This weekend at MotoGP’s Red Bull US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, I stopped by the Motus ten to give Lee Conn and Brian Case some grief, and to see how the production-ready Motus MST was looking. The bikes looked similar to their prototype form from two year’s ago, with obviously more fit-and-finish in the overall design. One of the big changes I noticed though was that Motus has dropped the industry standard analog tach and LCD speedo for an all-glass cockpit design.
Electronics are to take a further step in the world of motorcycle racing this season. In addition to being abundant throughout engine and chassis, Moto2 and Moto3 official tire supplier Dunlop is to introduce them into the tires. In an official press release issued today, Dunlop announced that they will be using RFID chips in the spec-tires used in Moto2 and Moto3, to keep precise track of the tires used in both classes.
For the moment, the technology will be used solely to track tire usage in Moto2 and Moto3. Tiny RFID chips will be built into the official Dunlop tires during the manufacturing process, each programmed with a unique identifying code.
Sensors in pit lane (shown in the photo here on the Dunlop website) will monitor when each tire leaves pit lane, and when they return. Using the database which maps which tires have been allocated to which riders, Dunlop can keep precise track of which tires have been used when, and for how long.
Many of the electric vehicle blogs that I follow are all buzzing right now over the idea of supercapacitors — well, more accurately, graphene-based supercapacitors, which could potentially solve a few of the issues that EV’s currently face with market adoption.
What’s the big deal? Well with batteries, one can store a great deal of energy in the cells, but the rate of discharge (and the rate of charging) is relatively limited. Capacitors on the other hand have the inverse problem, quick to charge and discharge, the amount of energy that they can hold however, is relatively small.
In theory, supercapacitors have the best qualities of both batteries and capacitors, featuring both high-energy capacities and quick discharge/recharge rates, and in this realm graphene is showing to have very promising results.
Basically a molecule-thin sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a lattice, until recently producing graphene has been a very laborious undertaking, and one that did not scale well for mass production. However, some clever scientists at UCLA have come up with a relatively cheap and easy way to produce graphene sheets, and the technology bodes well for making supercapacitors a more practical solution for electric vehicles.
Allowing vehicles to rapidly charge (as in within a few minutes, instead of hours), supercapacitors solve the great recharge-time issue with EV’s, and would potentially be on par with gasoline vehicles, if not quicker in this regard.
The down side is that graphene supercapacitors are currently about half as energy-dense as the current crop of lithium-ion batteries, which makes them physically cumbersome in applications like on a motorcycle.
If you have ridden motorcycles for any extended period of time, you likely have had a “moment” with an automobile — it happens to every rider. Motorcycles have a small visual profile when viewed from the front and rear, and we move around in our lanes, favoring the sides or the middle, depending on the road and traffic conditions. We change velocities with ease, accelerate much quicker than a car, and in a predominantly four-wheeled society, drivers are conditioned to look for an automobile in their mirrors, not a motorcycle.
I can barely go a week without hearing a story from a fellow motorcyclist about how he or she was cut-off by some “cager” that was either not paying attention, or worse, intentionally out to injure them. The truth is, there is no great car conspiracy to run motorcycles off the road, though some drivers do let their road rage get ahead of them, not realizing that a car is two-ton rolling weapon. A great component to being a seasoned motorcyclist is riding defensively, which includes understanding that lawful riding doesn’t always mean prudent riding.
A large portion of my “near misses” I saw before they even happened. A driver on a phone, a car hugging one side of the line, a gap forming in a lane during traffic, all these things are enticements to a driver to change lanes rapidly and without caution. These conditions should also be signals to a rider to be weary of the four-wheeled vehicle near them, as the burden is on us as motorcyclists to ensure our own safety on the road — we are silly to place that burden on someone else, especially someone within the relative safety an automobile provides.
When I hear these near-miss stories, what I rarely hear are the events that happened 30 seconds before the incident. Did the motorcyclist change lanes? How long had they been behind / next to / in front of the car in question? Did they see the driver in his or her mirror? If so, what were they doing? Sure, when they came over into your lane, nearly running you off the road, they were legally at fault, but you were in the wrong to think they wouldn’t do such an act.
Motorcycles conform to traffic patterns that are different from those used by automobiles. It is entirely possible for an attentive driver to check for a clear lane, and within the time it takes to signal and move lanes, a previously unseen motorcycle can take that space. All the “Look Twice” campaigns in the world cannot overcome the reality that if a motorcyclist puts him or herself in a rightful, but dangerous position, a bad outcome can still occur. But what if cars and motorcycles talked to each other?
For the past few weeks or so, I have been conversing back-and-forth with my cousin-in-law about 3D printing. Apparently, some sort of hobbyist 3D printing shop has opened in his home town of Pasadena, and my geekier-than-me relative has been chomping at the bit to see what the consumer-level 3D printers can build.
Since my special brand of geekiness has already assured that the bloodline stops at my branch of the family tree, you can imagine the uber-nerd fest we both have been having, trading links on Facebook about the different things that rapid-prototype machines and 3D printers can achieve.
For those who are not familiar with the technology, the name really does give away about 90% of the special sauce. Using a plastic in lieu of ink, 3D printer can actually build three-dimensional objects in a process not that dissimilar to your home ink jet printer (Jay Leno has been using 3D printing to replace impossible-to-find parts for his classic car collection).
The more robust and industrial units use lasers to shape and heat the plastic ink, and are able to achieve a high-degree of object resolution. We can think of more than a few electric motorcycle startups that are currently using this rapid-prototyping process to develop their street and race bikes. It’s very fascinating, but also very expensive stuff.
This is where the consumer side of the equation comes in, as the post-industrial form of 3D printing has not only rapidly increased in its ability to flawlessly create a high-resolution object, but the cost of both the 3D printer and its “ink” have dramatically dropped. Hobbyist models are now in the $400-$2,000 range, and could soon be as ubiquitous as the printer sitting next to the computer you are using to read this article.
As the price-point drops and resolution increases further, the consumer end of this technology could rival the industrial side of 3D printing, and that is where things get real interesting for the motorcycle industry, and manufacturing in general.
The day may have come sooner than we expected, but the day of commuters being scooted around by self-driving cars is rapidly approaching us. Clocking 300,000 self-driven accident-free miles, Google’s fleet of autonomous vehicles are set to reach another milestone, as the technology company is about to give the go-ahead for employees to use the cars for commuting.
Traditionally driven with one person behind the wheel, and another in the passenger seat (presumably watching a screen of diagnostics), Google says that the results from its tests and track record have shown the two-rider system to be unnecessary, and will thus allow solitary trips in the self-driving vehicles. The idea of course behind the system is that a person becomes a passive driver, able to “be more productive” while in the vehicle, i.e. watching YouTube kitten videos.
While the dozen or so self-driving Google cars are unlikely to make a huge impact (no pun intended) on our local commutes here in the San Francisco Bay Area, it is a signaling of the changing times in our transportation system. For motorcyclists, this news should come as a mixed bag.
Despite the fact that the business side of motorcycling is run by a small close-nit group of curmudgeons, Neanderthals, and Luddites, the world outside of motorcycling continues to press on without us.
And while various parts of the motorcycle industry are busy trying to figure out how to adapt to this whole new “internet” technology fad thing (it has only been commercialized for over two decades now guys), the same group of people are busy trying to maintain the same business models and practices that came from the post-World War II economy.
In other words, when it comes to technology and the motorcycle industry, we are all pretty much fucked.
There’s something happening on the electric side of the motorcycle industry, but no one is talking publicly about it. It’s a fragile idea, and it feels like even mentioning it could jeopardize its very existence. Because of this, I’ve wrestled with putting words down to discuss the topic, not wanting to be the person to spoil the whole thing.
However, lately so many influential people involved with electric motorcycles have independently brought up the subject with me that this discussion is not only becoming unavoidable, but perhaps airing the idea out in public will facilitate some sort of greater dialogue between the different parties. The concept that I’m referring to is of course consolidation.
British transmission gurus Xtrac is better known for its history in Group A rally racing, and more recently for its work with the Lotus, Virgin, and HRT Forumla 1 teams (resume clients also include teams from IndyCar, Touring Car, Rally, GRAND-AM, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans); but with its latest announcement, Xtrac could add a new bullet point to its laundry list of achievements.
Recently pulling out of stealth mode its newest piece of gearbox madness: the Instantaneous Gearchange System (IGS), Xtrac’s race-bred driveline technology promises to be a lighter, cheaper, and less complex alternative to dual-clutch transmissions (DCT), which have popped up on the Honda VFR1200F & Honda Crosstourer Concept, and is rumored to hit the Honda CBR1000RR and Yamaha R1 in the coming models years. The key to IGS resides in the fact that the gearbox can simultaneously select and engage two gears at the same time, while employing only one set of drive gears, thus resulting in gear changes that have zero power loss to the wheels.
When is a motorcycle more than a bike? When does the electric motorcycle become more than a powertrain? One of the largest hurdles that electric motorcycles face (along with electric vehicles as a whole) is the public notion that these vehicles are like their internal combustion counterparts, and therefore fit into the same preconceived anatomy of what a motorcycle should look and behave like.
However, with electric motorcycles comes the opportunity to start with a fresh slate on how we move about on two-wheels. If form follows function, then with this new function should come a new form. Yet, I still find it amusing when I see electric motorcycles with fabricated fairing fuel tanks. Granted there is a lot to be said about industrial design and its relation to psychology, but I think this fact illustrates the unfluctuating desire of motorcyclists to make every square bike fit through a round-hole.
Despite this allegory, the motorcycle industry sees electric motorcycle startups challenging a lot of norms that we still cling to desperately in the motorcycle industry. Our final stop in the “Tradition Is Not A Business Model” tour of motorcycle startups, takes us to San Francisco, California and the offices of Mission Motors. Fresh on the heels of Mission’s announcement of the Neimen Marcus Limited Edition Mission One, I got a chance to sit down with company CEO/Founder Forrest North and Product Manager Jeremy Cleland, to talk about how technology changes the way we understand and use motorcycles; and perhaps more important, how manufacturers can design and build better motorcycles better in the future.