The BMW Motorrad VISION NEXT 100 concept motorcycle is designed to show us what a 2116 model year motorcycle could look like. It’s a dream. It’s pretend. That’s why it does not have to conform to strict rules about “viability” or “safety” or “roadworthiness.” But let’s walk through its fantastical features and evaluate what might actually work, and what this bike says about the future of riding.
BMW unveiled the concept motorcycle at a special event in California today, part of a series of events that imagine vehicles a century from now as the German automaker celebrates 100 years in business. It may be the best of these concepts yet.
The fun thing about a concept vehicle that imagines what motorcycles will be like a century in the future is that designers are allowed to really cut loose. No one will be around to call them out on deviating from this vision in 100 years, so why not go wild? (On the other hand, whoever is around in 2116 will be lucky to still be alive on the charred remnants of what I assume will be a post-apocalyptic wasteland.)
Like all futuristic renders, the BMW Next 100 Motorcycle basically just extends the technology we’re currently using and talking about and puts it into a package that looks fresh off the set of a Tron sequel. Here’s how it measures up—or might—in the real world.
Instead of steering with a handlebar hooked up to a fork, the Next 100 bike’s whole frame flexes to change the direction of the front wheel. BMW’s executives didn’t really explain why this is “better” than a bike’s current system, but maybe some of you nerds will come to their defense in the comments.
Viability rating: I’m thinking “nah.”
The airless-tire-that’s-also-a-damper is already a thing, it’s just hasn’t really been mass-marketed yet. What Michelin calls a “tweel” (tire and wheel) is just that– a rim and tire as one, with the rim giving way to absorb bumps. Not sure how well it would handle aggressive riding, but, the technology exists already.
Viability rating: Decent.
BMW wants to strip all the instruments off the bike and beam any necessary operational information to the safety goggles you wore in eighth grade chemistry.
A few small companies have tried to get heads-up display motorcycle helmets to market without significant success. As soon as a heavy-duty player like BMW gets into this business, I think we’ll have one in short order.
Viability rating: High.
No helmet needed!
I mentioned that riders will see this BMW’s hypothetical HUD through a pair of safety goggles and not a helmet visor because in the future, you won’t need a helmet.
The official answer to “Wait what how?” from one of BMW’s executives was that “we hope to create ways to avoid the crash altogether” and eliminate the need for a helmet.
I mean, cool, but, there’s no gyroscopic stabilizer that can prevent you from getting hit by a drunk driver, animal or insect. Anybody who has actually ridden a motorcycle knows that you don’t have to crash to have a really bad time riding without a helmet. Get hit in the mouth with a grasshopper at 60 mph and you will definitely not hit the highway with your front screen up again.
Viability rating: You try it, see how it works out for you.
Communicative riding gear
The TRON-style suit this model is wearing is “part fashion statement, part safety garb.” BMW dreams of a future in which protective clothing is sleek and sexy, which, maybe, but the more realistic feature on this getup is integration with driver alerts.
Parts of it vibrate or light up when somebody’s in your blind spot, you’re coming up on somebody too fast, that kind of thing. Just like the beeps and buzzes in a BMW car.
I think it’s a cool and subtle way to port the awesomeness of modern traffic alerts onto two wheels.
Viability rating: I bet somebody’s already working on this.
The self-balancing bike
The BMW Next 100 bike can hover–stand straight up even while static. The kickstand has to come down when it’s not running, but otherwise it stays erect at stoplights and pull-overs.
A few people asked about this at the press conference, and BMW’s execs indicated that the company is already trying to make it work through gyroscopic sensors. Neat.
Viability rating: Seems solid.
BMW’s boxer engine (aka one with horizontally-opposed pistons) is as much a hallmark of the bikes as the twin-kidney grille is for the company’s cars. Of course this bike doesn’t have any pistons, so what to do? The electric engine has protrusions to make it look like a boxer, but they can be tucked or extended.
I wonder if BMW would keep such a callback on early electric motorcycles and wait to phase it out until people forgot what they were supposed to look like in the first place.
Viability rating: I guess?
Truly idiot-proofing traction control
The last and possibly most ambitious aspect of BMW’s 2116 motorcycle ties in to the lack of a helmet and gyroscopic balancing. The company’s basically saying that this thing will be able to turn any idiot into a pro-level rider by correcting for their shortcomings “as little or as much as they might want.”
I definitely see big advances coming for motorcycle traction control, which would significantly decrease your chance of stacking it with a stupid mistake. Integrating gyroscopic sensors to manage both wheel speed and balance does seem like it’d get damn close to a borderline-autonomous motorcycle but man would that get hard to get accustomed to.
More than anything, it suggests the direction future bikes might go.
Viability rating: Probably higher than many people think.
In the meantime, BMW actually has some awesome real motorcycles in the pipeline (in big and small displacements!) that we’re going to see at the Milan motorbike show next month. Keep your eyes open for hints of this “100 years” tech in those machines.