Bike design for the future
What the future holds...The design of motorcycles is defined by two things: fashion and technology. With these two things ever-changing, predicting accurately what will be seen on tomorrow’s roads is difficult, but we can identify some general trends that point the way to the future of two-wheel design.
Technology drives racing and vice-versa, so it’s not surprising that the current crop of aluminium chassis, upside-down forks, radial disc brakes and the like originate from racing. Checking out the World Superbike or MotoGP paddock reveals the sorts of things that could trickle through to road-going bikes. Honda alone has already put things like rear suspension, under-seat exhaust technology and an electronic steering damper from their Castrol-lubricated RCV211V MotoGP bike onto their road sportsbikes.
Technology is also currently being used to make motorcycle engines more efficient than ever before - looking after the environment is very much in the minds of manufacturers. For the last five to 10 years, fuel-injection has been used to accurately and efficiently give the engine the correct amount of fuel for any given throttle opening. Meanwhile all the major manufacturers now use some sort of air injection system, which introduces air as a way to complete the burning of exiting exhaust gases. Also, with miniaturisation comes the ability to put more and more sensors in the engine to measure just how well the engine is performing.
In the future more sensors will mean more information and therefore the ability to fine-tune combustion even further. This, allied to more efficient catalysers will see emissions decrease still further, until alternative forms of power are found. Maybe some sort of dual-power system could find its way onto bikes?
Honda has already developed a car powered by their Integrated Motor Assist engine. This is a petrol and electric motor, which effectively gives a 1400cc motor the performance of a 1600cc equivalent, with the fuel economy of an 1100cc car. What a similar system could do on a bike remains to be seen.
Fashion is of course a cyclical thing. What goes around comes around. So things we enjoyed looking at and wearing twenty years ago come back into fashion as we get older. That’s why the styling of some of the bikes we rode in the 1980s are making a comeback. Kawasaki’s ZRX1200 four-cylinder machine sells by the bucket-load - but only when it comes in the popular Kawasaki green race colours that were made famous by Eddie Lawson, who took two AMA Superbike titles on the original Z1100R in 1981 and 1982.
Meanwhile Suzuki has released details of a new concept bike which echoes its past. The Stratosphere is effectively a six-cylinder remake of the Suzuki Katana. The four-cylinder Katana was an instant classic when it was launched back in 1982. As different as the new machine is under the skin - and it boasts all the latest engine and chassis technology - there is a shared design theme between the original bike and the Stratosphere. Although details of any possible launch of the Stratosphere haven’t been released, you can see that it’s a case of history repeating itself, which we see again and again in motorcycling.
That’s not to say there aren’t any original bikes out there. Yamaha’s MT-01 and the 2006 Fazer 1000 are striking machines and a taste of things to come from Yamaha. The MT-01 is a case in point. Six years ago it was a concept bike, which was unveiled at a motorcycle show and now it’s in production.
There is - it seems - a general swing towards proof-of-concept machines that are seen at the big bike shows eventually hitting the streets years later. So, next time you’re at a bike show, or in a race paddock - look around. It’s a fair bet you’re looking at your future road bike…