There’s no escaping the influence of technology on our lives. We’ve got smart homes where we talk to our lights and refrigerators, facial and fingerprint recognition for our smartphones, and self-driving cars are just around the corner.
I’m not sure we’ll see self-riding motorcycles any time soon, however, technology is changing motorcycling—in many ways—for the better.
Here are some areas where technology is impacting how we ride and relate to our bikes.
With advances in Bluetooth and wireless technology, bike-to-bike and rider-to-passenger communication technology is getting better, making it much easier to communicate with each other while riding.
Often referred to as motorcycle intercoms, the fact is, new technologies offer much more than just intercom communications. These gadgets attach to your helmet, include speakers with high-quality audio, and communicate to your smartphone, GPS, and in some cases to satellite radio providers. Many of these use voice commands so you can keep your hands where they should be—on your handlebars.
Some helmet manufacturers offer integrated systems, saving you from installing the system yourself. Check out systems from SENA, Cardo, and Shark.
Of all the motorcycle rider training tips I’ve heard over the years, the one I always remember is “ride with a strategy to see and be seen.” It’s no secret but is incredibly important to be alert and visible at all times. Improvements in LED lighting technology are helping make riders safer by making them more visible.
High-powered auxiliary lighting improves conspicuity during the day and nearly brings daylight to the road in front of you at night. For the rear of your bike, pulsing or flashing LED brake lights to alert anyone behind you when you are slowing or stopping.
For those looking to add a little bling to their motorcycles, you can mount LED light strips to your wheels, spokes, or just about anywhere else—it’s easy to make your bike glow like a Christmas tree.
Verdict: Mostly useful. I think the wheel lighting is questionably gimmicky.
One of the coolest implementations of technology for motorcycles is in motion-sensing alarm disc locks. So instead of merely locking your bike, when the new systems detect movement, they sound an ear-piercing alarm. Some systems have smartphone apps that will alert you when the alarm sounds.
Helmet heads-up display
Innovative technology firms are developing technologies that will display relevant data—such as the operation status of your bike, music, and audio prompts from your smartphone or GPS, and even your action camera—directly onto the face shield of your helmet. Some companies are integrating augmented-reality-enhanced navigation and safety information.
Verdict: Today I think this is a gimmick, but as the technology matures, motorcycle heads-up displays could be more useful.
I think most of us will agree that GPS and GPS-enabled smartphones have virtually eliminated the need for maps. This is sad. I still love pouring over maps when planning journeys, but I’ll admit, turn-by-turn navigation has made finding any place, anywhere so easy.
However, a GPS tracking device installed on your motorcycle will help pinpoint the exact location of your bike. So finding a stolen motorcycle can be much easier. For those extended road trips, some GPS trackers will not only track you in real time and allow friends and loved ones to know exactly where you are but will record the route for posterity.
These trackers use any or a combination of several technologies including Bluetooth, cellular networks, or satellites. Plus, many require annual subscriptions or service contracts. Also, usefulness depends on the technology and location and availability of networks. Check out products from Spot, Trackimo, and Spy Tec.
As technology allows for smaller and less-expensive cameras, more and more riders are documenting their rides and adventures. More innovative systems not only allow cameras to be mounted to helmets, but they can be attached almost anywhere on your bike, making for some crazy and cool perspectives.
Technology advances not only make these cameras tiny, most are now waterproof, eliminating the need for bulky and clumsy housings. Plus, the cameras are pushing the resolution to 4K and now respond to voice control for starting and stopping recording and accessing advanced features like slow motion, time lapse, and more. Apps that control these cameras now make it easier to post to social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram.
Verdict: Gimmick and useful. The footage can be boring unless you spend the time editing the footage and improving the audio and soundtrack.
Other technology advances in motorcycles include electric bikes, gyroscopic motorcycles, and suspension and stability control systems. Even riding gear is getting more high-tech with advanced fibers and armor systems, and jackets, pants, and boots are getting lighter, more efficient, and, pending on the season, cooler or warmer.
How much technology do you want for your ride? There are a lot of things to consider. It’s probably best to focus on those things that are most useful, like safety and security and then look at the gadgets and gimmicks that might just bring more fun than usefulness.