Best Technology of 2017: TFT (Thin-Film Transistor) Displays

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TFT displays are a type of LCD flat-panel display screen in which each pixel is controlled by one to four transistors, which can combine to yield full-color readouts. Not only does this type of display offer great resolution, it allows manufacturers full customization of how the user interface interacts with the rider. In more performance-oriented bikes, we see normal street-riding displays, while more track-focused screens can be made available at the push of a button. Track-specific screens generally focus on tachometer, lap timers, and gear indicators to give trackday enthusiasts an easier intake of information that is important while spinning laps.

As with most technology, now that TFT has been around for most top of the line sport and touring motorcycles, we are seeing the tech trickle down to bikes such as KTM’s 390 Duke which is a great city or beginner bike and now, with high-end accoutrements.

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“Some old-school riders may deride the abandonment of analog gauges, as I once did, but TFT instruments are a step forward in delivering all the info a rider needs,” says MO’s Editor-in-Chief, Kevin Duke. You only need to look at modern aircraft and Formula 1 cars to know which way the wind’s blowing. The highly legible and configurable contemporary displays are excellent and significantly add to a gauge panel’s visual appeal.”

TFT Displays earn our Motorcycle.com Best of Technology award for a few reasons; they allow manufacturers to easily update user interfaces and allow end users customization as well depending on their riding disciplines. The potential for future applications of TFT display also include touch capabilities – like on the new Yamaha Star Venture, which works great even with gloved fingers. If you have been around through the early days of phones with touch screens, you have likely used a TFT touch screen on a previous mobile device. As the list of electronics grow on new motorcycles, so too have the control modules on each side of the handlebar. TFT touch displays could be a solution to slimming those plastic bits down to their more svelte days.

Honorable Mention: Suzuki GSX-R1000 Variable Valve Timing

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Cars, where an extra pound or 10 is no big deal and there’s plenty of room under the hood, have been varying their valve timing for decades as a means to broaden their powerbands. Motorcycles not so much. After the withering attack upon Honda’s VTEC system in its 2002 VFR800, which the critics panned as too heavy, too complex and too ineffective, it seems like the other manufacturers got the message: KISS.

Ducati went against one of its own design principles when it added Desmodromic Variable Timing to the 2015 Multistrada 1200, since the system also added 11 pounds. Gasp! It was worth it on the Multi, but the added weight is why you don’t see DVT on a Panigale, said Ducati.

Which is all the more reason to be impressed with Suzuki’s adding VVT to its all-new 2018 GSX-R1000. Suzuki Racing VVT (Variable Valve Timing) is way simpler than most systems, and therein lies its genius. What happens is that 12 steel balls running in slanted grooves are spun outward by centrifugal force at high rpm. Their carrier mechanism attaches to the intake cam sprocket, and retards intake cam timing at a pre-set rpm, “adding significantly to high-rpm power” while adding very little weight to the engine’s spinning mass.

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Here’s a video to show VVT in action.

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The new GSX-R did not win our recent big Superbike Shootout, but a quick look at the dyno chart shows VVT had it running with or ahead of the best of the 1000cc four-cylinders from around 4000 rpm, right up until its noise-quelling software shuts the party down at 11,000 rpm. What might’ve been…

Suzuki says it developed its VVT system in MotoGP racing, where it’s served reliably for quite a few years. Some say we’re too easily impressed by bright, shiny objects, but Suzuki’s 12 steel balls make VVT our Top Tech of 2017.

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  • Old MOron

    Yes to Suzuki’s VVT. Bravo.

    As for TFT, if it’s so great, how come they can’t make it look like good ol’ analog clocks? Oh wait, the MOron in Chief has addressed that: “You only need to look at modern aircraft and Formula 1 cars to know which way the wind’s blowing.”
    Oh, you mean those things that practically pilot themselves?

    I suppose nowadays you do need some kind of screen to display your ABS settings, your fuel map settings, your suspension settings, your ride mode, etc., etc., But unless your racing, and adjusting these parameters on the fly as your tires go off, you basically set these things at the beginning of the ride, then forget them. I’d prefer to have a small display for these things and good ol’ analog clocks for speed and RPM.

    Beemer’s compromise could be worse:

    http://www.cpuhunter.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/2014-BMW-S1000R-Instrument-Display.jpg

    • therr850

      I think I am with you. I have an ’08 Bandit with an analog tach and a digital speedo. Love the tach. Absolutely, positively, hate the Speedo! With these new displays, like you say, the average daily commuter does not need to constantly monitor all the performance settings on the main screen. Put those on an optional screen that can be displayed and give us old mo’s the option of a digital dash OR an analog tach and speedo dash so we can choose what makes us happy and comfortable.

      • c w

        The only issue I have with my GSF’s speedo is that it’s very wrong without a correction device…which then makes the odo ẃrong.

        • therr850

          Heal Tech Electronics makes a speedo error compensator you can plug in and adjust to correct the error. I don’t have one, a bit pricey but reviews say they work. They also have a plug in gear indicator and other devices. Google search for them.

          • c w

            already have a device, it’s Suzuki’s design. odo and speed are from the same signal.

    • Kevin Duke

      How is it that F1 cars pilot themselves…?

  • motorcycle technology has been constantly introducing us to new things, challenging us to change the way we see motorcycles. there are pros and cons…like everything. you just need to enjoy your motorcycle. the rest is not important.

  • Jamie Daugherty

    Retest that VVT system in 5 years 10k miles and I’ll bet it’s function has changed. It relies way too much on friction which changes due to so many factors. Kind of gives new meaning to “Variable” valve timing.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      It doesn’t depend on friction. It depends on centrifugal force which only depends on engine rpm and the mass of the steel balls. The piston rings will wear out long before anything happens to the steel balls.

  • JMDGT

    I agree that tft displays are great technology and I am glad to see the OEMs using it. It can be configured to look any way you want it to. You want it old school it can look like that. You want a modern vibe you can have that too. I love old analog gauges but I am definitely a fan of full color tft displays.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    Good choice Suzuki VVT. Innovative. Simple. Cheap. Reliable. Leave it to Suzuki to bring high performance to the masses.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    As said below, there is no way to fit all the information from modern systems on a small auxiliary display.
    I’m not against TFTs whilst riding, but I don’t like the fact that they are literally “dead” when a bike isn’t running. Good old analog tach marked up to 14K RPM gives me chills even before turning ignition on.

  • Jens Vik

    Using TFT on the handlebar is a stupid idea, no matter how cool it might be. You need tactile buttons to ride safe. Look down every time to hit a button? No Thanks

  • Jason

    I vote for ABS becoming available on more bikes in the USA