Help (Virtually) Design a Honda

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
Dr. Mike Hilgers knows that riding a motorcycle is anemotional experience. That's why he's helping Honda engineers generate virtualfeedback about motorcycle design from real bikers.

"I proposed to Honda that you can quantitatively measure the desiredgeometry of a motorcycle," says Hilgers, an assistant professor of computerscience at the University of Missouri-Rolla. "People can become very attachedto the way their motorcycle looks in addition to the way it rides."

Thanks to a grant from Honda, Hilgers has been able to create a Website ( that features an interactive blueprint of a HondaShadow. Motorcycle enthusiasts can access the blueprint and make changes tovarious angles by clicking on the handle bars, for instance. Feedback ismonitored, calculated and averaged in order to derive quantitative informationabout the most appealing features of a motorcycle's design. Honda willeventually be able to use the information to make decisions about futuredesigns.

"Architects have long known that rectangles are appealing inbuildings," Hilgers says. "In motorcycles, I suspect the triangle is mostappealing aesthetically."

The "triangle" is represented by connecting imaginary points from thefront fork, to the handle bars, to the rear fork. On the Internet site, theseare the areas of the blueprint most often manipulated by would-be designers.Hilgers, who owns a Harley-Davidson, says many motorcycle enthusiasts favorelongated handle bars, an extended front wheel, and a longer, lower frame --the chopper look.

"I can stand out in the garage and just look at my bike for hours,"says Hilgers, who emphasizes that image and other non-performance relatedfactors play an important role in a person's decision to buy a motorcycle. "Amotorcycle represents freedom to many riders. I've said that, when I'm throughwith academia, I'm going to be a Harley mechanic out in Colorado."

When he was in the fifth grade, Hilgers' father put him on his firstdirt bike. "The ultimate way to become a safe rider is to grow up in the dirtwith a bike while your bones are still fairly elastic," he says.

Hilgers also maintains that the ultimate way to build a good motorcycleis to bring customers into the artistic phase of its design.

Thanks to Lance Feyh for the above press release.

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