Ten Technological Improvements That Made the Motorcycle Great
1. Disc brakes
Disc brakes offer many more advantages over their drum brake forebears. Granted, well-adjusted drum brakes may offer great braking power but they do not adjust themselves to pad wear, for instance. The disc brake’s simpler method of operation – a disc that’s solidly mounted to the wheel and gripped by brake pads – is thereby more efficient. Other advantages include: self-cleaning; cools down faster as the disc, pads and caliper are in the breeze; does not get waterlogged; independent of suspension movement; and easier to check for wear.
Front carbon brake disc on a MotoGP bike – image credit: www.asphaltandrubber.com
There may still exist a number of bikers who scorn ABS (anti-lock brake system), but this piece of technology may have saved many more limbs and lives than any other innovation. From its humble beginnings, the ABS has come a long way, hand-in-hand with advancements of electronics to include features such as lean-sensitive application. Oh, here’s some food for thought: No mortal could effectively and consistently emulate the ABS function.
Motorcycle ABS – image credit: kawasaki.com
3. Ride-by-Wire throttle
Introduced in the 2006, Yamaha YZF-R6’s (Yamaha calls it YCC-T for Yamaha Computer Controlled Throttle) Ride-by-Wire (RbW) throttle has become the standard feature in almost every (electronically fuel injected) motorcycle. RbW means there is no longer a direct link from the throttle grip to the throttle bodies. Instead, signals are sent from the throttle grip to the ECU which then instructs throttle body openings and fuel-injection timings and amounts accordingly. The advent of RbW has also opened up an entire plethora of rider aids, such as traction control, ride/power modes, cruise control, wheelie control and many more.
Electronic throttle body – image credit: Bosch
4. Electronic rider aids
Rider aids have made motorcycling a whole lot safer and more fun by taming the raw power of modern motorcycle engines. Sure, there are a handful of riders who could exploit a motorcycle’s limit without traction control and on zero intervention, but 99% of riders need some form of assistance. Heck, even Marc Marquez needs traction control and still crashes from time to time.
Ride modes on Ducati Multistrada Enduro Pro – image credit: Ducati
5. Electronic fuel injection
Despite ever-stricter emissions standards, bikes are getting more powerful. As fuel prices creep higher, motorcycles have to be more and more fuel-efficient, plus emit less polluting gases. Power and fuel efficiency are polar opposites, traditionally. The answer is electronic fuel injection. Simply put, modern fuel injection systems provide very specific amounts of fuel for each load and timing requirement, therefore allowing for more power while saving fuel.
Fuel injectors – image credit: Magneti Marelli
6. Hydraulically damped telescopic forks
Just imagine that forks at one time were just like the one you use for eating your steak – stiff. It was now-defunct manufacturer called Scott who pioneered telescopic forks, but the 1935 BMW R12 introduced hydraulically damped telescopic forks. Since then forks have improved in terms of damping control via valves, cartridges and electronics, but they are still hydraulic in nature.
Showa BFF fork – image credit: Kawasaki
7. Multi-cylinder engines
The earliest internal combustion engines were simple one-cylinder lumps, but the quest for higher power and torque output characteristics gave rise to multi-cylinder engines. Starting from two cylinders, the number of bangers became three, four, five, six, even eight. However, only the parallel-Twin, flat-Twin, V-Twin, inline-Triple, inline-Four, V-Four, flat-four, flat-Six, opposed-Six, and inline-Six formats have found widespread production. There are also variations among these basic layouts; for example parallel-Twins with 180o, 270o and 360o cranks; V-Twins of different V-angles and orientation; inline-Fours with 180o, 270o cranks; and V-Fours with different V-angles hence cranks of various degrees. Multi-cylinder engines power an amazing array of bikes. Additionally, there are engines which designs are magnificently beautiful works of art.
Honda CBX1000 Super Six engine – image credit: Honda
8. Pneumatic tyres
Honestly, you could choose any one innovation in tyre technology, such as radial construction, multi-compound thread, tubeless lining, steel belting, etc. and it would not be out of place here. But every single tyre technology these days owe it to the very first pneumatic tyre.
Tyres were wheels – stone, metal, wooden – before being lined with rubber for comfort, until John Dunlop (yes, Dunlop) invented and patented the pneumatic rubber tyre in 1888. It was only from then that other tyre innovations followed.
National Museums Scotlands’s curator Alison Patterson with a Dunlop tyre – image credit: www.nms.ac.uk
Manufacturers and race teams have used fairings on their race bikes to lower wind resistance in order to gain more speed for many years, but the 1973 BMW R90S was the first production bike to be equipped with a nose fairing. Since then, fairings of various types and forms have adorned road bikes not only for drag reduction (hence speed) but also to protect the riders from windblast and the elements, and also to increase fuel efficiency, not to mention, look stylish, too.
1973 BMW R90S – image credit: www.classicdriver.com
10. Alloy frames
As motorcycles became more powerful, stronger frames were needed to harness that power. But the bikes needed to be light too, so engineers turned to aluminium. The aluminium beam’s first road bike appearance was on the 1986 Suzuki GSX-R750, affectionately called the “Slabside” or “Slingshot”. Aluminium was both light and strong, but engineers could also “tune” it for different flex characteristics to suit different bikes and their intended usage.
1986 Suzuki GSX-R750 – image credit: www.totalmotorcycle.com