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Common Tread

Video: Is technology ruining motorcycles?

Apr 20, 2019

RevZilla’s debaters at large tackle one of the great debates of modern motorcycling: What’s the right amount of technology in a motorcycle? 

Subquestion: What exactly are we calling technology? I think most people are talking about the high-tech stuff we see in bikes today when this debate comes up. You can easily argue that a wheel or a brake is technology, and I’m sure glad to have both those things on my bikes! No, the tech that typically gets controversial includes ABS, traction control, rider modes, displays packed with menus, wheelie control, and other rider aids. Yet these are also the same features manufacturers headline their new model releases with. What gives?

I wonder if the rapid increase in high-tech features on motorcycles has something to do with the state of other developments in motorcycling. Squeezing more performance out of frames, suspension, engines, and the like gets expensive, because they’re already pretty well developed. Manufacturers have had more than a century to improve the basic elements of a motorcycle. They’ll keep advancing, but I suspect your R&D dollar will go a lot farther on the digital front. After all, that realm is far newer to motorcycles than the basics.

What feels like a flood of advanced rider aids might just be the reality that manufacturers can make a bigger difference in new models by improving these relatively new tools, as opposed to nearly unnoticeable gains elsewhere. 

One thing tech does do is make motorcycles more expensive. Even the simplest add-on costs money, and not everyone wants to pay more for features they’ll just disable in actual use, anyway. Seems like there’s room in the market for stripped-down “Specials,” like showrooms once sold...

But does strapping new tech to a bike ruin really something? Maybe it’s a kind of purity of the ride that suffers. Lemmy mentions this in the video: “I know that riding some old junker that’s come out of my garage is a little different experience than when I saddle up on the latest and greatest thing that the manufacturers have provided for us to review.” I have a few junkers myself, and I have to agree. It’s just different to ride with electronic guardian angels and a whole host of features, and feelings towards that difference will vary from rider to rider. After all, there’s a reason some people seek out new bikes, and others prefer motorcycles from a simpler time. It’s just what they like.

Like these guys, I get to ride some of the latest modern motorcycles while running a few old heaps in my personal garage. And you know what? I like having a choice best of all. Technology might ruin motorcycling for some, but changing nothing would kill it for sure.

Listen to Highside / Lowside

The Highside / Lowside podcast returns for another episode. As usual, the podcast version of Lemmy, Spurgeon, and Joe's discussion offers an uncut listening experience for an even deeper discussion. Highside / Lowside is available via SpotifyApple iTunesStitcherLibSyn, and Google Play Music for those with accounts.