Motorcycle Technology Commentary

I enjoy evangelizing motorcycling and how it makes one feel. Anytime I get a chance to talk about the benefits of riding, I do so without hesitation.

Knowing this, my friends often ask my advice and opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling in general. I recently had such a conversation with a friend who was thinking about learning to ride a motorcycle and wanted to know about life on two wheels.

Although he’s a MotoGP fanatic, and sometimes believes he can tame a prototype machine, with my guidance he’ll start on a more manageable motorcycle. I’ll also encourage him to enroll in a rider safety course to learn the skills to not only ride safe, but also become another ambassador of the sport that we all love.

Bosch display of motorcycle technology
Bosch display of motorcycle technology–from 2015!
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A few days after our talk he asked me to accompany him as he visited a few dealerships.  I blocked out a Saturday afternoon and off we went. We visited a few dealers to see some new and used motorcycles, as well as some private sellers the following day. I won’t get into how some dealers were pushing him to go for a super sport, liter bike or a hyper-naked, however I will say, to my friend’s credit, that he resisted.

Then again, it was probably me saying: “There’s no way you’re starting on that. Forget it.” He hasn’t bought anything yet, but the experience of helping him understand all of the options available on today’s motorcycles got me thinking: Have we reached the pinnacle of motorcycling?

Allow me to transport you back many years ago when the internet didn’t exist, and motorcycles were completely different animals. Features commonly found on modern bikes–inverted front forks, fuel injection, traction/wheelie control, radial brakes, IMU, ABS, electronically adjustable suspension and digital dashes with data logging capabilities–were not the norm on bikes of yesteryear.

Back then it’d be hard to find a professional race team that had all of that electronic wizardry. When you “learned” how to ride, you did so without any rider aids outside of your appendages. Working on your motorcycle also meant breaking out tools like wrenches and sockets; not your laptop or cell phone to download the latest fuel/track map.

Looking at the bikes available today illustrates just how far technology has come in regards to motorcycles. The proliferation of technology is quite remarkable, and you can’t go online or pick up a motorcycle brochure without some manufacturer touting its electronic prowess (which, of course, is better than its competitors).

Electronic Ohlins for Ducati Multistrada
Electronic Ohlins for Ducati Multistrada

This is product differentiation in all its glory, and although marketers swear by it, engineers could care less. Let me clarify that statement. The marketing department indirectly pushes engineers to produce or enhance a product, and the fruits of their labor are quite astonishing. While engineers generally deliver, they’re more concerned about “engineering” then how the product is sold or positioned in the market.

All of the aforementioned enhancements and improvements to the quality of parts and manufacturing processes of a motorcycle are engineering marvels. When you have production sport bikes reaching over 200 horsepower, cruisers that can go 100,000 miles with just basic maintenance, and all categories in between implementing such advanced systems, where do we go from here?

If some motorcycle executive asked me “What would you like to see added?” to their 2018 motorcycles I’d probably say the standards of weight loss, higher MPG’s and keyless start (which brands like KTM and Ducati already do). However, artificial intelligence, the connected/self-healing motorcycle and interchangeable parts could easily be added to a list of improvements.

2018 BMW R 1200 GS Connectivity Display
2018 BMW R 1200 GS Connectivity Display

Given that the future is unknown, and what advancements can/should be made are purely speculation, we should however talk for a second about electric motorcycles. This paradigm is a major shift for the industry, and although the internal combustion engine (ICE) has been around for a long time and has reached a very refined state, electric motorcycles definitely show promise. Of course, promise and practicality are two different realities.

A couple of weeks after my shopping excursion, I spoke to my friend to see what motorcycle he was leaning towards. Much to my relief he narrowed it down to three logical and pragmatic choices: a new Yamaha SCR950, Triumph Scrambler or a used Ducati Monster 696. Whichever he chooses I’m confident that he’ll build the right foundation of skills that will enable him to ride safely and properly.

Although it feels like we’re at the peak of motorcycle development, one can only imagine how much more innovation is possible. Magnesium this and titanium that may be passé, and a yet even more exotic material could be what motorcycles are constructed of (nanotubes perhaps?).

I’m eagerly awaiting that day so I can look back and realize that instead of being at the pinnacle of motorcycle technology, we were only at a small hilltop.