Technology used in motorcycle

If you want to know the technology used in motorcycle then you are at right place. From nothing to everything. The scorecards of the bikes have gone from being an element absolutely nonexistent one of the most important elements of the new models. At the end of the day, they are the door to all the technology locked in motorcycles.

Today’s dashboards are complex computers attached to motorcycles, but it is only the first step in a history of integration that has smartphones as a leverage point towards a future full of applications and driving aids. Every vehicle is equipped with computer technology including cars.

The relationship between speed and information

The human being has always had a strange competitiveness with himself. The fact of being faster has been a constant prior to the invention of the motorcycle. The foot races were surely invented when humans discovered that their legs were used to run playfully, beyond to flee from their predators, and they became official with the celebration of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC.

But today we are talking about motorcycles. Well, about motorcycles and their dashboards. As has happened with all technology related to the automotive world in general, dashboards went from being something non-existent to becoming a differentiating element and with a high role in the purchasing decision process.

Motorcycle Display

In its origins, motorcycles were nothing more than motorized bicycles. Hence its name: motor + bicycle = motorcycle, or moped, which, although currently different concepts, share the same etymological basis.

In practice, motorcycles (or mopeds) were precarious inventions; simple bicycles to which a few pioneers began to attach internal combustion engines. The human being wanted to go faster than his legs could allow him, so the idea of ​​achieving a movement by mechanical force was more than succulent. Motorcycles became a fever and the goal was clear: speed.

It did not take long for the first motorcycle races to be organized, but beyond measuring themselves from you to you, the riders wanted to know how fast they were going at all times, so it was precisely this exacerbated interest in speed that made them start to include the first speedometers on motorcycles.

Thus were born the dashboards on motorcycles: a simple clock in which by turning the wheel a needle moved to indicate the speed of the vehicle. But the speedometers didn’t come soon. The one considered as the first internal combustion motorcycle was the Daimler Reitwagen of 1885, and it took until the first decades of the 20th century to see them in a standardized way.

Perhaps one of the first and most important speedometers was that of the 1937 BMW R20. It was the same as any other speedometer of the time because it simply showed the instantaneous speed, but it also had an analog odometer where the kilometers traveled were recorded and, most importantly, it was integrated into the headlight housing. The dashboard then stopped being an accessory to become a design element.

To see the first composite dashboards included as standard on motorcycles, we had to wait a little longer. Although curiously, two years before the launch of the R20, in 1935 in the United States an Indian Chief with a speedometer could already be ordered as an option.

These large and crude looking watches used by Indian, in addition to the instantaneous speed, had a second red hand that indicated the maximum speed reached. What use was it? Well, some motorists used it to show off, but the most useful thing was so that the police could fine those who exceeded the limits, since the speed of the chase was “registered”. Again the importance of speed.

But in addition to going fast there were other factors to take into account when riding a motorcycle. The tighter the mechanics were tightened, the more important it became to keep the temperature in check and the engine temperature gauges were included . Then came the tachometers to control the speed of the thrusters, the load indicator of the electrical section and thus the first composite control panels were created, but always organized in spheres.

In 1947 the Vincent Rapide Series B could mount a frame with three clocks mounted on the handlebars of identical size: speed (and mileage), hour clock and tachometer. This composition could (and can) seem ornate, but in the context of a luxury brand it was another attempt to make dashboards a differentiator.

From separate clocks to integrated modules

Over the years the dashboards stopped being a composition of separate elements to become a unit . First, several clocks were joined on the same module, then these clocks began to combine and lose symmetry during the 80s. It was then that the speed began to lose some weight in favor of the revolution indicators and the frames began to be splashed with supplementary witnesses.

Old Motorcycle Display meter

During the 80s and 90s the tables were completely reformed. Speed ​​was still important but now it was just one more piece of information among a constellation of factors. Interestingly, something that has not always been on the dashboards has been something quite important: the fuel level indicator.

At first when the gas ran out, the party was over. Then came the first tanks with reserve and, when the engine ran out of gasoline, a stopcock had to be turned. More recently a reserve light was included to give notice that it was time to visit the gas station. Level gauges, whether analog or digital, have never been immovable.

With the arrival of the 21st century, the golden age of electronics to motorcycles arrived. The obvious symptom was the inclusion of the first dashboards with digital indicators . In them the protagonist was, following the trend, the tachometer, with large analog clocks for the revolutions to which digital speedometers were attached on monochrome LCD screens.

The awakening of the digital age in motorcycles

A good example for its representativeness is the frame of the first Yamaha YZF-R1, which in 1998 represented a complete technological and mechanical revolution among supercars, setting the standard for other manufacturers. That fascinating, radical and with a reputation as an indomitable motorcycle released a frame with a tachometer on the right and a small speedometer / odometer on the left. Below him four witnesses. Simple.

This was only the first step in a trend that has changed dramatically in just a few years and is currently still immersed in a totally unleashed process of evolution.

The next step was the digital tachometers, represented by innumerable bar graph configurations (one for each motorcycle model) and absorbing the indicators on the same LCD screen. With the arrival of the 2000s, the digitization of dashboards became a constant, where only a few models remain faithful to all analog.

It’s more. The Ducati Scrambler saga is one of those particularly representative cases of retro-style motorcycles that do not renounce digitization. Its fully digital frames emulate the style of the analog clocks of the past. A mix that has its aesthetic point and that is necessary to have a lot of information in very little space. From here we enter an increasingly complex world.

From LCD screens we went to TFT screens, and from the motorcycle as a means of transport we went on to the motorcycle as a connected element. The Ducati Multistrada 1200 was one of the first motorcycles to use color screens , also introducing in its very deep and complex control panel the possibility of connecting it via Bluetooth to the smartphone and configuring its electronic suspensions from the bed to get up off the road, for example.

This technological integration between modern motorcycles with dashboards that look like tablets and smartphones has brought one more element: that of dedicated applications.

Currently almost all brands have an app that will offer us certain functions when connecting the motorcycle to the smartphone. In addition to the possibility of regulating the electronic suspensions that we mentioned before, it can also be used to offer information on maintenance intervals, route recording, vehicle geolocation, theft warning or, in the case of Triumph, to control a GoPro through of the control panel of the motorcycle itself.

This eagerness to explore the possibilities of digital dashboards has many lights, as it opens up almost infinite and very useful options for motorcyclists, but there are also some leftovers as a result of the ambition to make a difference with respect to other manufacturers.

The new Indian FTR1200 is a very particular motorcycle with a deeply American flavor that also includes a tactile dashboard. Obviously handling the options of a digital panel by releasing one hand from the screen would have to be done while standing still, it is highly undesirable in motion, so in the end you end up handling it with the buttons on the left hand side, as always. To top it all, the screen’s response to touch isn’t particularly fast.

Something similar happens to us with BMW. The German manufacturer was one of the first brands to extend its fantastic 6.5-inch high-resolution TFT panel to practically its entire range of motorcycles (only leaving out access models). They take it from the F 750 GS to the super sports car S 1000 RR, and it hides a constellation of data and settings that can be overwhelming, and this has three negative points: there is a huge amount of information, calls and music can be managed ( if the intercom is worn on the helmet) and on street bikes that have the Sport display mode, the degrees of inclination when cornering are shown in real time.

In all three cases we have the same common denominator: there are more distractions. Driving a motorcycle is a demanding psychomotor exercise that requires a high degree of attention; any distraction is unnecessary and dangerous.

The point is that marketing teams sometimes end up having more decision weight than engineers, and manufacturers have to sell as many motorcycles as possible. More information, more attractive data or more attractive visualizations in the end translate into more units enrolled than its direct competition.

Thus, the dashboards continue to evolve and continue to expand their capabilities. Larger size, more resolution, more fluid interfaces, GPS navigation, information in abundance or the multiple regulations of the motorcycle electronics such as traction control, different driving modes, suspension regulation, ABS actuation level, engine brake , cruise control, display options …

Connectivity and digitization in the world of motorcycles

As deeper menus and more options are added, the controls also evolve . Before, motorcycle control knobs had just the right buttons for starting, lighting, flashing and little else. Now, as in the Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin, only 15 buttons are agglutinated on the left pineapple. It is not an isolated case, but it is an extreme one.

With so much control, an obvious learning process is required to know how each interface is used or what the hell each of the buttons is for. Keeping the same example, when the new Africa Twin and its complex dashboard were unveiled at the end of 2019, Honda launched a simulator on a specific website to learn how to operate it.

As an added curiosity, the Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin does not have one, but with two paintings of superimposed controls. The superior is the 6.5-inch color TFT screen that is also tactile. It can be displayed through the connection with the smartphone the GPS indications in full screen, which makes a second screen mandatory by legal imperative. In this case it is a monochromatic LCD with fair travel information. And arrivals at this point was only a matter of time, but the first models with Android Auto and Apple Carplay support have already been announced. If everything goes well, the Honda GL1800 Gold Wing, the flagship of the Japanese firm, will include total integration with both the robot’s smartphone and those of manzanita. It will not be the only one, because Harley-Davidson has also announced the implementation of Android Auto on its interfaces (they were already compatible with Apple Carplay).

From now on it is foreseeable that bikes remain immersed in this technological career, equating the importance of control panels and their interfaces to other innovations such as inertial measurement platforms or driving aid. We only hope that all these gadgets do not negatively influence driving, because distractions are never good and experimenting with control of a complex chart in motion is a huge distraction. In the not too distant future, it is more than likely that in the same way that happens in cars, the bikes end up receiving new communication systems between man and the machine. The use of intercoms and the miniaturization of the systems can open the door to voice controls so as not to have to move the hands of the handlebar or have to look at the control panel.

In the same way, many manufacturers (such as Shoei with IT-HT) are working on Head-Up Display systems to integrate them into the hull, either on the screen or on external devices. These new interfaces would allow us not to divert the look from the road, although they also suppose an added challenge by not having to interfere with the safety levels that are required to a helmet. We have also seen with the ARC vector experimentation for motor-pilot communication with the use of haptic garments to transmit information to the pilot through touch. In any case, the comparison between motorcycles and cars always orbit around the same problem: space. Whether on the motorcycle itself or on the equipment of the motorcycle, there is no space available to integrate new technologies. But every time it is smaller and everything can be implemented. In the background it is only a matter of time.

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