Sep 10, 2005

Motorcycle Airbags

I know, it sounds like a screen door on a submarine, but this one is true.

Honda, in all it's infinite wisdom and careful development, has produced a motorcycle equipped with an airbag. Thus far it's only on their top-line Goldwing touring bike, which in itself just a few years ago was radically restyled and given new lif. Now they've gone another step forward and made it that much safer.

How cool is that?

I watch the motorcycle industry as best I can, and I'm not one of those disturbed types who is sneaking around Honda's manufacturing plants with a camera hoping to steal a snapshot of the newest prototype, but I do enjoy keeping up wtih what the industry is doing and where it's going. Taking the short view, the past twenty or so years seem to have been endless models that are bare improvements over the old ones, and come colour changes and different plastic body pieces, but then again, the last few years have produced some astonishing changes and some leaps forward that have left me breathless and excited for more of the same.

I often tell people that Honda's motorcycle division is much like all of Honda--they don't pick up a pencil without having a long-term goal in mind for that pencil. A new model from Honda is already old news to them, because they're already working 10 years down the road, and this newest release is already old hat. I can say mostly the same for the other two of the three Japanese Giants, but Honda has it sewed up. I like the thought that no matter when I walk out there and stick the key in my bike it will start and run, every time. Always. Stone-cold reliability. I love that. No tricks, no futzing with bits and pieces, just a machine that works right, every time.

And advanced. My heavens the advancements. I mean, an airbag on a motorcycle to lessen frontal-impact injuries. When I was selling bikes I was astounded to find out that those tiny chrome rails along the bottom of the back saddlebag and around the cylinder head were there to protect against slow-speed falls. The bike will literally lie on these chrome supports at about a 45 degree angle without falling on it's side and destroying all that expensive bodywork. Turn your back to it, grab the handlebar and the convience grabrails and straighten your legs, voila it's back on it's wheels again, easy as pie. Such things as anti-lock brakes have been standard on a number of their machines for quite a while now, to boot.

My own '02 Interceptor has a tricky feature that it shares with a number of Honda's cars--Variable Valve Technology (VTEC.) At engine RPM's below 7000 (6400 on the '06 models) the four cylinders operate on two valves per cylinder; one intake and one exhaust. At anything over 7K, when you really want to scream, oil pressure opens a second set of intake and exhaust valves, and suddenly that fuel-efficient quiet purr between your knees turns into a roar and the bike goes tearing off like it wants to pull your arms out of socket and point it's front wheel at the sky. Fuel efficiency when puttering around town, and full of fire and brimstone when you grab a handfull of throttle. Once you get used to it it's a masterful tool to have handy.

I could go on all day about it, but the long and short of it is that I'm glad to be motorcycling right now. The engines are getting bigger and stronger and more efficient every day, the styling has here of late taken the exotic out of the prototype labs and the moto shows and put it in the showroom, and they're still cheap, both to initially afford and to maintain.

What a grand time to be alive and on two wheels.

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