30 years ago, would anyone have guessed that by the year 2022, motorcycles would be rolling out of showrooms with electronic rider aids like radar enabled cruise control, lean sensitive ABS, Bluetooth connectivity and umpteen-mode electronic suspension systems? I wouldn’t have. Then again, I’d only just had my 1st birthday, so it probably wasn’t the kind of thing occupying my mind.
But whether you predicted it or not, it’s where we are today. We’re living in a world where motorcycles are getting more and more intelligent by the year. Some would (and do) say that all this elec-trickery takes something of the joy away from motorcycle riding, and I, for one, can see where they are coming from. But there’s no denying the fact that, partly thanks to all the clever electronics, contemporary motorbikes are better performing, easier to use and safer to ride than ‘modern’ bikes were 30 years ago.
So I got to thinking. If that’s how much motorcycle electronics have changed in the last 30 years, what on earth will they be like in another 30 years? Where are they going to go next? We probably don’t need any more electronic interference when it comes to riding our motorbikes, but I’ve got a feeling we’re going to get some. Will it be for the better, or for the worse? I’ve got a few ideas.
A lot of the electronic rider aids that we see, particularly on sportsbikes, are dressed up as ‘performance enhancing’ systems. But it’s only been in the last few years that most of them have seriously enhanced performance. Early traction control systems, for example, were alright but they wouldn’t help you lap faster round a track.
Now though, systems like traction control, wheelie control, shifters and blippers will help you lap faster. With modern IMUs (Inertial Measurement Units) and onboard computers doing squillions of calculations per minute, modern bikes can stop a wheelspin or a wheelie before you know it’s even happening.
That said, you can still high-side most sportsbikes. You can’t just wholly rely on TC and anti-wheelie to save you from crashing when you’re pushing on, you’ve still got to know exactly where the line is, and so it still takes a massive amount of skill to ride a bike fast round a track.
And then there is ABS, which definitely doesn’t help on track. Quite the opposite.
In 30 years’ time though I’ve got a feeling the ABS will feel more like the TC of today. It might actually stop you skidding without you noticing it’s there. Maybe it’ will help you get the very, very best from your brakes, but safely, without risking a spectacular over-the-handlebars crash.
Perhaps you’ll be able to ride as fast as you want, in 30 years’ time, without the risk of any type of crash. There’ll be no skill involved in riding motorcycles anymore, thanks to the space age electronic rider aids; in fact every single person will be capable of being a MotoGP rider. Maybe.
It’s not just sportsbikes that have a plethora of rider aids in their electronic arsenal. A great many models of motorbike are more about comfort than they are about outright performance. And so it stands to reason that a great many of their ‘leccy systems will be concerned with comfort, too. And they are.
Cruise control, heated seats and handlebars, even quickshifters and blippers all help to make the riders job easier. And more comfortable. Particularly the ultra-modern radar enabled cruise control on the likes of the Multistrada and the Super Adventure.
All these systems are giving the rider fewer things to do whilst on the bike. At this rate, soon the rider will be virtually redundant; a passenger on his own motorcycle.
Within 30 years, I can definitely imagine seeing bikes with radar enabled throttles and braking systems all operated entirely by internal actuators and stepper motors. Perhaps they’ll all be have GPS to keep them on the road. At what point do these computer controlled motorbikes become ‘riderless motorcycles’? At what point do they become pointless?
I don’t know about you, but I feel safest on a motorbike when I’m in control of it myself, rather than having to surrender control to a computer that think’s it knows best. But I suppose it’s alright me saying that; my track record proves I’m not actually very safe on a motorbike at all!
With every day that goes by, the world is becoming more and more sanitised, safe and vanilla flavoured. It’s a wonder we’re still allowed to buy 220bhp motorbikes.
Because bikes are still seen, by some, as a bit dangerous, I think there will be a big drive in the next 30 years to make them safer. The easiest way to do that is probably to make them slower, but let’s not even think about that.
The second easiest way to make them safer is probably by developing electronic aids that actually make the rider genuinely safer. Like ABS that actually works, for example.
But the problem is, I really can’t see how they are going to develop the electronics to make motorcycling completely risk-free, without taking away the very thing that we love about it.
I’m not saying that everyone who rides motorcycles does it for the risk factor, or the danger. I don’t think that’s the case at all. But I do think that we ride motorcycles to actually ride motorcycles; we want to be in charge of all the controls, and not have a bunch of computers interfere with every one of our inputs. All that does is dilute the experience of motorcycling.
So let’s see. I don’t know what the manufacturers will do with motorcycle electronics over the next 30 years, but I’m hoping they don’t get too carried away.