Look into the future and you find one indisputable truth: Things will be different. Beyond that, there are only diverging differences of opinion, conjecture and some well-educated guesses. Fuel cells? Solar panels? Wheels? Magnetic levitation?
What's it going to be like 20, 30, 50 years down the road from here? According to David Robb, vice president of motorcycle design at BMW Motorrad in Munich, "There isn't going to be 'a' future, because there's no limit to the possible combinations out there." There are as many different ways to look at what's coming in the next half-dozen decades or so as there are experts to ask. That's what makes it fun. We dialed up a few of the people who get paid to peer into the future and asked where motorcycles were headed. The consensus? Motorcycles are going to be around for a lot longer than most of us, and while nobody knows exactly what we'll be riding in 2050, it won't be boring.
MotoGP 2050Is This What Valentino Rossi Iii Will Be Racing?Relative to the relationship between Formula 1 and production automobiles, MotoGP represents a more direct technology trickle-down to the streetbikes we can buy-meaning it's a more relevant breeding ground for future proddie bikes.
Still, there are caveats. Increasing reliance on electronics can only reduce the quality of racing as bikes reach their limits, progressively factoring the rider out of the equation and reducing opportunities for the type of cut-n-thrust passing that's so exciting. That combination could eventually cost MotoGP its status as the high-tech leader with regard to electronics. Just as it is with cars, production bikes may someday possess features not permitted in racing.
At first glance, GP bikes of the future will be outwardly similar to what we have today. Evolution, not revolution, drives advancement. As current technologies reach their limits, however, new leaps in performance will appear.
Suspension has been neglected for too long. Alternative designs offer benefits, provided they can at least match the performance of today's telescopic fork. But the goal is to surpass contemporary performance. As the next generation of riders grows up without connections to convention, new applications will be greeted with acceptance instead of skepticism.
Packaging will be the biggest difference. Manufacturers are just beginning to reap the benefits of mass-centralization, and the future may see a headlong rush to this concept.
Chassis integration has ruled F1 for the past two and a half decades. The same idea will be taken to extremes in MotoGP, where the conventional chassis will likely vanish. The trend is already visible with the current crop of bikes, especially the Ducati GP07, which only uses half a trellis compared to a 1098, and employs its engine as a fully stressed chassis member.
The current trend of reducing displacement to control power output will likely continue, driving engine speeds into the stratosphere. At the same time, various electronic and mechanical technologies will afford tuners greater control. Pneumatic valve-return systems are already en vogue, and electromagnetic valve actuation will be the next step.
Fuels will change as well. Racing is in danger of becoming an irrelevant consumer of fossil fuels, and there may be pressure to move to an alternative such as corn-based ethanol as the Indy Racing League did for the '07 season. Ethanol would be less attractive to MotoGP turners, however, because with 60 percent the calorific rate of gasoline, pit stops might be required.
What else? Hydrogen is prohibitively expensive, and thus only realistic in four-wheeled motorsport, if at all. Butanol, however, offers an attractive possibility. Its energy density is close to gasoline's. And since it can be distilled from the same feedstocks that produce ethanol, it's a socially acceptable alternative to burning dead dinosaurs.
Great aerodynamic developments are less likely. The motorcycle is ungainly at best and little can be done to rectify that. Short of lifting the ban on '50s-style dustbin fairings, bikes are stuck with an inherently messy drag coefficient. The best performance gains will likely come from reducing the frontal area as much as possible and by managing the flow of air moving through-as well as around-the bike and rider.
As high-performance motorcycle buyers, we have much to gain from racing. Unlike our sports-car-wielding brethren, the racing DNA contained in production sportbikes is strong. The very things that make MotoGP bikes better, more often than not, will continue to trickle down, improving the two-wheel experience for all of us.
David RobbVice President Of Motorcycle Design For Bmw Motorrad In MunichWe literally have drawers full of possibilities of what could be at BMW. We're looking at safety and environmental concerns in ways that offer riders a fun experience that's also a responsible one. For me, they don't cancel each other out. You can do both. Using resources responsibly doesn't mean sitting in a telephone booth on wheels. Two-wheelers offer an experience you can't get with other vehicles. A motorcycle in today's form is a very intimate thing. You can get very cozy with it. You're involved.
"A lot of us say, 'I ride a motorcycle to get away from it all.' But if you don't have your e-mail connection, your cell phone, you don't have your things...at some point you feel lost. Things that were luxuries now fit in your pocket. So why aren't they part of your motorcycle experience? Those are things that will have to be offered.
"There are plenty of rational arguments for the motorcycle as we move forward. At some point there will be less space, so you have to be more efficient with everything, whether it's your footprint on the road or the energy necessary to drive your vehicle. The motorcycle is smaller, lighter, uses less energy and has a smaller footprint on the road, so the same road could carry more people. There are plenty of possibilities.
"Take the Segway technology. Instead of two wheels side by side, put one in front of the other. The rider wouldn't need to be concerned with balance. Now it's a narrow-lane two-wheel vehicle because why do you need four? It has all the braking and traction control you need. It's very aerodynamic, and you don't need much energy since it's small and light. It really has nothing to do with today's motorcycle, but that doesn't mean the motorcycle experience we know today has to disappear.
"What is the future going to be like? There isn't going to be a single future. The video recorder didn't keep people from going to the movies, and when the DVD came out it just offered another opportunity. It can offer you something else. But when the first VHS recorders came out, people said, 'You're not going to the movies anymore.' Are you kidding? One format doesn't have to replace another. What you can do at the movies you can only do at the movies. What you can do with a motorcycle you can only do with a motorcycle.
"A self-balancing, streamlined, safe two-wheeler might be an experience people would enjoy, but it doesn't mean you can't have your R1200GS of the future. We'll be using computers in ways most riders have never thought about before. Things like fly-by-wire or brake-by-wire and active suspension are out there. The electronic suspension adjustment BMW has now is just the beginning. You could do the same thing with seats or wind protection. If I take my son for a ride I just plug in a different weight than I might for a bigger buddy.
"Sometimes customers aren't ready for change, or they don't think they are. Our C1 was a great example. It's actually a great product that was a little unusual at the beginning. But if you get to work 10 minutes earlier every day or it costs less when you fill up with gas at the end of the week, pretty soon you're motivated to take another look. We just didn't stick with it long enough at the time. Even after you come up with the Gee Whiz thing, you still need customers to buy it.
"What if you could have a vehicle that leans 50 degrees in both directions, and you feel safe while you're on it? It's got all your iPod data and Bluetooth connectivity-everything you're used to having at home or in your luxury car. It would have all the automotive technology they're talking about now: distance control, electronic navigation and all that. So if I'm going through L.A. on the freeway and I want to talk to my partner on the phone, the vehicle just takes over-like something from Minority Report-until I get to Malibu Canyon. Then I take control again. But the 90-minute ride from Pasadena isn't that much fun anyway, so let the electronics deal with it. The suspension is set to soak up all the bumps. It warns you a half-mile before the exit, tightens the suspension and turns the gravity control systems off so I can have some fun in the canyons. Maybe it has articulated fairings. You don't want SUV exhaust in your face on the freeway, but once you get to Topanga Canyon the flaps open up, there's air flowing through like a cabriolet or a convertible. Do you want to move air away from you, or do you want to grab it? That would be just a matter of moving some panels around. Those things are certainly thinkable, and the technology will be there. So why not?"
Stuart ReedChair, Transportation DesignArt Center College Of DesignOpinions are all over the place, but nobody has an ongoing, agreed-upon kind of catholic interpretation of what sustainable transportation means at this point. I spent a lot of years with Toyota and with Chrysler really understanding big, mature industrial companies and their responsibilities. You really can't turn a ship like that around in two years. You need to do things slowly and carefully.
Some say nobody should be allowed to run around unless their carbon footprint is half what it is right now. I absolutely think that however you define them, minimalist vehicles like motorcycles are going to play a very big part in the future. More students than ever want to tackle projects in that realm. Maybe I'm biased. I have a BMW R75/5 at home and an R1100RS, designed by a good friend of mine named Dave Robb.
When it's all about recreation, there's criticism in some camps about burning precious fossil fuels just for fun. But when you look at the global picture, motorcycles are one of the most benign forms in terms of their impact. Get on any busy transportation corridor and you see one person in an Escalade and another on a bike. What looks smarter?
Look at the corridors available to move vehicles through-narrow-lane vehicles are being talked about more and more. Even with some of the narrow-lane three- and four-wheel concepts, the total width that's been established is the same as a large road bike. And in dense urban environments, the footprint a vehicle takes up when it's not being used is essential to the whole equation. I was in Paris a few months ago. You see a corner where there's parallel parking along the curb. A little Smart car turns 90 degrees into a space where there isn't enough room to park anything...except a motorcycle.
Honda EVO6Big Red's Automatic Sports Cruiser Concept: big, bold and unafraidThe only thing harder than getting a Japanese engineer or designer to talk freely about the direction his or her company is going-or even where the industry in general is going-is getting a Honda engineer or designer to open up. We've yet to prove this, but we're reasonably sure these folks are fitted with an intra-skin microchip that monitors speech and thought-and that as soon as something as innocent as "Well, next year...." is uttered, the chip temporarily interrupts cardio-pulmonary action, reminding the poor soul to keep his trap-or his mind-shut tight. Occlumency, indeed.
So with the Japanese makers you learn to read the tea leaves by examining their concept bikes closely for clues. Although most of these prototypes never end up in production (Suzuki's B-King being one obvious exception), many of their details do find their way to the assembly line.
All of which brings us to Honda's EVO6, a Tokyo Show concept bike Honda describes as a "unique Automatic Sports Cruiser Concept." The future-cruiser/hot-rod look is there in force, especially with the wide wheels and radical front end. But wait...automatic? Yessiree, automatic-as in no shifting. According to Honda, a Gold Wing-like 1832cc flat-six powers the EVO, to which is grafted a fully automatic transmission. It's something Honda produced for sale in the way-back past (CB750A anyone?), but also a technology it's talked about for decades as a way to make its venerable GL tourer even more accessible and attractive to the general populace. A twist on the concept is the tranny's tri-function operation. According to Honda, riders can choose between two types of full-automatic operation as well as a manual six-speed mode operated by a bar-mounted switch. Having the ability to toggle between auto- and regular-shift modes is very cool, and just might be the piece of the puzzle that's been missing all these years. Of course, the EVO6 is no tourer. But it's not out of the realm to envision the no-shift concept showing up on, say, a 2010 Gold Wing.
Time, as they say, will tell the tale
Suzuki CrosscageClean, Green And MeanWhat if there's no dead dinosaur juice left to power your future bike? Suzuki is not the first manufacturer to ponder a petroleum-free future. But Suzuki's Crosscage, powered by a hydrogen fuel cell developed in conjunction with Intelligent Energy, the U.K. firm behind the less-sexy-but-equally-futuristic ENV fuel-cell scooter, is the first alterna-fueled concept to actually resemble something any self-respecting motorcyclist would consider riding.
The swoopy Crosscage uses traditional motorcycle architecture with 17-inch wheels and the handlebar, footrests and saddle all in their rightful place. Similarities stop there, however: The atomic-suitcase-looking object where pistons and valves normally reside is actually the fuel tank, here containing a volume of liquid hydrogen stored at 5000 psi. The X-shaped crash cage that inspires the bike's name is more than a superfluous styling element. Above the hydrogen tank, in what would be the traditional motorcycle's fuel tank, is the fuel cell itself-where hydrogen is combined with oxygen to produce electricity. Voltage is stored in a lithium-ion battery located beneath the hydrogen tank, and converted to forward motion by a compact electric motor located on the single-sided swingarm.
Suzuki released nothing in terms of technical specs or future plans for the Crosscage concept-the Pentagon has nothing on Japanese OEMs when it comes to obfuscation-but the mere presence of these fuel-cell-powered machines tells us that alternative-fueled bikes are definitely under consideration for future projects. There is still plenty of R&D work for Suzuki to undertake, in terms of both performance and practicality. Though it looks like a real motorcycle, the Crosscage speedo stops at 100 kph (aka 62 mph), suggesting that performance is likely more scooter-like.
Then there's the small detail of liquid hydrogen availability (not exactly on tap at your local Texaco) and also its production. The Crosscage itself might be a zero-emissions vehicle (the only byproduct of the hydrogen/oxygen reaction is water), but it presently requires electricity to produce liquid hydrogen to use as fuel. Within the confines of today's infrastructure, that means your CO2 emissions are just transferred from your driveway to the nearest coal- or nuke-fed powerplant.
Not entirely clean and green, not yet at least. But these issues are being addressed, and hydrogen and the Crosscage and other alterna-fueled bikes will certainly shape the future of motorcycling.
Yamaha TesseractFour Wheels That Lean Like TwoWe're not quite sure what to make of this particular version of the "motorcycle" future, delivered courtesy of Yamaha's design staff. We're not sure if it's a motorcycle or not. But neither are Yamaha's copywriters, who refer to the Tesseract (an octachoron, or cube within a cube to you math majors) as a "multi-wheel hybrid vehicle." Four wheels would suggest otherwise, but Yamaha claims the Tesseract is barely wider than a conventional single-track cycle and provides the same maneuverability and open-air riding experience as a bike, with greatly improved stability.
The term hybrid pulls double duty here, referring both to a design that suggests an unholy union between the company's Raptor quad and its R6 sportbike and also hybrid power, in the form of a liquid-cooled, internal-combustion V-twin (of undisclosed displacement) paired with an electric motor to provide part-time zero-emissions operation.
The Toyota Prius made IC/electro hybrids old news years ago-what's most interesting is the Tesseract's intriguing chassis. Yamaha calls this a "Dual Scythe" suspension system. It appears to utilize separate swingarms for each individual wheel, connected by some sort of rocker mechanism that allows each pair (front or rear) to share a single suspension unit. The paired swingarms move opposite each other, scissors-style, and allow the bike to lean into corners like a conventional motorcycle without the possibility of falling over. The system also incorporates a lock mechanism that allows the machine to stand securely upright when parked.
The narrow-track, paired-wheel concept has already proven viable in the scooter world on the Piaggio MP3 (which utilizes tandem front wheels), with significant advantages during braking and turning, especially in low-traction conditions. Motorcycle or not, we'd love to try the Tesseract-full-speed, four-wheel drifts, anyone?-in spite of the fact that it looks ready to rear up on its back wheels and eat us for lunch.
It's exciting to see that, even at monolithic Japanese manufacturing firms, designers are capable of creatively reimagining even the most fundamental concepts of motorcycle chassis theory for future products. Will we be riding a Tesseract come 2012? "Research on this revolutionary new vehicle for the future," Yamaha says, "is ongoing."