In the last 10 years a LOT has changed in Motorcycle Tech. But have all these changes been for the better? That’s what I’d like to discuss! Obviously, this will be a more opinionated article, so please feel free to share YOUR opinion below in the comments.
Before we start, let’s break this up into some categories, because you might feel differently about Safety Tech compared to Comfort Tech for example.
Built-in Safety Tech
With built in Safety Tech I mean tech that comes with your motorcycle. Tech which improves the safety of you, the rider. A big one that we all know, and that has been around for a long time, is ABS. ABS prevents your wheels from locking up during hard breaking, making it less easy to slide, while shortening break distance. ABS works even offroad, and with the improvements over the years, nowadays you’d have to be a really good rider to outperform modern ABS systems. If you don’t believe me, watch this video where Bret Tkacs puts this to the test:
ABS has evolved immensely over the years. Most higher-end motorcycles of the big brands have cornering ABS now, where sensors in the bike measure your lean angle, speed, acceleration, etc. and adjust automatic breaking accordingly, decreasing the risk of you going down in a corner. Next to that there is traction control, wheelly control, and more.
For me, it’s hard to argue against this Safety Tech. Let’s be honest. Motorcycling is a pretty dangerous hobby. No matter how careful you ride and how good you’ve trained, some situations, like unexpected changes in road conditions and behavior of other traffic participants, are simply out of your control. Accidents happen! Any tech that reduces the risk of accidents and/or minimizes injuries is worth while in my book.
There are other kinds of built in Safety Tech that might be more questionable though. How about a tire pressure monitoring system for example? Or being able to connect your phone to your bike’s TFT and using the handlebar controls for basic phone functions? Does this make riding safer, or is it just a distraction?
Add-on Safety Tech
With Add on Safety Tech I mean tech that people add to their motorcycles later (or sometimes they are factory accessories). A good example of that are auxiliary lights. It’s been proven that a big chunk of motorcycle accidents happen because of the other party not seeing the motorcycle. And Aux lights reduce that risk. So, yes, in my opinion aux lights are important safety tech. I’ve installed aux lights on all my bikes over time. Other examples of Add on Safety Tech… well… I guess it depends how far you want to take this. Do heated grips make riding safer? How about a chain oiler?
Gear Safety Tech
Like motorcycles themselves, motorcycle gear has undergone some huge steps over the past 10 years. New materials and new manufacturing techniques have made gear lighter, stronger, more abrasion resistant, etc. For example, take motorcycle jeans. Just a few years ago Kevlar was THE thing in motorcycle jeans. With a separate kevlar layer you were able to slide on tarmac for a few seconds without your skin being pealed off. Now, kevlar and other materials are woven into the fabric, making the pants cooler, lighter and even stronger. Also protectors have come a long way, from a material perspective, but also the way we wear them. I had an offroad accident back in May, breaking my leg, which made me rethink my whole safety gear setup.
One of the most recent developments in safety gear is the Airbag Vest. I’ve not tried one myself, but again, it’s hard to argue against safety. Of course budget and comfort also play a role in this. These are often times used as counter arguments against safety. How about you? Are you a ‘dress for the crash’ person or a ‘comfort above safety’ person?
Comfort Tech is tech that makes you, well, more comfortable on the bike 🙂. There can be quite an overlap with safety though. Depending on your situation, the climate your ride in, and your opinion you might feel some of these are more safety oriented than comfort oriented. Think, for example, about heated grips, heated seats, heated vests, cooling vests. Other comfort tech could be helmet com systems, hill hold control, a quick-shifter, automatic suspension, a chain oiler, etc. Do you absolutely need those? Do they help keep you safe? Or are they just nice-to-haves, handy gadgets. Do you belong to the ‘pure’, keep it simple, crowd?
As the developer of Scenic, this is a subject very dear to my heart. I started working on Scenic’s predecessor, MotoMap, almost 10 years ago now, because there wasn’t any integrated way to find, navigate and track routes and rides. This was the iPhone 3G era, and the App Store was still very young. There were no apps that could do all three things. In order to achieve this you had to scour fora, dedicated websites, etc. for nice routes, and then, if you were lucky enough, they were in the correct file format to transfer them to your expensive Garmin or TomTom (through USB cable mind you). If not, you’d have to find some kind of software that could convert this. A lot has changed since then. Now there are multiple apps out there who can do this, and modern Garmins and TomToms have improved hugely too.
One of the other reasons I started Scenic, is that I’m not a navigation wonder. Even with paper maps I have a hard time. I simply need a device that tells me where to go. For me, this is a must. Still, there are some, that prefer paper maps. Going old school. For those it’s more adventurous like that. And I have to admit, I do understand those people. Sometimes it’s nice to pick a general direction and just ride… get lost a little. How about you?
One of the reason why I wanted to write this article was because I heard about the Forcite ‘smart’ helmet being sold out in under 30 minutes. If you don’t know about smart helmets, they’ve been around in concept form for quite a while. I actually wrote about some of them 3 years ago in our April 2018 issue of Moto Monthly. In tech, 3 years is a long time though. Since then, the tech has evolved and ‘smart’ helmets are now readily available, although still quite expensive. Next to the Forcite, other brands are available too. Here’s a video listing 8 of them.
Do we need more Tech?
Tech propels society forward, and motorcycling is no exception. I myself contribute to motorcycling tech through Scenic and I embrace the safety that new Tech developments bring. BUT… if you ask me what was the motorcycle you had most fun with, the most adventures with… I’m going to say my 1998 Yamaha XJ600S.
This motorcycle is so simple, so pure. It doesn’t even have ABS. Heck… it has a carburetor in stead of fuel injection. Riding it is so pure, so serene, there are no distractions, except maybe range anxiety caused by the absence of a fuel gauge 🙂. It’s just me and the curves ahead. So, if you ask me if we need more tech in motorcycling…
…my honest answer is NO, we don’t!