Looking back 30 years at things auto- and moto-motive is like stumbling into those caves in France with the caveman art. I remember my dad’s Volare wagon with the slant-Six and the newfangled emission controls on the carburetor that ensured it ran like crap when it ran at all… Actually Japanese motorcycles were way ahead of cars at the time, but the miracle of modern electronics and the computer chip has rendered everything of that era antique. And the rate of progression of the last decade or so, if it keeps up, makes it impossible for my Cro-Magnon brain to even imagine what lies ahead. I tried anyway.
10. Electronic Fuel Injection
If you’re younger than 30 you probably never did, and never will have to, experience the glory that is messing with the air/fuel mixing device known as the carburetor. Sometimes they’d get dirty and clog up, sometimes they’d leak gas, sometimes your bike just wouldn’t start. Lots of dirt riders would carry extra jets and swap them halfway up the mountain so their bike would continue to run at altitude. Fuel injection means you don’t need to do any of that anymore, and new bikes with selectable ride modes let you decide how snappy you want your throttle response with the push of a button.
What’s next? Clean-burn two-stroke technology has been around for years: At some point, I hope some forward-thinking motorcycle company is going to throw out the cams and valves and build a truly lightweight motorcycle that will rewrite the performance rules just like the original two-strokes did. Maybe it will be Polaris, who already builds motorcycles as well as the 800 Cleanfire H.O. Twin that powers a few of its snowmobiles. Ridiculously light and compact, it’s claimed to be good for more than 150 horsepower.
9. Really Good Helmets
Probably nothing has done more to make motorcycling survivable more than modern helmets, specifically modern full-face helmets. The first one I remember was a Bell my boss at Allen’s Drive-In used to ride up on his Yamaha GT380 with his non-opening faceshield totally fogged up. The full-face helmet evolved into the modular, or flip-face helmet when Schuberth built the first one for BMW in the late ’70s. There’s no helmet I’d currently rather ride in than my Shoei Neotec modular, in which I can go from 0 to 100 and back to coffee/donut-gargling in under 15 seconds.
What’s next? Lighter shells using carbon-fiber and even lighter materials will cover new liners that better dissipate energy. It’s pretty amazing that we’re still using styrofoam-cooler material to protect our brains, isn’t it? Built-in surround-sound systems will be optional along with tiny air-conditioning units and rear-view cameras that project inside your Transitions shield. A scalp massager wouldn’t be a bad thing.
8. Traction Control
TC has already revolutionized motorcycle racing, and lately it’s been doing the same thing for people who want to take their big adventure bikes off road but didn’t grow up there, or who want to ride hard in the rain without winding up in the lupines. Excellent throttle control is a nice thing to have, just like the ability to execute a series of perfect downshifts on the way into Turn 2. Once you accept that you’re just not that talented all the time, it’s nice to be able to just charge it all to your VISA. What’s next? I was never good at wheelies. Before I’m too old to ride, I hope somebody (probably KTM) comes out with HORN MONO CONTROL: Hold down this button to keep the front wheel balanced perfectly in the air. (For off-road or closed-course competition use only.)
7. Antilock Braking Systems
Just like traction control in reverse. BMW’s first motorcycle ABS, nearly 30 years ago, wasn’t anything like seamless or smooth or compact, but even then we knew that that jerkiness was a small price to pay if it kept us upright in a heavy-braking low-traction situation. Now, most bike’s systems have become so good, you might only know you’re triggering it by the flashing light on the dashboard. The latest cool Adventure bikes adjust their ABS sensitivity, along with suspension and power delivery, when you switch them into Off-Road or Enduro mode.
I would say what’s next is Lean-Sensitive ABS, but it’s already here on a few BMWs, KTMs and Ducatis. Braking hard while leaning into a corner is one of motorcycling’s great skills that takes years to master; not so much now thanks to the miracle of the IMU – Inertia Measurement Unit. What’s really next are the same kind of automatic collision-avoidance braking systems that are becoming common on automobiles. We hope they’ll have a lane-sharing mode.
6. Climate Control
I’m sorry I disremember the name of the famed BMW racer who told me about how they routed his old Boxer’s oil through the handlebar to keep his hands warm at cold races. Electric heated grips have become commonplace (I think they should be mandatory like lights and turn signals), and heated seats are also widely available – one of life’s greatest sensations when it’s cold. Heated clothing is all over the place; we can safely say we have conquered the cold!
What’s next is the next great leap for motorcycles, cooling technology. Right now, we’re still in the swamp-cooler phase, but there is some progress being made, like the EntroSys A/C system pictured. It only weighs about 10 pounds and seems compact enough to tuck away unobtrusively in a Gold Wing. But you know how good we are at shrinking things.
5. More Boost!
Sure the Kawasaki H2 and H2R supercharged beasts are cool toys; personally I’m more about the practical. Turbocharging and supercharging once had drawbacks that are all now rendered almost moot thanks to #10, Electronic Fuel Injection.
Now what’s holding us back is expense (and packaging… —Ed.); motorcycles are fast enough already for most of us. But fuel will become expensive again, and when it does the big players will at some point find it economically feasible to breathe big power into small, efficient engines by artificial means. Suzuki showed this XE7 Turbo at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show. The only thing better than powerful is light, compact and powerful.
4. Ride Modes/ Electronic Suspension
It happened so all-at-once, I don’t remember which bike was first to let you stiffen or soften its suspension with the selection of a Sport, Touring, or Rain mode on its display. Ducati’s first Multistrada with Skyhook suspension? A BMW GS? Anyway, the BMW S1000RR that won our Six-Way Superbike Shootout last year was good enough in Race mode to get Doug Chandler’s #1 pick, and it was sweet enough in Road mode for me to ride back and forth to Laguna Seca in blissful semi-comfort (with cruise control engaged). Simply selecting a mode with a button adjusts spring preload and damping settings instantly. The “dynamic” systems all now use their IMUs to even trim the damping according to how aggressively you’re riding the bike.
The motorcycles that benefit most from this are the ones that are ridden on the most varied terrain, ie, Adventure bikes. The new Triumph Explorer XCa we rode last week is the latest to benefit. On a fire road in Road mode it is treacherous; switching to Off-Road – which adjusts its suspension, power delivery, traction control and ABS settings all at once – renders it the world’s biggest dirtbike. Where we’re going from here is camel-squat technology (JB®): When you come to a stop, the bike squats down to the bottom of its travel so short people can get on and off without toppling over.
Whether we ever find batteries that overcome the range problem or not, electrics have already come a long way in a short time and are already a fantastic alternative for people who can afford them. And own another bike. No, you can’t really travel on an electric yet, but if 90% of your riding is an 80-mile commute, an electric can be great. Also awesome for surreptitious off-road junkets in semi-urban environments, running errands around the urban maze, and silently tracking game.
The Zero DSR we’re about to start playing with allegedly goes over 100 miles on a charge, does almost the Ton, and makes 106 foot-pounds of torque at 1 rpm. What am I, a gypsy fortune-teller? Who knows what will happen, but magnesium batteries sound promising, and I’m still waiting for the urban electric MX park to open.
2. Automatic Transmissions
One of Honda’s goals with its Dual Clutch Transmission was to flatten one barrier to entering motorcycling – the need to be able to operate a clutch and shift gears. Unfortunately, the VFR1200F it launched that automatic gearbox in came out in 2009, the worst possible timing, right upon the heels of a huge global recession, and not exactly the right bike for drawing in new riders either. Since then, Honda has graced its NC700s with the DCT option, as well as the new Africa Twin and a couple others; there’s even a bespoke DCT website. We’re not sure how many new riders DCT has pulled in, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it winds up being a bunch as word gets out and the economy improves. A bike that shifts itself or lets you do it with paddles is a pretty convenient way to get around. The Aprilia Mana is a hoot in its own right.
I don’t think motorcycles you shift yourself will ever become as scarce as cars with stickshifts, but as motorcycles sprout more and more modern appendages that require your on-the-fly attention, automatic shifting becomes more and more attractive.
1. High-Tech Everything
Futuristic helmet tech from #9 is already here – or almost here. The Skully AR-1 has heads-up rearview and GPS displays inside its Photochromic shield, although lengthy delays in achieving production of the Skully has frustrated early adopters who are still waiting for their AR-1s. Combined with Bluetooth and your iPhone 10, you should be able to launch nuclear strikes from your motorcycle. Maybe not that, but avoiding traffic jams and heavy weather, finding a nice Airbnb, and changing modes from Tout to Sport will at some point be doable by just telling Siri to snap to. I want good pizza, I want a queen-size and a Jacuzzi, I want to speak to my clergyperson, I want to record every ride to use in court against the next William Crum. Radar detection is a given. Where it goes from here is really impossible for my limited imagination to say.
When I started riding, you adjusted your ride mode by riding a different bike, and if you needed to communicate with somebody, you found a pay phone and rustled up some change. How terribly quaint. I can’t wait to see what’s next.