GS owners rejoice – you can now send your bike to Starbucks to get your Flat White while you stay home in your flannel onesies arguing on the internet about motor oil! I kid. BMW Motorrad brought their gravity-defying, self-riding R 1200 GS to the Las Vegas geek bazaar (bizarre?) known as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and set it loose in a parking lot where it likely freaked out gamblers and partiers emerging bloodshot and bleary-eyed from 36-hour, credit and substance-fueled benders.
Watching a GS accelerate and turn and maneuver without a stitch of hi-viz Cordura within 50 feet is, in a word or four, a feat of computational wizardry. The physics of two-wheeled movement is crazy complex and getting a computer to ride a motorcycle (and that is, essentially what’s happening here; those panniers aren’t filled with clean underwear and Kermit chairs) is quite a feat, because distinguishing the difference between leaning and falling over probably required a roomful of PhDs, a supercomputer or two, and a lot of coffee.
But what the hell does this have to do with motorcycling? Nothing and everything all at once. Those of you who love the purity and simplicity of motorcycling can continue to ride your own ride. But for those of us who are intrigued by the barrage of acronyms (ABS, ASC, ESA, DTC, DDC, and so on) that have made bikes faster, safer, and more capable over the past thirty years, this is the next evolutionary step – a motorcycle that not only knows grip levels at the front and rear wheels (and a half-dozen other things that all those acronyms measure and adjust) but a deeper understanding of what exactly is going on (in a turn, on a trail, in the rain) and the best way to get the rider out of another fine mess.
“Development of this test vehicle will provide valuable insights into riding dynamics, which can then be used to help the rider recognize dangerous situations and master difficult driving maneuvers. In this way, the self-riding motorcycle, with its comprehensive understanding of ideal lines and perfect cornering, correct braking point, and traction-optimized acceleration, can help the driver [sic] constantly improve their skills.” – BMW Motorrad
The future is coming, whether we like it or not, and that future likely involves self-driving cars and smart roads. And smarter motorcycles too, like this GS portends. Watch this space – there are more acronyms heading our way.
[Originally appeared in the March-April 2019 issue of On The Level.]