BMW has taken a long look down the road in developing its latest concept motorcycle, the BMW Motorrad VISION NEXT 100, debuted today in Los Angeles at the “Iconic Impulses: The BMW Group Future Experience” exhibition.
Futuristic-looking motorcycles aren’t anything new, but BMW’s approach to the NEXT 100 is intriguing for the scope of its vision. This bike represents some fundamental changes to the way man and machine interact.
Edgar Heinrich, Head of Design at BMW Motorrad, described the project in a company press release:
“The BMW Motorrad VISION NEXT 100 embodies the BMW Group’s vision of biking in a connected world – an analogue experience in a digital age. Motorcycling is about escaping from the everyday: the moment you straddle your bike, you are absolutely free. Your bike is The Great Escape.
“Normally, when we develop a motorcycle, we tend to think 5 to 10 years in advance. On this occasion, we looked much further ahead and found the experience especially exciting. There are some very attractive prospects. I firmly believe the BMW Motorrad VISION NEXT 100 sets out a coherent future scenario for the BMW Motorrad brand.”
Part of that “coherent future scenario” is a world that’s even more digitally connected than today. Addressing that likely reality, BMW imagined a machine with numerous rider assist features from a self-balancing function to a visor and suit that are linked to the bike.
The visor would follow a rider’s eye movement, changing the information display depending on whether the pilot was looking straight ahead, up or down. A look up would initiate a rear-facing view, looking down opens a menu of additional options which are toggled through by pointing a finger and looking straight ahead turns off the information entirely.
The amount of information coming into this smart visor would also prompt the system to suggest ideal lines and warn riders of upcoming dangers. According to the BMW release, the rider can choose to follow the suggested line with inputs at the handlebars or “if he or she responds too late or not at all, the bike will correct itself.”
Then there’s the suit that will be worn with the bike. This garment would warm or cool the rider depending on conditions, inflate a neck support system at higher speeds to relieve pressure on the vertebrae, provide directional inputs with vibrations at particular points of the body, track pulse rates and body temperature.
As you’ll notice in the press photos however, ATGATT appears to have been tossed out the window. BMW asserts that these systems will work together seamlessly and faultlessly enough to negate the need for protective equipment, such as helmets or riding armor.
Mechanically speaking, the VISION NEXT 100 is equally as interesting. BMW wanted to pay homage to its first motorcycle, the R32, with the black frame triangle, but this Flexframe is far from traditional. It’s a single piece that stretches from the front wheel to the rear wheel, removing need for any frame joints. Turn the handlebars and the frame flexes to change direction. Suspension damping is provided by the tires.
The power source is built to mimic the look of BMW’s Boxer engine, but it’s a zero-emission piece that changes its look depending on whether the bike is moving or not. At a standstill, the sides retract in for a slim profile while in motion they extend to improve aerodynamics.
Cables and hoses are absent from the outward appearance and the body pieces are carbon.
“The BMW Motorrad VISION NEXT 100 unites the best of both worlds – digital and analogue – for the ultimate emotional experience: The Great Escape,” says Heinrich.
We’re all for technological advancements in rider aids, new powerplant conceptions and chassis designs. Bring them on. But what good is riding a motorcycle if you’re not engaged with selecting the line through a corner? Scanning the road for obstacles or reacting to unexpected changes in circumstances? It may be oversimplifying the concept, but is the goal to simply be in the riding position, exposed to the conditions, no need for thoughtful control inputs? Trusting technology so completely as to not bother with riding gear? Much that makes riding a motorcycle special is lost in that equation.
Working concepts like Lit Motors’ C-1 already promise self-balancing capabilities. Helmet manufacturers are pushing closer to tenable heads-up display functionality and lean sensitive technologies, ABS and traction control and the like, are making navigating corners easier than ever. The future is now, as they say, and there’s no doubt that the BMW Motorrad VISION NEXT 100 is a really interesting exercise in what motorcycling may become. We just hope a few good-ol-fashioned bikes stay on the road so the satisfaction of total engagement with a motorcycle can remain accessible to those that want it.