Skidmarks: The Inevitable Triumph of Awesome


Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.
—Immanuel Kant

This has been an eventful fortnight. It started with the catastrophic death of my old car and ended with me purchasing a new car, having second thoughts, and then third thoughts, and then saying what the hell and keeping it. And then hitting snags with my clutch-slave replacement project on my EBR, which has made me question my whole relationship with possessions. More ups and downs than a pogo-stick tournament. Anyway, I bought a new car, which is always fun for me.

I know this isn’t a car-owner site, but 99% of you (basically all 100 of my regular readers except Andy Goldfine) own a car, and I can tell you automotive journalism is a lot more comfortable and convenient than moto-journalism, so I’d rather do that, at least until it stops raining. Anyway, here’s my micro-review of my new ride, a 2016 Mazda3 with the 2.5-liter automatic.

Yes, I got it with the slushbox, heresy for Mazda fans, but I’m an Uber/Lyft driver that works mostly in San Francisco, a terrible place to be if you’re a clutch plate that wants to remain unwarped. You may love “rowing through the gearbox,” as our car-journo brethren may write (over and over and over), but I’ll bet you’d love it a lot less if you had to do it 48 times every mile, so don’t you dare judge me. Anyway, it’s a really great car, something built to appeal to those who want a reliable and fun driving experience but don’t want to spend stupid-crazy dough on a European car. It has a well-built feel, nice throttle response (do you call it throttle response on a car? Maybe ‘pedal response?’) and all the farkles and features you could only get on high-end luxury cars 10 years ago. The motor is silky-smooth and feels like a V-6 in the midrange, not a lowly naturally aspirated Four. The best part is I got it lightly used for about half the sticker price.

Gabe taking the San Francisco Uber-driver’s class. Seriously, it’s a screen cap from the famous Bullitt chase scene, which you should watch right now on Youtube instead of working because it really is awesome and your job really is not so it’s okay if you get fired.

What’s not to like? I’ll tell you what’s not to like: it’s a frigging gas guzzler. Drive aggressively in San Francisco, Bullitt-style, and 11.8 mpg is what I see on the distressingly accurate (I check it against my odometer each fill-up) fuel-economy meter. Eleven?!? Are you kidding? We got 8 mpg out of our three-ton Humm-Vees in the Marine Corps, driving on dirt or sand roads at 45 mph. For God’s sake, there’s a guy on Fuelly.com that gets 15.5 mpg out of his Model T. His 1918 Model T, which has wooden spokes and a carburetor that looks like you could buy it out of a bin at Home Depot for $1.73.

(Note: if you are a Model-T nerd, the most pernicious of all the subspecies of mechanical nerds, you don’t need to correct me about Model-T arcana, as nobody cares. Seriously. Nobody cares. Now go get ready for the Labor Day parade.)

Now, comparing my car to a Model T isn’t really fair, I know. If I baby it, driving like one of my great-aunts (you pick: Bernice, Bernice or Evelyn), I can get 24 mpg. Yay me! But I was thinking about those sad, unchanged-in-a-century MPG figures when I knew I was driving one of the last generations of gas-powered cars produced by humanity. Because electric cars are comparatively awesome and will rule the roost sooner or later, just as Model T’s gradually replaced horses. Sure, EV’s have their limitations – as does every technology – but they are undeniably, not merely hyperbolically, awesome.

A Model-T carb. Or maybe a pencil sharpener. Or maybe an early Dispos-all? Whatever it is, it gets better fuel economy out of a century-old car than the hyper-complex FI in my 2016 Mazda.

As a native Californian I confess to using awesome a little freely, though maybe not as freely as the average San Francisco Yelp reviewer. A note to Anthony W. of Benicia, California: mac n’cheese is not awesome, unless it inspires “great admiration, apprehension or fear,” according to Dictionary.com. If you admire your mac n’ cheese or feel apprehensive around it, you should talk to a mental-health professional, or maybe an exorcist.

Is Anthony W. talking about comparative awesomeness (which sounds like a class offered at U.C. Santa Cruz)? Maybe he’s only eaten Kraft mac n cheese out of a box, in which case a cheese-saturated Béchamel sauce actually is sort of awesome if you’re first experiencing it. That reminds me of the first time I drove an electric car; compared to driving a regular car, it really was awe-inspiring. Magically, my wife’s Fiat 500e silently coasted up a hill, accelerating all the way. No matter how fast I went, there was no noise, vibration or engine feel at all. A magic carpet ride, a 90-mph golf cart, all for $159 a month.

Gas-powered cars don’t have a quarter-horse’s chance at the ISDT, not when EV’s reach price and range parity, and they’re a lot closer than a decade ago. A $40,000 Chevy Bolt isn’t as fast and good-handling as your average $40,000 car, but it is better than your average $25,000 car… and how long before you can buy one or something like it for $25,000? Not long. Chevy dealers are already discounting them to $32,000, so another 20 or 30% isn’t a pipe dream.

Call me when electric motorcycles are this awesome.

Range is getting there too. The Bolt will go 238 miles on a full charge, about as far as my Mazda (if I baby it) on a full tank. It’s also fun, like driving a fully enclosed rocket-powered skateboard with a chintzy interior. I’ll buy one used when they start coming off their leases – le Bolt is not a great value at $40,000, but at $18,000? Sign me up.

On the other hand, electric motorcycles are fun… but not awesome. When I can buy a bike with the performance of a sportbike and the range of a Goldwing (with fast-charge capability) for the price of an average standard, that will indeed be awesome. Zero‘s products are fun and practical, but running out of juice before 100 mph is absolutely not awesome, as is shelling out $17,000 or more for what is basically a scooter.

But do you know what really is awesome? Gas-powered motorcycles, and we’ve got lots of those. Compared to just about anything else with a motor, they really do fill you with awe, the definition of ‘awesome’ in the non-free dictionaries. How else can you describe the feeling of an all-day ride in the mountains, dragging your knee at Barber, or lane-splitting your way to work past thousands of frustrated suckers in their econoboxes?

It’s not hyperbolic to say motorcycles are awesome and always will be, even for a Californian.


Gabe Ets-Hokin inspires awe in most kindergartners he meets and about 35% of the first graders.

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