The rate of innovation in the motorcycling world has been rapid over the last 10 years. Advanced traction control, cornering ABS and active suspension systems are just three of the major breakthroughs that have led to faster and more approachable superbikes. And we have one manufacturer in particular to thank for this rapid rate of development: BMW.
In the mid-2000s these type of systems were laughed at by the automotive press. If you owned a bike that featured ABS you were clearly a bit of an old man - time to hang up the leathers. That all changed in 2010 when BMW released its class leading S1000RR. A 999cc, 200bhp superbike with a track focused electronics suite was something to be taken seriously. The S1000RR single-handedly moved the game on by at least five years and manufacturers like Honda and Suzuki still haven’t caught up.
So what do you do after you’ve dominated the performance bike market? Well if you’re BMW, you turn your attention to another hot topic in the two wheeled world: safety. This week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, BMW released a new ‘smart’ helmet and an innovative headlight system. Now at first glance this might not seem particularly exciting, but the most important safety factor on a bike is the ability to see clearly and the ability to be seen - exactly what BMW is focusing on.
On its K 1600 GTL Concept BMW has incorporated ‘new’ laser lights. Well, they’re not exactly new, most four-wheeled enthusiasts will recognise them from the futuristic BMW i8. However, BMW Motorrad has put a significant amount of effort into adapting the system for motorcycling applications, and the key benefits over conventional headlights are significant. The stand out facts are that BMW’s lasers produce a very bright pure-white light which can reach up to 600 metres, around double that of standard headlights. They’re also a whopping 30 per cent more efficient than class leading LEDs and require virtually no maintenance.
Unfortunately, these lasers are currently in their ‘test’ phase and won’t be available for the next few years. Part of this delay is the fact that these lights are very cost intensive for motorcycle use, but hopefully as we the see the technology develop in the automotive sector, we’ll see it transfer over to bikes soon enough.
Even though BMW’s laser system is very interesting, what really caught our attention was Motorrad’s new Head-Up Display Helmet. It only takes a split second on a bike to end up in trouble, so it’s vital to keep your eyes on the road. A task made all the more difficult with the increase in new electronic systems located in hard to read motorcycle dashes. BMW believes that they have solved this problem by projecting key information about the bike and the rider’s surroundings onto a transparent panel located directly in the rider’s field of vision.
The display is fully customisable and can display relevant information such as speed, tyre pressures and gear selection - it will even be able to warn riders of impending danger. And like its other competitors, the helmet will also feature action cameras facing fore and aft which can record high quality video of your journey, something daily commuters will find really useful. The rear camera will also work in conjunction with the head-up display to give the rider a virtual rear facing mirror. All these features will be controlled by a BMW Motorrad multi controller which is attached to the handlebars of the bike.
With other competitors entering the market it will be interesting to see how this technology pans out. One of our big concerns is that riding a motorcycle is an activity which allows you to effectively ‘turn off’ from the outside world and focus on the most important thing; riding. Having warnings and updates shoved in your face is not really why people take to two wheels. Then again, it’s important to remember that the motorcycling world was skeptical of BMW with its ‘boring’ ABS and traction control systems. So perhaps the guys from Munich will prove the doubters (myself included) wrong once again.