(Re)designing the Adventure Motorcycle – Part One
For me, there is no better way to travel then with a motorcycle, it is the perfect travel companion. You can go whenever you want, follow your own route and stop the moment you want to discover interesting places along the way. On a motorcycle you can cover long distances, access remote areas and take along just enough gear to survive in nature for a couple of days. The best thing however is, you can hear, smell and sense nature so much better. Every day on a motorcycle, as they say, is an adventure waiting to be experienced.
Adventure motorcycles evolved from motocross motorcycles, over time getting bigger, more powerful and as a consequence also heavier. Maybe this is the correct development direction, but I have the opportunity to create something from a blank sheet of paper and deviate from this evolution. As inspiration for this deviation I’m using a process developed by Professors Hekkert and Van Dijk from the TU Delft . The deconstruction-design process is defined by three levels:
- What – Product level
- How – Interaction level
- Why – Context level
It starts by analysing and deconstructing the current product, investigate what exactly defines an adventure motorcycle, how it is used right now and define the context to understand why it is used. With this knowledge we begin the design phase, starting with defining a future context. This future context is created based upon discussion, study, by following trends and developments and of course its inspired by the old context. From the future context we can distil a future desired interaction, that in turn will result into the future product.
What – Current product
There are certain elements that are characteristic for adventure motorcycles. Long suspension travel, sufficient ground clearance, spoked wheels with off-road tires and an upright seating position with the possibility to stand on the foot pegs. Critical mechanical and electrical components are protected by covers, bash plates or crash bars. Finally, they have a large fuel tank for a long range and they can accommodate a substantial amount of luggage.
There is a range of two different motorcycles (my own categorisation) both with their pro’s and con’s:
- Heavyweights; >75kW engine power, dry weight >200kg (examples: KTM 1190 Adventure, BMW R1200GS)
- Lightweights; <75kW engine power, dry weight <200kg (examples: KTM 690 Enduro R, Honda XR650L)
The heavy weights are made for long road trips on and off-road. They are powerful, advanced machines that can haul a heavy rider, a passenger and side cases full of luggage. With the right tires they are off-road capable, but depending on the skills of the rider, its weight will make real off-roading a challenge. The big machines are comfortable, have heated seats, handle bars and wind protection to keep you out of the wind.
The lightweights, also referred to as Dual Sport or Travel Enduro, are designed with off-road in mind. They are light weight at +/- 140kg and have a light, less powerful engine. Compared to some heavy weights they are low tech. Their simplicity makes them light, cheap and easy to repair. Protection to the elements is minimal, but due to their size and weight they are very capable off-road. The small size and low weight makes it easy to ride the bike over small off-road trails.
How – Current interaction
Adventure motorcycles always had an appeal on me, but not because of their beautiful aesthetics. Pretty they aren’t, it is form-follows-function. Knobbed tires, crash bars, protective covers everywhere and luggage sticking out of the back, pretty much an evolution from the early motocross bikes, bigger and bulkier. The appeal however is very much in what they can do and the road presence they possess.
Getting on and off an adventure motorcycles is a skill on itself. The seat is often high to give good ground clearance and the luggage at the back makes it extra difficult to swing your leg over the seat. Once on it though you have a comfortable seating position with an unobstructed view. With your thighs clamping the bike, your other haptic feedback points are through the seat, handlebars and footpegs. Information is presented in one direction from the instrument cluster. Switches and controls are simple in nature, and clustered around the handlebar. In most cases they can be operated without getting your eyes from the road.
Riding a motorcycle is riding with all your senses. You can smell, hear and see the nature around you, while sensing the grip beneath the tires. You are using my whole body to lean the bike through the corners as smooth and perfect as possible. I never ridden a horse, but I can imagine a comparable feeling. It also requires a certain skill, and it gives a sense of comradery and responsibility. Take care of your horse and the horse will take you where you want to go, albeit way slower than a motorcycle could.
In the open air you are subjected to the weather, sometimes suffering, often enjoying. Being able to go everywhere, no matter the road condition, gives an incredible sense of freedom. On the same day you can enter a buzzing city centre, while hours later you are riding a forest trail. It can be intensive though, both physically and mentally, requiring frequent rest stops, where you discover that riding a bike happens to be an excellent conversation starter with the locals.
Why – Current context
To a baby, adventure is second nature. Everything is new and unusual, you are discovering your environment, testing physical limits while trying out new exiting things. For some of us, this urge remains when grown up, discovering beautiful places, experiencing cultures or meeting new people. Adventure is also a means to get away from everyday structured and organised life, and to experience ultimate freedom.
There are many ways to discover the world, but if you want to cover large distance quickly, you have to fall back to motorised transport. The western world is transitioning towards electrification, although gasoline is still the dominant fuel around the world. The influence of the oil industry is fading with investments being cut back and partially being diverted towards sustainable energy projects.
The transformation toward electric vehicles is mainly driven by incentives and emission regulation, practicality and cost of electric vehicles are still behind the classical combustion engine. State-of-art batteries don’t come near the energy density of gasoline and although hydrogen has a higher energy density, the limited availability, overall system efficiency and cost hold broad adoption of hydrogen fuel cells back.
Centralised mass manufacturing is the common way of making things. Large specialised factories pumping out goods which are distributed around the world. Generalised; Asia exports electronics, Western Europe high tech machinery, while Africa and South America are mining and selling resources. Business wise there is a trend towards vertical integration, meaning; companies possess almost the complete supply chain. Manufacturing, transportation, financing, maintenance and operation by one company. Instead of selling products, we are transforming into a service-based economy. A car as a service, software as a service, even friendship as a service.
The impact of technology is ever increasing. There are high expectations for augmented and virtual reality, although a mainstream use case is still not available. Digital personal assistants, like Amazon Alexa, are getting widespread in the household, taking over more and more simple tasks. It is regarded as the first successful artificial intelligence applications. Meanwhile, Additive Manufacturing or 3D printing, has developed from hype towards a productive industrial tool. For now, especially the aerospace industry is benefiting from the advantages that Additive Manufacturing brings.
In this blog we presented the deconstruction of the adventure motorcycle as we know it today. By analysing the context and interaction, we better understand the current adventure motorcycles. This knowledge helps and inspires us in defining and creating a future context, a future interaction and finally to design the future adventure motorcycle. More about that in the next blog.
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-  Vision in Design: A Guidebook for Innovators – Hekkert, Van Dijk – 2009
-  EdX.org – Product Design: The Delft Design Approach
- Adventure motorcycle categorisation: KTM Press Center
- Typical characteristics of adventure motorcycles: Honda Media Newsroom