Watson On: The Future of Motorcycle Engineering

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Categories: Technology, HFL

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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