I can remember when key fobs started showing up in cars, allowing keyless entry and keyless start. It baffled me. Why, I thought, would such a thing be necessary or even all that desirable?
Is the world full of silent sufferers of repetitive stress injury whose lives are made hell by the act of taking keys out of their pocket and placing them in the steering column? Are we so short of problems that the greatest minds of our generation absolutely needed to remedy this one?
Key fobs just struck me as stupid and inherently susceptible to issues that don’t apply to the traditional old bits of metal that are keys. Water, for example. I have on very many occasions gone swimming with my keys in my pocket. Not by accident, but because it makes sense.
‘Give me heated grips instead. They’re cheaper, more practical, and less critical should they fail.’
At Barton Springs, in Austin, Texas, for example. Leave my wallet in the car, tie my car keys into the waist tie of my swimming trunks. Boom. No worries. But if you’ve got a battery-powered key fob, you can’t take it into the water with you. You can’t keep it on your person. So, you can’t relax and enjoy splashing around.
Instead, you have to wrap it up in the towel that you’re leaving creekside and hope that no one saw you wrapping up said fob, hope that no one will want to steal a towel just for japes, hope that none of the half dozen dogs that are playing in the creek decide to unravel your towel. And you’re left to always be craning your neck to make sure that the towel remains in sight, never willing to put your head underwater, never really venturing too far into the creek or having any fun.
Connected to this, a fob isn’t the sort of thing you’d want to risk throwing to someone. Ever done that? I have. You’re up on the third floor or some such thing and your wife says: “Hey, can you throw me the keys, I need to get something out of the car.”
So, you toss them down to her and because she has the eye-hand coordination of a drunk and blind sloth, the keys never even touch her hand and go straight to the pavement. Do that with a fob and you’ll end up with smashed bits of plastic and an urgent phone call to the dealership.
Even if you don’t ever get the fob wet or drop it from great height, there’s still the reality of a battery and its finite lifespan. A metal key that’s been sitting in a drawer for 60 years will still function as it did when it was first cut. If you live in a place that gets ungodly cold, like Minnesota, that key will still get you into the shelter and safety of a car even if the car’s battery is dead.
So, by and large, my opinion of key fobs has always been negative. They strike me as an unnecessary gimmick, answering a question no one asked and creating problems from a previously problem-free aspect of driving.
Needless to say, as the keyless-start trend has made its way to more and more motorcycles it has been met by more and more eye rolling on my part. I have definitely gone swimming with my motorcycle keys in my pocket (on those times when I’ve remembered to bring swimming trunks and not just dived in completely naked). I have definitely dropped my keys.
True, I have also accidentally left my key in the ignition and walked away, only to realize my mistake upon returning to the bike half an hour later. And, yes, the other key on the key chain (the key to my U lock) has bounced around in the wind to the extent that it has scratched and chipped the metal of the steering column. But these issues still haven’t really validated keyless bikes in my mind.
Generally, when I’ve seen keyless start listed as a feature, I’ve thought: “Give me heated grips instead. They’re cheaper, more practical, and less critical should they fail.”
But then something happened that completely changed my mind
There’s a dude in Cardiff who rides a Harley-Davidson Iron 883 and parks it wherever the hell he pleases. He works in the city centre, I assume, because that’s where I always see his bike – always in some place that motorcycles aren’t really supposed to go. This, in and of itself, makes him cool. Cardiff city centre benefits from second-hand cool as a result. I feel this should be written into the city’s improvement plans: if you have a cool bike you are allowed to park it anywhere you damn well please. There’s something pretty awesome about seeing a Harley just cooling under a tree in the Hayes, or Royal Enfield Continental GT serving as backdrop to some street performer.
This particular Iron 883 has aftermarket exhaust that can be heard from a fair distance, but up until recently I’d never seen the guy who owns it. Then, a few days ago, I was walking through city centre when I heard the bike approaching.
FAWOOM. I turned to see it rolling up a bus lane and onto the pedestrianized area outside Central Library. Next to the bicycle racks, where a few other motorcycles were parked, he stopped and performed the coolest maneuver I have ever seen.
In one single, fluid action, he kicked down the side stand, thereby cutting the engine, stepped off the bike and walked away, pulling off his helmet and never even glancing back at the bike as he strut into John Lewis.
Yeah, the story is ruined somewhat by the fact he was strutting into a John Lewis, but ignore that bit. The keyless fob in his jacket meant he was able to just get off the bike and walk away like a movie star. It was such a cool, beautiful move that I felt weak in the knees. It made me want to run out and get an Iron 883 just so I could ride around pulling the same trick.
And deep down in the recesses of my mind a thought formed: “Man, keyless bikes are badass.”