It’s bike-to-basics to upsell connectivity

Back in the day, people only bought motorcycles because they couldn’t afford a car and this single imperative built the world dominance of the British motorcycle industry until its demise in the mid-1970s.

Since the advent of cheap four-wheeled vehicles, two-wheelers have be restricted to niche markets dominated first by sports bikes and, latterly, by an explosion of interest in lifestyle machines including retro-commuters, adventurer tourers and a blend of both in the US-inspired highway cruisers.

I went along to the UK’s largest motorcycle show, Motorcycle Live, at Birmingham’s NEC conference centre in the Midlands. There I saw the latest crop of manufacturer constructed ‘custom’ bikes aimed at recreating the niche marketing success of carmakers like MINI, with its almost infinite customisation of its cars. Even a large Japanese player, such as Yamaha, has jumped on this lucrative bandwagon launching its Yard Built series aimed squarely at providing inspiration and parts to modify some of its standard range into ‘specials’ to attract the customer with more individual lifestyle tastes.

And just as the bike makers are following a carmaker’s styling trends, they are also starting to look at the lifestyle enhancements connectivity can bring to a motorcyclist’s life.

The first category interested in connectivity are the adventure tourers who dream of touring remote dirt tracks but safe in the knowledge they have full GPS satellite navigation, access to camp sites or hotels and restaurants backed up with the ability to call emergency services if something goes wrong.

It’s this market that Italian factory Ducati has targeted with its Multistrada 1200 S D|air. The bike’s intelligent vehicle-integrated system is wireless-connected to Dainese-made Ducati Apparel D|air airbag jackets that can be worn by both rider and passenger alike. The Multistrada D|air system analyses the data and can inflate the jacket airbags, for both rider and passenger, in just 45 milliseconds, considerably reducing the risk of impact-related injuries.

But will the bike maker be rolling out more connectivity features across its range in future. I asked Alan Jones UK press and racing manager for some insight. He said: “We do see that connectivity will grow with our range in the coming years and we’ve been at the forefront with the D|air technology that can saves lives in accident situations.

“Naturally, we can see different levels of connectivity packages depending on the type of machine they are applied to. At the moment, though, we see the main attractions will be with rider and passenger safety. As the increase of popularity of adventure style bikes increases, the connectivity can be seen as a useful safety feature when things go wrong in remote locations.”

Perhaps the biggest growth area that connectivity solution suppliers could be considering in within the full-dress cruiser market where most of the big players were displaying infotainment systems to rival anything you’ll see inside a car.

Harley-Davidson’s iconic Electra Glide, for example, boasts a large colour touchscreen and voice activation for music, phone and GPS. But it’s not alone in this with similarly impressive infotainment systems, matched to high quality speed sensitive onboard surround sound hi-fi, on equally large cruisers from US rivals, the Victory Cross Country Tour and the Indian Chieftain, and Italy’s US designed Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress.

Let’s not forget buyers spending upwards of £20,000 ($30,000) on these bikes expect the top-draw technology they’ve become used to in the cars they’ll be using to do the serious work of daily commuting leaving the highly polished and pampered ‘cycle’ for high days and holidays.

With Octo Telematics entering the motor cycle market with its UBI-based app Octo U, other insurers are looking at the connectivity of motorcycles too.

However, Nick Baker, product and marketing director with Carol Nash Insurance Consultants, said more specialist sensors need to be installed into two-wheelers before he could see connectivity becoming a major influence in motorcycle insurance.

He said: “It’s quite easy to work out the risk factors of age versus machine with a solo rider. Where the model is less clear is with the introduction of a pillion passenger. Here the risk liability for an underwriter at least doubles.

“An underwriter wants to keep the exposure to risk at an even level, without huge spikes in claim values that can happen when a pillion is involved in an accident.

“We would certainly welcome some technology that can register when a passenger is being carried and how often that happens to help underwriters draw up a suitable risk model for that customer.”

So it’s clear connectivity will be making inroads into the motorcycle market, something traditional suppliers to the automotive industry may want to bear in mind when looking for new products and services to develop.

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