Watson On: The Future of Motorcycle Engineering

HFL, Technology -



If we’re honest, motorcycles have not changed all that much in more than 100 years. It’s still not really clear who first came up with the idea of putting a combustion engine into a frame with two wheels, then added handlebars and went wobbling off down the road.

But, since those early days of motorized bicycles, the entire premise has remained virtually unchanged. Sure, there are limiting factors to evolving the original design concept, such as only having two wheels. But if you think about it, today’s motorcycles are really not that dissimilar from those that our forefathers were riding at the beginning of the 20th Century. The premise is still the same.

The major difference is that today’s bikes have a host of engineering and electronic technology that have been refined and allowed motorcycles to gradually evolve. However, predominantly all of these innovations began life in the automotive field and have subsequently been adapted for motorcycle use.

For example, take ABS. That was fitted in cars and trucks long before anyone thought of using it on a motorcycle. It was BMW that saw an opportunity and introduced ABS on its bikes.

It’s the same with traction control and electronic adjustable suspension and myriad of other breakthroughs. It was all available on cars (albeit to begin with just the high end marques) long before any motorcycles were offered with it.

I’m not ignoring electric motorcycles. The jury is still out on them and their counterparts too in the automotive world. I’d really like to see them all succeed but it is still early days with just too many questions than answers for me at the moment.

This brings me full circle as to what does the future hold for motorcycle design? In the car world, motorsport clearly allows manufacturers to test and develop ideas and technology that does eventually filter its way down to the everyday cars that we use, which also means that it eventually makes its way onto bikes too. If you look back, disc brakes were considered a technological marvel on racing Jaguars of the 1950’s. Now every car and every modern motorcycle has disc brakes and it’s something we all take for granted.

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  • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

    The future is less so in incremental advancement of design and more so in radical reconceptualizations of transportation infrastructure, energy distribution, and cultural practices.

    The relevance of motorized two-wheeled transportation is contingent on whether or not there exists a societal framework for creating, reinforcing and maintaining a place and practicality for it on the roads.

  • OlaMarvin

    A low tech thing: Getting high end suspension to a lower price point. Either electronic adaptable or two-stage cartridge dampers at both ends – standard on every bike.
    A high tech thing: HUD/Navigation/comms integrated in helmet, Google glass style.

  • 480272

    Carbon fibre and titanium are both expensive materials due to finite resources, as soon as Boeing started using carbon fibre in their planes the price rocketed. Electric power plants I believe will be the biggest change over the next 5 years. Apart from being an alternative to petrol they offer a whole new way to redistribute the weight on a motorcycle which has a lot to do with your article title.

  • VR

    The search of speed, power and laptimes will not save the motorcycle. It’s the implied fun of something as simple as a motorbike that makes the difference.
    I personally am not sure how spacetech can drastically improve this.
    That said, is cost control and environmental sensitive improvements what are desirable, because there’s enough with a dead simple and honest “old” motorbike to put a smile in my face.
    So, just give me the electric equivalent of what we already have and time to empty those batteries.

  • E Brown

    I think motorcycle advancement is strangled by its own shrinking market share. Where we’ll see the MOST advancement in 2-wheeled transport is scooters.
    For bikes, like cars, we’ll see the usual trickle-down – rider aids like GPS, traction control, ABS, and adjustable suspension will work their way down to cheaper bikes. Rear view cameras integrated into dash displays. Can collision-avoidance tech letting you know other vehicles are too close be far off? I think eventually we’ll get run-flat tires, once tire makers make some that ride worth a darn.

    I’d expect that soon, some helmet manufacturer is going to come out with a built-in camera, or at least better-integrated.

    • barney fife

      thank god i’ll be long dead before all that comes to pass…

  • Jay

    I would like to see a breakthrough in drives. Chains suck. They’re messy and too maintenance intensive. Shaft drive tends to be heavy with high frictional losses. We need better belt drives, I think.

    • charlie

      It’d be nice to have belt conversion kits that are affordable and good quality.

      • Mugget

        Now you’re talking…

        Only problem is that the bike needs to be designed for it, no way to install a belt otherwise since they’re already joined in a loop unlike a chain.

        • HammSammich

          I’m not sure that bikes need to be specifically designed for belt drive. I would guess that most chain driven bikes COULD be converted with enough time and money spent to develop a system. Shaft driven bikes may be a different story.
          There are conversion kits available, and they have come down in price significantly. I know for a fact that the Triumph Modern Classics line (Bonnie, Thrux, Scrabler) wasn’t designed for belt drive, but you can convert – http://www.shopscootworks.com/ScootWorks-Triumph-BonnevilleSpeedmasterThruxton-Belt-Drive-detail.htm?productid=-141438#/0

          • Mugget

            All I meant by “designed for it” was that the bikes would need a removable section of the frame (or somewhere) so the entire swingarm and engine didn’t need to be removed just to install a belt.

            For example it looks like Buell managed it by having a removable section of the swingarm (on bikes that have the belt pass through an upper and lower section of the swinger, similar to the setup on a lot of modern bikes) and having the countershaft sprocket sit outboard of the frame makes it easy to install at that end.

            But it makes me wonder of the suitability for high performance bikes when you’ve got to bolt a section of the swingarm together..?

    • tbowdre

      love the belt on my BUELL 1125R… really love it everytime I clean, adjust, check the chains on my other bikes. Sad they had to get rid of it on the EBR bike(s).

  • El Isbani

    All-wheel drive.

    • Tim Watson

      There’s a company that’s doing that at the moment that we have reported on in the past. Maybe you know about them? http://www.christini.com/

      • Lourens Smak

        a few years ago there was also a bike in the Dakar Rallye with 2wd. It was an adapted Yamaha, with oil pressure turning the front wheel. I believe it was some kind of Yamaha + Ohlins collaboration. It actually performed quite well in the rallye, with David Frétingné riding.

        Here is a spectacular clip of him http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKJw2RMh0iM but it’s all in French… “deux roues motrices” means “two wheel drive”.

      • El Isbani

        Oh yeah, heard about it right here. How cool would it be to see companies implement awd in the near future like the current popular bike tech, ride by wire, abs, and the like.

  • kinscore

    Aerodynamics advancements have been limited in part by race rules; perhaps it began with the banning of the dustbin fairing (which caused instability when not combined with a large enough tail). There have been a number of experiments in aerodynamics that were either banned, didn’t work, or didn’t catch on. Aerodynamics rules are now generally very strict. Land speed and sidecar motorcycle racing have continued to advance aerodynamics, but these sports seem to have become so different from anything else as to be isolated. Craig Vetter has been involved in aerodynamics for fuel efficiency for quite a while, selling fairings and holding fuel efficiency challenges, and created the aerodynamics rules for the TTXGP electric motorcycle racing series (though I haven’t seen any teams taking advantage). A few companies are making enclosed motorcycles (with car-like controls) but don’t seem to be doing a lot of business. The biggest advancements in motorcycle aerodynamics have been outside of the mainstream, and there appears to be very little interest from motorcycle manufacturers to create aerodynamic products.

  • charlie

    I think something that gets overlooked a lot is 3D printing. It’ll still take some time but instead of buying parts online or from a dealer, you can customize your own part and print it up at home. If you want to see how it fits first, you can print using plastic then use metal when you’re satisfied with the results. It will definitely advance design and even engineering depending on the materials and implementation.

  • runnermatt

    I expect that the innovations will most likely come from BMW and Ducati. I say this because BMW already builds high end cars and deals with carbon fiber and batteries with their “i” models, not to mention that BMW was the first to introduce ABS to bikes. VW/Audi recently bought Ducati and their stable of high end cars to include Porsche, Lamborghini, and Bugatti; not to mention the high models from Audi.

    I would include Honda within this group, seeing that they are also one of the bike makers that builds cars as well; but there is the one little fact that Honda hasn’t released all the electronic “aids” that most of the other manufactures have. This could be attributed to the fact that Honda has instead been spending their money on designing, introducing, and building bikes that will encourage more people to take up riding. That said, I’m kind of intrigued with what Honda will introduce when they decide to truly innovate once again.

    • Daniel

      I expect the same…the grapevine postulates that BMW have many interesting advanced technologies but roll out ” just ” enough to try and stay ahead of the curve every few years…customer repeat sales and lifetime value.

    • barney fife

      The best innovation they could come up with is a return to simplicity and classic styling. Sport bikes are so ugly, expensive, ubiquitous, over powered, complicated, garish, plastic clad, insect styled abominations. Every new bike designer should be required to study the Norton Commandos being produced by Colorado Norton Works before they’re allowed to put pen to paper.

  • Ulysses Araujo

    I expect electric drive technology to blurry the lines between pedal-powered bikes and motorcycles. Even if it’s not a proper tech advancement, the sheer number of bicycles sold compared to motorcycles (see China) could mean the trickle-down (or a trickle-up?) or tech breakthrough may come from electric bicycles instead of cars. The perceived notion that it’s easier riding a bike than a motorcycle (not that it’s true or I agree with it) may bring more motorcyclists to shrinking markets too.

  • Ducky

    New suspension. The design of a triple-tree holding a fork arrangement is actually not very desirable from an forces standpoint, and things like big piston, USD, and have been introduced to counteract their deficiencies (bending moment causing stiction, unsprung weight), nevermind things like geometry changes and brake diving. It’s very inconsistent. Not to mention you’re concentrating the majority of forces at one point in the bike’s frame where the triple-tree lives. Unfortunately the duolever type front suspension (aka double wishbone) hasn’t caught on very well, but something along those lines will hopefully start to be accepted as bikes evolve over the next century. The swingarm isn’t the greatest either, especially when you consider the need for a chain with a certain level of slack (or a heavy driveshaft).

    The other thing will be propulsion systems. Bikes seem to lend themselves to oddball powertrain types, and for sure they’ve been the most practical carrier of electrification since they’re light to begin with. I expect this to continue.

    Last part might be aero. But honestly, overall I expect the pace of improvements to be similar to what we’ve seen over the last century. The bike market is a bit different in its pace of innovation compared to others… there are sometimes huge leaps, and then there are holdouts in some pockets.

    • pdad13

      Agreed. I would like to see a renewed interest in alternative suspension designs. What has already been done has been interesting, but not a real improvement. A good alternative to the telescopic fork would open up chassis design. As you mentioned, the steering head area needs to withstand extremely high forces, which is limiting.

      The strange issue is that the telescopic fork is flawed, but it’s been highly refined to work reasonably well. And some of its flaws aren’t really. Fork dive helps a bike turn quicker, effectively changing the geometry, and it’s something we’ve all grown accustomed to. If it’s well controlled, it can be a good thing.

      I’ve got a little experience on a BMW K1200S and, while it’s a fine bike and works well as a fun touring bike, the front end did feel numb and a bit disconnected. It’s not something I think I’d want on a much more sport-oriented bike.

      I’d really like someone to do a real, extensive test of the most recent Parker RADD design. Parker claims that he’s improved the system and tuned it to give the right amount of dive and conventional feel while eliminating most of the conventional flaws. I’d like to hear if that’s acutally true.

      Hint, hint, RA.

  • Bram

    KTM Adventure’s new ABS system that allows you to brake as hard as you can whilst still fully cranked over is a huge leap forward and probably the most significant new technology on a bike since traction control, if not more so.
    Once they have that on their smaller capacity bikes like the 390 Duke, it is going to open up biking to more people then any other riding aid in the sales pitch.

    • Daniel

      Yes MSC..Motorcycle Stability Control…ABS + TC.
      Next Dorma/Moto GP manufactures will start selling downloadable ABS+TC settings for your street bike pre-approved by racers. Ofcourse it’s a gimmick but imagine being able to buy the settings Marc Marquez’s set up on how “he” would set up a stock Honda Cbr1000rr for track days…$500 a pop would sell like hotcakes. lol

      • Mugget

        Now there’s a worrying thought… I think I’d prefer if people just brag about the maximum horsepower of their bike…

      • Bram

        The educated voice of experience. Don’t knock it until you try it.

      • barney fife

        You’re talking about racing, not motorcycling…the two have been intentionally conflated by mocos and their paid for bike magazines in the last 25 years as a sales/marketing strategy.

  • Robert Horn

    Motorcycle stability is still controlled by the coupling of mass and inertia – there can only be enough traction to not rip the grips out of your hands – lose that critical level of traction, down you go. One of these years, you will see some sort of smart damper or active damper that is tuned to the tire. That way, a tire profile that would otherwise provide vastly more traction but would be unrideable would feel and respond far better than a “dumb” tire/steering system. Think “Difference between sending smoke signals and smart phones”.

    Want better mileage or range? It isn’t going to happen by finding incremental improvements of efficiency here and there. Parasitic losses are just a tiny percentage of where the energy goes shoving you down the road – the rest is used moving the air out of the way and putting it back together behind you. Want to go faster and/or further? Stop recycling old concepts. The first cars were horseless carriages – playthings for the rich – great arguments in favor of the horse. Electric bikes are little more that gasless motorbikes – playthings for the rich – you know the rest…

    Can you imagine where the aviation world would be if pilots insisted that aircraft that “Looked like real (I.e., OLD) aircraft” for the last 100 years? We’d all see CF/Ti Curtiss Jennys in the air. PlaneEXIF would feature “classic” Travel Airs and Wacos, all trendy with highly questionable airworthiness. Instead, aircraft are designed with what is known about fluid dynamics, materials, performance requirements, etc – what you need (and can pay for) is what you get. And that defines what it looks like. Are motorcycles there? NO. As long as they are fashion statements/tribal totems, the future looks a lot like the present – just stale trends reheated by morons. I better stop before I get on a roll here…

    • Lee Scuppers

      Lol re Plane EXIF. You’re right, we’re stuck in the past. But old airplanes are awesome. You can’t drag me out of an aircraft museum with a team of oxen.

    • Toly

      Aircraft progress was largely driven by two world wars and a Cold War, it had little to do with pilot/passenger input. It was driven by a need for effective killing machines, no matter what the cost. Once the war dangers receded, the aircraft progress stalled considerably.
      Your total ignorance of aerodynamics doesn’t help in getting the point across, either.

      • Robert Horn

        Try reading before replying, preferably sober next time.

    • Will Shaffer

      “The first cars were horseless carriages – playthings for the rich – great arguments in favor of the horse. Electric bikes are little more that gasless motorbikes – playthings for the rich – you know the rest…”
      Because we all still pull ourselves along with horses? What are you trying to say here?

      • Robert Horn

        Horseless carriages were functionally inferior to horse drawn carriages. In order to change that, the design of the car had to evolve away from the horseless carriage quite a bit. Sorry for leaving that part out.

        Electic propulsion allows an amazing freedom of design that isn’t being used yet – we are still seeing, well, gasless motorbikes. I don’t see electric motorcycles becoming functionally superior to internal combustion motorcycles until the overall design evolves away from the late 1880s “Safety bicycle with engine/hobby horse” configuration. We’re even seeing transmissions on electric bikes – at least horseless carriage operators didn’t insist on buggy whips for engine control, just for familiarity.

        • Richard Gozinya

          All electric vehicles, contrary to popular belief, have transmissions. It’s just that most have fixed gear transmissions. A very limiting prospect, considering the massive drop in efficiency at high RPMs, something that’s a lot worse on electrics than it is on ICEs. Yes, electrics are a lot more efficient than ICEs, and yes, they have a broader power band, but they can still benefit from a flexible transmission, to keep them in the ideal power band.

          • Robert Horn

            True – otherwise high powered direct drive hubmotors would be ideal! But I don’t see what the added cost, drag, and weight of a transmission does that another kwh or 2 worth of battery won’t do better.

            • Richard Gozinya

              A lot actually. An electric motor in its ideal rev range operates at around 90% efficiency. Rev it up, and it’ll drop to around 60%. You’d need a lot more than a couple kwh of battery to make up that difference. Which means heavier, and more expensive. Two things that are already real issues with electrics.

              • Robert Horn

                Good point – none of the gearbox eBikes are running high freq AC motors & drives (Those drives aren’t small or cheap!). No, turning watts into heat doesn’t help the range any.

    • disqus_SB5uBoEFy2

      Um, are you aware of experimental light sport aircraft? Or the fact that Pipe J3 cubs are still popular? Etc.. etc… bad analogy!

    • Justin Christenson

      In response to your first paragraph, it sounds like you are describing a system similar to the Bose active suspension. I’m all for this type of technology, as we are now in an age when actuators and sensors are fast enough to prove better than springs and dampers at maintaining a constant contact patch. Unfortunately, it seems that this technology will have to wait a while as it is currently banned in every form of motorsport that I’m aware of.

      Therein lies the big problem really. We can talk about all the major advances that have come from racing, but we now live in a time where innovation is stifled by regulation. As a prime example, active suspension should be used on all top tier racing series. Its adoption would lead to refinements in implementation, a decrease in cost for components, a general increase in engineering knowledge. However, since this has not been allowed to occur, the normal time that it takes for this and other technologies to flow down to bikes, and road cars will be increased.

      Along these same lines, I would like to see MotoGP lift the ban on dual clutch transmissions, as they are already starting to pop up on production bikes. DCT’s are cheaper and simpler replacements for the “seamless” gearboxes that they now use to get around the rules. Also, I can see a time in the near future where even the top Supersports are sold with a DCT option. It would be silly if an R1 had a better transmission on it that Lorenzo’s M1.

      • Robert Horn

        Funny how cost containment rules almost always have very bad unintended consequences.

        One of the main attractions that FIM eRoadRacing has for me is an unusually thin rulebook.

  • Vitor Santos

    To me its pretty obvious what the future will be, small turbo-charged engines, the democratization of tc and abs and just wait for some premium helmet company to come out with hud display helmets.

  • Jack Meoph

    I’m not sure aerodynamics mean anything to non-racing people who ride MC’s everyday for whatever reason. We’re only allowed to go so fast on public roads, so what would be the point of building a motorcycle with the massive front end area it would take to make the bike slip through the air. Unless you can also enclose the operator of the motorcycle you’re going to constantly lose the slip stream every time an elbow, knee, head, moves outside of the envelope. And I LIKE the feeling of the air around me, so why would a buy a two wheeled enclosed vehicle, when I can buy a roadster for the same, or even less money then a motorcycle. The can-am spyder comes to mind…..just buy a used Miata and call it a day already.

    The only way I see making a motorcycle move cleanly through the air without turning it into something other than a motorcycle is to displace the air in front of the motorcycle using pulse energy of some sort that would continually destroy the air resistance in front of the MC so that it would basically be moving through a vacuum. Only an electric vehicle would be able to do that, because there is no air/fuel mixture combustion, but they barely generate enough energy right now to go 100 miles before having to recharge (the energy of such a device would probably require dilithium crystals or some other unobtainium compound, not to mention the operator would have to have a compression suit and on board oxygen supply (or his lungs would collapse and be sucked out through his nose after the first pulse), but it would probably be insanely fast.

    • Mugget

      Aerodynamics could still have a big role to play for road riders. For instance not everyone likes to feel the wind around them at all times, some would prefer a bike that allows them to cruise down the highway without any helmet buffeting etc.

      Aerodynamics for comfort – the next big thing?

      • Michael Howard

        And better aerodynamics = less power/fuel needed to get down the highway.

      • ThinkingInImages

        A big “yes” to aerodynamics. I had standards and “naked” motorcycles for years. At most there was a bar mounted quarter-fairing or small windshield. I’m done with the whole thing. I want to cut through the air cleanly. I picked up a CBR250R and the fairing is great. I’m not wind blasted or fried by engine heat and my helmet is quieter. Now that the weather is turning cold there’s less wind chill, too.

    • pdad13

      I’m with you. Aerodynamics won’t net huge advances. Motorcycles need a bit of inherent instability so they turn. You can streamline them by enclosing them in a shell, but that would pretty much ruin the handling, make it difficult for the rider to move and transfer body weight, and make them even more subject to side winds.

  • Strafer

    I was impressed with the “magic suspension” that Mercedes is working on

    It uses a sensor to scan the road in front for bumps and gets the suspension ready beforehand

    Its marketed for comfort but In my mind it could be used to make vehicles much faster over imperfect roads, keeping the wheels in good contact with the road even over bumps and keeping the vehicle stable and balanced


  • Daniel

    Brake -by-Wire…”An electric braking system for motorcycles would be brake-by-wire, but
    we have already got over any fears of such things by accepting
    throttle-by-wire. Incorporating ABS into an electrically actuated
    brake-by-wire system would be inexpensive—a natural. Any desired degree
    of brake boost could be provided; all problems with a “low” lever would

    Source… http://www.cycleworld.com/2012/04/06/electric-brakes-feature/

  • Anthony Sanchez

    Firstly I’ll address this comment, “the verdict is still out” mentioned about electric bikes. the verdict is not still out on electric bikes. Electric bikes will be as good or out perform any modern bike in every measurable way, once battery technology catches up. Electric bikes haven’t taken off as main stream yet because of 3 reasons; Range, Cost, and loss of the conventional “motorcycle sound”. The first two will go up and down respectively, but that last one is subject to a quote from Robert Horn”

    - The first cars were horseless carriages – playthings for the rich – great arguments in favor of the horse. Electric bikes are little more that gasless motorbikes – playthings for the rich – you know the rest…

    My Point is do not assume that electric bikes are going to fade into the back ground. One breakthrough in battery technology (which will happen because a lot is waiting on battery breakthroughs) and they are here forever out performing everything, efficiently.

    • Tim Watson

      Not discounting electric-powered motorcycles at all – but that’s a whole other debate! You make some good points.

    • bammerburn

      I agree on the electric motorcycle point. That comment is suspiciously similar to the obstructive and avoidiant rhetoric coming from climate-change deniers.

    • pdad13

      It could happen. It’s not a certainty. Batteries are getting better and there is a ton of development money going into them. They’re still pretty limited. But to get to acceptable range and/or charging times, they’re going to need a sizable leap. That’s not likely to come for several years.

      I think EVs of all kinds will be part of the picture in the future. But I don’t know if they’re the one answer. I’m not even sure there is one answer.

      In the meantime, there are other alternatives that should be explored.

    • juliansr

      It may not even require the greatest batteries or advances there. there are options in storage that haven’t even been explored in the 2 wheel format, like using a flywheel style KERS as the primary power storage see:porsche 911 GT3RH (and bonus low speed gyroscope), or even just a bank of supercapacitors, where dense high energy can then be transferred so rapidly that a refuel is 60 seconds.

      • Justin Christenson

        I would fear that the gyroscopic forces would be dangerously high on a motorcycle. I spent some time as an intern working at a lab where research was being done on extremely high speed gyroscopes for energy storage purposes. There was a story one of the lab techs liked to tell about the time he was carrying one of the units downstairs, forgetting that it was still spinning (the units were enclosed and had very low friction bearings so that they could stay spinning for days or even weeks). The gyroscope threw him down the stairs when he tried to make the turn at the middle landing.

        The gyroscopic forces from the crankshaft can be felt on any motorcycle. While the engine is running, the crankshaft stores a little bit of energy due to its rotational mass (moment of inertia). Now just imagine if all the energy stored in your gas tank were stored as rotational energy within a flywheel…not just the little bit that your crankshaft stores. The effect would be massive!

  • kevin

    Allow me to compare the modern superbike to a modern fighter aircraft for a minute. Aerospace engineers are quickly realizing that if you take the pilot out of an F16 or F22 or what have you and replace him with a remote control system, the plane can dive faster, roll quicker, turn harder because the mechanical components are capable of withstanding so much more stress than the squishy bag of meat at the controls. I think we’re fast reaching a point where expanding the performance envelope of the modern superbike is simply going to push the boundaries of performance beyond what the typical, or even atypically talented rider can master. I’m sure that technology will continue to increase and more bikes will have TC/LC/quickshift/WC/ABS/Active suspension/etc etc, and I’m sure that there will always be horsepower wars that result in more and more powerful machines, but the question is will that result in a better motorcycle? Or will we create machines that are so far away from their limits anywhere other than the racetrack and in any hands other than the most talented that they’re no longer well suited for the real world? (I think you could argue the the modern liter-bike is already in that category, but I won’t start that debate)

  • appliance5000

    Institute the draft and suddenly the high price we pay to secure oil supply lines will become intolerable to the upper and middle classes. Get some skin in the game and suddenly electric looks really good.

  • drivin98

    “I’m not ignoring electric motorcycles. The jury is still out on them”

    I dunno, I think some verdicts have already been returned. To quote something I read on some digi bike rag somewhere speaking of the electric Mission R, “…it’s a superior performance motorcycle to any yet made. Period.”

    Now where did I read that… oh , yeah…http://rideapart.com/2013/08/rideapart-review-2014-mission-rs/

    Electric drivetrains are the future. Not perfect now, they are improving at a rate that outstrips gains made by its internal combustion counterparts. The only thing holding them back is the price and performance of batteries. With this problem being attacked from many sides by many different concerns, it is a safe bet to say that this electric future is coming sooner than later.

    • Bill

      Please add gyroscope(Lit motor) so my GF can ride along with me…

    • pdad13

      Maybe. I’m with Tim on this. It isn’t clear, because as much as batteries have improved, they’ve still got much further to go before they really can replace an ICE engine. It doesn’t help that the manufacturers consistently overstate range and performance. And the recharging infrastructure is still in its infancy. That’s a big job that needs to be addressed before EVs become realistic for most people.

      The Mission bike, for one, is very impressive but it still can’t do everything your ICE bike can do.

      There’s a team working on a slurry battery concept at MIT. If they succeed, that would be a game changer. But they’re predicting another decade or so of development.

      Hydrogen fuel cells are probably better, but the required infrastructure probably makes them impractical.

      We shouldn’t ignore alternative fuels either. There are interesting concepts being worked on that go well beyond corn-based ethanol or fuel-producing algae.

      • drivin98

        Perhaps some manufacturers do overstate range, but then, some traditional manufacturers also overstate how cool their bikes make you look, sitting at a traffic light revving the unnecessarily noisy engine.

        I should point out that Zero Motorcycles – the largest seller of electrics – has an accurate chart on its web site stating the range in the city, highway at 55 mph, highway at 70 mph and mixed versions of those metrics.

        No, battery bikes can’t do everything gas bikes do, but the reverse is also true. Yes, batteries are not able to take you on a six-hour ride without making you wait for a charge, but, as I mentioned this is improving. As is the infrastructure. As I write, Terry Hershner is crossing the country on his electric bike (offthegridlive.com). For the third time.

        Since this piece was supposedly about the “future” of motorcycling engineering, it’s my opinion that it should have dwelt more heavily on the topic. Or change the title to suit the content.

        • pdad13

          Ha, yeah, I think we know who those manufacturers are.

          Anyway, the problem is not so much that e-bikes can’t take you on a six-hour ride without a lengthy recharge period. It’s that they can’t yet take you on a two-hour ride. In many cases they wouldn’t make it much longer than an hour.

          That’s not bashing e-bikes. That’s just the reality. You’re just not going to get many people to spend fairly large sums of money for that kind of capablilty, especially at current prices.

          They could have a nice role in commuting until the technology improves sufficiently
          but the e-bike makers have to figure out a way to increase production and economies of scale so they can lower prices. EVs could serve an important role, but they’re still secondary vehicles. That means a lot of people would still need an ICE vehicle. The economics just don’t add up right now. And when you consider that motorcycles in the U.S. are generally pleasure vehicles, it’s more of a problem. In global markets where motorcycles are used more as primary transportation, they need to be affordable.

          Before we can say that e-bikes are the next big thing, they’ve got to get beyond the pioneer and early adopter stages. That’s far from assured. Sales are still very low.

          I also admire what Terry Hershner is doing, and it’s important, but it hardly makes the case that e-bikes are totally practical. You could also cross the country on a bicycle, but that doesn’t mean you’d choose one over another form of transportation.

          I also agree with your point about the article. It could have discussed the merits and drawbacks of e-bikes more and would have spurred some interesting discussion.

          • drivin98

            Definitely agree that range still is an issue for many riders. For those who can work with the range, though, they should be considered.

            What we have now, in electrics, is a glimpse into the future. (imho, of course)

            • pdad13

              I really think the EV manufacturers did a disservice to consumers and their own industry by overstating claims. It’s still happening. What they’re doing creates distrust among people who are on the fence about EVs, which is the majority. It’s a bad way to launch an industry.

              I’ve been following e-bikes almost from the beginning and was pretty interested. To me, the manufacturers almost always overpromised and underdelivered.

              I remember the first Mission prototype that was clamed to be 150mph and 150 mile range. They tried to sell them for $50,000. We’re still not close to those claims.

              Range is still the biggest problem for the vast majority of consumers. For commuting, they can be very useful for certain people. But then they’ve got to solve the second biggest problem: cost.

          • Mugget

            “Before we can say that e-bikes are the next big thing, they’ve got to get beyond the pioneer and early adopter stages.”

            But by the time they get beyond that stage, they will already be a big thing. ;)

            Interesting that people are talking about electric bikes being in their infancy. That implies that there will be a lot of future development. An infant child doesn’t remain so for very long. Hence something in it’s infancy is not going to remain in that state, it has a guaranteed future. Which is what the article is all about.

            • pdad13

              There will be a lot of development, for sure. They’re just fairly limited at the moment because of the limited amount of energy batteries can store. That problem may or many not be solved in a relatively short timeframe. It’s not an easy problem to solve and it’s not inevitable that it’ll be solved in the next 5-10 years. What we’ve had are nice incremental gains that are promising, but not nearly enough for parity with ICEs. We’re not likely to get big improvements without the big breaktrhough.

              There is another problem with batteries that doesn’t get discussed much: battery packs degrade and are very expensive to replace at the moment. Maybe some of that cost is defrayed by lower maintenance costs. But hopefully that will be solved with the range issue.

              Now, if someone could make a series/plug-in hybrid design work for motorcycles, that would be something that could solve most of the issues in the near-term. It’s just really difficult to find the space and weight savings to make it practical on bikes.

              In the meantime, there are other alternatives. And I just hope they don’t get ignored becuause everyone has anointed electric drivetrains as the only/best answer.

              They might be the best answer but I think we’ll have to wait and see. If you go back and look at the futurist films and exhibits from 60 or 70 years ago, you’ll see a lot of concepts that people were predicting would catch on. Some did in some form, but many didn’t. But isn’t that the fun in thinking about it?

      • Richard Gozinya

        Hydrogen’s a joke. The only semi-economical way to make the stuff is with natural gas, and you end up with a net negative energy source. Battery development far outstrips where hydrogen’s at, and has a lot better potential. Plus, batteries have a lot more applications than just being used for transportation.

        • pdad13

          True, but as a power unit, fuel cells make a lot of sense. And they also have a lot more applications than just transportation. They can power anything that requires electricity.

          If we’re to get away from fossil fuels, we’re probably going to have to look hard at nuclear power, which is what is going on all over the world right now. Nuclear might make it economical to separate Hydrogen from compounds, but there’s obviously some controversy about Nuclear power, partculary about light water reactors vs. alternate technologies like the CANDU reactor and Thorium reactors.

          Hydrogen has some other problems, too. The first is the distribution and fuellng infrastructure, which would be very expensive. The second is that it has to be pressurized, which many argue would make a fuel cell a very powerful, hot-burning bomb should it be damaged. I’m actually not real enthused about fuel cells for those reasons.

          But if we do get more nuclear capability, and continue to work on renewables, we could produce synthetic fuels and create a self-sustaining system by scrubbing carbon out of the atmosphere.That would enable us to use the existing infrastructure and ICE technology. Is that all it’s cracked up to be? Don’t know but it’s worth finding out. And it doesn’t mean we can’t continue to work on electric and battery technology and use it for its best applications.

          There doesn’t have to be just one answer. And I’m guessing that there won’t be.

  • di0genes

    There are two kinds of motorcycles; the first kind is motorized transportation for places where many if not most people can’t afford cars. Typically they are no more than 250cc, get great gas mileage, are built to a price, design, features, and quality are no better than it needs to be to provide personal transportation.
    The second kind of motorcycle are toys for people who have disposable income, in other words more money than they need for basic living. The design of this class of motorcycle is primarily driven by the whims of fashion. Recent history has shown that just like 6″ spike heels, motorcycle fashion can be pushed beyond absurdity, such as 180 horsepower motors for jurisdictions that limit road speed to what can be achieved with 30, 900 pound ‘bar bikes’ that will never be ridden farther than a few miles at a time, 600 plus pound ‘adventure bikes’ to permit travel to places where the locals make do with 200cc and 300 pounds. The engineering challenge is to make all this silliness possible. So far so good.

    • Faysal Itani


  • Michael Howard

    Seamless or single-speed transmissions. Yeah, shifting is “fun” but the bike of the future will basically be “twist and go”, freeing you from having to think about what gear you’re in. More throttle = more speed. Quick and simple.

    And there will be a merging of “scooter” with “motorcycle” until they’re basically one and the same: the convenience and practicality of scooters (ie, integrated storage) with the handling and performance of a motorcycle.

  • kinscore

    Rider aerodynamics is certainly a challenge, potentially without much to gain. Helmet shape and back spoiler may be the only reasonable improvements. Pursuing Lower leg aerodynamics probably isn’t worthwhile for motorcycling (but did work well in, for example, setting the skiing speed record https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBxvGdMjZmE with an almost fully aerodynamic suit).

    What can be done, without having to fully enclose the rider, is to use larger nose and tail fairings to “hide” them from the wind—at least when not hanging out for a turn or even just when in full tuck—allowing the rider to shift (reducing from maximum efficiency momentarily) and still improve overall efficiency. Perhaps active aerodynamics can also improve this situation (another field with very little research, also banned in racing).


    A motorcycle faired as such can even be better in side winds than some motorcycles that aren’t designed for aerodynamics (see http://www.craigvetter.com/pages/470MPG/Last%20Vetter%20Fairing%20P3.html and http://www.craigvetter.com/pages/470MPG/Last%20Vetter%20Fairing%20P5.html for some test results—yes, both are from Craig Vetter, but there’s not much other activity in this field).

    One thing of note, however, is that there has been almost no testing in standard road racing conditions (for the most part it’s banned from racing), so it is unclear whether such aerodynamics would be an advantage or disadvantage in road racing; but it has been shown that aerodynamics can be improved with a goal of fuel efficency in real world road conditions (as well as for performance in land speed racing and sidecar racing).

    So maybe there isn’t any significant aerodynamic edge still to be gained, since streamlining has already been done by individuals and small teams.

    • pdad13

      I think he’s probably on to something with the long tail idea. How practical it is, is another question. A 10-foot long bike does present some problems for the everyday rider.

      I’m not convinced that side winds aren’t an issue. Based on that article, he’s done one test ride with a cardboard mock-up. That’s maybe encouraging enough for him to continue developing the concept, but it’s not proof positive in any sense. Just about every aerodynamicist I’ve ever read has mentioned side winds as a problem. Of course, Vetter even references that fact. Maybe he’s got something, but it’s hard to say for sure. He also doesn’t mention how it actually turns, which I would expect is pretty slow.

      He’s got it mocked up on what looks like his fuel-mileage touring bike, which certainly would work as a highway tourer because it’s optimized for going in relatively straight lines. It doesn’t look like it would work very well as a performance or sport bike. It’s more like a scooter and you certainly wouldn’t be able to move on it very easily.

      Enclosing the rider presents some problems because you actually want to keep the frontal area as small as possible. If you make the frontal area too big, you actually create more turbulance and drag and the wake can’t reunite behind the tail. Vetter might have achieved this, but it’s hard to tell from what he’s done so far.

      Vetter is a smart (and refreshingly kooky) guy, but he hasn’t always come up with winners.

      Motorcycle aerodynamics has historically been pretty bedeviling. In the movie Faster, the WCM Yamaha team tried a new fairing that their calculations and wind tunnel tests said should have given them more speed, but gave them no improvement.

      Tony Foale, who also advocates more aerodynamic research, did a very extensive article which illustrates just how complex the issue is. Definitely worth a read.


  • Luke

    I do think the near/mid term improvements will be electronic safety features working down into “everyman” bikes (maybe even due to regulation). I think the mid terms (thanks particularly to BMWs carbon fiber work on the i3) is going to be light weight materials. Yes it’s expensive, but the major shapes a motorcycle need are easy to produce I think (tubes for the frames). Pretty soon, the big cruiser crowd will be looking for big bikes that don’t weigh 800 lbs. Heck, my bike weighs something like 385, and I still want it to be lighter!

    Long term it’ll be all electric – but that’s a long term. I am impressed with the yearly improvements at Zero. Motorcycles can improve/change much faster than cars if manufacturers want to as there is much less regulation, so maybe it’s not THAT far in the future…

  • Justin McClintock

    I think the reason for motorcycles lagging behind cars in so many technologies is twofold.

    First, automotive companies have more money to spend on research. That comes with selling 300,000 of a particular model in any given year. The economies of scale are wonderful in that regard.

    The second, and one that gets overlooked, is the maturity level of any of these technologies and how that affects a motorcycle. The first ABS systems didn’t work so great. They made cars lurch around and provided horrible feedback. Whats more, they were large, heavy units. All of that could be tolerated on a car to say you had the technology. On a motorcycle, instead of preventing a wreck, it may have caused one. And those larger ABS systems wouldn’t have gone unnoticed when added to a motorcycle. They would have added considerable weight and bulk. Simply put, for a technology to work at an entry level on a motorcycle typically requires it to be far more mature than for it to work at an entry level on an automobile.

  • juliansr

    “electric motorcycles.The jury is still out on them and their counterparts”

    i respectfully disagree… it think your Jaguar disk brake analogy will ring true for electric bikes.

  • juliansr

    plus, fully enclose me and basically…that’s a car.

    • Michael Howard

      To me, fully enclosing the rider doesn’t change what riding is about any more than enclosing a pilot changes flying. It’s the movement, the leaning, the G forces that make it such an incredible experience.

      • juliansr

        Having flown both, I promise you, a para-glider is a more tactile
        experience than a Cessna. you experience much more of the environment,
        you’re directly connected to the forces resulting of your speed. A
        cessna is like a cooking hotdogs with a microwave and gliding is an open
        fire. They both make food, but I promise you one tastes just a little
        bit better.

        There is no part of you whatsoever that likes the feeling of the wind or getting over hard? Tucking in and feeling the drag go away the motor effort lessen? There is a point in serious leaning, too, when I’m touching the ground, or kick out a leg for balance on the dirt. how do you do that enclosed? Enclosed only works for a commuter IMO, and for that it’s pretty ideal.

        • Michael Howard

          Oh, definitely. But does no part of you whatsoever hate the bugs, the rain, and the cold? Not all tactile experiences are pleasant. ;)

          My point is that enclosing the rider doesn’t change what, to me, is the essence of the motorcycle, which is countersteering and leaning.

  • panthalassa

    i’m waiting for user-configurable instrumentation on bikes and cages, and am kind of surprised we’re not there yet. i can change the look of my phone and tablet — so i’d like a tablet for my dash. digits, bar graph, analog-style dials? your choice. add/delete functions, resize, change color, night/day. here’s a relatively cheap innovation that the bike manufacturers could take the lead on instead of waiting for trickle-down from cars.

  • barney fife

    Give me a break, motorcycles have become way too technical (which allows the moco to upcharge big time). Modern motorcycles are now like BMWs, once the warranty runs out they can’t move em off the used car lots because they’re ridiculously expensive to get fixed (and they will need to be fixed, and you won’t be able to do it yourself). ABS and the “entertainment/communications” add ons, good grief. Buy a car for f’sakes.

  • Thomas

    I hope it is aerodynamics,because despite what everyone thinks,motorcycles are not very efficient at going through the air.,more like a brick standing end to end.Streamlining,enclosed motorcycles may not be for everyone,but it is the holy grail for going the fastest,the farthest on the least amount of energy.They take up very little space,offer the comfort of a car,adding safety,verse’s none, compared to a conventional motorcycle.[see BMW's concept vehicle, the Clever,crash testing data]while still having some fun.I hope the day comes when the dealer’s floor display has a few enclosed motorcycles along with the conventional models,and I hope its sooner then later. Eventually there won’t be enough space for all these large vehicles with one person on board and no amount of money will fix it. Something has to give and here’s one way to buy some time for the existing roadways,bridges etc.