Toppling over at low speeds is a real concern for older riders, as well as beginners and certain women who lack the strength to "catch" the bike those times when we all get over balanced to one side or the other, due to fatigue a panic stop or uneven terrain.
With the average age of the riding public creeping steadily upwards, motorcycle manufacturers have seen the future and are rushing to invent a mechanical solution to defy gravity by stabilizing your motorcycle at low speed.
BMW recently unveiled a sleek self balancing motorcycle called the Motorrad Vision 100, but hasn't revealed how it works.
Honda on the other hand, has introduced a design (At CES) called Honda Riding Assist that is super simple and doesn't use gyroscopes to keep the bike upright, but instead uses simple handlebar positioning and weight shifting, much the same way those Harley-Davidson slow-race participants do in their competitions.
s Engineering Explained's YouTube video below demonstrates, Honda's Riding Assist is fascinatingly simple. The mechanics of positive and negative trail lengths is dissected and revealed as the main physical principle behind this self-balancing method.
Fair warning, the video is low tech and somewhat geeky, but you'll come away with a clearer understanding of how the steering setup on your motorcycle works, and it might even make you a better slow race competitor!
Wheel trail length
This is how wheel trail lengths work. If a wheel has a positive trail length, steering axis of the bike lies ahead of where the center of the tire is and this is good for maneuvering at high speeds.
In contrast, a wheel with negative trail length, that is, when the steering axis lies behind the center of the tire, gives it more stability at very low speeds.
Changing a motorcycle's trail length will change how it acts when you turn its steering bar. With a positive trail length, a motorcycle will want to turn and fall to where the bar is pointed. With a negative trail length, the bike will want to push itself the other way.
Variable slant angle system
Honda designed a self-balancing setup around these principles with the use of a variable slant angle system, which can adjust the front wheel's trail length on the fly. At low speeds, manual steering is disengaged and a steer-by-wire computer system takes over. With the aid of a steering motor, the computer then makes the necessary bar adjustments to keep the motorcycle upright. If the motorcycle starts to tilt toward a particular direction, Honda's Riding Assist system will automatically turn the wheel into the direction the bike is falling to keep its balance.
Don't look for the kickstand to go the way of the kick-start any time soon, but we're pretty sure this technology will make its way into the larger displacement GoldWings and Honda motorcycles in the very near future, which will be a good thing for older riders everywhere!