With big changes predicted for land transport, and the future of motorcycles somewhat uncertain, what are some likely changes in the design of motorcycles to cater for two-wheel travel demand? To help us investigate this we’ll take a brief survey of the electric motorcycle start-up industry to see what the future of motorcycles might look like.
One trend that’s not a maxim but rather an interesting observation is innovative designs, especially with respect to electric motorcycles, seems to be coming from smaller companies. Of course any size company can be innovative. It’s just that work undertaken on the margins of an industry is risky and maybe smaller companies are less risk adverse, or know where they can compete with a competitive advantage over the big players, or are more flexible and dynamic, responding to trends and pushing into uncertain territory. Who really knows. Currently some the most exciting electric motorcycle work is being undertaken by small companies.
Does anybody read the owners manual of their new vehicle, or for that matter, any new gadget? This year we see the introduction of a new generation Suzuki Jimny. The Jimny model LJ (Light Jeep) first appeared in the 1970s and it was designed as a recreation and work-site mini-car that delivered mid-20th century vehicle technology, with excellent off-road capabilities in a really small form factor. Although a lot has changed over the years as Suzuki have improved each generation, introducing new vehicle technology, safety features, etc, the essence of the Jimny has remained the same across all four generations.
One aspect of owning the original Jimny, and this was probably typical of this era of vehicle, was the requirement for a hands-on, entry-level mechanical relationship with the LJ. Suzuki expected the owner to understand the basic components and abilities of their vehicle, roll-up their sleeves and sometimes, if problems occurred, work to resolve them. For evidence of this, just read the Suzuki LJ50 1975 Owners Manual.
A few commentators have postulated driverless (autonomous) cars will soon make motorcycles obsolete. It’s easy to make this claim, and with some justification. However it's difficult to conclude,
at this stage in early 2019, the death of motorcycling. One clear conclusion, nevertheless, is that development of new transport technology will likely have profound impacts across society, and
not just for motorcyclists.
From the perspective of motorcycle travel, it is interesting to speculate whether a future of driverless vehicles results in a transport system incompatible with the designs and models of motorcycles we use today. This would require an outcome where autonomous vehicles disruptive land transport to such a degree most current forms of transport will not survive. Predicting the outcome of rapid technology change is difficult. The only real certainty is change. In the following article we'll look at a few possible outcomes.
It looks like there’s a bright future for personal individual electric vehicles. A good example of this type of vehicle is the simple electric scooter. Future models could expand on this concept, adding additional utility like long distance commuter range, through to more complex semi-autonomous three or four-wheel vehicles or possibly even fully-autonomous by design.
At this stage it’s difficult to know how far and fast this vehicle category will evolve, although it’s probably fair to conclude its vehicles will be electric powered. Some interesting questions for this transport category include how these vehicles will be used, what type of technology will become most popular, and how adoption of these vehicles will change travel patterns and land use. In this article we’ll look at the first question. To help answer this question we'll consider what current motorcycle travel patterns tell us about the future of personal individual electric vehicles?
In July, Suzuki introduced their new fourth generation Jimny mini/compact car. This little 4WD has quite a lineage, going all the way back to 1970 when the original Jimny made its first appearance. Almost too small to be considered a real car, the little yellow Jimny featured a three-door Jeep style body on a ladder frame with a hi/low transfer case and rigid axle suspension making it a highly capable off-road machine, and powered by a rather fun and small air-cooled 2-stroke engine. Designed for work-sites and recreational off-road duties, over the years Suzuki have updated this little car, improving its on and off-road capabilities but one thing has remained constant, and that’s its diminutive size. In a world of super-size everything, with big SUVs all over our streets and large 4WDs dominating the off-road market, it's great to have a small, compact 4WD still on the market, although sadly it's not currently available in the US.
In the near future, when on-demand autonomous electric vehicles (EV) are the norm, and very few people own a car, what role will there be for motorcycles?
One can argue within 10 years, autonomous EV service based transport will likely be common place. The current vehicle ownership model is likely to move from most households owning at least one vehicle to most not owning any vehicles and using a short term, on-demand rental service, in the form of a transaction for a taxi-style ride; in essence, a trip based service you have access to via an app on your smartphone or whatever device rules our mobile future. Remember Apple introduced their mobile smartphone just over 10 years ago. Technology can drive change at a rapid pace.
Motorcyclists are sometimes seen as individualists, choosing an unpopular and minority means of transport to commute to and from work or school. Surely a better alternative is to travel in a
modern car, bus, or even a train like most commuters, with all-weather protection, the full array of crash safety features and superior comfort afforded by over one hundred years of automotive
If we make the assumption that for each motorcyclist their choice of transport mode results in a net-benefit for them, then the next question, from a public policy perspective, turns to how does motorcycling contribute to the wider transport community. This is an important public policy question because the motorcycle is a minority mode of transport with proven user benefits, but disproportionately large private and public costs from road accidents. However, to treat motorcycling as a single issue, road safety problem is clearly an inadequate policy position. Let's see why.
In high income Western countries, limited policy development has defined motorcycles as a road safety problem with minor road user benefits. The overriding narrative is motorcycles are unsafe;
regulate for this safety risk.
It seems that motorcycles are the invisible mode in transport policy. Their use is too small to have a serious impact on the big transport issues of traffic congestion, vehicle emissions, accessibility, land use integration and the like. If it wasn’t for a bad road safety record and the resulting trauma, motorcycles and their riders would, it seems, not be included in transport policy.
To explore this idea, as a case study, let's look at how a modern transport strategy deals with motorcycling in a large Western city.
Riding is an acquired skill, no one just gets on a bike and automatically rides with skill. Often you hear statements like some people are naturally gifted, they learn a skill faster than most. Or, the more you practice the better you’ll get, as your skill level will improve through repetition. Often skill is connected with instruction, as you learn a new skill through lessons or tutoring.
But what do we really mean by gaining a new skill?
And how can a better understanding of skill acquisition improve our riding?
The overland motorcycle route from the UK to Cape Town, South Africa was made famous by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman in their 2007 “Long Way Down” trip. With modern, large capacity BMW touring motorcycles, backup vehicles and all the communication, navigation and camping technology money can buy, the two friends made a popular TV series documentary of their overland adventure.
It’s worth watching.
However, motorcyclists have been travelling this way for years and perhaps one of the more arduous journeys was undertaken by motorcycle pioneer Theresa Wallach, and her friend Florence Blenkiron, in 1935.