Top 10 pointless motorcycle innovations

For every giant leap forward, there are plenty of dead-ends

WE’RE not Luddites here at Visordown. New ideas and technologies are welcomed with open arms providing they meet just a couple of simple criteria.

First, they’ve got to work. More specifically, they’ve got to work better than whatever it is they’re trying to replace. It’s all very well having a voice-controlled interface via your iPhone, with colour graphics and haptic feedback, but if whatever it controls can be achieved on other bikes just as effectively by pressing a button on the dash, then we’re not impressed.

Second, they’ve got to have a purpose. The technology involved in allowing you to cycle through 437 different shades of instrument lighting might be impressive, and could work flawlessly, but to be honest, it’s completely pointless in the first place, so why bother?

Here are our top 10 innovations that don’t make the grade

10. Self-cancelling indicators

These have been tried several times over the years but manufacturers inevitably revert to the traditional ‘push-to-cancel’ layout for a simple reason that it works better. The latest attempt at self-cancelling, on Honda’s 2014 VFR800, features all sorts of inputs, including speed and acceleration, to decide whether or not you’ve completed your manoeuvre. But its little computer brain still doesn’t really know, so gets it wrong on occasion. Your own brain, which is a tad more capable, does know when to cancel the indicators. So it still works better.

9. Hydraulic drive

When it comes to transmissions, bikes already have plenty of options. We can have shafts, belts or chains as final drives, attached to sequential manuals, semi-autos or continuously-variable transmissions. So when Honda launched the DN-01 with a transmission that used hydraulic pressure to convert the engine’s drive to movement of the rear wheel, the question ‘why?’ sprung to mind. Throw in the fact that it had to be built with tolerances so tight that the factory was more like a lab, and it seemed even more pointless, particularly since the effect, from the rider’s seat, was basically the same as a straightforward CVT. 

8. Single sided swingarms

This might be a bit controversial, since for many people single sided swingarms are worth it for the looks alone. Which is good, because that’s about all they offer. Sure, in their place – which was originally endurance racing – they had a reason to exist; faster wheel changes. But on the road, or in any situation where shaving a couple of seconds off the time it takes to swap the rear wheel doesn’t really matter, they lose their raison d’etre. They’re heavier and bendier than double-sided arms, so basically inferior to their cheaper, less stylish counterparts.

7. Under-seat exhausts

Bikes don’t have much storage space. Unless you’ve got panniers or a top box, it’s usually limited to a little compartment under the seat, just big enough for a sandwich or maybe a U-lock. Unless you’ve got under-seat pipes, in which case you won’t have one at all. What you will have instead is a slight whiff of exhaust fumes ingrained into your clothes, and perhaps a bottom that’s a couple of degrees warmer than average. Again, it’s style over substance here – side mounted or belly-mounted exhausts just work better. V-twins or V-fours might have an engineering excuse to put the pipes from one bank under the seat, but on normal, transverse-mounted inline engines, actually getting the pipes under the seat also means adding yards of labyrinthine tubing, not to mention repositioning the rear shock, to achieve something that has nothing more than a styling effect. And you’ll have nowhere to put a sandwich.

6. iPod docks

We understand bikes having accessory ports. We even understand USB sockets. Because these are universal standards. But the addition of an iPod or iPhone dock – as offered by the likes of Triumph and Harley – seems to be an exercise in engineered obsolescence. Not least because most bikes with such docks still, as far as we can see, use the old 30-pin iPod connector instead of the Lighning dock that Apple has long-since switched to. So basically, you need an outdated piece of tech to plug into the outdated dock on the bike. The problem is that an iPhone has a lifespan of about two years, while a bike will hopefully be going strong in a decade or more, by which time having anything that can actually plug into its 30-pin iPod connector will be much the same as carrying around a Nokia 3310 today just because it fits your old car’s hands-free kit. Scarily, some product designers these days are obsessed that everything must be controlled with an iPhone app, and there’s even talk of replacing car (and hence maybe bike) keys with iPhones. That will be great, a few years down the line, when you have to carry the equivalent of an old Cellnet phone just to start your bike.

5. Colour changing instruments

Honda’s Vultus has the choice of 25 different colours for the instruments. Why? Just why?

4. Indicators in hand-guards

Bikes with hand guards are usually intended to be able to put up with a bit of rough and tumble. Those guards are supposed to stop stray branches from whacking your hands, the idea being that a cheap bit of plastic is hard to break and even if it gets snapped, it’s cheap to replace. So why do an increasing number of manufacturers insist on fitting expensive indicators into their hand guards – guaranteeing that when it’s hit by a branch, the guard will break, and it will be expensive to replace.

3. G-meters

We've recently seen that the 2015 Yamaha R1 has a G-force meter on its dashboard. We’re quite sure it will work flawlessly, but what’s the point? Also, is it really a good idea, either during heavy acceleration or braking, to be staring down at the dash to see if you’ve broken some sort or personal high score? These are motorcycles, not video games.

2. Integrated sat-nav systems

There aren’t many bikes offered with sat navs that are truly integrated. And that’s good, because once again it’s simply a chance to be lugging around some obsolete technology a few years down the line. Stand-alone sat navs are cheap. Your phone probably does it, too. Integrated ones are expensive, impossible or very pricy to update and long before the bike is on its last legs you can guarantee that the sat nav tech will be outdated and quite possibly useless, making it look like you’ve bolted a Speak-n-Spell to the instrument panel. You’ll therefore end up using a stand-alone sat nav instead anyway.

1. Keyless ignition

Given the fact that leathers are often short on decent pockets, and that keys are tricky to fumble around with when you’re wearing gloves, the idea of keyless bikes is almost a brilliant one. Just have the key in your pocket, and the bike will know it’s nearby and allow you to unlock and start it. Great. Except for safety reasons, bikes with keyless start will continue to run even when the key is long out of range. So if the key’s not in your pocket, but on the workbench in the garage, or worse in the seat lock, where it might fall out at any moment. Fortunately, there should be a warning light to tell you the key is missing before you’ve ridden miles away from it. Worse still are Harley-Davidson keys, the ones that you still need to use in the old fashioned way, but then need to be removed and put in a pocked before you ride the bike (in case they fall out). Keys that don’t fall out of the ignition barrel have existed for decades, so why did H-D persevere with its ‘keys out before riding’ system?

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