AT LEAST WE WILL STILL LOOK LIKE WE'RE RIDING
What's next for motorcycles? In one sense, what's next is what's happening now. Control electronics are a revolution themselves and a revolution that’s not yet over. There’s nothing to stop the transfer of everything we’ve seen in MotoGP to high-end production motorcycles: throttle-by-wire; virtual powerbands as a means of making even fairly harsh, racy engines respond smoothly; lean-angle sensors to help estimate tire traction in corners; and yaw control, which has been at work in cars for years. All of these can make motorcycles more capable and safer to operate, so they are not just novelties tacked on to stimulate sales (as are "bold new graphics" and nonfunctional scoops).
Because we are only just now emerging from years of depressed economy, we are seeing a trend back to the smaller motorcycles that used to be common in engine displacements up to soocc. Millions of miles of motorcycling on sporty 250 and 350CC machines were enjoyed before now, and there is no rule that says fun ceases to exist below IOOOCC or some even bigger number. The larger motorcycles get, the more vulnerable they become to the easy criticism that they use just as much fuel as an economy car.
Before the economic downturn of 2008,
I had been wondering if we would see in motorcycling the trend seen in autos and snowmobiles toward smaller and more intense powerplants. Cadillac had begun replacing its long-serving Northstar 32-valve V-Eight with a smaller V-Six that make as much power from a significantly smaller package.
Yamaha, its YZF-Ri-powered snowmobiles known for their notinconsiderable weight, had turned to a lighter Triple. Other makers put smaller supercharged engines in place of bulkier, heavier naturally aspirated ones. In the car world, the motivation was to hit upcoming
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) numbers. Lighter cars and smaller engines can use less fuel. In snowmobiles, a heavier four-stroke engine performs best on groomed trails, while lighter two-strokepowered sleds can take to the deep powder without sinking out of sight. But there’s nothing like a down economy to make manufacturers postpone tooling new products.
And in motorcycles? No clear trends. Yes, we magazine guys may think smaller bikes are fun, but which two bikes inspire the biggest aftermarkets? Harley’s Big Twin and Suzuki’s Hayabusa! Try putting either of those in the van without a ramp. So, yes, the three-cylinder motorcycle engine that Yamaha recently showed in Europe might be part of a downsizing trend. Or it might just be the sensible business technique of getting all the income you can out of existing tooling at a time when bankers want to lock their doors and sit on their money bales.
But maybe looking for sense is too optimistic. Our automakers can’t ignore the higher profit that comes from sales of big stuff, and during my trips to Texas this past spring for the CoTA MotoGP test and race,
I saw fleets of big pickups and SUVs rushing along at 85 mph.
Because of a special government incentive, if these are made as “Flex Fuel Vehicles” (able to burn gasoline/ethanol mixtures up to 85 percent ethanol without external adjustment), their makers are entitled to calculate significantly higher fuel-mileage figures for inclusion in CAFE. Presto, your two-ton road roller’s 17.5-mpg magically becomes 87.5 mpg.
They play similar legal games in Europe; rumors suggest a major motivation behind Audi’s purchase of Ducati was that the fuel economy of thousands of Ducati motorcycles will nicely enhance Audi’s “Euro-CAFE” number. Some of those Audis are fair-sized models.
Maybe you have a friend who is a -*
BY THE NUMBERS
13.3 GALLONS, IN BILLIONS, OF ETHANOL PRODUCED IN THE U.S. IN 2012
PRICE, IN BILLIONS OF DOLLARS, THAT AUDI PAID FOR DUCATI
2013 CHEVY SUBURBAN I 7 EPA COMBINED MPG (GAS) I 3 EPA COMBINED MPG (E85)
futurist, always on Gizmag.com and eager for the most radical visions of tomorrow to come true. That friend has almost certainly told you that ‘‘autonomous vehicles”—those needing no human driver but guided by signals from wires buried in the road —are coming soon to make both traffic jams and road-widenings things of the past. No more jams with thousands of idling engines getting zero mpg. Computer algorithms will smoothly guide all travelers non-stop door-to-door by allowing cars and trucks to move faultlessly at high speed. With only two feet between bumpers, many more vehicles will fit on existing roadways that states and municipalities can’t afford to maintain, anyway. Roads will never need to be widened or even constructed ever again.
Hmm, but what about autonomous motorcycles? Automatic training wheels that swing out to keep us upright at stops? And as we buzz
along, we won’t actually be riding. Our bikes will be guided by special two-wheel control protocols when we join the nearest autonomous guideway, and once we are on it, the handlebars will lock to become mere grab rails. We will still look like we’re riding, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s control algorithm will actually be enjoying the freedom of the open road.
European air-safety folks recently decided to de-certify the venerable DC-3/C-47 transport plane because, having been designed in the 1930s, it doesn’t carry automatically inflating passenger escape slides. That suggests one easy way to deal with anything that doesn’t fit into the space that the future offers is to simply ban it.
On the other hand, it’s been 10 years since I heard futurist-in-chief Ray Kurzweil declare that NOW is the moment when the rate of
human progress turns straight up. Surely, 10 years is enough time for realization of his prediction of plaque-eating nanobots to be injected into the silted-up arteries of oldsters who long to be thereby transformed into potential Olympic athletes?
That suggests certain other futuristic predictions may be off a bit. Autonomous vehicles? Electric airliners? Total conversion to renewable energy sources?
All these things can be imagined, and they may be possible, too. But we know they will cost a great deal of money. Who will pay for the fantastic future? At present, governments have no money and banks aren’t lending.
That alone should be good for 10 more years of non-guideway motorcycling. Whew! So the future may be a little late arriving. That means we’ll just have to live and ride in the present. SO Ml
THI5 SUGGESTS ONE EASY WAY TO DEAL WITH ANYTHING THAT DOESN’T FIT INTO THE SPACE THE FUTURE OFFERS IS TO SIMPLY BAN IT.