Disruptive Innovations and the Future of the Motorcycle Industry

Mobile phones rendered landline telephones obsolete. Smartphones are killing the digital consumer cameras which only a few years earlier rendered film cameras obsolete. Uber has disrupted the taxi cab industry. Youtube and Netflicks are disrupting cable TV faster than cable TV displaced network TV.  Do we need a definition of disruptive innovation or will these examples suffice for us to understand it? Calling these innovations “disruptive” is a way to understand change, see how quickly it can be ignited, and how unexpected it can be.  Let’s talk about how disruptive innovations could change the motorcycle industry.

BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100

BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100

Let’s start with the obvious:  the automotive industry.  Most innovations taking place in the auto industry trickle down to the motorcycle industry, and changes are happening at a fast pace in the auto industry. As pointed out by GM’s CEO in January of 2016, at the launch of the Chevy Bolt, the “auto industry is set to change more in the next 5-10 years than it has changed in the last 50 years”.

Mary Barra, GM CEO at the Launch of the Chevy Bolt in Detroit, January of 2016: The auto industry will change more in the next 5-10 years than it did in the last 50 years

Mary Barra, GM CEO at the Launch of the Chevy Bolt in Detroit, January of 2016: “The auto industry will change more in the next 5-10 years than it did in the last 50 years”

The recent 2016 Paris Motor Show was a showcase of these changes that are coming to the auto industry.  Mercedes Benz is a great example, they are embracing the inevitable by using the very set of disruptive innovations as a marketing campaign for their next generation of cars. They call it the CASE Pillars, where the next generation of Mercedes cars will be Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric.

Mercedes Benz EQ Concept Car, 2016 Paris Auto Show

Mercedes Benz EQ Concept Car, 2016 Paris Auto Show

Volkswagen is on a similar trajectory. Call it perfect timing, brilliant strategy, shrewd, or all of the above when Volkswagen uses the infamous “Diesel Gate” to leverage a revolutionary marketing campaign.  VW’s marketing campaign aims to change the public perception of the VW brand as the emissions cheating company to become the leading manufacturer of electric cars, which they state will be accomplished by 2025 with a full line of electric cars, including autonomous vehicles, such as the I.D. concept shown in the Paris motor show.  Clever strategy at a minimum.

VW I.D. Concept Car, 2016 Paris Auto Show

Volkswagen I.D. Concept Car, 2016 Paris Auto Show

Many other car manufacturers are on the same boat, besides the ones who are already invested on this future, including BMW who has been selling electrical cars for several years, and Nissan who has been the bastion for affordable electric cars with its Leaf.  While Nissan is currently working to get more powerful batteries on the Leaf, Chevrolet’s Bolt is set to be the first high performance, and still competitively priced, 200+ mile-range electric car, beating Tesla’s Model 3 to the market. The Leaf, the Bolt, and the Model 3 will be followed by several other cars from other manufacturers, very soon, in the next couple of years perhaps, which will be priced similarly to their internal combustion engine counterparts and will perform at the same level, if not better.  No more excuses will be needed not to jump on the electric bandwagon.

There is one other example I will mention, which is the Wanxiang Group from China.  I mention this group because China will be the largest market for vehicles in the world and they already have several small electric cars in the market.  However, when they aim at the top of the market, squarely at Tesla, when Wanxiang Group’s purchased Fisker assets a few years back to resurrect the Fisker Karma, to be renamed the Karma Revero. You know they are serious, they understand this change is inevitable.

Karma Revero (PRNewsFoto/Karma Automotive)

Karma Revero (PRNewsFoto/Karma Automotive)

Electric cars are, no question, the one change that is inevitable.  The question in many people’s minds is when will internal combustion engines stop being produced. Some analysts say as early as 2030.

That number, 2030, seems to be coming too fast, but it is not unrealistic, and it makes sense when we look at how fast land lines or film cameras or horse-driven cars, for that matter, stopped being produced when disruptive innovations took a hold of the market. Some historians indicate it took about 10 years for larger urban centers to substitute horse-driven cars for gasoline driven cars.

All I can say is “the times are a changing” and with that goes a small homage to Bob Dillan’s 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.  So what’s next? Electric is a given, what about the other pillars? Will connectivity, autonomous and perhaps shared be the next set of benchmarks?

Autonomous is of course already happening as well. Tesla is currently on its version 8.0 of its operating system which includes improvements on the cars’ automation. Last year I was waiting for my Uber at the San Francisco airport when I spotted a BMW with what seems to be a Bosch derived automated driving system.

BMW with Bosh Automated system, spotted at San Francisco airport in July 2015

BMW with Bosh Automated system, spotted at San Francisco airport in July 2015

Connectivity is happening already on basic levels. When you buy a car today there are versions or options where you plug in your smart phone and it uses it for navigation, music, communication. Blue tooth has been around for a long time.  Cruise control is already available using sensors to adjust speed with traffic ahead. It is just a question of continuous improvement, both from the cars’ perspective but also from the streets, roads, traffic signs, which could likely be adapted to passively or actively communicate with cars.

The shared part has been around for a while as well. We’ve had the Zipcar in our town, for example, but it still is a niche product. It will likely go to another level when automated cars become the norm and anyone can share their automated car with others when not using it. It’s the Uber of the future, the Uber sans driver.  Actually the shared car could disrupt Uber like Uber is disrupting the cab industry.  The shared car should also be disruptive to auto industry overall if it reduces individual car ownership.

Zipcar - still trying to find solid footing

Zipcar – still trying to find solid footing

To summarize, we are almost at a critical mass with electric cars and the related disruptive innovations, so much so I already wonder whether people will remember Elon Musk and Tesla as the visionary guy and his company who brought to us this main change to the auto industry.

2016 Tesla Model S

2016 Tesla Model S

Just to be reminded, by entering at the top of the market with a luxury car that was electric, expensive but better (in many accounts) than the internal combustion cars of its time, Tesla was the success story people wanted to see happen to be able to embrace this change.  It would likely not have happened if the Gee Wiz had been the poster child for electrified cars.

The G-Whiz

The G-Whiz

By the way, do you know what automobile manufacturer and which model, using gasoline powered motors, was the main disruptive technology of the 1900’s, and which was responsible for eliminating horse-driven or electric cars from urban streets?

Victorian London, circa 1900's - the end of the horse drawn cars

Victorian London, circa 1900’s – close to the end of horse drawn cars

Yes, I did say horse-driven and electric cars of the 1900’s, as many first cars were battery powered electric vehicles. We are just coming back to electric cars after a 100 years detour with internal combustion engines.


What about Motorcycles?

Let’s get back to what matters to us, motorcycle riders. As we mentioned before, most innovations on the motorcycle industry are derivatives of innovations taking place in the auto industry. ABS, fuel injection, semi-active suspension are good examples.

Do you remember in 2009 when the 2010 Ducati Multistrada was introduced? That motorcycle was the pinnacle of technology, it still is, but in 2010 it represented a dividing mark on the motorcycle industry. The Multistrada had electronically actuated suspension compression and damping levels and menu driven riding modes (urban, enduro, touring and sport) which controlled ABS levels of engagement, traction control, and engine fuel maps which together changed the motorcycle’s dynamic characteristics.  And you could further customize each of the four pre-set riding modes on any of the variables (ABS, traction control, suspension damping) to better match your riding style or the ride you planned for the day.

The 2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200.

The 2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200.

Although the Multistrada was innovative, it probably could be seen more of an evolutionary than a revolutionary motorcycle, if we keep in perspective the latest changes in the auto industry. Nonetheless the Multistrada was a dividing mark when in 2010 that motorcycled packed the full set of evolutionary technologies available at the time. Seven years later and those technologies are now ubiquitous on the top of line models offered by all manufacturers and some of those items such as ABS and riding modes are now common on middle of the range models across almost all brands of motorcycles.

Yamaha FZ-09

Yamaha FZ-09 (MT-09) dashboard, with riding mode selection

Soon all bikes will have ABS (already the case in Europe), and eventually all will come equipped with cornering ABS (still somewhat new), throttle by wire, cruise control, and riding modes.  It’s simply a question of time.  Can you call these sets of technologies disruptive? Perhaps and more likely you can call them disruptive if you were a carburetor or drum brake maker and did not retool your industry to become a manufacturer of fuel injection systems and disc brakes respectively.

Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric

Which of the set of disruptive technologies of the auto industry will impact the motorcycle industry? Again, let’s use Mercedes’ four pillars (connected, autonomous, shared and electric) to discuss possible scenarios of what the future will look like for the motorcycle industry. And then we should talk about BMW’s vision described by its Next 100 concept.

Electric is the easiest and already available technology, so let’s start there. We already have electric motorcycles, and scooters.  But very few manufacturers are entering the viable production zone at this point.  Zero has been around for a while, for example, and is one of the few manufacturers of electric bikes selling these bikes to the public. Their latest model the SR ZF 13.0 with the “power tank” is claimed to reach up to 197 miles with one charge.

2016 Zero SR ZF - Up to 197 miles of range

2016 Zero SR ZF – Up to 197 miles of range with the “power tank”

Harley Davidson has created its electric motorcycle concept, the Livewire. It created a lot of buzz especially because it came from Harley. The Livewire toured the United States in 2014 and the following year in Europe, but apparently there is no actual movement from Harley Davidson indicating this bike will be produced any time soon.

Harley Davidson Livewire concept

Harley Davidson Livewire concept

Victory Motorcycles has purchased Brammo and has been developing motorcycle concepts and has entered them on specific races and has been competitive on these races. In 2016 they entered the Pikes Peak race with an electric motorcycle, claiming second place. Incidentally, this Victory electric motorcycle, which was piloted by Don Canet, could have won this year’s Pikes Peak race if it weren’t for them qualifying first and because of it they  started the race early in the morning when the track was still wet on the last few miles at the top.  If they had started their run later in the morning they would have won it based on their times on the lower sections of the mountain where the road was dry (and you know electric motors do not lose power at higher altitude). If Victory keeps up the effort they are on the path to win the 2017 race with an electric motorcycle.

Victory Empulse, Pikes Peak 2016. Second fastest Motorcycle overall.

Victory Empulse, Pikes Peak 2016. Second fastest Motorcycle overall with Don Canet (notice the wet track)

Before the Pikes Peak race we had been witnessing the evolution of electric motorcycles on the prestigious TT race as well. Electric bikes competing at the TT races, called the TT Zero race, have been improving their performance year after year, from about 89 mph average speed per lap on the first iteration of this race in 2011, they have now reached close to 120 mph in the 2016 race, only on the sixth year after that first TT Zero race.

Victory electric motorcycle - TT race

Victory electric motorcycle – TT race 2016

Although the performance of electric motorcycles both on the TT races and the Pikes Peak race has approached and perhaps surpassed the performance of internal combustion motorcycles, it has hardly made a dent on the consumer market.  Victory’s Empulse TT starts at US $20,000. Do you see these bikes on the street?

2016 Victory Empulse TT

2016 Victory Empulse TT

Zero motorcycles and other electric motorcycle brands have struggled to develop a competitive edge on the motorcycle industry.  There is no Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model S equivalent in the motorcycle line up. You don’t see many video bloggers with electric motorcycles like you see in the auto side of the equation, where Tesla, Nissan Leaf and BMW I3 owners have popular Youtube channels simply because of the cars they drive.

2016 Zero S Streetfighter (photo from Zero site)

2016 Zero S Streetfighter (photo from Zero site) Price starts at US $9,895 already deducting a US $1,110 federal tax credit

It is easy to conclude motorcycles are lagging on the change, the electric disruptive innovation has not made a mark on the industry yet. Connectivity, yes, top of the range motorcycles are now blue tooth hubs for helmet to helmet and smartphone communications. Autonomous, well, that is a challenge for two-wheel vehicles, although BMW seems to be aiming at that (more on that later). Shared, I doubt it for what motorcycle represents, unless we are talking about small displacement urban mobility.

But electric motors have not created the same critical mass for the main motorcycle markets as you see on the auto industry. A couple of explanations come to mind. One of them is that motorcycles already are more efficient means of transportation to begin with, so they are not bringing that environmentally conscious consumer to the show room to write a check and ride away with an environmentally friendly motorcycle.

Another reason could be that motorcycles are not viewed as means of transportation in many markets, but as a symbol of adventure, a sport or a hobby and with that, there is no incentive for getting rid of the internal combustion engine, which is an intrinsic part of the riding experience. If riders don’t view a motorcycle as a means of transportation, and I’m on this camp, electric motors are not a target. Motorcycle riding is my hobby and my escape route to adventure.

Again, that potential environmentally conscious consumer is not available when we talk about motorcycles as a sport and hobby product. And when we talk about adventure, electric motors are not there yet (no re-charging stations in the middle of nowhere), although I bet electric motors with their high torque figures and linear acceleration would perform really well in some technical situations for as long as the batteries have charge.

The road continued with no other challenges until a few miles after the mine operations

Adventure riding – not ready for electric motors yet – although they could perform very well, when there is charge on a battery

At the model range where people see motorcycles as means of transportation, however, at the low cost, or low displacement and scooter levels, where people use the word “mobility” to refer to two-wheel vehicles, that’s where we see more movement towards electric models.

Jetson Electric bike - a Gee-Wiz of the motorcycle world

Jetson Electric bike – a Gee-Wiz of the motorcycle world

While the auto industry seems to be riding just at the edge of the wave of cleaner emissions, motorcycles seem to be towed behind by world leading legislation such as Euro 4 and California emissions legislation in Europe and the United States, respectively. That means only one thing: motorcycles will lag behind on the changes but eventually will be dragged to make it happen by legislation. The writing is on the wall.

BMW Motorrad:  ACES and the Vision Next 100

Today one of the most successful motorcycles on BMW Motorrad line up is the 90th anniversary of BMW Motorrad celebratory models (BMW was found in 1916, produced its first motorcycle, motorrad, in 1921).  These celebratory bikes are the retro-looking and retro-driven (air/oil cooled motors) R NineT and its models: the Pure, Racer, Scrambler and the first one, the well known Roadster.

Another 'round the world machine?

2017 BMW R NineT Scrambler

That’s 90 years of BMW Motorrad.  BMW itself is celebrating its 100th anniversary now and to celebrate it, BMW has launched an international exhibit to kick start its next 100 years with a renewed vision, which they call the Vision Next 100.  This exhibit has started in Berlin and traveled to two other places in the world before ending in Los Angeles last week.

BMW Vision 100 Next

BMW Vision 100 Next

As part of this international celebratory exhibit, we can call it a marketing campaign, BMW presented futuristic concept vehicles based on the ACES idea across all their brands. ACES? Does it sound familiar? Yes, they are talking about Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared vehicles, the disruptive innovations discussed earlier, that Mercedes organized as CASE.

The Great Escape

BMW Motorrad is part of ACES as well, but I was so glad to hear BMW was referring to motorcycles as “the last or the final great escapes from every day life (…) providing an experience for all the senses” on this marketing campaign. This means there is hope that in this vision BMW motorcycles will continue be fun to be ridden.

Does it have to look like a boomerang?

BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100: Does it have to look like a boomerang?

A two wheel concept vehicle, well, a futuristic looking motorcycle, was presented in this traveling exhibit.  It is not a prediction of the future, not a prediction of BMW products for the next 100 years, but part of the vision for the future of each of the BMW brands.  The concept is to show “what could happen in three or four vehicle generations from now”, according to their presentation in Los Angeles. I agree with the BMW official who said, as part of this presentation, “the best way to predict the future is to start to create it”.

BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100

BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100

As part of the presentation of this concept, BMW officials talked about six trends related to mobility (yes, another list – but I’m adding it here because I think it can be applied to my day job and life in general) which are used for product development:

  1. Mobility is becoming versatile
  2. Connectivity is becoming second nature
  3. Mobility is becoming tailor-made
  4. Technology is becoming human
  5. Energy is becoming emissions-free
  6. Responsibility is becoming diverse
BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100

BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100

The look of the concept itself is described to reflect the triangular frames of the 1920’s BMW motorcycles and the obvious boxer motor we still see today on BMW motorocycles, although it is clearly an electric vehicle.

It makes me wonder… does it have to look like a boomerang?  The R NineT motorcycles are a hot item today and they look so much less futuristic than the contemporaneous 2016 R1200GS line does. Therefore, I wonder, can you have all the technology you need to put in practice this Next 100 vision, but still make it look like a regular motorcycle?  I bet that is not only possible but when 2030 comes around and we see the motorcycles being produced, and we look back at these pictures of 2016, we will realize how wrong the BMW concept was in terms of looks. Call it wishful thinking from my part.

Besides looking like a boomerang, this concept packs some interesting technology. The bike was ridden onto the stage and stopped and self-balanced itself on two wheels, no side-stand or rider feet touched the ground.  According to the presentation, the only time the bike needs a side stand is when it is turned off.

BMW Motorrad

BMW Motorrad “next 100” concept

Another technology included on this bike was related to connectivity to the road. A video shows the motorcycle display (which is on the rider’s visor as a heads up display and not on the dash of the bike) the ideal line the rider should take through a coming curve and overlaid a picture of the handle bars to indicate the ideal lean angle of the bike. For beginner riders, the bike would change the lean angle to improve safety (to have the bike follow the ideal line for the curve at the speed of travel), and for the experienced rider, it can just show the best line and lean angle and let the rider pick it by him or herself, or can actively boost the motorcycle dynamics ( did not hear an explanation what that does or how that works).

According to the description, the bike’ s sensors add foresight to the experience, more than what we, humans, can see, and only the laws of physics would limit the riding experience.  The vision 100 concept was described as a motorcycle that combines the analog and digitized worlds generating more safety and fun to the riding experience. So much more safety, they continued, the rider does not need to wear a helmet or other protective gear. Well, I would say, for this to work it has to be imagined that all other vehicles on the road, and deer jumping out of forests and other wildlife crossing our roads, will not interfere with the path of this motorcycle or the motorcycle will anticipate those incidents as well.

Next 100: No need to wear helmets or other protective gear

Next 100: No need to wear helmets or other protective gear

I’m not so sure about all these innovations envisioned by BMW, if they will all be possible in the real world, but I would welcome more safety, if it is possible.  BMW did not mention electric motors, but one can assume it is a big part of the equation.  They did mention that motorcycles should continue to provide pure emotion when being ridden involving all senses, the sound, and the wind.  So there is hope their vision of the “great escape” means motorcycles will continue to be what I call a sport, a route for adventure, or a hobby and just not an efficient transportation.

My personal take on disruptive innovations and the motorcycle industry

I am all about playing my role in reducing carbon emissions and making sure we slow down, and if possible stop global warming. In the last three years I’ve been five times to the Marshall Islands, a nation made out of 24 atolls. I’ve seen upfront what it means to live in a place in the middle of a vast ocean where the highest ground is only about 6ft above sea level.

Majuro Atoll: higher sea level and storm created waves that destroyed the foundation of the house (July 2015)

Majuro Atoll: higher sea level and storm created waves that destroyed the foundation of this cabin (July 2015).

It is scary going to this atoll, in the middle of nowhere, when you know you cannot escape a storm going to “higher ground”. And if you do need to escape, the airport may have been flooded, the runway destroyed, and rescue planes cannot land.  But I’m only a visitor, I’m only there a few days at a time.  What about the people who live there? One of my clients took me out on a quick tour the last time I was there, this last July, and pointed out to a flat slab of concrete: “that is where my house was” she said.  And that story happens in other places of the world, and eventually other impacts from global warming will also hit closer to home, our farmers and our urban living conditions will be affected as well. South Florida comes to mind.

Landing in Majuro atoll, Marshall Islands, July 2015

Landing in Majuro atoll, Marshall Islands, July 2015

On the other hand, I love motorcycles and a major part of what I enjoy while riding is about the internal combustion engine. I like all types of motors, be them a single cylinder, parallel twins, V-twins, boxer-twins and even in-line threes or fours. They all sound and vibrate in their own specific way, have torque and acceleration dynamics based on their configuration and displacement.  I won’t mind eventually getting an electric car, but an electric motorcycle is something I’m not looking forward to having if that is the only alternative I would have.

My 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

My 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

For the people like me, perhaps most of you reading this post, who love an internal combustion engine, motorcycles will likely lag behind on this revolution, even if the disruptive innovations will open new frontiers and new technologies that will improve the riding experience.

I consider ourselves to be lucky for still being allowed to ride when safety has regulated the auto industry many times over (seat belts, deformation zones, airbags, anti-lock brake systems, and eventually connected and autonomous cars) while motorcycles do not need to have a bumper neither most of those active or passive safety systems. As a matter of fact, in some American states you do not need to wear a helmet! How fortunate we are.

My 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

My 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

Electric is a given, but for now we should not be complaining about California’s clean air regulations or Europe’s Euro 4 standards either.  If by 2030 manufacturers will no longer produce internal combustion vehicles, and that will also apply to motorcycles, well, that’s only 13-14 years from now!  We may not have a choice eventually, so we should get on with the changes, but enjoy, while we can, our internal combustion engines. I will do that.

Thank you for reading.

Disclaimer:  I’m not a professional rider, and obviously not a professional writer. I write this blog as a hobby and because of my passion for motorcycles and motorcycle riding. I’m not affiliated with any business or organization related to the content of my posts, I’m not paid to write and publish my posts. The potential income generated by advertisements you may come across on my posts are going to WordPress, the organization hosting my posts. I pay WordPress to manage and host my posts, I would have to pay more to have advert-free posts.

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4 Responses to Disruptive Innovations and the Future of the Motorcycle Industry

  1. wyldkard says:

    I was rather skeptical of electric motorbikes as well, until I test-rode a Zero SR earlier this year. Surprisingly, I didn’t much mind the lack of shifting or engine noise, as I found greater focus on my riding. That’s not to say there’s no transition required, but I no longer think electric bikes will take much away from the core riding experience.

    Electric motorbikes are just not there yet, though. Due to physical size constraints, it’s not possible to have adequate batteries on a bike to reach the range electric cars can. As you and I can attest, motorbikes are not just methods to get from Point A to Point B, and that means the placement of electric charge stations is even more difficult for motorcyclists. When motorcyclists go on rides, it’s often beyond the range of electrics, and to locations where there’s currently no financial incentive to put charging stations because tour destinations are often far away from where most other people travel.

    Electric bikes are coming, no doubt. But I expect it will be a bit longer before we see them as ubiquitous as electric cars.

    • cesardagord says:

      I agree with all your points. Except I haven’t tested an electric bike yet, but your points make sense to me. I will test one soon, as we have here in town a Zero dealer.

      • wyldkard says:

        Yeah, great guys at the Eugene dealer. Didn’t even ask for a security deposit. I test rode the SR, but would like to try the FX or FXS next.

  2. Hey Cesar, in the future you’ll be able to order a motorcycle from Riders Share’s app. It will come to you, you ride it for as long as you wish, and then the bike returns itself to the owner or dealership. Riders will still be in control if they wish. Check out Riders Share – hit me up for more info if you’d like to write an article about us

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