Posts Tagged ‘motorcycle industry’

The Motorcycle Industry and its Future

Believe me, if I had a crystal ball I’d be playing the lottery. When it comes to something as ponderous as the motorcycle industry and its future though, it’s easier to make some educated guesses as to which direction it will lumber.

The industry is not known for its quick-fire changes, and to be fair,  it’s easy to see why, especially as motorcycle manufactures love to stick to a set formula. Namely, creating machines that give a styling nod to successful models from a back catalog and going on to spend millions in advertising telling you why you can’t do without it!

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In other words, it’s a legacy based business that trades heavily on its past. Let’s throw the big manufactures a bone though. It can’t be easy getting your R&D boffins to come up with the next best thing, that doesn’t require the entire manufacturing line replacing.

Then, of course, they’ve got to keep an eye on the opposition in case they’ve tapped into a vein and are subsequently enjoying big sales with a particular model. Also, let’s not forget, new designs have to go through endless software simulations, and thousands of road test-miles before going on general sale.

If all that wasn’t bad enough, the bike industry is currently suffering from lack-luster z2sales . Not only are the baby boomers slowly hanging up their crash helmets, but also the Millennials are failing to take up the slack.

Industry observers state that this is the first generation not automatically drawn to life on two wheels as a right of passage. Safety issues, ease of use, and environmental concerns are all cited as the reasons why.

So what exactly is the collective motorcycle industry doing to address this problem?  In real terms, surprisingly little.

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Industry in a Holding Pattern

You can’t really count making a big song and dance about electric bikes. Or hiding behind the smokescreen of whacky teaser concepts shown at the EICMA in Milan, but why does it feel as if the industry is in a holding pattern?

Environmental legislation is having a monumental effect on the look and performance of every new bike produced the world over. It’s safe to say that in the not too distant future, the noble carburetor and air-cooled engine will be mere museum exhibits.

z3The omission of these two factors, plus the likes of compulsory ABS, enormous air-boxes and gargantuan silencers, will affect the look of future bikes. The real war for future sales, though, will be fought on two fronts; safety, and technology.

In the past, a sideways glance at the auto industry generally gave the game away for future motorcycle innovations. Just look at ABS, the first car fitted with the system was a decade ahead of an ABS fitted bike. It’s a similar story with electronic fuel injection, cruise control, and electronic driving aids.

The situation still pervades today. This time, it’s the race for a production-ready autonomous car that will greatly influence the motorcycling world.  So does this mean we can all look forward to sitting with our arms folded while our bikes ride themselves?

If anything is certain in the future of motorcycling, it’s that riders will never relinquish total control of their bikes with the same willingness as car drivers.

Borrowing from the Auto Manufacturers

The autonomous vehicle is good news for the future of the motorcycle industry because of the enormous leap forward in multi-sequential processors. These components are the electronic brains capable of processing vast amounts of data from a number of sophisticated radar and lidar sensors around the vehicle.

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The mega-processors then convert the information into commands sent to the vehicles brakes, steering, and engine management system.

The speed and compartmental processing ability of new generation units are groundbreaking. The big deal to the motorcycle industry however, is due to the auto industry’s need to mass-produce; resulting in the dramatic reduction of both the price and the component size.

This factor means we can look forward to motorcycle manufacturers pushing the envelope in terms of electronic rider aids, onboard communication systems, and rider information.

With the advent of 5G networks, we may even be able to automatically upload engine management information to a Cloud so that we can fine tune or service our bikes via a smartphone.

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This highly advanced processing ability will also see massive gains in the subtlety and range of electronic rider aids and braking systems. All of which will make motorcycles safer and more attractive to a tech-savvy generation.

When it comes to rider safety, though, the big news for the future of the motorcycle industry will be the introduction of onboard radar systems.

Small is Beautiful

Thanks to small-footprint front and rear-facing cameras, and side mounted motion detectors, bike manufacturers will be able to offer a degree of safety previously unheard of in the two-wheel world.

They would make it happen though if only they could move fast enough. KTM and Ducati may have put their necks on the line by saying they’ll have a rudimentary hazard warning system on top shelf bikes by 2020, but they’re leaving it to Bosch to develop.

Furthermore, the real groundbreaking work in developing this type of system is being championed by small-scale tech start-ups like Damon X Labs. The Vancouver based entrepreneurs predict that their self-learning, 360-degree accident warning system will dramatically reduce accidents by alerting riders to imminent danger while giving them enough time to take evasive action.

Smarter and Safer Motorcycles

If the motorcycle industry is going to win back the missing biker generation, then clearly technology and safety are two major factors, but what about their other concerns, ease of use, and environmental issues?

Luckily enough both of these can be slam-dunked by the electric motorcycle. These bikes are quiet, environmentally friendly, and what could be more convenient than ‘twist and go’ with no messy transmission.

But hang on a minute, if battery powered bikes are the second coming of two-wheeled transport, then why aren’t the big bike manufacturers churning them out by the thousand?

Just like the advancements in smaller, faster processors, it will be the advent of cheaper, longer lasting fuel cells with faster charging times, that will finally open the floodgates.

As for the motorcycle industry and its future, I don’t foresee the big manufacturers letting go of the legacy angle in the very near future.  Just don’t be surprised to see a battery powered, radar-equipped Bonneville’s, Z1’s, CB’s XS’s and GS’s sometime soon. Remember where you read it first.

Author Malcolm Lee : I bought my first motorcycle, a Honda SL125 at 16. I went on to become a welder and fabricator until in my mid-twenties when I jumped ship to work for a local newspaper. Since those early days, I have been lucky enough to own and build over 40 motorcycles and have gained a Masters Degree in Interactive Journalism.  I enjoy writing for motorcycle magazines, websites and blogs all over the world and have interviewed and photographed some pretty cool leading lights in the biking world.