Picture if you will, a guy sitting at a desk in front of a blank page.  He’s got ideas for a new type of frame and suspension which will take the motorcycle of the future to the next level. His design ideas are so radical and technologically advanced that he carries the risk of being laughed off the road.

Regardless of this fear, the guy builds the prototype anyway and it’s so successful, race organizers place a handicap on the motorcycle purely to give its competitors a sporting chance.

Pushing the boundaries of innovation and technology has never been more critical for today’s motorcycle manufacturers, but it’s nothing new. The story above refers to the Scott Motorcycle of 1908.

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Photo by Ronald Saunders

If people scoffed at Alfred Scott’s attempts to push the envelope though, they sure aren’t laughing now. In the third quarter of 2018 alone, the Honda Motor Co. spent a staggering $1.653B on R&D.

So with such colossal investments, how will the motorcycle of the future look? Although frame, suspension, and bodywork may all be open to interpretation, the method of propulsion at least, appears to be a common denominator.

Race to Design the Motorcycle of The Future

All the major motorcycle manufacturers, if not sporting an electric bike in their catalog, are indeed burning the midnight oil designing one. However, this raises the question, is the technology currently in place to enable electric bikes to compete with their fossil-fueled competitors on an even playing field?

Yes and no, is the answer. The biggest challenge is in creating a battery that is compact, powerful, gives a decent range, and recharges quickly. Plus, most importantly, it needs to be mass-produced cheaply.

Currently, companies such as Zero Motorcycles are leading the way. Their DS model claims 60hp, an average range of 100 miles, and hits the street at around $14K.

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By comparison, the twist-and-go 700cc Honda CTX700N has around 50hp on tap, a tank range over 200 miles, and comes in at $7699.

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Photo from Honda

Running costs play a significant part in VFM but until the internal combustion engine is finally forced into retirement, in the middleweight market at least, the electric bike is facing stiff competition.

Green credentials are one thing but as manufacturers increasingly chase a new demographic of the motorcycle of the future buyer, the fight for the ordinary Joe in the street will no doubt come down to electronic safety features.

So if the battle for the motorcycle of the future design is already gearing up, what can we expect? What about corner-adjusting headlights? No, we already have them; the BMW K1600. And as far as being able to communicate with household devices from the dash on your bike, that’s old news too; Honda Gold Wing Tour.

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Photo from Honda

If manufacturers are going to convince a new wave of the motorcycle of the future buyers that two wheels are almost as safe as four, things have got to step up.  

Interestingly, German auto tech giants Bosch, believe that safety is one of the most urgent challenges in the motorcycle of the future market.

Smart Technology Impacts Motorcycles of the Future

What exactly are we talking about when it comes to incorporating smart technology into motorcycles of the future? Traction, or more importantly the lack thereof, is big on the agenda. Computer-assisted traction control intervention has been around a while, but Bosch has gone a stage further with their Sliding Mitigation Project.

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Photo from Bosch Sliding Mitigation Project

With sensors detecting potentially dangerous sideways wheel slip, gas jets fire to produce reverse thrust to keep the bike upright. All fanciful stuff, which may not be as practical as one of their other projects; radar-based assistance.

Their forward collision warning and blind spot detection systems, give the rider advanced notice of a potentially dangerous situation involving the proximity of other vehicles.

Once again, this may sound like futuristic motorcycle design, but both Ducati and KTM are committed to introducing this technology on production bikes by 2020.

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Photo from Ducati

Smart bike-radar is also the subject of research here at Damon. Our forward collision warning system uses both radar and camera technology to alert the rider to a vehicle suddenly braking in front. It does this by way of haptic controls in each handlebar that convey the alert by vibration.

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This warning function is also triggered by a side-mounted radar, which tells the rider if another vehicle is in their blind spot. Covering the back of the bike is a rear-facing, wide-angle camera capable of streaming real-time footage to the Damon app on a docked smartphone.

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Although the front and side facing radar would need to be hard wired to your bike, this aforementioned app also has the potential to stand alone. This feature means that one day you could potentially download the app to your smartphone and fix a suitable camera to any bike. Ultimately, a real plus point for anyone who owns more than one motorcycle or is planning on selling one.

What’s in store for motorcycle helmets of the future?

Once again, the motorcycle helmet of the future with portable safety technology is already on the market in the form of the smart helmet. The rear-facing camera in this futuristic motorcycle helmet feeds real-time footage to a small projector mounted at the front, forming a rudimentary HUD (head-up display).

With Bluetooth technology already a common feature in motorcycle helmets, it is, therefore, conceivable that streaming information from your smart helmet to the TFT display on your smart bike is entirely possible.

Alternatively, information supplied by the motorcycle of the future such as engine temp, fuel range, traction control mode, etc., could be fed to the helmet’s display.

If this type of wireless interaction between bike and clothing sounds fanciful, consider this, Ducati and motorcycle gear manufacturer Dainese have already gone down this collaborative route.

The Ducati Multistrada Touring D-Air wirelessly links to the Dainese airbag vest or jacket; triggering it remotely in 45 milliseconds should the bike’s sensors detect an accident.

So if this type of interactive safety system already exists, companies like Bosch and Damon may even take it to the next level with stand-alone, self-learning or AI software.

This type of personalized system could, for example, collect individual data on the rider’s physical attributes such as body weight and reflex time. It would then download it to the bike, which could automatically adjust suspension levels and brake intervention.

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Automotive Technology and Motorcycles of the Future

As per usual, advances in car technology will also have a positive knock-on effect for the two-wheeled community.

The industry predicts that from 2025, cars capable of fully autonomous driving will become a reality. In fact, an international safety standard for automated driving, J3016, Levels 1-5 is already in place. A system capable of simultaneously processing and integrating information from radar, lidar, and camera-based sensors is therefore definitely on the cards.

Even if Honda does claim to have a self-balancing bike, the concept of fully autonomous the motorcycle of the future design may still be science fiction. The research mentioned earlier though can only have positive ramifications for a ‘cocoon radar’ system for motorcycles of the future.

Whichever system breaks cover first, one thing’s for sure, riding a motorcycle in the not too distant future is going to get a whole lot safer.