Is technology helping us in our quest for the ultimate motorcycle experience? In this post I talk about technology as a helper and a problem, and try to differentiate the two.
This is part three of seven in a series of blog posts on motorcycles and technology. The first part can be found here.
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For me, this is perhaps the most important thing to consider when customising my motorcycle. I don’t want tech for tech’s sake. I have often stated that “technology is stuff that doesn’t work – yet”, and in that sense I don’t want technology on my bike. I want tech there when it stops being technology and becomes a useful thing. I want technology to be transparent.
For me, ABS (at least on the road) is transparent. I don’t think about it, and when it interferes with my braking I experience it as part of my braking system rather than the quite advanced technology that it actually is. It becomes technology the moment the sensors fail and there’s an annoying light on my dashboard.
I spend my days trying to figure out how we can provide smart tech that just adds to the best experience in the world, without really being visible. Sometimes this is a bit annoying, we succeed in that only when we’re not seen in the moment! But I know that it is the right thing to do.
Often when people try to sell technology, they are selling something that catches your attention. There have been countless attempts to make “smart helmets”, where a HUD can act as your reverse mirror, and you get an overlay of your navigation so that you can be sure that you don’t miss the next turn. It seems like these people think that the problem with motorcycling is that we have too few impressions to process when riding.
Image credit: EyeLights
And that is 100 % wrong. As riders, we’re constantly visually scanning traffic. Yes, our mirrors don’t give a perfect 360 degrees view, but we develop excellent situational awareness and scan when necessary. We depend on seeing every bump in the road, the slight turn of a front wheel indicating that the car in front of us is about to change lanes, the deer coming out of the forest. And if we have some surplus attention, we want to use that to enjoy our ride. All the smart helmet does is monopolising our attention to what it thinks is important.
Ryan at Fortnine did a really good video analysis on this, and his conclusion is the same as mine. It is good to have visual indications that something is going on, but it has to be subtle. And the best features are the ones that work without disturbing us. I think Brake Free is a really clever feature. It probably provides safety, while not requiring any change to an otherwise perfect experience. For me this is also the tiebreaker when it comes to airbag vests. The ones that are AI driven don’t require me to remember to (un-)tether myself, so while they are certainly more technologically advanced, they fell less like technology and more like something that is just there.