It’s the motorcycle of the future – so safe, riders won’t need helmets or leather jackets, and so clever, it stands upright and decides how far to lean on its own. BMW calls it the Vision Next 100, but many features of the concept bike that glided onto the stage here are just around the corner, almost ready for production.
(BMW also calls the project “The Great Escape,” which is the name of the Second World War movie in which Steve McQueen steals a BMW bike from the German army and tries, without success, to leap the fence to safety in Switzerland. Oh, the irony.)
This is the fourth and final concept machine from the German maker, which is marking its centenary this year and has already shown a futuristic car, a Mini, and a Rolls-Royce. Although it’s termed the Next 100, it is really a glimpse into a possible future about 30 years from now.
The bike is supposedly powered by a zero-emissions engine and is connected to everything around it. It knows where other vehicles are, and it knows, from the information those vehicles provide to the Cloud, what they’re about to do. There’ll be no more collisions in BMW’s future.
There’ll also be no more poor decisions by the rider, because the bike will assess its traction on the road and the amount of lean needed for the next few corners, and will protect the rider from being overzealous. So, no helmet or protective clothing is needed, except for a stylish visor for the eyes; the visor will have all information needed by the rider displayed on its inside surface, activated by eye movement.
Is this a realistic goal, or just pie in the sky? BMW’s head motorcycle designer says much of the technology is just around the corner.
“This connectivity thing – this could be pretty soon,” says Edgar Heinrich. “We have it in cars. It’s technology which is out there.
“There’s also the use of carbon fibre in bikes, which really can replace other materials. That’s big for weight, of course, and for carbon emissions (in its creation) and for packaging. We’re talking about having vehicle components made of carbon fibre, like brakes or like wheels. You can buy wheels now.”
The materials in the Vision bike go a step further though, because the frame will bend as needed around corners – one hopes with more predictability than the unfortunately flexible steel frame of the mid-1970s Kawasaki H2.
The gyroscopic balancers that help control the bike’s lean are also already available, to an extent, in Segways and even the Toyota iRoad three-wheeler. And the heads-up display in the goggles is, in theory, nothing new. Google Glass had it a couple of years ago.
“You have these head-up displays already in cars. The technology is already here, it just has to be guided,” says Heinrich. “The basic idea was we wanted to remove all this user-interface. It’s of no use to look at the gauges – you want to look at the road, or the environment.
“The idea was it should be more like horse riding: You want to really be free and not be controlled by these things – it should be the other way around. I want to control it. If there’s a risky situation coming up, the bike knows it and if I don’t react in time, the bike will sort itself out.”
Heinrich envisions a scenario in the not-too-distant future where a driver’s licence may not even be necessary. The bike will assess your riding ability before stepping in to save the day, and as the rider’s abilities improve, it will unlock greater power and response.
The engine is the great unknown, except it will not be internal combustion. Its boxer shape is a tip of the designer pencil to BMW’s iconic engine, and it will expand outward in use. Yes, expand.
“Whatever is in there, it might require some cooling … but the thing that is behind it is the mechanics,” says Heinrich, who owns 16 motorcycles and loves to tinker with them. “In a world where everything is artificial intelligence and virtual reality, you want to be grateful for mechanical engineering. And this thing is a symbol for mechanics. It’s just mega-cool to have these moving, sliding things, and it’s metal, and it’s like 100 per cent analogue mechanics.
“In an environment where everything is so fast-changing, what is still true? You need something to cling to, and some of these very iconic things must always be there. And this is much more important for the motorcycles than for cars.”
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
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