Motorcycling observations

Through the Past, Brightly 

Beginning to immerse myself in motorcycling as a freshly minted teenager in the early 1970s, I figured that I would be riding a flying jet bike by now. Gas lines hadn’t happened yet. Nuclear power didn’t frighten many people. We were visiting the moon regularly. To paraphrase Timbuk 3, the future was so bright, I had to wear shades.

The October 1971 issue of Cycle World both fueled and damped my enthusiasm. The magazine and Suzuki had sponsored a Project Futurebike design contest among its readers with a handsome first prize of $1,000 of Suzuki product—enough for a T500 Titan and a few accessories. Much to my disappointment, the Joe Parkhurst-authored article didn’t offer a glimpse of anything airborne.

However, the preview into the future did provide plenty to spur my young imagination. Of the seven designs selected as winners, two were powered by Wankel rotaries and four utilized two-strokes (one a V-4 and another with fuel injection). The remaining bike implemented a fascinating rhombic Sterling twin featuring geared cranks, cooling by liquid hydrogen or helium, and it was claimed to be virtually free of emissions (now there was some forward thinking), along with a hydrostatic transmission, all by 1985. MIA, of course, is what we have now—an endless sea of four-strokes. (Click image to enlarge)

Monocoque chassis were also popular, as four of the bikes tapped that burgeoning technology. Interestingly, only one designer envisioned single-shock rear suspension. This reminds me of a futuristic illustration from the ’50s—the breadwinner hops in a personal helicopter for his commute to work, yet his lovely full-skirted mate is left home, drying clothes on an outdoor line. Dryers must have seemed higher-tech than copters, just as single-shock suspension and high-performance four-strokes were deemed more fanciful than monocoque chassis and twin-rotary engines.

Generally, present motorcycle design is on the threshold of excellence. Did I just say that? Actually, that was said by one of the honorable mention designers, Larry Counce of New Orleans. As incredible as the latest, greatest motorcycles undoubtedly are, it is not my viewpoint that we are anywhere near the end of some technological alleyway.

I don’t pretend to have a crystal ball into the future, but as I write this I’m on an airliner on the way to test the all-wheel-drive Christini Honda CRF250X. Yes, it is a dirt bike, but there was a time when driving AWD was reserved for off-road trucks and Jeeps, not for high-performance pavement-wrinkling automobiles. Are we getting a preview into the future with that forward-thinking motorcycle? Quite possibly.

Powerplants fueled exclusively by gasoline are unquestionably on their way out, and replacements will be developed. Can a bio-diesel engine power a viable motorcycle? What about hydrogen or electricity? Will hybrids be a stopping point along the way, as they are with automobiles? Which company will build the Prius of motorcycles? Aluminum chassis are commonplace today, but we may see carbon fiber replace it. Hydraulic suspension is a mature technology, ripe for a fresh substitution.

Of course, all of my observations are based on today’s perspective of future technologies, just as those winners in the Project Futurebike competition. With any luck, I will be riding in 2045 on my flying motorcycle!