was focused on pre-porkyclypse devices. Interesting that folks chose to build railers in a post porkyclypse world.

Ah. That does change my understanding of what you're looking for. Sounds like your characters have a difficult choice to make in the end- Do we have a celebratory drink, or pour the last bottle in the tank and ride off into the sunset?

Pretty much.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I'm not sure why cars wouldn't still be commonplace. As far as I know, there aren't any electronic components in the engine that wouldn't be a pretty quick fix, and gasoline should be abundant especially in the US, Russia and Middle East.

Actually electric vehicles are used in the story, but the main character rides an old fashioned motorcycle.
 
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