I'm as much a techno freak as the next guy. To my mind, modern motorcycles are a superb combination of advanced me-chanical engineering and fantastic design actually improved by a steady infiltration of electronic wizardry. I have no real desire to go back to carburetors and ignition systems with points and condensers. But this tomorrow tech is not always perfect. Often, these technologies miss the mark because someone—or a whole roomful of gainfully employed someones—failed to fully understand the application in the real world. You know, the place we actually ride these things? Let me be more specific.
Always-on ABS. Someone, somewhere decided that a certain class of bikes with ABS should have them active all the time. No exceptions. I could accept that for commuters and touring rigs, where the riders are understandably interested in safety above all. But there are ADV bikes that won't let you shut down the ABS without a silly workaround. And there are a few sporty bikes that won't let you kill the nanny, either. Almost worse are those machines where the defeat function is buried seven layers deep in an incomprehensible menu system. BMW does it right for most models: a big turn-me-off button that kills ABS in one motion.
Wrongheaded defaults. When I go to the trouble of customizing a set of ride modes—suspension, engine response, grip heaters, whatever—I almost never want the system to go back to the baseline settings every time I start the engine. Dear engineers: Please allow the functions to "latch" so that if I want the TC at a minimum and ABS off with the engine in Touring mode and the suspension in Pensioner mode, that's how I'll get them every time.
Ride modes wanting. Ride by wire provides myriad benefits, from effective traction control and easy cruise control to improved fuel efficiency and tailorable engine dynamics. So it's hard to fathom when new bikes arrive and the Sport mode is so sharp that only a surgeon could ride the bike smoothly, yet the softer modes are incredibly mushy. It's like the engineers lost confidence that riders could tell a difference and felt compelled to create a huge gap between the modes. And, often, that third, "just right" mode is absent. Argh! So close.
The slip/grip clutch. The underlying tech is compelling: Build a clutch system with slip ramps—so it can act like a slipper clutch—as well as, for lack of a better term, grabber ramps. If the ramps help draw the clutch pack together, you can use lighter springs; the result should be a light-acting clutch that's also strong. So far, I've sampled a couple of bikes where this new technology doesn't quite work. The engagement point can become extremely small and even move around based on engine load. Nobody wants that.
Electronic key fobs. Let's just be done with them, can we? Oh, except the way Harley and Indian do them. If you're going to make the physical key superfluous, you need to let me open the fuel cap and get into the luggage without it. A fob/key combo that you have to keep fishing out of your pocket is 10 times worse than a simple key.
Headset incompatibility. Around here, we use bike-to-bike communicators all the time. But it's become something of a rueful joke that before a group ride we confer to determine if we all have one manufacturer's communicator mounted so we can chat on the test ride. This is crazy. Bluetooth is supposed to be a universal format—that's the point. And yet a Cardo system won't talk to a Sena that won't talk to a Chatterbox.
There might be peace in our time, though. A few days after this goes to press, Sena will have introduced new firmware to allow its units to connect to other "major brands" of Bluetooth headsets. You can bet I'll download that patch as soon as it's available.
One peeve down. A few more to go.