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A Fine Balance

Developing technology for the timid.

 Motorcycle manufacturers must be given credit for trying to keep us all just a little safer. While providing powerful, lighter, efficient and ultimately more enjoyable motorcycles, they have also kept a steady focus on developing technology that takes some of the risk out of riding: ABS, once a option, is now standard on many models. Traction control, riding modes, linked braking have all proven effective. Suspensions are far better than they were. Tire width, pattern and compound improvements have helped in keeping the rubber on the road. A Gold Wing with the most ubiquitous of auto safety features beyond the seatbelt, an airbag. Companies are working cooperatively to create technology that allows vehicles to communicate with each other to mitigate collisions by predicting speed, location and trajectory. There is a system that will automatically call emergency services if it senses a collision. If you can’t call, it will. Motorcycles may escape the human-error-free, self-driving future that many tell us is just around the corner. What are you going to do while your self-driving motorcycle carries you from Calgary to Edmonton? Read a book? That is not happening. 

The most recent developments in rider safety lean toward negating the fears some non-riders have that prevent them from embracing motorcycles as a lifestyle or transportation option. No, it is not the lack of a roof. BMW’s C1 scooter from 2001 was fitted with a roof but that didn’t pan out. The fear seems to be falling over either while moving or staying still. Getting a grip on this fear and minimizing it is one of the keys to gaining new riders. 

Enter the concepts. On Yamaha USA’s website there is notice of the Niken motorcycle’s availability in 2018 as a 2019 model, although there’s no specific date or a price. Niken is the culmination of a couple of Yamaha concept bikes that featured two almost full sized front wheels (15-inch) working in conjunction with two paired inverted forks to facilitate a leaning front end. 

The advantage of such an elaborate setup is to keep two front contact patches on the pavement through corners for better grip and to shorten braking distance as the front braking capacity has effectively doubled. A doubled up front end isn’t new. Yamaha already has a three-wheeled vehicle in the lineup in the Tricity scooter and Piaggio has a leaning trike in the long-standing MP3. 

However, the Niken takes the concept to a larger and sportier level with a full sized motorcycle powered by the inline triple that resides in the MT-09. The target market is unclear because the MT-09 can’t be considered an entry-level machine and the performance of the wide fronted bike will be substantial. Whatever it turns out to be, and whoever ultimately buys the Niken, it is an engineering marvel and one way or another the technology will wend its way to other Yamaha products as a two-wheeled leaning front end has been a bit of a grail in the motorsport community.

Honda is not to be outdone in the effort to keep the rubber side downwardly balanced. Their approach: the Riding Assist concepts. The first was an internal combustion model while the second, the Ride Assist-e, is an electric motorcycle. The idea behind these two concepts has the bike remaining upright and stable at very low speeds and even stationary with computer controlled adjustments to maintain balance. No falling over at STOP signs, which is where, along with parking lots, tip overs are most common. Again the technology may move to other models to allow feet-up stops and aid in low speed maneuvering. At the very least it will have a future in the slow races.

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