Is it better, or just different?
I recently came upon an article in a national motorcycle magazine which gave me reason to consider, is it better, or just different? The article was reasonably well written, the photos were sharp and looked great, but the star of the article, a newly-released large capacity adventure bike, left me bewildered. It seemed to me that, whilst technically quite amazing, the true essence of the motorcycle (let alone an adventure bike) had been blurred in the design phase and replaced by a considerable array of costly high-tech 'stuff' which is the very antithesis of what draws people to motorcycles in the first place. I have been a motorcycle mechanic for more years than is good for me and I still love my trade - but I wonder at times where we are heading. It is no surprise to me that classic road racing and VMX are booming as motorcyclists try to reconnect with that special something only a pure motorcycle can provide. Let’s consider, for example, the humble trail bike, or simple naked road bike. As a model concept these types of motorcycle have been around for many years and remain largely unchanged, for good reason. Their engines are often air/oil cooled, have carburettors, a single muffler and are (almost) as straightforward and honest a motorcycle as it is possible to buy. Not convinced? Consider this (perhaps familiar) scenario. You’re halfway between Sydney and Darwin when your speedo stops working (a first world problem, I appreciate, but given the revenue collection system we face, repairing it
would be wise), so you decide that evening to have a look.
The traditional motorcycle’s speedo is a simple, round, analogue gauge driven by a cable via a worm drive fitted to the front wheel. In contrast, the modern adventure bike has an electronic dash assembly which is driven by a pulsed electrical signal from a sensor (usually near the front sprocket), which also gathers partial data for the traction control and a multitude of other things. On a traditional bike, a good start is to unscrew the knurled cable-end from the base of the gauge (requiring only your fingers), turn the front wheel and see if the cable inner rotates. It probably doesn't so you unscrew the bottom of the cable (with your fingers) and find that the cable has broken (usually right at the bottom because you’ve never lubricated it - if you had have, it wouldn’t have broken - ever). Problem located, you stop at the nearest brand appropriate dealer and buy a new cable - circa $20 - and fit it to the bike, again without the need for tools. Contrast this same scenario with your new adventure bike. You start where? Well, you unbolt the sprocket cover and various associated bits; find the sensor; look at it (because you don't have a multi-meter and technical testing data sheet); fiddle with the wiring (which we both know is fine); put the cover back on and sigh, defeated... The next day you present at the same brand appropriate dealer, book in for the mechanic to attempt to trace the fault from sensor to sensor, up and down various wiring harnesses, in and out of various electronic boxes and perhaps then take a punt on what it's likely to be, only to have the parts guy go pale as he looks up price and availability of the 'most likely' faulty part. You get the idea – and don’t even start me on the electronic clutch and seamless gearbox... When I ride I do it because I love it. The simple, undiluted wonder of it. The wind, the road, the feeling of braking, of cornering: the whole sensory thing. I do not and will not ever ride my bike while I fiddle with an electronic dash or multi-function LED read-out full of things I don't need or want to be told. I know the current air temperature – it’s in my face. I know the current fuel burn rate because I know how hard I’m rolling on the throttle and that same simple speedo tells me the speed I’m asking from the bike. Multi-function LED readouts are fine to entertain the automotive masses and various electronic aids are invaluable for the ham-fisted folk, but I’ll take my motorcycle straight – a simple machine and a simple pleasure. Maybe it’s just the first signs of old(er) age; maybe it’s just me being old-fashioned, but the next time you’re thinking of an ‘upgrade’, remember the broken speedo example and take a moment to ask yourself:- is it ‘better’, or just ‘different’?