Motorcycles Afflicted by The Car Sickness

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Have you gone shopping for a new sport bike lately? Try and find one that’s not encrusted with layers of electronics . . . just like any new air bag pic

ABS and linked brakes; traction (and launch/wheelie) control. Adjustable power delivery curves via “maps.” Naturlich, electronic fuel injection.

Some of them even have air bags.

Throw it in the woods!

Yes, yes – I know. They’re more predictable, easier to control – and harder to wreck. Quicker, more consistent lap times.

Crap, sez me.

You may disagree, of course – and that’s good, provided we each still have a choice. Unfortunately, those among us – me among ’em – who prefer our bikes free of electronic “aids” increasingly have but one choice: Go old. Buy a bike not new. One made before the switchover to EFI (roughly speaking, the early-mid 2000s and prior) and before the Cult of Safety began to make serious rules!

It has now taken over.

I am certain that it’s going to get worse – from my perspective, anyhow. I see it as inevitable that all future motorcycles will not only feature air bags, they’ll be required to have them. The progression thus far exactly mirrors what happened to four-wheeled conveyances. At first, they were optional – and oddball. A couple of models offered them as (expensive) options. Very few people elected to buy them.

Then erupted the warble: saaaaaaaaaaaaafety!

Air bags make cars “safer.” Ergo, every new car will have air bags. The car companies resisted – initially. But they very soon saw the light. Or rather, heard the ca-ching of the cash register. Air bags are very profitable. On the front and back end.

Thousands of dollars per car.

Do you suppose the motorcycle industry is less immune to the sweet sounds of bills crinkling, coins clinking? Do you imagine the insurance mafia will not begin to make even more exorbitant offers you can’t refuse to people who stubbornly decline to buy air bagged bikes? That it will be possible to fend off the safety warblers? How? They will claim – once again – that lives will be saved. The only effective counter-argument – that our lives are our business – doesn’t sell anymore. People have had it conditioned out of them. They have accepted – in principle – the idea that everything we are and do (and may not do) is subject to the will of the collective, as expressed via the ballot box or channeled through some anointed “representative.” If it is acceptable to insist that we wear a helmet when we ride – for “safety” – then why not also insist our bikes have air bags, on the same basis?

I’m telling you, it’s coming.borg hive pic

And the rest of it won’t require Uncle mandating it, either. The same idiot affection for “technology” that has bedazzled a nation and turned 300 million people into sail fawn gabbling (and text-message pecking) zombies will just as inevitably assimilate motorcycles into the Borg hive.

Marketing has convinced Joe Average that he can be Freddie Spencer if he buys a new R1 with all the gadgets. But if it makes him faster, it’s not him that’s faster. It’s the bike that’s faster. And that’s what sticks in my Luddite craw.

Just as computer-managed “launch control” in cars annoys me. And “rev-matching” downshifts – where the got-damned computer blips the throttle and does the double-clutching.

You are not demonstrating skill. The engineers are showing what they can do.bikes tech 1

Which isn’t bad, if all you’re interested in – or the main thing you’re interested in – is maximizing the bike’s potential right out of the box (so to speak) with little – or at least, less – need for you to develop your skills to make the most of what the bike can do.

Pause for rant.

One of the things that attracted me to motorcycles was that they weren’t for just anyone. That learning to ride a sport bike especially was not unlike learning to fly a high-performance aircraft. Or becoming a lion tamer. Lots of risk, surely. But also great reward – once mastered.

Back to cages (cars) again: The up and coming generation will never know the joy of the four wheel power slide – because such a thing is not possible in an ABS-equipped car. And there are no new cars without ABS. Similarly – though on two wheels – it is probable that within a few years, it will no longer be necessary to learn how to modulate the front and rear pied piper

Because all bikes will have linked brakes.

And ABS, too.

Oh, it’ll be so much “safer,” I know.

I also know it’ll be less fun.

And without doubt, more expensive.

You’ll be paying – top dollar – for all that “safety.” Both up front and down the road, when the cost to repair/replace all that “safety” stuff becomes more than it’s worth to keep the bike. Then, throw it away and get another one.

Just like cars.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  1. Hey Eric! Just reading through a few “pre-divorce” (in both our cases) articles, trying to remember how I thought about things then, hhmmm……. pretty much the same as now, lol!

    • Hi Graves,

      Yes, indeed!

      Marriage is the only legally binding contract that one party may simply decide to abrogate on account of “feelings” and impose financial consequences on the other party.

  2. Its hard to imagine a bag equipped bike which would have any takers or an automotive engineer would claim with a straight face that bags could accomplish anything except to lessen rider safety.

  3. “All competing pleasures will be destroyed.” – O’Brien (1984)

    O’Brien portrayed by Richard Burton – a Welsh coal miner’s son – CBE – Commander of the Order of the British Empire – His last role before his death in 1984 in Céligny, Switzerland.

  4. Who is going to Poe’s Pub on Sunday for a pre-ride breakfast?


    A subreddit for people who ride motorcycles in or around Richmond, VA. Organize a group ride, find a riding buddy, show off your bike!

    Group rides every Sunday at Noon, meeting at the Carillon tower in Byrd Park.

    Bikes In The Bottom @ Poe’s Pub. 2nd Sunday of every month 9:30-12

    Bike Night every Wednesday night at Quaker Steak and Lube on W. Broad at 5 pm

    Coffee and Cars (and bikes!) every other Saturday (14th and 28th this month), Innsbrook 8-10 am

  5. Eric,

    I can appreciate your perspective in this write up. I think my biggest concern in watching the ongoing industry changes is the lack of optioning in all the safety oriented stuff.(and in general) It reminds me of the death of options in the American auto industry.

    I prefer not to have ABS on my bikes, how long will I be able to get one without it?

    Take a look at Triumph’s line up of sport oriented bikes, you actually have to pay MORE to not get ABS! What a catastrophe. You can’t even get a BMW sportbike without ABS anymore.

    It’s not just braking preference for me, it’s being forced to pay for something I don’t want that’s really pissing me off.

    I really, REALLY like the new FZ-09. I may have to actually go buy one. It is more along the lines of a minimalist bike and the cost is spectacular. The problem? A couple:

    The safety Nazi’s have speed limited to 132mph. Most of you are probably thinking, “Why would you want to go faster than that anyway?”

    My answer, because I want to, even if you don’t. It’s not like I’ll be riding around all day at 140+, but if I plunked down the cash for it I wanna be able to experience once or twice my younger days and tell my buddies “Yep, she’ll move out.” as part of my experience.

    Even further, the FZ-09 comes with mundane suspension….I’d drop the money for upgraded suspension in a heart beat for that bike.

    So what BS will I have to go through if I buy it? I’ll spend dough and lost riding time on upgrading the suspension and defeating the speed limiter. I should be able to get it from the factory with both of those options.

    So it’s the death of options that the industry is moving towards that’s really getting under my skin…but that seems to be the way the world is going sadly…it’s the way of “government”…less and less options over time…it’s sad.

    • Agreed, Nick –

      As I’ve written previously, I don’t object to “safety” or other equipment; only to them being force-fed to people.

      I do not feel the need for ABS, linked brakes or even FI – but if I want a new sport bike, I’m compelled to pay for them.

      So, I probably will never buy a new bike again.

  6. Eric,

    You don’t even want EFI?

    I’m really shocked by this, because carburetors, points, etc are nothing more than Safety Equipment! They render your sickle inoperative for so much of the time when you otherwise would be out riding. Thus, they make it less likely you will have a crash. 🙂

    • Hi Mike,

      I do prefer carbs. The do not require an ECU or sensors. And if you’re someone who can turn a wrench, adjusting them is not difficult. Once properly set up, carbs can work as well or even better (in terms of performance) than EFI.

      My ’03 ZRX still has carbs and it never fails to start immediately, there are no bogs or surges… I’d defy anyone to ride it and tell the difference between it and a bike with EFI.

      And I will never have to worry about a got-damned computer!

  7. I think safety innovations are great….as long as they’re optional. If the market itself, with no help from the Gov, trends toward safety then I don’t see that as a problem. It may be unfortunate for thrill seekers, but it would be a perfectly reasonable outcome in a free society.

    I personally think, however, that there would always be a market for thrill seekers in a free society in just about every commodity. Maybe in a free society there would be a food theme park. “Does the possibility of food poisoning give you a thrill? If so, then come try our day old milk! How bout our week old sandwiches? Month old meat?” I’m writing up the business plan now. Whatever floats their boat as long as the NAP is upheld.

    It’s just too much damn fun to be unsafe!

    Unrelated note: Anybody know of any good libertarian environmentalism resources besides PERC? Good books? Property rights theory for virgin land preservation?

  8. Adjusting carburetors and points used to be continuous headaches. Electronic ignition and electronic fuel injection makes for reliable motoring. The rest of the electronic controls are there to rescue drivers who lose control their vehicles because they are busy playing with the iDoit computer screen that replaced a few knobs for ventilation and the radio.

  9. I’m usually driven crazy by all this safety stuff, but I have say that ABS is great to have on my latest bike, an R1200RT. Having had some incidents with rear wheel lock-up and its consequences over 45 year of riding, I am very pleased with the linked brakes and ABS on that machine. You can’t stop faster, but it can save your hide and I feel that ABS is of questionable value (mostly no value) in cages, but it really shines on a motorcycle. I think traction control and its later variants like dynamic stability control are largely worthless gadgets and an impediment to enjoyment and proper utilization of a car.

    • Agree with you there on traction and stability control on a car Adrian, excepting maybe on a $half-million supercar, where getting the power to the ground and keeping it out of a ditch is paramount.. 🙂

      You’ve been riding 15 years longer than me. I ride and drive by feel, something that computer blips take away. ABS on a bike can be a good idea, but my ’86 K100RT BMW’s non-ABS brakes are such that it’s very difficult to lock the front wheel.

      I love cornering cars and bikes to the limit of the tyres and beyond. Feeling them bite into the road and occasionally slip, making for adrenaline peaks in the bloodstream. If any stability control can’t be switched off at will, then all the enjoyment of motoring would be gone for me. Might as well get a Prius.

      • What I expect to happen is happening.

        First, these systems will be optional and can be turned off at at will. Then, they’ll be mandated – and you won’t be allowed to turn them off.

        Because “safety.”

        Anyone care to bet?

      • eric, Mississippi leg hound indeed. I found out our pitbull could nip that in the bud. The wife was grateful, the leg hound, not so much. The MLH reminds me a great deal of MFW. He’s good to go till the going gets rough.

      • Mississippi Leg Hound,,haha!
        I had a dog like that once and have a piquant mental picture of him latching on to an old (now deceased) friend who came by my house to see me…
        But I paid the extra freight on the Beemer to get that feature. As for it being mandated, that’s another story …

  10. Eric – I read you loud and clear and agree this crap should be optional, but… “Back in the day” I sorely remember my little 2 stroke crotch rocket leaving me stranded with burnt points. Then there was the hassle of installing 2 sets of new points, gapping them, pulling the plugs, putting a “Micro-time” in the hole (or setting up a dial indicator) and timing each cylinder independently. It was a royal pain. If I’d kept that RD 350 it would have had electronic ignition long before now. It would also have a drilled front brake disc. Oh, and better steering damper, and progressive rate fork springs, and better shocks and so on and so forth. Well heck, it would have ended up being an RZ 350 without the radiator. I’d have been better off buying an RZ when all was said and done.

    I walked out to the shop this morning, looked through the sight glass on the engine case of my Z to check the oil. No dipstick. Nice. I turned the key on, listened for the fuel pump and watched the integrated display boot up. Nice. I touched the starter button and she came to life right now. Very nice. Technology certainly has its advantages. Now would I want ABS or “traction control”? Probably not. Airbags? Certainly not. But EFI, dual rotor front brakes, modern suspension and electronic engine controls are the way to go. Frankly I prefer riding more than tinkering with my bike. Oh, I’m still looking at “vintage” bikes and I’ll probably end up with an older, carbureted street bike of some sort. But for everyday riding that Z-1000 has changed some of my fundamental beliefs that were formed in the early church of moto. I guess I’m a heretic now.

  11. Two small comments.

    First, while I don’t any of this crap being mandated, I can do nothing but sing praises for ABS on bikes. I’ve been riding for 30+ years, on road, off road, and track. The stopping difference that I see between myself on a bike with ABS, and myself on a bike without ABS is, well, pretty damned amazing. I bashed ABS until I tested a 1300 ST with ABS and a 600RR without ABS side by side on slightly damp tarmac. The difference in stopping distance from 30 mph was easily 5-10 feet — a huge, huge, huge margin, and the difference between swearing at the idiot who just turned left and putting your head through his windshield. Do I want them mandated? Hell no. Do I want to be able to switch it off if I’m at the track? Hell yes. But I’m not going to pretend that ABS is anything other than a radical leap in terms of bike safety — and that even with decades of riding and racing behind me — that even a skill I’ve most certainly “mastered” braking, is something I want supplemented by a computer.

    Second, you stated that “Just as computer-managed “launch control” in cars annoys me. And “rev-matching” downshifts – where the got-damned computer blips the throttle and does the double-clutching.” Double-clutching? Does anyone who isn’t driving a semi do that anymore? I haven’t seen a street car without syncromesh (excepting a few people who though it was amusing to drive a dog box on road), well, ever. I mean, I guess if you’re driving a semi or something, but nobody needs to double clutch any more…rev match, sure, but there’s no point in double clutching.

    • I double-clutch. Granted, its not really needed when downshifting for acceleration or selecting a lower gear during slow, deceleration but it is very difficult to brake and downshift to a lower needed gear smoothly without double-clutching.

    • John, I’ve been driving a truck for nearly 50 years now and don’t recall any big rig that required a double clutch. Rev matching, yes. I’ve always said musicians are the best truck drivers. So how does that work? Well, it’s all a matter of timing. I see(hear)drivers hitting every gear in sequence when there’s often no need. I can split shift and beat them not only in time spent getting to speed but wear and tear on the rig.

      The only bad wreck I ever caused was actually caused by GM anti-lock brakes that decided to severely limit the braking on my one ton pickup so I destroyed a new Bowtie pickup in front of me along with another in front of him. We all walked away but it taught me a valuable lesson….nothing is perfect and anti-lock brakes don’t even come close. I rebuilt that truck, spent more money than the book said it was worth but it had no computer on it and that was worth a lot to me. I disabled the anti-lock brakes and that sumbitch would stop like a deadbolt. Yep, I had to attenuate the braking in any and every stop but I’d been doing it all my life. I’ve seen anti-lock brakes stop a vehicle from actually being able to stop and cause a wreck, on snow and ice both. If the wheel continues to slip the anti-lock system will continue to try to back off and let it gain traction, the last thing you want when going downhill on something slick and your main goal is to simply stop, sideways, backwards, or any other direction except going off that cliff.

      I used to run a dual point distributor on an old hotrod and it ate points and coils like crazy but I knew it and always had spares. Points don’t take up a lot of space. Coils mostly give it up gradually so that’s mainly a matter of noticing the power dwindling or not being able to rev to the normal limit. I’ll take mine plain please. Just pour my Wild Turkey in a glass and I’ll do the rest.

      And Doug, I’m curious as to what you double-clutch. Hundreds of times a day I lift off the brake briefly, hit the fuel pedal and downshift to another gear and then back on the brake. I recently had a clutch linkage break just as I was about to leave after getting loaded and it wasn’t anything uncommon to drive the entire distance without stopping(I never stop unless forced by circumstances, mostly dumbasses who want me to take the fore and turn that 120 degree corner with their fourwheeler stuck out there in such a way I could only run over it)so I completed the trip, chucked it into neutral and let it roll to a stop. I replaced the linkage the next morning and delivered the load.


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