Car tech in bikes; whatever’s next?

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Remember when motorbikes used to be simple things? A bit of metal with a wheel at either end and an engine in the middle. Not anymore. As the 2000s became the 2010s and the 2010s became the 2020s we’ve watched gadgets and gismos aplenty trickle relentlessly into our bikes. Usually from the direction of the four-wheeled world. We’re seeing more and more car tech in bikes. Occasionally, you’ll read a press release that tells you that the tech’s been developed by NASA or that it’s come straight from MotoGP. But the version you get on your road bike will, no doubt, be based on something that cars have been running for years. Decades in fact. And I’m not just talking about heated seats and cruise control. There are a veritable feast of safety, comfort and performance aids that bike manufacturers have cherrypicked from their four-wheeled brethren. But what’s next?

Bikes aren’t about to start rolling out of factories with air conditioning and seat belts all of a sudden. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the next big thing in the bike world will be something that car drivers have already got bored of talking about.

What usually happens with this kind of thing is that a pioneering motorcycle manufacturer gives a new model some exciting tech, and then make a big song and dance about it. Be it ABS, fuel injection, traction control or a supercharger. The manufacturers will bang on about their new USP till the cows come home. But early versions of any new tech are usually a bit crap. It tends to take quite a few years before the systems are actually any good and really worth having. By which time more and more of the factories start having a go with it. Before you know it, it’s the norm (like fuel injection). Or it’s legislation mandates it (like ABS). I could write a long list of all the things that bikes have stolen from cars, but that’d be boring. So I won’t.

I had, at one point expected to see diesel powered bikes appearing on the horizon. But since diesel engines have rapidly fallen out of vogue in recent times, I’ve had a rethink. I tried to think about all the things that you see on cars, that bikes don’t yet have, and two contenders seem to be taking centre stage. Turbochargers, and (I’m going to call it) ‘electronic automation’.

Once upon a time, turbos were the reserve of the high end sports car, where power was everything. If you drove a ‘turbo’ car, you were considered pretty cool. Nowadays, everything from Fiestas to Ferraris have got turbos fitted. That’s because it’s not just a great way to suck extra power out of your supercar engine, it means you can get more power and better fuel economy out of your tiny little, lightweight, 1.0 litre run-around. My van’s got two of the bastards, for a start! For the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to group superchargers and turbos into the same, erm… group. I know they work in very different ways, but essentially, the outcome is very similar.

I know you can go to any drag race in the world and see Hayabusas with Subaru turbos sticking out the side of then, and Kawasaki have got a handful of supercharged models in their showrooms, but it’s not really caught on, has it? Well, not yet, anyway. I’m convinced that in 10, maybe 20 years’ time, more bikes will have forced induction fitted then not, and it won’t just be your fast as fuck wheelie machines, it will be your Fiesta spec learner bikes, too.  And I say 20 years because that’s how long these things take to really catch on. The first production ABS and fuel injected bikes were back in the 80s. Oh and don’t worry about the ‘we’ll all be on electric bikes by 2030’ thing. It’s total poppycock.

Electronic automation, as I mentioned before, is the next thing that seems to be flooding into every for wheeled motor. Automatic everything. Cruise control that speeds up and slows down with the traffic. Lane guidance systems that don’t just let you know when your drifting out of your lane, but actively steer you back into the fucker. It’s all a bit too ‘auto-pilot’ for me. I like to feel as though I’m in control when I’m driving a car (never mind riding a bike). Quite clearly, not everyone’s the same as me.

Cruise control is nothing new in the bike world, but Ducati are the first to introduce this ‘adaptive cruise control’ system to a bike (the Multistrada V4s). It uses front and rear radar, as well as the bikes brakes and throttle, to hold you at a steady distance from the vehicle in front. I’ve not had the chance to have a proper go with it on a bike yet, but I fucking hate it in a car, so I can’t see myself being a big fan of it on a bike. That said, I have heard good things about the system.

Whether I like it or not though, Ducati’s ACC system is merely the tip of the iceberg. Before we know it, bikes will be stopping at traffic lights, slowing down for horses and serving you a Frappuccino with almond milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon every morning. And a cig.

I’m not a technophobe; I love the way new technology improves all of our lives. I’d take a tumble dryer over a mangle any day of the week. And you can keep your fax machine, I’ve got an iPhone, mate. But, in a world where everyone seems to be worried about safety over just about anything else, my concern is that a lot of these futuristic automatic systems will eventually dull the motorcycling experience out of all recognition. There‘s nothing exciting about riding a bike with cruise control, is there? Unless you’ve got your eyes closed seeing if you can count to ten; or is it just me that does that?

I’m going to keep my fingers crossed in the hope that, over the years to come, we see an injection of tech into the bike world that makes bikes faster, more exciting and perform better on track. Who’s with me?


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