Common Tread

Best tech of 2016

Nov 07, 2016

The distribution of tech geeks wandering the halls (OK, more accurately, riding scooters in the halls) of ZLA headquarters easily exceeds that of the general population, so we asked a few to pick out their favorite tech of 2016. Then we asked Lemmy, too. Here's what we got.

Anthony Bucci
Anthony "BoochZilla" Bucci
Co-founder and CEO

The best tech in 2016 was a tech downgrade. Dorna made all the teams in MotoGP use the same engine management software and it made MotoGP riveting again. Instead of a few factory teams dominating by spending gazillions on software that did everything except make the rider a cappuccino mid-race, we had a level playing field. After eight years of five factory riders winning everything, we had a record nine different winners. It's absolutely outstanding and it got me up early on Sunday mornings to watch it. That's my favorite tech of 2016 and it isn't a new innovation. Instead, MotoGP put a lid on the coding wars and surprised and delighted me as a fan wth great racing this year.

Sena 10U
Anthony demonstrates how the Sena 10U is seamlessly integrated into a Shoei Neotec helmet. RevZilla photo.

In terms of apparel and product, I like the companies that focus. Be one thing and dominate. One of those companies is Sena, which is not only making Bluetooth communication better, but is also making it more accessible by building on existing platforms. What am I talking about? Look at a product like the 10U. Sena is scanning the interiors of helmets and making products that fit them with seamless integration. On top of their other innovations, like built-in cameras, I think it's really exciting that Sena is making products specifically to fit the helmets. They're making the technology more accessible and more fun for motorcyclists.

Rev'IT SeeFlex armor
Rev'IT's SeeFlex armor is one of the new CE Level 2 options that provides quality protection at a lower price point. Rev'IT photo.
The other new technology that I like this year is the continued advancement in armor, and not just at the nosebleed price level. We are seeing CE Level 2 armor coming to products that cost $300 to $400 instead of just the $1,000 products. Products like Rev'IT's SeeFlex armor, Alpinestars' Bio armor, and Dainese's Pro-Armor are setting new standards for affordable protection and ventilation. New forms of temperature-stable armor coming on the heels of D3O mean more competition, lower prices, and more motorcyclists wearing CE Level 2 protection so they can ride safer in greater comfort.

Ryan Schultz
Ryan Schultz
TeamZilla Cameraman

My profession practically requires me to be a tech geek. I’m constantly on the hunt for toys — I mean tools — that will make my job easier and keep RevZilla Media ahead of the curve.

GoPro Hero5 Black
GoPro Hero5 Black. GoPro photo.
My top picks for best in tech of 2016 are the GoPro Hero5 Black and the Hero5 Session. After what seemed like a long while of letting the competition catch up, GoPro is finally back on top. The Hero5 Black features top-notch video quality, touch screen, voice control, one-touch power on and record design, and longer battery life (more than two hours, in my testing). It also has a wind reduction mode that I found works very nicely for motoring around, even at highway speeds. Not to mention it comes in at $399, $100 less than the Hero4 Black when it was released.

GoPro Hero5 Session
GoPro Hero5 Session. GoPro photo.
The Hero5 Session packs a punch too. If you watched my Hero4 Session review back in 2015, you might remember how impressed I was with the form factor, but not so much with video quality. The Hero5 Session now boasts image quality matching the Hero5 Black, but in that same compact form factor that makes it a dream for mounting to your helmet — or really anywhere, for that matter. I’ll have a full video review out by Thanksgiving covering both these cameras.

Regardless of the new features, I wonder how many people out there have purchased an action camera with the intention of making cool videos, but got fed up with all the work that comes after shooting the footage. With the Hero5 line, GoPro released Quik, an app that will essentially auto-edit a video to music for you based on the photos and videos you select. You still have some flexibility adjusting things like the general mood, clip order, and length, but it’s not nearly as overwhelming as starting a video edit from scratch. You can also share your creation straight to social media. One quick tip: If you download photos and video from your GoPro to your smartphone using GoPro’s Capture app, you won’t even have to transfer footage to your computer. Pretty nifty.

One of every cameraman’s top fears is running out of battery power during filming. On top of extra camera batteries, I always carry a portable charger with me for my phone, GoPros, GPS, hotspots, and the like. Enter the StarkPower JumpBox V6 Pro 400, another pick for best tech.

StarkPower JumpBox V6 Pro 400
StarkPower JumpBox V6 Pro 400. StarkPower photo.
Now let me say up front that I’ve been a fan of Antigravity’s portable chargers for years, but somehow StarkPower has managed to cram almost twice as much juice into their V6 Pro 400 compared to Antigravity’s similarly sized Micro Start Sport Power Supply. For a real-world application, that’s eight to 10 charges of your smartphone or 20 jump starts. They’re very close in price, too. What’s more, StarkPower’s Jumpbox V8 Pro 1000 more than doubles that capacity and gives you the ability to jump start your larger V8 vehicle. Whether you toss one in your saddlebag for a weekend camping trip or keep one in your car for emergency situations, a JumpBox is a must-have and rounds out my best in tech picks for 2016.

Harley Media Lead

Most people don't think of me as a tech wizard, but I do appreciate innovations that act as a bridge between rider input and mechanical execution. I also appreciate engineers who can use a little creativity to get around obstacles in the rule book and also solve real-world problems. That's why Suzuki wins my top award for tech this year!

MotoGP rules effectively ban variable valve timing by stating that you cannot change valve timing or lift through hydraulic or electric means. Suzuki examined the letter of that law, and found a chink in the rulebook’s armor — it mentions nothing of mechanical means of varying valve timing or lift. Using the same concept as your minibike’s centrifugal clutch, Suzuki is able to retard valve timing on the intake cam at higher rpm, yielding quite a bit of extra punch. A ramp-and-ball system sandwiched between plates allows the cam to be driven indirectly. Here's a short video from Suzuki that shows how it works.

Why is this my numero uno for tech this year? Two reasons. First, Suzuki solved a performance problem using high-tech engineering principles (variable cam timing) with a low-tech mechanical solution (go-kart clutch technology) that’s going to prove to be very robust — mark my words. The second reason (other than outsmarting the rulebook) is that due to the way this solution was implemented, aftermarket parts houses should be able to develop “tuneable” pieces. By altering the Belleville spring pressure, the “hit” of power should be customizable — smooth and unobtrusive or downright violent. Suzuki’s stock offering, though, should help solve the abruptness of other VVT systems (looking at you, Honda) when you’re pouring on the coal.

The best part is that Suzuki didn't just save this tech for their well paid MotoGP riders, either. They trickled it down to the 2017 GSX-R1000, so us grunts could enjoy it. Well done, ‘Zuk.

Zero Motorcycles app
Zero app. Zero Motorcycles photo.
My next favorite tech for 2016 is Zero’s Bluetooth app and connectivity. This is not really new for 2016, but I think it deserves a chance to shine, because no one has matched them. They’ve got a gorgeous cell phone app that works with either Apple or Android products, all wrapped up in a slick GUI. Battery and mileage stats are available, as is charging info. You want exact power consumption? You got it. You can also do what our resident Zero rider and Dev Rockstar Caleb does and use your phone as your dash, because the layout is that nice. One can view speed, odometer, tripmeter, and battery temp, just like a standard dash panel. And, for you smug shitheads riding around on a Zero, you can also calculate (in real-time, for the super-smug) how much you’ve saved over one of those plebeian internal combustion bikes.

Here’s where this setup is money: tune your bike, without buying a single damn thing. It’s electric! (Boogie-woogie-woogie!) Dial up more or less “engine braking.” Make your own custom map. Adjust acceleration or top speed. You can literally set up your bike to be crazy-fast, crazy-efficient, or any point in between. With this app and Waze, I’d be tickled to take a ride on a Zero product. (Stay tuned for an upcoming video piece on this machine!) If you are riding a gas-powered bike, ask yourself this: why is Zero giving riders this tool? Why the hell are the rest of us buying fuel tuners, huh?

Vance & Hines FuelPak FP3
Vance & Hines Fuelpak FP3 Autotuner. Vance & Hines photo.
For the rest of us who don't have a Zero, I'm giving an honorable mention to the Vance & Hines Fuelpak FP3 fuel controller. OK, so unlike Zero’s app, you gotta pay for this thing. But in 2016 we saw V&H update their smash-hit Bluetooth FP3 fuel controller to be backwards-compatible with Harley J1850 fuel injection systems, the forerunner to the current CANBus setup. What does that mean? It means this baby now covers nearly every Harley made in the past 10 years. Tune your bike with just a cell phone — leave your wrenches in the toolbox. Tasty.