Is it Time to Upgrade to a New Model?

George_Tranos_Outside_EdgeBy George Tranos

Where does time go? It seems like only yesterday that I bought my last motorcycle. The registration, however, says that it was 2005. A lot has happened in motorcycle design over the last decade. When does a motorcycle go from being new to being considered old? In reality, do I really need a new motorcycle? What would I be gaining by trading in and upgrading to a new model?

To answer these questions, let’s look at the technological changes that have occurred in motorcycling since 2005. Let’s start from the ground up. As motorcycles only have two tires, each of them is very important for good acceleration, handling and braking. Wet and dry traction are vital to handle any condition that the road throws at you. Motorcycle tires have improved grip and longevity. Most street bikes today come with radial, tubeless tires. The very best sport tires are as sticky as race tires from just a few years ago and have impressive tire life. Multi-compound tread is now common with the center section harder and more long-lasting than ever before. The outside edge of many tires now contains a softer rubber for more grip when leaned over in a turn. This type of tire can provide the benefits of long wear for straight line riding with adhesion in the corners.

Brakes have improved immensely as well. Single piston sliding calipers have been replaced with four and six piston radially mounted calipers. This provides more surface area for the brake pads and more consistent and repeatable applied pressure. A radial style master cylinder has improved brake feel and power. Antilock brake systems (ABS) have become ubiquitous. Sophisticated sensors and gyros now provide antilock technology to prevent slides when braking and turning simultaneously. This provides a level of safety previously unavailable.

Traction control, or so-called anti-spin, has been added to help riders manage throttle application especially when exiting corners. This has helped prevent high-side crashes where riders chop the throttle and the bike snaps back throwing the rider off. Anti-wheelie control has helped on high powered sportbikes to keep the front end on the ground. Multiple ride modes create rider options on how much power is available and how it is applied. This can help make a motorcycle more versatile and safe. It also allows new riders to have limited horsepower as they learn and to increase the power available as their skills improve.

Handling and suspension technology have also improved. Electronically adjustable suspension is now available on some models. It dynamically adapts rebound and compression damping to suit the existing conditions. It reads input from wheel sensors, suspension movement, throttle position, speed, rpm, lean angle and other factors to determine exactly how the suspension should respond in a given moment. It does this many times per second to react to changing factors. In the past, a good suspension tuner could dial in your suspension using spring preload, rebound and compression damping but these calibrations were manually set. They were good for the existing conditions but if things changed, then they needed to be revised. Electronic suspension does this for you and alters your ride to provide just the right amount of suspension movement.

Some motorcycles today also have adjustable controls. There are some that allow multiple seat heights, footpeg placement and handlebar positions. This allows a bike to be tailored just for you without changing any hardware. Customized ergonomics allow you to be more comfortable and in control as the motorcycle will fit you better.

So what’s to be gained by trading up to a new model? All of this technology makes for improved safety, comfort and convenience. The best of the new bikes do this while keeping the user interface simple. The downside is added complexity, cost and possibly additional maintenance. Is it worth the tradeoff? Only you can decide.