BMW unveiled its vision for the future of motorcycling this week – and it didn’t involve petrol, protective clothing or even a helmet!
Dubbed BMW Motorrad’s ‘Vision: Next 100’, the space-age, concept bike was ridden on stage at a special world unveiling in Santa Monica, California.
And although largely a mock-up, the radical machine is a showcase for technologies BMW expects to see in the coming generations. These include: zero-emissions electric power; a ‘Flexi-frame’ that improves handling, active tyres that adapt to the terrain and, most radically of all, a Self-Levelling System’ which, BM says, renders the machine uncrashable so doing away with the need for any protective clothing or helmet!
The special unveiling was the final of four futuristic BMW launches this year collectively dubbed ‘Next 100’. Conceived to mark the German company’s 100th anniversary (BMW was founded in 1916), the Munich firm asked its four leading brands – BMW cars, MINI, Rolls-Royce and BMW motorcycles – to produce visions of their future. A futuristic BMW car was unveiled in Munich in March; a Dan Dare-style MINI and driverless Rolls-Royce came in London in June and now this two-wheeler completes the set.
And although neither this machine, nor even perhaps anything close to it, will ever reach production, the concepts and technologies it displays should be taken seriously – after all, they’re clearly on the agenda of one of the world’s leading motorcycle manufacturers.
“It’s our vision for motorcycling,” BMW Motorrad design chief Edgar Heinrich told MCN. “To us at BMW, motorcycle riding means a lot more than just mobility – it’s a lifestyle choice, a spirit of adventure, the final analogue experience in a more and more digital world.
“And we found that, by emphasizing the riding experience and combining that with a self-balancing system and digital technology, the vehicle can act with foresight and protect the rider at all times. As a result there’s no need for protective clothing or even a helmet. There’s no way the bike can topple over any more.”
But being ‘crash-proof’ is just the start. In addition, the ‘Next 100’ machine features of previously unheard-of technologies and ideas – so much so that the fact it’s electric-powered and zero emissions barely raised an eyebrow.
Yet the core ideas of it all, bizarre as it may sound, is to return to the basic, natural appeal of motorcycling, a back-to-basics approach, if you like.
“We want to give customers the same sense of freedom that they experienced in the very early days of BMW,” design chief Friedrich told MCN. “We want to give them the same sense of freedom, of the wind in their hair, of making all your senses alert. And with our bike owners will be able to concentrate on this experience with no interference.”
“This is how we envisage to motorcycle of the future, combining the best of the analogue and digital worlds.”
Vision: Next 100 in detail
An unspecified electric motor producing zero emissions styled in homage to the BMW Boxer unit. More radically, however, it is capable of changing its shape according to prevailing conditions and aerodynamic and cooling requirements.
There’s no conventional frame at all, instead ‘Next 100’ employs what BMW calls a ‘Flexi-Frame’ which is flexible, dynamic and active and only a frame in the sense that it connects the front and rear wheels. When the handlebars turn the entire frame flexes to enable a change direction the thinking being that at low speeds steering can be light and manageable while at higher speed it can also be stable.
Crucial to the concept. A gyroscope-based system operated by sophisticated digital electronics to the effect that the bike can’t fall over. “It doesn’t tip over,” Edgar Heinrich told MCN. “Even when standing still. A sidestand is only used when the system is shut down.”
Heinrich said that the benefit of this is two-fold: First it’s a learning aid, helping novices increase their confidence. While secondly, for more experienced riders, it will allow the rider to steadily boost their experience, skills and enjoyment. “It will lift the ride to a whole new level,” Heinrich said.
All BMW boffins would say is that the ‘Next 100’ would be covered with a matt black material that’s a modern interpretation of the classic BMW look. Although they did add that it may be a yet-to-be-developed carbon-fibre based substance embedded with other materials.
Intended to be, according to Heinrich, “A homage to the past guiding the way to the next 100 years.” As such, the distinctive triangle shape along with that of the boxer engine and blacklivery with white stripe is intended to evoke memories of the original R32 of 1923, BMW’s first motorcycle. Even BMW’s famous logo is highlighted, lighting up in the company’s blue and white colours during the ride.
No simple round, black hoops these. BMW say they will all be active and dynamic so that, apart from having the traditional ‘cushioning effect’ they’ll also have a ‘versatile profile that can adapt to different conditions’.
No helmet – just a visor
With no possibility of a crash, BMW believes there is no need for ‘Next 100’ riders to wear a helmet. Instead, a visor would be available that provides eye protection and doubles as a data display. According to Heinrich, under normal circumstances this would normally display only very basic information, such as the racing line, so as to not be a distraction unless the rider’s behaviour demands otherwise. It could also display digital map or navigational information.
With no requirement for protection – “We believe that in the future riders will be able to enjoy motorcycling without protective clothing,” said Heinrich – the Next 100 rider instead has instead clothing specifically designed to be fashionable and supportive – a bionic structure would give physical support.
Vision: Next 100 – Interview
Dutchman van Hooydonk, 52, is the Senior Vice President of Design for the whole BMW Group and oversaw the Next 100 motorcycle project. He is based in Munich, Germany
Q: Is ‘self-levelling’ really going to happen?
A: “You have to try to imagine the future in order to give you a chance of creating it. But in our design process we found a way, via gyroscopes built in to the vehicle, to make it self-balancing and that’s what you saw today. It may take some time to reach production but it’s on the way.
Q. How does the ‘Flexi-frame’ work?
A: “What we have imagined here is that the Flexi-Frame steers the bike. We believe that through a variety of materials and technologies we can make that happen.
Q. Why no protective gear?
A: “We are already beginning to see now that motorcycle gear is becoming lighter than ever, and we’re seeing the borderlines between casual and riding gear become blurred and it will continue to become so.
Q. And no helmet?
A: Of course, a helmet is currently a legal requirement and there is no way round that right now but in the future we believe there will be different ways and means to protect the rider.
Q: Why an electric, zero emissions engine?
A: “This is a technology we can already deliver today, even on two wheels, so we think this is the way of the future.”