Autonomous driving? I was once following a self-proclaimed “experienced motorcyclist” as he negotiated about 45 degrees of a 90-degree corner, his motorcycle being piloted autonomously while he was focused on his GPS, so I’m aware the concept had been around for a while.
According to one questionable claim, 1.2 million people die each year worldwide as the result of automobile accidents, and there is one accident every 60,000 miles. The claim further purports that with autonomous driving, that number will drop to one accident every 6 million miles, thus saving a million of lives per year.
From the same source came the projection that electric cars will become mainstream by 2020 after a serious introduction in 2018 of self-driving cars causing people to no longer want to own cars; that we will call a car on our phone which will pick us up and deliver us to our destination while we can be productive inside of an electronic pod.
When I read these claims I was dubious as to how this concept of electronic autonomous transportation would apply to motorcycles. “OK,” I thought, “electronic motorized vehicles are out there now, and Honda has already shown us the Honda Riding Assist self-balancing motorcycle. How far are we, the motorcyclist, from being little more than a passenger?”
Tongue-in-cheek, I predicted 20 years ago that if someone wanted a unique Iron Butt Record—or one from Guinness—they could apply for a 500-mile record with a chimpanzee sitting on top of a Goldwing, equipped with an automatic transmission and governor on the throttle and a large reserve gas tank for the non-stop extra miles. Fire up the Wing with the chimp on top, give it a little shove to get it rolling and turn it loose on Interstate 70 across Kansas or Interstate 80 across Wyoming at 70 mph.
A chimp could keep a pedal cycle upright. I’d seen it done at the circus numerous times, on slippery sawdust covering a cement floor, often with several chimps on different motorcycles, and they didn’t crash. To be honest, the chimps did better than the self-proclaimed experienced rider chump I watched navigate only 45 of the 90 degrees of the corner on a well-paved Minnesota road.
With ABS, Three-Mode Traction, Ride By Wire, EFI, GPS, optional interface display and all the other electronic gizmos manufacturers are offering, and some government agencies toying with requiring, the computers running these motorcycle management tools have obviously become more advanced.
I suspect if the real goal of society and government is to save lives by reducing car (and motorcycle) accidents, not just global capitalists selling us different and more expensive mobility devices, then we will eventually find ourselves no longer driving. Instead we will be encapsulated for transportation in a computer. A smart company will be making computers into transportation pods whereas the automobile companies face disaster if they keep trying to adapt cars and motorcycles to computers. The car, truck, or motorcycle has become the cart, the horse of yesterday is in the future a computer.
My Arizona adventure motorcycling acquaintance has possibly seen past our being transported by a computer. Recently he sold three of his adventure motorcycles and is considering f logging the remaining two just to get rid of them, make space in his garage for his new, computerized and advanced smart car.
He said, “Why should I pay for the upkeep on these gasoline-powered motorcycles and risk being hit by a drunk driver, some soccer mom texting in her urban SUV or make a mistake myself causing bodily harm? Now I recline on my sofa with my laptop on my beer and pizza belly and can adventure almost anywhere on the planet through YouTube. Someone has likely made a video and posted it, and I can watch the adventure for free. If I want wind blowing through my hair, I turn on a fan through an app on my phone. Cold air? Another app turns on my air conditioner and lets me set the temperature. I can even watch crashes if I’m missing those.”
Not wanting to give up my gasoline powered-motorcycles in exchange for a smart phone and laying on a sofa, I tried to support keeping our individual freedoms like being able to adjust a carburetor, increase or decrease velocity by changing gears, applying hand or foot brakes, opening and closing a throttle connected to a carburetor by a wire, or bump starting a motorcycle with a dead battery (try starting your smart phone or electric car with a dead battery).
“Dr. G,” he replied, “you’re pushing water upstream with your nose. Innovation, technology and computers are making your adventures as archaic as are kick starters or manual spark advances like on your Indian motorcycles. Look at the new ones with electric start and a computer to deal with spark and timing.”
I felt the water rushing by my face, nearly drowning me in my grasping at motorcycle adventure where risk was a word in the definition of adventure.
My reclining computer adventurer saw I was gasping and tried to weigh me down further in the deep, rushing stream. He opined, “And where were you a couple of months ago when your gasoline operated adventure motorcycle fell on your leg 150 miles from the nearest aid station and busted your leg? You crashed and were obviously up the proverbial creek.”
Right he was.
But then a sliver of sunlight showed on my side of the scale. I asked, “And when your computer smart phone or laptop stops working, what are you? I’d submit they are just as prone to crashing, likely a couple million do each day. And do you think there will be no carnage or price to pay for the crash? When I broke my leg, I was at least able to self-medicate and mend myself. Can your laptop do the same? No, when it crashes it really does become a driverless computer and by extrapolation a bit of an adventure depending on the seriousness of the crash and monetary amount to repair.”
This story originally appeared in our February 2018 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.