When Tesla decided to mount a giant 17″ touchscreen in the middle of the dashboard of its cars, it caused the demand for such devices to soar. Now the touchscreen craze has come to the world of motorcycles as well. Is that a good thing? The debate about electronic driving aids is a hot topic these days, with many experts suggesting systems like Tesla’s Autopilot actually distract drivers more than they help.
Do we really want motorcycle riders checking their e-mail and Facebook accounts while driving? Someone on a motorcycle is already 26 times more likely to die in a crash than someone in a car, according to the most recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2013, 4,700 motorcyclists were killed, and another 88,000 were injured.
Actually, statistics show that the number of fatal motorcycle accidents has fallen slightly since the introduction of the touchscreen for motorcycles began a few years ago. BMW was the first company to offer them to its customers when it released its Navigator V device. The system was developed in conjunction with Garmin. Harley-Davidson followed a year later with its Boom! Box system. It comes standard on about half the bikes the company sells in the U.S. according to Harley CEO Matt Levatich.
This week, Polaris Industries, which manufactures both Indian and Victory motorcycles, unveiled a new 7 inch touchscreen system dubbed Ride Command. It is capable of giving turn-by-turn directions, syncing to smartphones, and finding the nearest gas station when the tank is low. The handlebar computer, which can be “pinched” just like an i-Phone, will come standard on Indian’s new Chieftain and Roadmaster bikes. Together, they account for about half of the company’s motorcycle sales.
“We’re really pumped up about this,” said Steve Menneto, president of motorcycles at Polaris. “We’re opening up a huge part of the market for ourselves.”
Even more than the driver of an automobile, a motorcycle rider needs to keep both eyes on the road at all times. The slight drop in motorcycle fatalities since the advent of touchscreens may be a result of new technology being better than how things have been done traditionally.
Up until now, motorcyclists who ventured far from home had to rely on maps stuffed inside waterproof bags strapped to the gas tank. Reading one of those maps required taking eyes off the road for several seconds or pulling over. Today, GPS can guide a rider around traffic, bad roads, and inclement weather. The systems can also give important mechanical alerts. BloombergTV reporter Matt Miller says BMW’s infotainment unit may have saved his life when it alerted him to a fast deflating tire while he was riding on an interstate highway.
Harley’s Matt Levatich said his team went to great lengths when developing Boom! Box to design intuitive handlebar controls and fast loading software. The goal was to make sure riders never have to look down or touch the screen. “It’s not about technology for technology’s sake,” he said. “When I’m riding, I do everything I need to do with my thumbs, or when I have my helmet on, with my voice.”
“When you have these discussions, you always think of rider safety,” Mennetto said. “But it’s in such demand from customers. And once you get your new toy home, and you’re settled in with how it works, it just gives you a lot more confidence.”
Source: Bloomberg Photo credit: Indian Motorcycles