The 1960’s will be remembered as the decade of change, when the Japanese launched an onslaught that changed the way motorcycles would be perceived forever. The ‘70s followed with a horsepower war that saw bikes judged almost solely on straight line performance, while the ‘80s and ‘90s saw the arrival of decent-handling super-quick race replicas from all the manufacturers. The last 17 years, however, have been marked by the arrival of a raft of electronic rider aids – some would say too many. Three-way traction control, ABS brakes, multi-setting power modes suitable for various combinations of wet, dry, track, city and touring purposes, active and passive electronic suspension settings, wheelie control and launch control are all now seen as standard at the top end of the market, and they contribute enormously to the cost of modern bikes. Still being perfected are electrically-powered bikes and the batteries needed to give them a decent range, then they too will take up a role in modern motorcycling.
All these gizmos and gimmicks are sensible, if sometimes overplayed. They took years or even decades to develop, and it’s interesting to see how far the clever guys in white coats have already got ahead of the game. Consider Yamaha’s Motobot project, where the factory has built a robot-bike that can run quick laps around a racetrack on its own. Unlike current self-driving cars, the bike is ridden by a humanoid using all the conventional controls - throttle, clutch, front and rear brakes, steering and gear shifters, and adjusting its actions according to feedback from various sensors. Yamaha reckons they can use the info so derived to improve the relationship between rider input and machine behaviour, to develop better motorcycles in the future.
Chipping away at Valentino Rossi’s superhuman on-track advantage…
Then, of course, there’s the big H! Honda! Honda’s worked with robots in their Asimo program since 2000, and over the last year have shown off two versions of a motorcycle that uses the technology so derived to become perfectly self-balancing. Efforts to achieve this by other manufacturers have usually relied upon heavy gyroscopes to hold the machines upright, but Honda’s system uses a small electronic device to balance the bike at very low speeds by making tiny adjustments to the steering at low speeds and standstill, like a foot-up trials exponent might do, but better. The bike’s handlebars disconnect from the forks and the rake and trail change to suit the circumstances. Rider stops the bike, climbs off and walks away. Bike stands upright without any outside assistance, and remains dead still. If the rider wishes he can touch the front mudguard to activate a “follow me” mode, and the motorcycle will dog his heels like a well-trained – well, horse- as he walks away. That could be useful after a long evening in the pub. The video does not demonstrate how the bike will behave if the rider walks up a flight of stairs, but I’d be tempted to try it!.
See video below for a look into the future.