Date:1 August 2017
City-living and less fuel is the future of transportation, and the modern motorcycle needs to evolve.
By Michael C. Wilson
Transportation isn’t a simple gas up and go, point A to point B equation anymore. Now cars drive themselves, travel for hundreds of kilometres without gas, and soon won’t have a steering wheel at all. And though the future of transportation is currently obsessed with humanity’s conveyance of choice—the automobile—motorcycles and scooters will play a big role as cities grow denser and green living transitions from a fringe lifestyle to federal law.
To catch a glimpse of this future of the modern motorcycle, Bosch flew me out to the green hills of the German countryside. Here I visit its Mobility Solutions Proving Grounds in Boxberg. Although you’ve never ridden a Bosch-branded motorcycle, it’s more than likely that you’ve seen a bike being secretly powered by Bosch.
But despite its century-long history, motorcycles have lots of room to grow. Nearly 3,000 people die in motorcycle accidents every day. Riders are 18 per cent more vulnerable to accidents than drivers. And nine out of ten motorcycle accidents are due to human error. Bosch is trying to shrink those numbers. They hope to achieve it through technology that could find its way into millions of future bikes.
Here’s how they’re going to do it.
The best rider is a safe rider
Motorcycles, by design, leave their rider exposed to accidents due to the physics of where the rubber meets the road. So how can technology improve what seems like an inherent flaw? Try making the bike smarter, starting with an anti-lock braking system.
One of the first things any new rider learns is not to use the brakes in a corner because it reduces traction and can result in a low-side crash. It’s not a good situation, and it can be a fatal one. It leads to the majority of motorcycle accidents every year.
But Bosch is trying to make this fatal tendency a thing of the past. With advanced monitoring units, they can compute lean angle, speed, and position, so if you need to hit the brakes when Bambi darts out into the road, you’ll maintain traction, and most importantly, not die. “If you look at the technology that has been used in cars over the last 20 years, you can see a definite trend of fatalities decreasing over time,” Bosch’s Tony Szczotka told Popular Mechanics. “That trend isn’t the same for motorcycles because the technology has only now started to show up.”
All about control
When Bosch applies this same ABS technology sans curve, it triggers what the engineers lovingly call the rear wheel lift mitigation system, basically a very German way of saying a “stoppie” stopper. You’ve likely seen this pro level motorcycle trick before, a rider lifts the back wheel off the ground while coming to a slow rolling stop—Bosch’s tech eliminates this completely.
I watched former AMA Superbike racer Mark Miller try to peel his back wheel off the pavement on an Aprilla Tuono, but it just didn’t happen. The bike wouldn’t let him.
These same stability control sensors also serve a helpful function when a rider is stopped on hill. Heavier bikes can be hard to keep from rolling on steep inclines when adjusting something on your helmet or jacket. The Hill Hold Control will active when the Initial Measurement Unit receives a longitudinal signal greater than 10 per cent, the gear position isn’t in neutral, and the engine is running. Ranging from 5-9 seconds, this control offers just enough time to fiddle with whatever you’re doing and get back to riding.
Modern motorcycle connected… to everything
Just like how self-driving cars will need to speak to other cars and the surrounding infrastructure, so too will motorcycles. Bosch’s onboard system transmits a signal ten times per second up to several hundred meters, farther than most cars’ relatively limited 50 meters. Using the same system, they send out information on riders’ speed, direction, and position to alert drivers to passing motorcyclists. For the distracted driver, this could be the difference between creeping into a lane where a bike is making a high-speed pass or safely allowing the bike to pass by.
While this helps make sure that bikes remain small blips on a smart car’s radar, what about the ever-changing dangers of the road itself—that’s where Connected Horizon comes in. This system basically reads the road and alerts the rider to traffic, potholes, construction, obstacles, or if you’re approaching a curve too fast. Although a rider would need a helmet that plugs into this system, the concept is impressive, though somewhat superfluous and needlessly distracting. Constantly changing roads and the traffic chokepoints are more than enough to prioritise a biker’s attention, let alone an array of flashing displays and audio information.
But what to do about the inevitable distracted biker too busy fiddling with a smartphone? In order to keep our beloved devices in our pockets, Bosch created the Integrated Connectivity Cluster which can sync apps on the bike’s screen—all controlled with buttons near your left thumb. The screen is bright, big, clear, so you keep your eyes on the road.
But really it’s the thumb controls that’s the secret work of genius here. With this cluster, riders can keep their hands on the bars when accepting a call, turning up the volume, or changing maps. Other companies like Fusar are currently selling similar technology to be installed on any existing bike, but Bosch is positioning it as an add-on when you purchase a new motorcycle through a big motorcycle maker.
More kilometres, less fuel
Of course in an increasingly warming world, bikes also need to grow with the times. This means getting more from less. In order to hit stricter EU emissions goals, Bosch is making changes in engine management systems (EMS) to maximize efficiency. An example is the adjustment of the angle of their fuel injection system to minimize the emissions from cold start.
It seems like such a simple idea. But with the EU’s plant for new emissions standards in 2020, every modification is going be necessary to stay legal. Luckily, Bosch’s system will give you onboard analytics. It also adjusts fuel efficiency to reduce consumption by up to 16 per cent.
But a fuel-free world also means that scooters, immensely popular in Europe, are getting major upgrades as well. The Govecs and NIU scooters we tested in Boxberg can go about 100 kilometres on a single charge. Although that’s a fraction of the range compared to a Chevy Bolt or Tesla Model 3, it’s still pretty good if you’re packed in a big city where population numbers are only growing.
A new way of life
“It is not about going hundreds of miles a day or replacing someone’s car,” Harald Kröger, president of automotive electronics at Bosch, told Popular Mechanics. “It’s more about having this as an alternative. Riding a scooter in a city is a different way of life.”
The secret to green energy success is creating efficient, inexpensive, and easy-to-charge scooters. Coup, a Bosch subsidiary, is a scooter-sharing service in Europe that operates much like the bike-sharing companies you see in the U.S.
Renting Gogoro scooters, users swap removable battery packs at kiosks throughout the city. Doing this tackling the biggest problems with modern electric transportation like distance limits and recharge times. First launched in Berlin last year, the company announced in May that it’s now expanding to Paris as well.
The future of two wheels
But whether it’s a modern motorcycle or scooter, all this technology is impressive but raises some questions. If you have these safety systems, does it remove the human instinct? Well, yes and no. You can still be taught to ride properly and not brake in a corner or let go of the brake on a steep hill. But the tech exists as a safety net that can save your life. “We don’t promote [this tech] as a way to push the limit of physics,” Szczotka says. “It’s meant to be there as a backup to prevent a potential accident.”
With Bosch and other motorcycle tech companies working out the finer details of our two-wheeled future, the primary goals seem clear—save something, whether it’s a biker, driver, pedestrian, or the planet.
That seems like a goal worth driving toward.
Images credit: Bosch
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.