Opinion: Motorcycle gadgets

I’ve just been riding the 2019 Honda Gold Wing, and was surprised to find it’s equipped with “Idle Stop.” This is now common on new cars, where the engine turns itself off while the vehicle waits motionless at traffic lights, or when stalled in traffic. It doesn’t save much fuel but it does save a few drops. That all adds up over millions of cars when automakers have to prove their overall fleet fuel efficiency to federal governments.

But on a motorcycle? No other bike I know of has this feature, mostly because they barely use any gas anyway. The cost savings to the average Gold Wing owner will probably be no more than a dollar or so a year, if that. Clearly, when Honda introduced this feature on its DCT-equipped Wings last year, it did so only because it could, not because it’s actually needed or asked for.

In the olden days, the right handlebar console held only the kill switch. Not any more, and especially not with the Gold Wing.

In fact, I turned it off (which was simple to do) because it was disconcerting to sit in traffic with no engine running. It’s one thing when you’re protected by the metal walls of a car, but quite another when you’re open to everything around you on a motorcycle. Sure, the bike restarts immediately when the throttle is turned, just as a car restarts when your foot comes off the brake, but even so. Besides, how could I rev the engine at traffic lights to impress people and scare young children? Oh right – it’s a Gold Wing. You can’t hear the engine anyway.

(Which reminds me of years ago when I joined in the line for the Ride For Sight procession. I realized I didn’t want to be stuck behind the loud pipes of the two bikes ahead of me, so I moved back in the line and tucked in behind a pair of nice quiet Gold Wings. Except as soon as we set off, those two Wing riders cranked their radios and I was subjected to the easy listenin’ song stylings of Kenny G all the way to the rally.)

There’s plenty of technology on new motorcycles that didn’t exist even five years ago, such as leaning ABS and wheelie control. I think my 11-year-old Harley is one of the last bikes to let you ride around with the kickstand still down, or to be fitted with the godawful manual tightening screw on the throttle that served then as cruise control.

Is the extra front wheel on the Yamaha Niken really needed? It all depends where you’re riding it.

There’s not a lot of technology that you don’t really need, though. Heads-up displays in helmets seem like an overly complicated distraction, but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve tried one out. The extra wheel on the Yamaha Niken is actually pretty good if you ride on a lot of gravel, or slippery roads. I dislike the electronic turn signal switches on Ducatis, which are so light to operate that I was never quite sure if I’d activated them, and I can live without the endless levels of information on a KTM TFT screen, but most everything is a step forward.

We told you last week about Kawasaki’s radical chassis concept that has no moving handlebars, and we’ve already seen Honda’s self-balancing concept and BMW’s Next 100 bike. But what’s the next “improvement” that we’ll see on a motorcycle, other than just better performance? I’m sure it will be active cruise control on the next Gold Wing, in which the bike maintains a pre-set distance behind the vehicle in front while on cruise. Or it might be digital mirrors, for a view of something more than just the rider’s elbows. Or, a few years from now, it could be something akin to collision avoidance, where the bike will slam on the brakes to avoid hitting something, combined with self-stabilization to not fall over in doing so.

BMW’s Next 100 concept motorcycle is considered to be so safe that its rider won’t need to wear a helmet.

All this stuff is already fitted to cars, so it’s really a question of when, not if, it migrates to motorcycles. We might not even notice until one day when we suddenly realize it’s commonplace.

I’m sure it’s all worthwhile, but when it does happen, I hope I’ll still be riding around on my 30-year-old Harley, kickstand down and ready to catch a divot, cursing that stupid little throttle screw.

7 thoughts on “Opinion: Motorcycle gadgets”

  1. Auto stop sounds good in theory. Although I knew of it existed on upper end cars I never expected to find it on a low end rental car. I also did not know the feature was active. While trying to join heavy traffic from a standstill there were a few uncomfortable situations due to the short delay while the engine restarted. The auto stop did not seem to be consistent. The owners manual was not in the car and the rental company did not mention it when the car was picked up. For the unsuspecting driver it could be a disaster.

  2. I worry about people learning to do track days on bikes with multiple levels of traction control, wheelie control, cornering ABS etc. Just pin the throttle coming out of the apex and let the bike figure out the rest. What happens if any of these systems fail, or these guys try an older bike. They’ll have no idea why they’re sliding across the grass.

  3. The needless complexity of Rube Goldberg design meets forced obsolescence in the culmination of distracting plastic landfill or crusher bait. The service and parts of which will be no existent shortly after it leaves the showroom. The cycle of building waste perfected.

  4. I believe idle stop has as much to do with tail pipe emissions as fuel economy. If it isn’t running, its not polluting ?
    About 6 years ago I had the displeasure of driving a BMW X3 as the clock car in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. It took me and my co-driver a good half hour with the owner’s manual to figure out the keyless start system and how to override the idle stop function.
    When you’ve got 15,000 anxious people lining up behind you waiting for the gun to go off, it can be ‘stressful’ to say the least.
    I agree, most of the time simpler is better – but too often the manufacturers don’t see it that way…

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