Close up of front of motorbike

Ditch the oversized leathers because new tech is making motorcycling more stylish

5 minutes

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A raft of fashionable but functional biker gear and impending protective tech innovations are set to make motorcycling safer, and more stylish, than ever.

  • Sporting the latest safety tech doesn’t mean compromising on style
  • Soon, motorcycles will warn cars that they’re in the rear view mirror
  • Could electric motorcycles start to impact moped sales?

There is a phrase among the motorcycling fraternity to describe the phenomenon of riding a motorcycle for the sheer joy of it: wind therapy.

It's that feeling of utter exhilaration, detachment from technological distractions and connection with the machine that helps blast away the cobwebs, cleanse the mind and focus attention on nothing but the road ahead.

If you are (or a member of your family is) considering making the jump to two wheels there are also financial benefits – such as the relatively lower premiums younger people face for motorcycle insurance, when compared to young drivers.

However, with that freedom and potential boost to your finances comes fragility: motorcycle riders are among the most vulnerable road users. A lack of visibility, concentration lapses in fellow road users and exposure to the elements makes riding on two wheels more dangerous than four.

Thankfully, motorcycle gear is becoming safer (and more stylish), while new technologies are arriving every year that vow to make two-wheeled transportation less dangerous. Motoring journalist Leon Poultney explores the new technology.

All the gear

There was a time when motorcycle clothing was bulky, hot and completely unfit for a weekend catch-up with friends.

But that’s all started to change, and outlets such as Urban Rider, a London-based shop that deals solely in hip biker gear, now stock safety kit that happily doubles up as off-duty fashion.

Resurgence Jeans, for example, offers one of the best abrasion ratings on the market thanks to its clever Pekev lining, meaning they’ve been tested to withstand 10.38 seconds of sliding down the road, as well as boasting impact mitigating D30 armour. They also happen to come in a range of stylish cuts, from a classic straight leg to a more fashion-forward skinny fit.

‘I've had customers wear our popular Cafe Racer fit jean on a plane journey to Spain, then ride in them for days and head home without anyone really noticing that they are safety kit,’ explains Stefan Barnes of Dot4 Distribution, the company in charge with distributing Resurgence Jeans in the UK.

Alpinestars, which has been in charge of keeping MotoGP riders safe for many years, has taken its technology from the pinnacle of motorsport and made it available to the general public.

Its Tech-Air Street airbag system consists of a protective vest that inflates when it detects an accident, protecting the ribs, spine and internal organs from an imminent impact.

The jacket, features its own rechargeable power source, uses on-board sensors so it isn't reliant on GPS or Bluetooth, and is compatible with a variety of streetwise Alpinestars protective jackets.

Finally, it's worth mentioning helmet design, which has historically placed function over form, but that's not the case now, with major manufacturers like Bell and AGV sporting lids that are all about the retro-cool 1960s and 70s throwbacks, but feature the latest safety tech that adheres to the highest UNECE 22.05 European crash standards.

Wheelie top tech

Innovations outside of protective clothing look set to revolutionise motorcycle riding, as major players, such as KTM and Ducati, have recently announced they’re already working on advanced rider assistance systems.

James Day (@James_A_Day‏), tech journalist and editor at Stuff Magazine, says that both the aforementioned brands are working on similar technology that could be with us very soon.

‘Ducati has already announced a safety road map that covers the next five or so years,’ he explains. 

‘Some of the technologies mentioned by the Italian brand include front and rear radar that effectively mitigates blind spots and notifies riders of fast-approaching traffic, while KTM and Ducati have both hinted at radar-based adaptive cruise control,’ he adds.

The latter would likely incorporate a combination of cameras and sensors, much like those currently used in the wider automotive industry, to automatically adjust the speed of the bike according to traffic ahead – a system that could also act as an emergency braking system and apply braking force when it senses vehicles ahead slowing at a rapid pace.

‘The other buzzword in the automotive industry is Vehicle to X (V2X) technology,’ adds James. ‘Tier 1 automotive part suppliers, such as Bosch, are already teaming up with mobile network providers to test V2X communication via built-in sensors and chips.’

V2X is a common term in the industry, as these chip sets allow a car or bike to speak to surrounding road infrastructure and furniture, as well as other vehicles.

Smart highways could soon have similar technology built in, so a device as unassuming as a lamppost might feature the technology to send a signal to a rider’s display that warns of upcoming ice or oil on the road, for example, or simply tell the rider there’s a zebra crossing coming up.

Using this network, a bike could flag up warnings on compatible car infotainment systems to let them know that it’s approaching a busy junction – and it’s all completely automated. 

High-voltage riding

Compared to electric vehicle take-up in the car market, battery-powered motorcycles and scooters have been relatively slow to the party. But that could soon be about to change.

‘Currently, we think the electric motorcycle is going to displace a very particular form of two-wheel transport,’ explains Richard Jordan, founder of Vmoto and Super Soco UK (@supersocouk), one the UK's largest distributors of small urban electric motorcycles and scooters.

‘There's a gap in the market for urban mobility that is extremely cheap to run, emissions free and easy to ride around our busy cities, which is why we've focussed on the scooter market for both regular commuters and delivery riders,’ he adds.

But those in the business of designing and making electric motorcycles, which lack gears and simply require the user to 'twist and go', also believe there's a strong case for improved safety when you remove the internal combustion engine (ICE) from the equation.

‘With the gears and clutch gone, your brain has more bandwidth to operate the motorcycle, which in turn gives the rider a better chance to make the right decisions in a near-crash situation,’ explains Jesper Vind, CEO of Fenris, a Danish company that is currently working on the next generation of all-electric superbikes.

‘Electric bikes have an energy efficiency rate of around 95 per cent, compared to the 20 per cent of an ICE, meaning the rider doesn't get hot and distracted in the summer months when stuck in traffic in town,’ he adds. 

On top of this, the simplicity of an electric motor means there's less to maintain and potentially go wrong, a distinct lack of oily chain and a reduced need for frequent and expensive services to replace filters and other moving parts. 

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