The year 2016 marks BMW’s 100th year of existence, and part of its centenary celebrations is unveiling what it believes the future will hold for its library of brands. We’ve previously seen concepts from BMW and its automotive relatives Rolls Royce and Mini as part of what the German company terms its Vision vehicles.
And today we’ve seen the Motorrad division of BMW unveil its vision of the future, the Vision Next 100, part of BMW’s ideas on how to address mobility needs about three decades in the future.
“Normally, when we develop a motorcycle, we tend to think 5 to 10 years in advance,” says Edgar Heinrich, Head of Design at BMW Motorrad. “On this occasion, we looked much further ahead and found the experience especially exciting. The Vision Next 100 embodies the BMW Group’s vision of biking in a connected world – an analog experience in a digital age. Motorcycling is about escaping from the everyday.”
The Vision looks to be an escape from current reality, boasting such features as self-balancing, a frame that purposely flexes to steer it, electric power, adjustable tire treads and a rider’s suit that can heat, cool and support. Oh, and the suit doesn’t offer impact protection because the Vision 100 apparently will never crash.
Cribbing from BMW’s auto division mantra, the Ultimate Driving Machine, Motorrad says its new concept stands for the ultimate riding experience: “The perfect synthesis between human and machine.” A big part of this new riding experience is supplying riders with a more direct connection with nature and accelerative forces by negating the need for protective riding gear and a helmet.
Building on the benefits of the digital world, the Vision Next 100 uses intelligent connectivity between rider, bike and the outside world. In conjunction with the active assistance systems, these connected elements help keep riders in control of their ride. As well as anticipating what lies ahead and alerting the user when action is needed, “they offer active rider protection and will consign the helmets and body protectors of today to the history books.”
BMW says the active assistance systems of the future will also enhance stability and safety by automatically balancing the motorcycle, both out on the road and when stationary. Novice riders will “benefit from additional guidance in all riding situations and from a bike that will never tip over.”
Yes, the Vision Next 100 will conceptually right itself even while stationary, although the system by which it balances wasn’t explained. The balancing system is also claimed to “ensure a particularly agile and dynamic riding experience with even lighter handling.”
A novel piece of engineering is the Flexframe, which sounds undesirable but “allows the bike to be steered without the various joints found on today’s motorcycles.” Turning the handlebar somehow has the effect of adjusting the entire frame so it changes the direction of the bike. Steering effort at low speeds is designed to be light, and the Flexframe requires more effort at higher speeds.
Powering this glimpse into the future is an electric powertrain inspired by BMW’s iconic Boxer engine placed in the middle of the frame triangle.When the bike is resting, the power unit is compact, extending outwards only when the bike sets off.
Stylistically, the Vision’s design incorporates visual aspects from BMW Motorrad’s 90-plus years of production. Most obvious is the black frame triangle that harkens back to the 1923 BMW motorcycle, the R32, made in 1923, here “reinterpreted to form a functional sculpture linking the front and rear wheels with a dynamic sweep.” BMW notes the frame appears as an integrated whole, with no visible bearings or joints. In profile, the Vision is reminiscent of a roadster, but BMW has designed in elements that are said to protect “the rider from wind and weather as effectively as a full fairing.”
The slender Vision has a minimalist front end design incorporating into the frame above the front wheel a large metal reflector utilizing the two vertically positioned, U-shaped elements that make up the daytime running light. It also acts as a wind deflector and, in combination with the small, integrated windshield, helping aid aerodynamics. Bodywork is primarily carbon fiber. Suspension damping is said to be provided by tires “whose variable tread actively adjusts to suit ground conditions and ensure the best possible grip in any situation.”
BMW’s concept also incorporates what it calls a Digital Companion that provides situational information for its rider. Though constantly active, it remains in the background until required to issue an alert via the user interface or provide active assistance.
“A key point with the BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100 was to make sure the constant digital presence doesn’t undermine the analog riding experience,” explains Holger Hampf, Head of User Experience at the BMW Group. “The display and operating concept works so subtly that the rider can enjoy an entirely natural biking experience, trusting the bike completely and enjoying complete freedom and ease.”
The interface between rider and machine is a futuristic visor that consists of a pair of data glasses extending across the rider’s field of vision. It provides wind protection while displaying relevant data in one of four designated display areas controlled by a rider’s eye movements. Looking up or down changes the content that appears, and looking straight ahead switches the information off completely. Information is only projected onto the visor on request or to alert the rider to the fact that action is needed.
“The bike has the full range of connected data from its surroundings and a set of intelligent systems working in the background, so it knows exactly what lies ahead,” Hampf continues. “By collating the data it has gathered, it can suggest ideal lines and banking angles, or warn riders of hazards ahead.”
When suggesting lines and angles, the Digital Companion appears in the lower third of the field of view. It is represented by an upturned triangle from which two horizontal lines extend outwards like the display in an airplane cockpit. The symbol indicates the current banking angle and ideal lines, and if the bike’s current position does not match what is suggested, the rider can correct it as necessary.
“If he or she responds too late or not at all, the bike will correct itself,” reads BMW’s media release. “The Digital Companion’s advice not only helps novices to learn more about what they and their bikes can do. It also supports experienced riders by allowing them to challenge themselves and continuously improve their skills.”
Looking upwards activates the rear-view function in the visor, allowing the rider to see what is going on on the road behind. Lowering the eyes to normal levels opens a menu from which the rider can select an option by pointing a finger. Looking further down opens the map view showing the rider’s chosen route.
The rider’s gear is something special, but not in a way in which you’ll recognize. The suit displayed with the Vision Next 100 can, depending on conditions, warm or cool the rider. The flexible, banded structure of the suit and shoes is inspired by the muscle areas of the human body and provides body support and relief whenever needed. At higher speeds, the neck section inflates to provide extra support for the upper vertebrae and improve overall comfort. Variable openings offer additional ventilation.
Unlike present-day riding gear, the suit shown with the concept offers no safety features, “because the bike’s intelligent assistance systems make them superfluous. Instead, sensors in the suit keep track of the wearer’s pulse rate and body temperature and provide the right level of heat or cold. The suit also delivers navigation instructions via the vibrating elements in the arms and legs, and alerts the rider when the banking angle is becoming critical.”
Edgar Heinrich sums up: “The BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100 unites the best of both worlds – digital and analog – for the ultimate emotional experience: The Great Escape.”