Electronics: ruining motorcycling's simple formula?

Electronics are everywhere in our lives and modern motorcycles rely on them completely. Is this a good thing?

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Ben Cope's picture
Submitted by Ben Cope on Thu, 28/02/2013 - 14:15

The digital revolution promises an easier life; cameras that only take a picture when everyone's smiling, microwaves that promise to precisely defrost your dinner but did anyone actually ask for any of this? When it comes to motorcycling, have electronics really helped or has the cost of the technology put people off this formerly 'cheap and cheerful' way of getting from A to B?

First came fuel injection, but does it actually offer anything anyone really values? Would the majorty of bikers know or care how fuel gets into the engine? It's more expensive, it can't be fixed in your own garage or by the side of the road and it can't be adjusted without complicated and expensive equipment. With clever ECU tricks, it helps pass EU emissions tests and can also improve a motorcycle's MPG figures, but is that such a big deal? If you've ever ridden a bike on flatslide carbs, you'll know what a raw engine feels like. If you've only ever ridden fuel-injected motorcycles, you're getting the digitally sanitised and safe for consumption version.

ABS and traction control have obvious safety benefits but - as manufacturers are always keen to point out - they can be switched off. However a rising number of motorcycles are only sold with ABS or traction control and while you can switch it off, you can't switch off the price it adds to the bike. More expensive bikes arguably means less people getting into, or carrying on with, motorcycling.

Then along came power modes, which in most cases are about as useful as the myriad settings on a dishwasher. Do you really need three different power modes on a GSX-R600? Just press a magic button and then you’re left to recalibrate how much you need to open the throttle. Surely that's just a gimmick.

Ride by Wire introduces the ability to have different throttle maps and an adjusted sensitivity, when 20 years ago, no-one really struggled to ride a motorcycle home in the rain, they just adjusted their right hand accordingly.

Some motorcycles now have electronically adjustable suspension and Ducati's Skyhook Multistrada reads the road and makes minute adjustments as you travel. It's not cheap either and spells the beginning of the end for the simple oil and spring method that worked so well for Henri Fournier back in 1902.

Keyless ignition means you can keep your 'key' in your pocket which is great until you forget which jacket you left your key in. Or was it in your jeans? Is a physical key such a big problem it had to be fixed?

On some motorcycles, electronics account for 40% of the production cost.  As electronics make motorcycles safer, do the people riding them not learn the skills they need to stay safe? Therefore does the addition of electronics result in a loss of skill and therefore everything stays roughly the same? Are electronics complicating a once simple equation, adding cost but no real value? Are we seeing an influx of technology for technology's sake?

Electronics: are they ruining it for you?

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