Moving forward on two wheels: Our 2018 motorcycle technology roundup
The last 12 months have been pretty fascinating in the world of motorcycles, so we've gone through the archives to bring you the best new technologies, riding gear, interviews, customs and electric motorcycles of 2018.
We'll follow up in the next few days with our assessment of the more mainstream production bike market, but here's the stories that got us thinking this year.
Leaving aside the biggest technological revolution that's underway – electrification – 2018 was a bumper year for weird tech ideas trickling their way into the motorcycle world.
In April, we looked at BMW's experiments in additive manufacturing, with a 3D printed motorcycle frame whose skeletal shape suggested it was evolved through a generative design process.
In May, Bosch got really blue-sky with its rider assist technology ideas, proposing a set of side thruster rockets that a bike could use to push itself back into line as a lowside scenario is developing. Extraordinary.
By June, we were seeing MV Agusta taking a centrifugal Rekluse clutch, the kind you frequently see on dirt bikes, and adding it to a touring bike, thus giving riders the ability to zip around town without ever using the clutch, but retaining the full clutch capability should you want to use it. The bike in question, the Turismo Veloce Lusso SCS, seems to us a much more rider-friendly approach to getting rid of the clutch than the dual-clutch auto systems Honda has gone with, for example.
KTM released video around the same time of a 1290 Super Adventure S that was fitted with an adaptive cruise control system and blind spot warnings. While it hasn't hit the market yet, it's one of those bits of car technology that was always going to come to the motorcycle world – it's just a matter of when.
Speaking of car technology, autonomous cars are one of the most difficult and demanding technologies humans have ever tried to build. Motorcycles, too, are learning to ride themselves. And while last year's Yamaha Motobot had a cute little robot rider on board, this year's riderless BMW R1200GS was a ghostly apparition as it quietly zipped around a test track.
Ural, for its part, showed considerable spunk for a company peddling sidecars based on ancient WW2 technology. Not only did it release an electric concept, the company also designed and produced a limited edition sidecar outfit totally dedicated to drone pilots, for the seven people worldwide that share both those interests. It came with its own drone. And a wind sock. A wind sock! Marvelous.
Last but far from least, there's the Comanche. A recumbent trike powered by a range of different motor options and capable of hitting 70 mph (112 kmh), it packs in a couple of rear boxes and some outrigger wheels to stop you falling over when you come to a stop. Oh, and a pretty wild off-road independent suspension system. One of the wackiest bikes of the year for sure.
We don't cover a whole lot of riding gear here at New Atlas, as we're not a motorcycle specific publication. But when fun, innovative things catch our eye, we're happy to take a look. Here's some of the gear and accessories we found worthy of a closer look this year.
The Feher ACH-1 is an air-conditioned helmet invented by the fella that came up with air conditioned seats for luxury cars. It looks really nicely done, keeps your head 10-15 degrees cooler than the outside world, and never fogs up. It's also impressively light.
On the other end of the scale, but tackling the same task, is the US$29 BluSnap, a chunky little box that straps onto your helmet like a set of motocross goggles, and pumps cooled air into the chin vent. It looks absolutely ridiculous, but then not every day is hot enough for an air-con helmet, and at that price, if it works well, we can see them being a handy thing to keep in the cupboard.
One crowdfunding campaign we're particularly interested in is the ALLight, which is a simple replacement for your motorcycle headlight globe that turns it into a gimbal-stabilized, auto-levelling projector beam. Effectively, it should look around corners as well as the self-levelling lights on the BMW K1600GT, making night riding easier and a lot safer thanks to extra visibility.
Gear of the Year, though, goes to a helmet that has rocked our world ever since it rolled up on the doorstep. AGV's SportModular is the sportiest modular helmet on the market, and the most modular sporty helmet on the market. This full-carbon flip face is a featherweight piece of luxury that feels like a privilege to put on each morning. It has stolen my heart.
One of the biggest perks of this gig is the access we can get to some truly fascinating people. Here's three characters we hope you didn't miss this year!
Eva Håkansson is an obsessive electric vehicle promoter and a land-speed record holder that hates going fast. She's married to the wild man engineer that made the Killacycle electric drag bike - Bill Dubé - and working her way towards an attempt at breaking the overall motorcycle land speed record of 376 mph (605 kmh). Our conversation was frank, fiery and a heck of a lot of fun.
"Electric Terry" Hershner is another larger-than-life friend of New Atlas, based on the West Coast of the United States. He has been on board the electric revolution for decades, and has made long distances his specialty. He was the first to complete the grueling coast-to-coast trip across the USA on an electric motorcycle – a heck of a story in – as well as the first to do an electric Ironbutt (1000 miles in 24 hours). In more recent times, he's been forced to slow down a touch, since he now travels with a gigantic and extremely active Husky cross on his tank – called Charger, of course!
And finally, we had the chance to hang out with Indian Motorcycle's head designer Rich Christoph, who designed last year's "hottie of the year" – the FTR1200 Custom – as well as its road-legal production model the FTR1200. Rich is a man living his absolute dream life, and was a pleasure to speak to.
This year, we had the good fortune to get to Intermot in Cologne, where the AMC world custom championships were held, featuring some absolutely wild and highly creative custom builds. Don't miss our full coverage of the AMC World Championships – there's some great stuff in there. But here are a few other customs that tickled us in 2018.
Top of the list has to go to the TMC Dumont. I mean, just look at this thing. Its two giant 36-inch hubless rims bookend a bike built around a 300-horsepower Rolls-Royce aircraft engine. Seriously wild.
Next up, we've gotta give some serious props to Royal Enfield for its Concept KX bobber. Not because it's a particularly wild custom, but because it's a beautiful v-twin design that the company should definitely put into production.
Then, there was Poland's Watkins M001, which we described back in March as an "epic engineering curiosity." Laser cut from sheet steel and featuring a BMW boxer motor and a hub-center steering arrangement, the M001 is a terrific piece of backyard engineering.
And finally, the BMW "Chicken Bike." From the twisted mind of a German designer known as "Blechmann" (tin man) comes this warped, post-apocalyptic extrapolation of BMW's well-known design tropes: chunky shutlines, bold angles, asymmetry, modularity. It becomes more infuriating to look at the closer you get, and gives us a vision of what BMW bike design might look like on some really good acid.
Battery tech still isn't there yet, folks. Everyone seems convinced the revolutionary breakthroughs we've all been waiting for are just around the corner, but they're not here yet. So electric performance motorcycles are still eye-bleedingly expensive and out of reach of a market that feels like it'd be ready to get on board if the numbers made sense.
That doesn't mean people aren't pushing things forward in preparation, though. This year saw a number of fascinating prototypes and small production runs at the premium end, and a few genuinely exciting bits and pieces of affordable electric gear that won't break the bank. Here's our picks:
The Sarolea Manx 7 is stupidly expensive, but this 150-mph beauty has some fascinating ideas behind it, like chain adjustment by moving the motor, instead of having to alter your wheelbase. And that frees up some interesting space on the bike.
The Arc Vector surfaced at EICMA in November, and instantly became one of the most ambitious technology projects in the electric space, with its connected HUD helmet and haptic feedback jacket working in concert with sensors all over the bike to deliver an extra sensory dimension to your ride.
Harley-Davidson is gearing up for the fight of its life, as management try desperately to rejuvenate the brand to appeal to younger buyers and combat a fast-aging demographic curve. And the company is swinging for the fences with bikes like the production LiveWire, on sale next year, which looks terrific and should be the first really cool electric streetbike any of the major brands have put out. Harley's distribution network and customer experience are second to none, so this could be a very important bike for the electric revolution.
A Finnish team called RMK has been working away on a really nice looking project that's a lot further along than it looks in the renders. The RMK E2 uses a very cool hubless rear wheel drive system, and we'll be hearing more about it in the coming months.
26-year-old Australian engineer and MBA Dennis Savic is one driven young man, and he made a surprise unveiling at the Melbourne Motorcycle Expo: the Savic Alpha, an 80-horsepower, early stage electric prototype he's working to bring to the market at some fairly impressive prices. Another young brand we're hoping to hear a lot more from in the new year.
When it comes to affordable electric motorcycles, one brand really set the world alight in 2018 – although it wasn't the motorcycle world, it was the eBike world. But the Sur-Ron Light Bee is a motorcycle, there's no mistaking it. A featherweight dirt machine with a 6-kilowatt (8-hp) motor that packs enough torque to ride alongside 100cc ICE bikes. At US$3,475 (and cheaper if you go straight from China), it's a very affordable toy and has caused quite a stir among off-road eBikers.
And we've saved the cheapest for last. The City Slicker is basically a battery-powered Chinese Grom of a thing, custom tailored to knock off short commutes in style with a bit of fun thrown in. And for US$1,995, it's definitely priced to compete with the scooter market –mind you, prices may have changed since the US-China tariff war got underway.
Now, of course, there's also a bunch of significant production bikes actually in showrooms you can buy, and we'll return in the next few days with our 2018 Motorcycles of the Year to run through what happened where the rubber meets the road. Stay tuned!