In 2012, I was asked to write a fictional piece for a motorcycle magazine. Cool, I thought. I don’t mind writing fiction. I used to write the odd fiction piece for Ozbike magazine back in the day. I sat down in front of my computer, imagined the future, and this is the result…
2083AD. Australia is the safest country in the world. Vision Zero was reached in 2028. No-one has died on the roads in 55 years. The Safety Act of 2013 was ratified by parliament, pushed through by the government with the vocal support of the National Federation of Police Commissioners, the state premiers, and several hysterical risk-averse lobby groups empowered by the burgeoning social media of Facebook and Twitter.
The Act saw to it that all cars manufactured in or imported into Australia were speed-limited to 60km/h outside urban areas and 20km/h everywhere else. Except school zones which they were banned from approaching nearer than two kilometres and satellite-directed engine cut-outs ensured compliance. To offset the outcry, the government invested billions of dollars into a public transport infrastructure that was the envy of the civilised world, and in effect, pushed personal transport of any kind into a type of irrelevancy. So successful was this, that by 2018, the Highway Patrol was disbanded and all the state police were incorporated into the federal system, which went hand in hand with the states losing all of their independence and becoming nothing more than shaded areas on the map of a very safe Australia.
And of course, all motorcycles were banned in 2024. The Safety Act empowered the government to seize all powered two-wheelers, recompense the owners for the seizure, and then destroy the motorcycles. There were howls of protest from riders across the nation. But the greater social good, the safety of the children, the compliant national media, and the newly constituted Federal Police Force, its horses, dogs, batons, and Tasers ensured these protests were brief and worthless.
Australia was a very different place in 2083. But at least it was safe.
Cheers grunted in satisfaction as he tightened up the last nut on his beloved Project. The sweat dripped off his face and he blinked it out of his eyes. It was always so humid now. It seemed to rain all the time. Of course it didn’t. It only rained for nine months of the year across most of Australia. The other three months it was bone dry and hot as an oven. The climate had changed very quickly 20 years before Cheers was born, and dry-as-a-bone Australia was now a lush, tropical expanse. But it was certainly no paradise. Of that, Cheers was certain. The old books didn’t lie. The Supranet did. It had supplanted the Internet a long time ago. The Safety Act of 2013 and all of its subsequent amendments had ensured that not only could all of society be protected from itself, but what that society saw and the information it had access to could be controlled. It was for society’s own good of course. And the government would always point to the lives it had saved in the last 55 years whenever some lunatic dared to raise a voice in opposition to the way life was in the Safest Country On Earth.
Cheers stood up, wiped his dirty hands on a rag and beheld his Project, complete at last. To say it was a labour of love was to do it injustice. The Project was a labour of pure fanaticism and rebellion. It was Cheers’ way of saying enough was to bastard Hell more than enough.
He unscrewed the top of a small drum of petrol and gurgled its contents carefully into an ancient alloy tank that sat astride his Project, like a precious stone set atop an entirely unique setting. Cheers was convinced there was nothing like his Project anywhere in Australia. Of course, he had no way of knowing, since he didn’t dare ask if anyone else shared his passion.
Petrol was cheap and plentiful in Australia due to a discovery in 2022 of massive deposits of crude in the Southern Ocean – deposits which saw Australia become one of the richest countries on earth, supplanting the Middle East as the world’s crude oil bowser and ensuring the military might of China stood ready to protect its greatest trading partner since the USA became a global irrelevancy after its spectacular fiscal collapse in 2047. The old books didn’t say much about this, but Cheers had gone to school and had learned that the world was the way it was because it was better for everyone that it be that way.
That had never sat well with him. And it sat worse and worse the more he read through the old books he had found secreted in the walls of his family house on the outskirts of Canberra. The books were made of paper, itself a rare commodity, but what astonished Cheers was what the books contained. Vivid pictures and passionate stories of motorcycles; motorcycles being ridden by helmeted men who looked much like himself when their helmets came off, but quite obviously a good deal happier. Even if they were clearly nowhere near as safe as he was told he was. From what he understood, the foundation of this happiness was entirely due to the motorcycle and the thrill it provided when it was ridden. Of course, the danger of riding these things at speeds of well over 200km/h (Cheers thought that was an exaggeration since no-one had gone that fast in any kind of privately owned vehicle for longer than anyone he knew could remember) and leaning them into corner after corner, was obviously what the appeal was. And something awoke in Cheers when he read these books, flimsy and mouldy as they were. And it would not go back to sleep, no matter how hard he tried to put it there. But in truth, he didn’t try very hard. He liked what had come to life inside him, and without really analysing it all that much, or even considering the consequences if he was discovered doing what he had decided he was going to do, Cheers began his Project.
He began building a motorcycle.
To his amazement, it came together quite easily. After all, a motorcycle, according to the old books, was nothing but two wheels and an engine held in a frame. The engine he easily sourced from an old car he’d bought cheaply. It was a fuel-injected 1.6litre two-cylinder Nissan with a small turbocharger for the electronically-limited government-mandated highway-friendly safe speed of 60km/h, but cheers understood the concept of power-to-weight, and if the engine could propel a four tonne eight-seater car to 60km/h, it should be able to push his 200kg motorcycle along a whole lot faster than that.
For a frame, he used two pushbike frames he had welded together from a pair of very expensive bikes he had stolen one evening from outside the university. The frames were made out of some immensely strong but very light carbon-titanium bio-alloy that was being used for everything from ultrasonic aircraft frames to kitchen utensils. Cheers didn’t normally hold with stealing, but the smug self-righteousness of the legions of pedaling pushbike-evangelists in Canberra had always stuck in his craw.
The compressed-gas suspension units on his motorcycle also came from old cars, and while the back shocks were relatively easy to fit, Cheers had spent many nights poring over the old books in an effort to get the front ones to work. The end result was something akin to what he understood from the old books to be a paralever front-end. Everything else for his motorcycle came from the pushbikes, which he came to consider as donor skeletons, and while he struggled a bit with how to generate the electrical current needed to make the engine spark and run, he found the solution lay in his own domestic water pump – a marvelous little unit made by a company called VolksHonda.
The Project took him a whole year, tinkering away in his shed on his small, but relatively isolated property, and now, just as the Big Dry was beginning and the full moon was rising above the hills behind his shed, he was going to fire it up and ride it. Just like in the old books. And piss on safety…
Senior Constable Wang wasn’t sure what he could hear coming his way down the Monaro Highway, but he had the feeling it was going to impact negatively on his dinner of tandoori pizza. The rest of his eight-man patrol had also stopped their feeding and resembled meerkats as they listened attentively to the indescribable mechanical howl that was getting louder by the second.
Senior Constable Wang’s fluoro-hued Public Safety bus was parked in its usual place where Tharwa Drive met the Monaro Highway. The Senior Constable liked to park there with his patrol and have their traditional late-evening supper of takeaway on the outskirts of the nation’s capital. He felt it was a great bonding session with his team, all of whom had been forged by times such as this into a tight-knit unit dedicated to assure the safety of every citizen in its purview. In real terms, there wasn’t really all that much to do. Canberra was about as benign as a place could be and the only trouble the police ever had was from some booze-addled politician or public servant who felt that having crazy farm-sex on the side of the road was somehow conducive to the capital’s public order.
So when Cheers went hurtling past the police bus, astride some shrieking two-wheeled contraption the senior constable could not even begin to guess at, a strange kind of hell broke loose.
“Great shitting Buddha!” SC Wang spat and chunks of orange pizza flew out of his mouth at probably half the speed Cheers was moving at as he arced right and into the southern suburbs of Canberra faster than anything the police had seen, apart from the Very Fast Train that linked Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne. And the noise it made was indescribable, so SC Wang didn’t bother trying as he radioed Command. The other police had exited the bus in a chaotic herd and capered back and forth along the side of the road like confused crabs dressed in fluoro safety armour…
For his part, Cheers barely even registered the police bus as he sailed past. It was all he could do to hang onto his Project and get it to do what he thought he wanted it to do – which was primarily to stay on the road. Of course, he could have been going a lot slower, but as he discovered a kilometre or so after leaving his home, speed is a very addictive thing. And the faster you went, the faster you wanted to go. So he twisted his spongy, made-out-of-a-stubby-holder throttle as far as it would go, blinked the tears out of his eyes and marveled at how the on-rushing wind pulled his face into a grinning rictus of sheer delight. His head was filled with a roaring combination of untrammeled exhaust noise and whooshing air. He had no idea how fast he was going, but it was faster than he could have ever dreamed a human being could go. He could feel heat from the screaming engine between his legs and the impossibly intense vibrations it served up made it very difficult to hold on, but hold on he did and figured that backing off was a problem for when it was a problem. He wasn’t even sure his little pushbike discs could pull him up, and he had no trust at all in the car tyres he had so carefully filed into what he approximated was the required motorcycle shape.
But all that aside, Cheers had literally gone insane with joy.
Sure, his cobbled-together, one-gear-direct-drive Project was nothing compared to precision-engineered wonders of days gone by, but it was still a motorcycle. And a motorcycle, he decided some kilometres ago, was the greatest invention mankind had ever conceived.
That an elected government could somehow connive to ban such a wondrous thing was a literal crime against the very core and substance of humanity itself.
As Cheers banked around the wide empty roads of Canberra in a big loop that would see ultimately see him back on Tharwa Drive and the Monaro Highway right about where that police bus was parked, he forced the stuff throttle open all the way and leaned into the buffeting air. He was grinning like a madman.
The police were still pointlessly gamboling by the side of the road as he went past them for the second time. He knew they wouldn’t come after him, primarily because they couldn’t. The Safety Buses didn’t go over 60km/h because they simply didn’t need to.
Twenty minutes later, Cheers was back in his shed listening to the Project tick as it cooled. He couldn’t stop smiling.
And he couldn’t stop thinking that the future certainly wasn’t go to be anywhere near as bleak with safety as he once imagined it to be.
TRANSCRIPT OF SC WANG’S RADIO CONVERSATION WITH CANBERRA POLICE COMMAND (CPC)
Wang: Command, this is Wang. I wish to report an incident. Over.
CPC: This is Command. State the incident and the incident code. Over.
Wang: I don’t have an incident code. There are no bloody codes for what I just saw. Over.
CPC: There are codes for everything, Wang. Calm down and look up the code in the Incident Manual. Over.
Wang: Look, I just saw this thing. It had two bloody wheels and it was moving at…um, I don’t know, but it was moving really fast and it was really noisy, and it’s heading into the city…
CPC: Wang, are you on drugs? Over.
Wang: No, I’m not on bloody drugs, I know what…
CPC: You sound like you’re on drugs, Wang. People who are not on drugs don’t see flying saucers, Wang. Put Constable Ibrahim on. Over.
Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.