Just about every aspect of motorcycle design and construction has been vastly improved over the past couple of decades: headlights, brakes, power character, suspension, and much more. Still, some things remain similar to older designs. Handlebars, for instance. There have been minor improvements, some tapering or reshaping, but they’re still basically a pair of handles coupled to a motorcycle’s steering yoke. That’s probably a good thing; if handlebars were to evolve in a significant way, they might leave us humans behind, with hands and arms that have not evolved over the past 20 years, scratching our asses with our old-fashioned hands.
Speaking of, another component that hasn’t changed much: the seat. It’s still, in most cases, a torturous slab of plywood after three hours on the road. Though some are not bad. A few years ago, Neil Graham had me dress in pyjamas and slippers for comparison between a Gold Wing’s seat and a La-Z-Boy recliner’s perch. I think the Gold Wing won out, but it’s an exception, not a rule.
Much has been made of AI in the past year or two. Artificial intelligence, which a girlfriend used to say was what I had (or maybe it was “pretend” intelligence; I don’t remember), brings heaps of possibilities to life in the 21st. Cars that operate without human intervention, computers that can teach other computers to be smarter than humans, that sort of thing; it’s all so wonderful, when it isn’t scary as hell. Could it be used to improve motorcycle seats?
I have a Bic pen on my desk somewhere. It’s round, it writes when pressed against paper and moved, it’s cheap, and it’s reliable. I also have a Cross pen that cost about 100 times as much. It also writes, only bigger words, of course, than the Bic. But when you hold one end of it and twist the other, a wire frame inside a rubbery part of the pen changes its shape; where your fingers would grip the pen, it goes from round to triangular. It’s pointless, but it works.
Now suppose you put that wire frame into a motorcycle seat. Twist something, and it becomes wider, for riders with long legs. Twist the other way, and it becomes narrow, giving riders like me a chance to put our feet on the road. Given the number of women taking up motorcycling on the front seat as opposed to the rear, it seems to me that we’re going to see more motorcycles without passenger seats, since it’s usually females, not males, occupying that back seat. The traditional motorcycle seat may become less common as single-seat bikes become more popular. But what to do with a bike that you might want to sell to a five-foot-three woman and to a six-foot-three man? You put artificial intelligence to work, in the seat. It senses when the rider can put feet (both) on the ground, and when she, or he, can’t, and it changes shape, height, and, for that long tour, even density. Call me a wise-ass if you will, but I think making smart seats could be a real improvement for motorcycling.