Honda Unveils Self-Balancing Motorcycle at CES

Honda makes a moto splash at techie Nirvana CES2017 in Las Vegas.

Is this the future of motorcycling? Or the end of motorcyclists?? For anyone who's ever dropped a bike in a parking lot, or struggled to push a full dresser around a garage -- or watched as a machine made your job obsolete -- Honda unveiled its Riding Assist concept motorcycle at the Consumer Electronics Show in a slow-motion, riderless debut that was nothing short of mesmerizing. And slightly creepy.

Call it steer-by-wire. There are no bulky, heavy gyroscopes. In Honda’s vision of the future, Riding Assist disengages the handlebars from the forks below 3 mph and diverts control of the front wheel to a computer. The computer senses lean, and then tiny, independent but synchronized electric motors controlling both the fork and handlebar provide minute steering inputs, moving the front wheel side-to-side thousands of times per second. It’s virtually imperceptible; the bike stands or slowly rolls perfectly upright, except in the case of more extreme tips where the wheel noticeably swings. Above 3 mph, two anchors engage and lock the forks in place, returning the motorcycle to conventional steering.

What you can see in the video above is Riding Assist’s extension of the fork angle, lengthening the bike’s wheelbase and lowering its center of gravity.

“This would be for those who want to relax a little bit and not stress out about falling over, if they’re older or a little shorter in stature or the bike is heavier,” Honda’s Lee Edmunds told the crowd. “This takes away that anxiety.”

The tech for Riding Assist was conceived at Honda's Silicon Valley R&D center and directly derived from the balancing systems in its Asimo robot and UNI-CUB electric mobility scooter, which was used to impressive effect in that OK Go video from a couple of years ago. Here it is again, in case you missed it:

Riding Assist also sports an electric motor in the front wheel hub that allows it to silently propel itself, rather like the thrusters on the Enterprise. In fact, at the CES debut on Wednesday, Honda demonstrated Riding Assist by having the concept bike slowly (and eerily) wheel itself onstage, following a UNI-CUB.

For those purists who like to deride certain motorcycle brands, this is an excellent example of how a company like Honda -- or BMW, or Yamaha -- that manufactures a product line that ranges from household to automotive to musical has a distinct advantage over its motorcycle competition: the ability to draw on nested technology developed in other facets of industry to enhance -- dare we say, improve? -- its motorcycles. To be sure, it’s hard to imagine Ducati or Harley-Davidson utilizing robotic technology anywhere other than the assembly line.

Like much of the high-tech gadgetry at CES, there's no timeline for when we might see Riding Assist come to market. But considering automatic motorcycle transmissions were considered far-fetched just a few years ago (until, that is, Honda unleashed its dual-clutch transmission on the unsuspecting masses) there's no reason to think Riding Assist won't be available at your local dealer within a decade or two. Just in time for your kid's first bike. Or your last.