Motorcycles, Travel & Adventure


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About Postcards from the Hedge

Always on the cutting edge of the motorcycle industry, Bill Heald’s Postcards from the Hedge provides readers with an exceptional look into all things motorcycle. From racing to design to day-to-day riding, Heald has a grasp on it all.

Name: Bill Heald

Current Rides: Honda VFR and V45 Magna, Kawasaki Ninja 500, Triumph Street Triple R

Favorite quote:

The Wand chooses the Wizard Mr. Potter. It is not always clear why.

- Mr. Ollivander in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Tech Giveth, and Tech Taketh Away

There is a thing about getting older that has a direct connection with our relationship to machines. I have given this long and careful thought, and in my case, I think my deep-seated skepticism of the latest and greatest silicon-infested gadgetry is, mostly, a stubbornness that has set in with the passing years. Feel free to call it the “You kids these days, with your smart phones and your self-driving tuba players” syndrome. I confess that much of this stubborn attachment to the past is clearly ill-advised. That said, though, there is no doubt in my mind that in the words of the late, great Dudley Moore, “There's a lot of rubbish about.” The way ofHedge thinking that leads me to this revolves around a very simple premise: whenever you introduce a new type of system that replaces an existing technology, the new system shouldn’t take functionality or anything else away from the thing it’s replacing. Yet, it does in far too many cases. Here’s an example: a certain computer company (Apple) has been systematically removing all kinds of ports from most of their devices including USB ports, SD card readers, headphone jacks (especially on phones) and replacing them with Bluetooth and USB-C interfaces and ports. While some of this stuff is nice in that it eliminates cords on headphones for example, it also takes away functional features that I’ve been using and depending on for years. I’ve been a photographer since (it seems) man first transformed sand into glass, and taking the SD card reader port from their laptops makes my life much more difficult. “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should,” states Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park. I think this is valid when discussing any new feature, and I often wonder how much testing companies do with new technology in real-world conditions.

In the world of motorcycles, I think we’re a bit better off in general because of the nature of the beast. Before launching something really dramatic, OEMs tend to do a healthy amount of testing to see first how well it works, and also to see if they believe it will work safely with existing riders when a change in the way of doing things is involved. Antilock brakes are a perfect example, because they require a completely different type of stopping technique in panic situations. Over

time, the huge challenges of making such a complex system work on a motorcycle (automotive tires have a totally different type of stress introduced in cornering compared with bikes, which effects traction and therefore braking) have been mastered, so except for a bit of extra weight, complexity and cost, it’s all good. So good have these binders become that even expert riders with awesome braking skills are satisfied with the amount of control they have with the latest ABS systems. Therefore, functionality is not compromised in the least, and the brakes are better. Years and years of testing have gone into this critical safety feature, and the result is a true technological improvement.

But what of other technical advancements? Fuel injection is another winner in terms of no real downsides, but it does require more of an electrical contribution compared with carburetors, which required none (except for a few odd ducks that have/had fuel pumps, like my old Magna). This means if your battery is weak you’re further away from starting than you would be with carbies, and it could be the difference between riding off and dealing with a dead battery. Which reminds me: back in the dark ages when men still wore hats to the office I took my motorcycle test, and I did this deed on a Kawasaki borrowed from a friend. This machine was of the vintage when electric start was still infiltrating the moto world, and this bike had both an electric AND a kick-starter. Wild, when you think about it. It was a Hybrid, man! Anyway, if the tiny battery (compared to these days) was too pooped to spin up the starter, you could give the bike a few kicks and off you’d rumble. On the day of my riding test, I actually had to use it. But as we all know the kick-starter on street bikes is long gone, and in a weird way I’ve always missed it a little bit. You could make the argument that in its way it was more functional than an electric starter, but to be honest it would be hard with today’s larger, high-compression engines to fit one on a modern bike as easily as in the past. But, there have been times in the last year or two I could have used one of the simple devices to bring the bike to life. Another simple, elegant device that wasn’t actually replaced at all but just cast asunder (almost) was the centerstand, and back just before cell phones took over the planet I had to actually purchase one as an option when the original version of my VFR came with one as standard kit. Before this they were really common on all kinds of street machines, even most sport bikes, and amazingly useful for the touring motorcyclist as you all are quite aware. But then the Advancement Police came, and in order to save weight and increase cornering clearance (advancements, don’t cha know) they got chucked into the bin. Some OEMs still believe in them though, so they haven’t completely gone the way of the kick-starter.

I guess the lesson here is, most, if not all technological advancements come with a drawback, and far too often it means a loss of some sort of function that made them useful in the first place. The price of progress, perhaps? Get off my lawn!