Newsletter: Do we want this future?

The talk at the Tokyo Motor Show for cars was all about autonomy – cars that drive themselves and make decisions for you, so you can be safer on the road. Toyota and Honda both showed off futuristic four-wheelers that don’t need steering wheels and which have deep-learning computers inside them to find out as much as possible about you. They’ll tailor the drive to exactly how you like it: the kind of roads you prefer, the setup of the vehicle, even chat with you on the go about how your sports team is doing.

Over at the motorcycle stands in Hall 7, Yamaha had its Motoroid machine up on the stage. It’s an all-electric motorcycle that is supposed to “recognize and interact with its owner”, whatever that means, to provide a personalized ride experience. It looked bloody uncomfortable. Next to it, Motobot was posed on a Yamaha YZF-R1M. We’ve seen Motorbot before, and Yamaha released a video that shows the bike-riding robot racing after Valentino Rossi on a track, supposedly a bit quicker every time.

Is this really heralding a better future? Apparently, it’s all about safety – at least, that’s what Honda told us when its self-balancing motorcycle rode itself onto the stage here, much like BMW’s Next 100 concept motorcycle last year in Los Angeles. We’re all for safer riding, but we ride motorcycles for a different reason than why we drive cars. Fundamentally, cars are transport that can also be fun; motorcycles are fun that can also be transport. Let’s get our priorities straight here.

Kawasaki seemed to have the right idea. It’s developing its own futuristic AI system that offers suggestions and warnings to the rider during travel, but that wasn’t even mentioned at the show. Instead, its stage was set for the gorgeous new Z900 RS retro bike that even Zac appreciates. There were several versions of the RS on display in different colours and trims and each one nailed the look and the reasons we ride.

The wraps come off the Kawasaki Z900 RS.

Motorcycling is a passion. It’s potentially dangerous and it can be cold and wet if the weather catches you out, but ultimately it’s about the freedom to get away from everyday stress. It’s wind on your chest and the feel of the road against your tires and the exhilaration of the lean. For some, it’s the camaraderie and for others, it’s the solitude, but at its core, it’s never about computerization. Let the silicon chips take care of the invisible stuff, like traction control and better braking, but leave the pleasure of the ride itself to the rider.

Fuddy-duddy? Maybe. But I know what I like, and I don’t need anyone, or any computer, to tell me what it is. Do what you will with cars, but leave our motorcycles alone.

Honda’s Neo Sports Cafe Concept is part future, part retro.
Who wouldn’t like a new Honda Monkey Bike for the back 40?
Kawasaki’s Z400 Ninja is confirmed for production next year, and will come to Canada.
The official 100 millionth Honda Cub, give or take a few.
Not just any Suzuki Burgman – this is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and an electric motor.
Suzuki GSX 250R – bring on the small bikes!
And then, there’s this.

6 thoughts on “Newsletter: Do we want this future?”

  1. Mark you asking the wrong question and your fuddy duddiness is showing though 😉

    It’s not about what “we” want, it’s about what “they” want and what the industry needs.

    For starters, the industry has to stop shrinking in a world where the population is exploding. Bike sales are down again and interest is fading among the next generation, in part because they don’t grow up wanting motorcycles because it’s not really an option – thanks to exorbitant insurance costs for the young coupled with higher costs on everything else. Making motorcycles safer, even if it’s only perceptional, makes sense. Thanks to Honda (and BMW & Yamaha) for leading on this.

    “They” are the next generation, the millennials, who will make up 70% of the workforce within the next 10 years. Look not further to the sharing car/house economy to see where we’re headed. How many of these techno-wonderkids do you see at bike shows? Like next to none? They’ll spend 2 grand on an apple laptop but never consider saving up for that first bike.

    We gotta stop resisting and start applauding the changes needed to grow our sport and our passion. I want my kids and their kids to experience the joy I get from bikes, but that won’t happen unless we evolve like evry other industry.

  2. You are right, Mark. The industry needs to continue to develop new old-looking motorcycles like the Scrambler and RNineT. All these AI and self-balancing technologies are a fad. Like plastic fairings and fuel injection. Why, a rider ought to be able to advance the ignition themselves, like they did on Ariel Square Fours. Now that was a proper bike.

    Sarcasm may be the refuge of the weak, but words otherwise fail me when I read reports like this, disparaging the onward march of technology. Is the motorcycle experience diminished by a motorcycle that balances for you at a stop or takes over when you’ve gotten into a dangerous situation? If getting hurt or some argument about self-determination defines a great motorcycle experience for you, then maybe. For the rest of the riding public, not so much.

    The masses (probably you as well) didn’t lament no longer having to premix your own fuel, or kicking a stone cold motor to life every morning. Similarly, most will not miss having to put a foot down at a stop light or visiting the hospital because they lacked the skill to successfully avoid a brick in the middle of the lane.

    1. “Is the motorcycle experience diminished by a motorcycle that balances for you at a stop or takes over when you’ve gotten into a dangerous situation? ”

      Maybe. It depends on what the inanimate object “considers” a dangerous situation. Wheel spin/slide, lack of contact with the ground, lack of predicted weight on the saddle? It’s the variety of sensations and combinations of same that makes riding a motorcycle worthwhile, including calculated risk.

      Driver aids are an inevitable evolution in the transportation industry, but such aids are not a positive in the decision making process for me; at least where MC ownership is concerned. I do still enjoy the novelty of the ABS on my KTM, though I’ve never had a situation where it came into effect on an emergency basis.

      I sometimes wonder if our collective rush to eliminate all inconveniences, “mundane” physical tasks, risks & uncertainties will render us essentially helplessly reliant.

  3. You don’t need any one or any computer interfering with your ride. Don’t blame you. I feel the same way. But.
    Criminal Bike insurance rates, useless insurance accident/rehab coverage, irresponsible squids, distracted drivers, poorly trained, hazardous, dangerous truckers, aging accident prone motorcyclists, tailgating drivers, overcrowded, overcapacity roads with an ever increasing population, insufficient penalties for poor/dangerous driving, to name a few problems. Safety is a huge key factor in insurance rates, new riders, amount of dealerships, virtually all aspects of motorcycling. I, personally, cannot wait for autonomous cars (they can’t hit me!), vehicle to vehicle communication (bikes included), Automatic Emergency Brakes on cars/trucks (again, hopefully bikes are spotted by the vehicle even if the driver does not). I know locally, that my city, since childhood, has went from approx. 6 m/c dealerships to 2, with one of the 2 barely staying open. City population has increased by 1/3, dealerships have dropped by 2/3. Alot of other factors come into play, but safety is a key.

    1. Safety is good! A car that drives itself, groundbreaking especially considering the very very low level of driver education/sophistication out there… But a MC that drives itself? A motorcycle that stands itself up? WHY and WHO wants that? Am I weird, I like to drive my bike?!

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