On the way to work the other day I had a bit of a rant…
What is the Triggers Broom Paradox?
The long running British comedy Only Fools and Horses had some classic comedy moments but only one is currently being discussed by philosophy students in several Universities around the UK. That brilliant moment in the ‘Heroes and Villains’ episode when road sweeper Trigger explains he has just won an award for saving the council money, having owned the same broom for 20 years. The punchline comes with the revelation that it’s had 17 new heads and 14 new handles, to which the other characters wonder how it could possibly be the same broom.
Writer John Sullivan was referencing a much older philosophical debate known as the Grandfathers Axe paradox (I could have called this the Indian Axe Paradox?), which much like Triggers broom, had received several changes in head and handle. The debate is of course, how can this be the same axe?
Classic motorcycles and John Locke’s sock
The Grandfathers Axe debate can be transposed across pretty much any item where parts can be replaced. For example another version of Triggers Broom is John Locke’s sock. This version imagines the protagonist wearing a hole into his favourite sock. A patch is sewn over the hole but soon enough another hole appears and that is patched up and so on and so on until the entire sock is made up of patches. Is this still the same old sock?
John Locke’s sock makes a perfect analogy for classic motorcycles. I would wager that hardly any of the machines currently classed as classics are 100% original. As is par of the course for any vehicle used for transport there are components that need replacing after a certain service interval. Parts such as tyres, chains, sprockets, bulbs, spark plugs, filters and gaskets are all items that are regularly replaced as service items. How many motorcycles we consider classics are on the same rubber or hold the same oil as they did when they came off the production line all those years ago?
Other components either get damaged or inevitably wear out over time. Many classic motorcycles have had their seats replace or upholstered, their pistons swapped and wiring looms replaced. How far do you go before this classic motorcycle is so far from original that it can no longer be called a classic? What needs to remain for it to still be the same bike? The engine? The Frame? The registration plate?
So what about the Polaris Indians?
Most classic Indian Motocycles (note the different spelling) are used as show bikes and for attending classic rallies. To remain in running condition many of the parts have been replaced over the years either by sourcing new/old stock or by reputable companies who specialise in the manufacture of components for classic machines. One such producer is Kiwi Indian of New Zealand.
Kiwi Indian started by making parts for the buoyant classic motorcycle market and expanded their range of products so much that it was possible to build a complete ‘classic’ Indian motorcycle from their parts alone. This means that you can now buy a brand new 1911 board track racer or 1939 Chieftain. As these are based on parts for classic bikes should these be considered classic bikes too?
However, the big question is are the new Polaris Indians really Indians? The original Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company stopped making bikes in 1953 when the company went bankrupt. Since then many have tried and failed to reignite the flame of this incredibly evocative brand. From 1955 to 1960 Brockhouse Engineering had acquired the rights to the name and was importing English Royal Enfield’s into the US and rebadging them as Indians. From the 1960’s through to the late 1990’s the Indian brand name was under dispute with Floyd Clymer, Eller Industries and various other parties all making claims to the name with various success. Then in 1998 The Indian Motorcycle Company of America formed from a merger of nine companies and was awarded the Indian trademark by the Federal District Court of Colorado. Known as the Gilroy Indians, as they were produced in Gilroy, California, models were sold between 1999 and 2003 when the company went into bankruptcy.
In 2006 the Indian brand surfaced again as Indian Motorcycle Company, owned largely by private equity firm Stellican Limited. Production began in Kings Mountain, North Carolina and produced limited runs using Powerplus V-twin powertrains until Polaris Industries acquired the company in 2011. In 2013 the brand new ‘Thunder Stroke 111’ engine had been developed and production began in Spirit Lake, Iowa.
With the brand being bounced around so much since 1953 do the new Polaris machines deserve to be associated with the Indians built over half a century earlier? You could argue and indeed I will, that Polaris have built machines that capture the spirit of the original Indians better than anyone else. Does this mean the heritage is retained and this company is one and the same as the one that ceased production in 1953?
Other motorcycle brands in similar circumstances
Indian Motocycle/Indian Motocycles are far from the only motorcycle brand to be bounced around. There are notable similarities in the history of Harley Davidson, a long-term rival of Indian. Bought out by AMF (American Machine Foundry) in 1969, sold to investors (including Willie G. Davidson) in 1981 the company nevertheless never stopped continuous production. In the UK the Triumph brand began life as Triumph Engineering in 1885 and produced various machines, including motorcycles. With various mergers and acquisitions, including BSA, the firm produced motorcycles until 1983 when the firm went bankrupt. Saved by John Bloor (ensuring the company retains the title of longest continuous motorcycle manufacturer in the world as production began in 1902) the Triumph brand is stronger today than it’s been since the 1960s.
However arguably closer similarities to Indian lie with other recently revived brands such as Ariel, Norton and Brough Superior. All of these brands have a strong history with motorcycles but have had long periods of non-production and brand ownership disputes, yet would anyone buying a current model suggest that they’re not also buying into the history of the brand? Would a new model Norton sell as well if wasn’t branded with the Norton name?
To some extent any argument that a modern motorcycle shouldn’t hold the heritage of the past is null and void. Every year manufacturers produce new models and discontinue others. Just like life, engineering motorcycles is continuously evolving. New technologies make older ones obsolete, styles and fashions change. In that respect every motorcycle model currently in production has a severe case of Triggers Broom Paradox.
What do you think?
I’ve laid my case and will argue that the Polaris Indians deserve the heritage. After all, Polaris brought the brand name for a reason; the history associated with it. Along with the sterling job Polaris have done of creating a marvellous motorcycle we’re buying into that brand history too. But what do you think?
I’ve been a quiet supporter of The Green Party for some time. I understand that us Humans are raping our own planet and that disturbs me. No matter what argument and counter argument you hear about climate change the fact is it is happening and we, the human race, are contributing massively even if we’re not entirely to blame.
It therefore came as a bit of a shock when I heard about this policy from The Green Party:
TR320 Smaller, low powered motorcycles are generally preferable to cars (especially those with a single occupant) as they take up less road space and are more economic consumers of fuel. However, the Green Party does not wish to see increased use of motorcycles because they emit pollution and noise and can endanger road users. The aim is to encourage much less use of high powered machines and for low powered machines to offer an alternative for those who currently use these or cars and could not transfer to more sustainable modes.
TR321 The Green Party would take measures to encourage a transfer of motor cycle manufacture and use from larger, powerful machines to less powerful ones including scooters and mopeds. These would include setting and enforcing strict noise limits and, for higher powered machines, speed limiters.
TR322 For the safety of other users, the Green Party does not feel it appropriate for motorcyclists to be able to use any priority measures put in for pedestrians and cyclists, including those shared with public transport.
Hmm. My first thought was disbelief. How could a party that is progressive and forward thinking come up with a policy that attacks a natural ally. My second thought was anger as I took to social media to vent my frustration.
After a few comments back and forth from friends I calmed down a bit. I took a step back and decided to look at the bigger picture. In a way much of it makes sense (not all of it) but the way it comes across is an attack on motorcyclists. It’s almost as though the bicycle brigade are having a pop at their combustion-engined brethren. I decided the only way I could get to the bottom of it was to write to the Green Party and find out why, in the grand scheme of things, they feel this policy is so important.
Here’s what I had to say:
On 1 April 2015 at 19:31, Dazzle Rebel wrote:
Dear Anotonia,I would like to understand the thoughts behind the Green Party’s policy on restricting high-powered motorcycles and removing all motorcycles from bus lanes. I am a motorcyclist and up until now was considering voting Green at the upcoming election. However this policy appears to be weighted towards appeasing cyclists and the anti-motorcycle brigade rather than having any real ‘green’ agenda.I accept that high-powered motorcycles emit pollution but many of the ‘green’ electric motorcycles perform nearly as well as combustion engined counterparts and may even exceed their performance within the next decade. Should these machines also be legislated off the road? Why not simply bring in emissions restrictions instead? Motorcycles make up less than 1% of all road traffic and high-powered sports bikes account for less than 20% of all motorcycles. Surely there are much bigger producers of hazardous emission that need to be taken care of first?The statement that motorcycles can endanger road users is not just a sweeping generalisation but weighted in completely the wrong direction. Look at accident statistics of accidents the involve motorcycles. Most motorcycle accidents in rural areas involve no other vehicle. A lack of training? Perhaps but not a major cause for third-party concern when the motorcyclist is the only one injured. Could more be done to encourage safer rural riding? Absolutely.In contrast motorcycle accidents in urban areas will often involve another vehicle and that vehicle will usually be with a four-wheeled vehicle whose driver hasn’t seen the motorcyclist. Suddenly it seems that other traffic endangers motorcyclists rather than the other way around. Is more training on par with that a potential motorcyclist is required to take needed for car drivers? Quite possibly. Should more be done to reduce the distractions modern drivers are encountered with (mobile phones being a major issue)? Without a doubt. Most people forget that driving is a skill, not a right.I am struggling to understand why the Green Party has taken such an aggressive stance towards motorcyclists such as myself. From a ‘green’ perspective that doesn’t make any sense as motorcyclists are a natural ally to the Green Party. We help reduce congestion and as congestion equals idling combustion engines we are a greener alternative to driving a four-wheeled diesel guzzler into the city.I accept that you would prefer people to move onto smaller bikes such as mopeds but these are simply not practical for people who commute on a variety of roads including high-speed motorways. By all means encourage car drivers onto mopeds and smaller capacity bikes but don’t attack people who need a larger machine to commute.I am struggling to understand who thought up this policy. So anti-motorcycle is the agenda that I wonder if this is someone who has been wronged by one or two idiots who just happened to ride a motorbike? Please help me understand why the Green Party has voted this policy in because it is seriously causing me to rethink my vote this May.Kind regards,Dazzle Rebel
I think I managed to fire off a pretty compelling argument in that letter and it seems Antonia thought so too. Here’s the reply I received:
Good Afternoon Darren,
Thank-you for your email. I understand why you feel motorcyclists could be unjustly treated by some of our policies and hope to answer your questions as best I can. I also hope to be able to reassure you on a couple of the points you raise. Apologies if my reply is slightly epic and covers information you already have, I try to be thorough.
While I believe 100% in Green Party prioritising improving public transport over more road-building, I do feel some of our other transport policies need updating. I admit straight away we do need to be more careful about blinkered generalisations. As you point out, any generalised statement about motorcyclists affecting the safety of other road users overlooks the evidence that motorcycle accidents in urban areas mostly involve a four-wheeled vehicle whose driver hasn’t seen the motorcyclist. Your point that most people forget that driving is a skill, not a right, is however strongly part of our policies, with increased training, more regular tests for car users and harsher penalties for causing a crash, drink driving etc. I think we’re far harder on car use than motorcycle use.
I realise that for many motorcyclists, it is not only a way of getting from A to B, but a way of life. I agree with you that emissions restrictions are a core concern. Greens pledge 1% of GDP on science and engineering with one priority area being advances to counter climate change. It is my hope that steady, progressive aims of decreasing high emissions cars and bikes will work alongside advances in fuel and vehicle technology so we can protect both climate and ways of life.
Greens know motorcyling causes less congestion, stating in our transport policy “smaller, low powered motorcycles are generally preferable to cars (especially those with a single occupant) as they take up less road space and are more economic consumers of fuel.” This definition is limited and balanced in favour of mopeds, which should be open to review. We also recognise that electrically powered transport, and hydrogen or other secondary fuels, if the electricity generation available is sustainable, are a ‘greener’ option and that electric vehicles are also pollution free at the point of use. I believe electric motorcycles reaching and exceeding the performance of combustion-engine counterparts should be welcomed alongside mopeds and scooters. I would like our policy to be updated to encourage such advances.
To answer your question regarding our thoughts as a party, all our many policies are made and voted for by our members at conference. These are added to and amended over the years. This makes us more democratic and honest than most parties who create policies at the ‘top’. It also means there is a filtering process as we later decide, democratically, on the most practical, useful and fair policies ready to bring forward to each election manifesto. For accountability, we publish every policy we’ve made as long-term objectives online, updating this as we make amendments. This gives everyone a voice in suggesting changes because nothing is hidden, so we don’t only show policies we think are ready to use as they are now, without alteration. To the best of my knowledge the policies you raise concerns about have not made it into our 2015 election manifesto but remain part of a vision of the future that remain subject to change via members suggestions and votes.
Our GE2015 transport priorities focus on public transport by shifting some of the millions currently ring-fenced for road building, beyond road maintenance, and by reversing privatisation so people no longer get half the service for twice the cost with resources siphoned away in profits for multinationals. In some places in Europe, more people use public transport because it is decent, affordable and well-run. Here it is not really an option for most people. It will never be everyone’s choice, but it’s our priority to make sure it is fit for purpose and a real option for many. This focus has my full backing.
Our long-term transport aims are more challenging, written with an understanding that as global population grows and climate change continues to be an ever increasing threat, our answer must include alternatives to more and more roads with more vehicles. We ultimately need to decrease reliance on cars and to a lesser extent on motorbikes. These are long-term aims based on current projections on climate alteration, peak oil and global land capacity. I personally feel it is important that Green policies manage this as much as possible by increasing choice, not by limiting it. It is hoped by many of us, including myself, that scientific and engineering break-throughs, women’s empowerment, renewables and broader action to challenge climate chaos will help create more favourable predictions for climate and resource availability so we will all have more freedom of choice. More transport options should allow freedom in how we travel. We are uncomfortably aware, however, that a weighted reliance on road travel is currently not helping. I am happy our policy encourages more car drivers to try forms of motorised bikes instead. Though, as mentioned, our policies have not acknowledged all recent advances in ‘green’ motorcycling engineering.
So, there you go, it’s a bit of an essay but I’ve done my best to explain our policy and policy-making, defend some aspects and admit obvious room for improvement in others. It may not be the answer you would want but it is the one I can give. If public transport improvements, new technologies and gradual legislation work hand in hand, we may find more motorbikes instead of cars on the road. I hope we won’t alienate motorcyclists because I agree, you can be part of a way forward. There is an acknowledgement within existing policies, albeit currently a grudging one, that motorcycling is more sustainable than car driving and that electric motorcycling is part of the way forward. This part of our transport policy is arguably slightly biased towards motorcyclists, if only in relation to car drivers.
I believe a Green vote is a good vote because we are the only parliamentary party standing against privatisation of NHS, Education, Energy etc. We are the only ones with a presence in Westminster standing against the insane, unjust austerity agenda and for closing tax loopholes for a fairer and more sustainable future. We are also the only ones taking climate chaos seriously.
Whoever you vote for, I wish you the best.
I’ll be honest I’ve written to political parties, MP’s and parliamentary candidates before and it’s been a less than 50/50 chance I received a reply. I wasn’t expecting anything back this time so the fact I actually received a reply counts for something. The fact that it’s not just a generic response counts for more. However what really impressed me is that the reply I received clearly states that mistakes had been made and that a review is needed. I am particularly happy that I pretty much get an admission that bikes are not a danger to other road users.
There is a Green Candidate in my consituency and I am happy to report that, based on the satisfactory response to my email, I will be voting Green in this General Election.