Capable of flight or with engines that run on water, speculation for tomorrow’s two-wheeler is rife. In considering the following points, you will have a better idea of just what we can look forward to in the future of motorcycle technology.

At every stage of man’s evolution, technology encounters disbelief and terror. Take the first steam engine; in 1861, the leading medical journal of the day caused mass panic when it stated that traveling by train would cause horrific damage to the body and brain.

Thankfully today, new motorcycle technology doesn’t have to overcome such vociferous skepticism. How important the advancements in the motorcycle industry are though, and just how they will translate to the real world, remains to be seen.

Anything that challenges traditional principles generally meets with suspicion. You only have to look at the first ABS introduced by BMW or Honda’s linked braking system. Both met with opposition due to the perception that they take control away from the rider.

Motorcycle Technology

Today, ABS is mandatory on all motorcycles over 125cc and linked braking is just the tip of the electronic rider-aid iceberg. It would now be almost impossible to find a high-end motorcycle without multiple riding modes, ride-by-wire, active suspension or traction control.

If motorcycle technology is so advanced, just what can we expect in the future?

Frames

The breakthrough in composite materials and the ability to produce more complex designs are at the forefront of future frame building. The weight of the rolling chassis has been an issue since the dawn of competitive motorcycle racing and the same principles will apply for the future motorcycle.

Hand-built frames will always offer reductions in weight, but due to its ability for low-cost mass production, 3D printing has great potential. While this isn’t exactly new technology, the ability to load them with composite printing materials is a major plus.

Auto manufacturers already use this method to make car parts, but companies such as BMW, Divergent, and APWorks have already produced prototype 3D printed future motorcycle frames.

Motorcycle Technology
Photo from BMW

Depending on the blend of materials used, a 3D printed frame typically weighs around 35% lighter than conventional models, so the benefits for internal combustion engine (ICE) bikes is apparent.

Compare this to an electric motorcycle, where reduced weight equals extended range and increased performance, and the payback is potentially huge.

Engines and Electric Motorcycles

You may have seen images of BMW’s flying R1200 GS, the Hover Ride, but don’t go booking your test flight just yet. The company’s engineering apprentices built the full-size futuristic motorcycle, based on a Lego model!

Jet engines aside, alternative methods of propulsion for the motorcycle are relatively thin on the ground. Ever the entrepreneurs, a number of Indian start-ups are offering bolt-on hybrid motorcycle conversion systems that provide additional battery power for conventional bikes.

Two-wheeled hybrids, not to mention advances in Suzuki and Honda’s Hydrogen fuel cell motors, are being sidelined due to the lean towards battery-powered electric motorcycles.

The Weird and the Wonderful

Motorcycle manufacturers may love to exhibit weird and wonderful concept bikes at major expos, but the real work behind the scenes and advances in motorcycle technology are in electric bikes.

Thanks to companies like Zero, Lightning, and Energica, the lithium battery operated electric motorcycle is very much fact rather than fiction. Due to the density of the lithium fuel cells, however, weight is an issue for every EV manufacturer.

Motorcycle Technology

The real game changer will, therefore, be when motorcycle technology allows for smaller lithium cells to store larger amounts of energy. This tech will allow increases in performance but not at the expense of range.

It is only by doing this that the electric motorcycle will be seen less like a green alternative and more as genuine competition to its ICE competitors.

Interestingly, none of the big four Japanese manufacturers have broken cover with a mid-sized electric motorcycle. When they do, offering a bike competitively priced and with a good performance to range ratio, will result in the cat being very clearly let out of the bag.

Electronics

Battery powered electric motorcycles aside; the battle for motorcycle technology supremacy will be lost or won with advances in electronic rider-aids. With slumps in sales and the decline of the traditional motorcycle-buying demographic, new buyers need convincing that motorcycling is safe.

Motorcycle Technology

Both mainstream manufacturers and aftermarket tech companies alike are therefore striving towards this end in a number of different ways.  The concepts vary from the practical to the fanciful, and range from collision preventing radar to self-balancing bikes.

Obviously, 360-degree radar with built-in collision alert is one line of motorcycle technology development that has enormous potential. Both Bosch and Damon Motorcycles are making giant strides in this department with Bosch warning the rider of blind spot or collision danger via acoustic or optical prompts.

Motorcycle Technology

Haptic Warning

Damon’s take on the same scenario has led them down a more innovative route. This system creates both a visual alert and a haptic prompt channeled through the handlebars.

Furthermore, using software apps, live footage from a rear-facing camera can also be streamed to a dash-mounted LED Screen.

Motorcycle Technology

Collision alert and intervention, plus the self-learning software needed to run level 5 autonomous vehicles successfully, are still in the research stage. When they do arrive, however, automotive and future motorcycle radar will be of paramount importance, especially, as by then, a 5G network will have firmly established itself.

Collision Alert

Both systems will rely heavily on this faster, next-generation wireless network, as information from every collision alert will be cloud-loaded to advance the system’s collective knowledge.

Eventually, this same arrangement could prove useful for an integrated road transport system that sees wireless communication between all future motorcycle and road users. This integration will theoretically not only keep traffic flowing, but also prevent collisions.

Motorcycle Technology

What is somewhat less evident in its real-world usability though is Honda and BMW’s experimentation into self-balancing motorcycle technology. BMW’s R 1200GS Ghost Rider project saw the adv bike negotiate a closed-road circuit completely rider-less.

Honda, on the other hand, demoed their Riding Assist-e model by having the rider-less bike follow behind a technician at walking pace.

Hopefully, and knowing how manufacturers love a good smoke screen, the technology behind both of these projects will be the lynchpin for more real-world rider-aids.

What we can look forward to in the future of motorcycle technology remains to be seen. However, what better way to reduce the risk of an accident is there other than in sending a rider-less motorcycle out for a Sunday morning scratch?