Using the words innovation and iconically consistent Harley-Davidson in the same sentence usually means you’re listening to a joke or some type of jab at the 117-year-old company. However, recent patent filings from the Milwaukee V-twin king show that Harley has a new idea for keeping its brand on the straight and narrow—but could it really work?
Harley’s idea is to bolt on a gyroscope that would assist a rider in balancing a motorcycle at slow speeds. Gyroscopes have been around for centuries, but Harley is looking to package a compact unit roughly the size of standard motorcycle top case. Properly set up, this would allow the gyroscope to act as a balancing force on the entire machine. The patents filed cite an engagement point right around 3 mph, meaning riders would be on their own at velocities above walking pace.
Gyroscopes are pretty basic. The core is a spinning mass—in this case we don’t know the weight of that mass, but Harley’s patent filing cites rotation speeds in the 10,000–20,000 rpm range. That weight is hung in a gimbal, which—depending on how force is imparted on the gimbal—gives a significant balancing effect. The ability to lock and unlock the gimbal to the chassis of the motorcycle means that when the gyro is “disconnected” the motorcycle should ride normally, and when locked and spinning the gyroscope will handle all the balancing for the machine.
With the potential of the entire system tidily packaged in faux luggage, this means the tech could be something more than a new bike gadget. Harley could easily market the kit as a retrofit to make any large cruiser more user-friendly. After all, once your 835-pound Road King starts to tip, there isn’t much that most riders can do to muscle it back upright. Slow and no-speed drops stink. It’s a 1-2 punch of embarrassment and damage to your machine. I’ve been there. I’ve dropped my machine in a slow-speed tip over.
The thought of never having that feeling of slow motion as I try my darnedest to not fall makes this system sound pretty sweet. However, let’s see this for what it is—a crutch. If a system like this is required for someone to be able to safely operate a motorcycle, maybe they shouldn’t be captaining that motorcycle. Harley-Davidson has been doing a lot of forward thinking lately, possibly only because it thinks it has no other option.
I’m taking a bit of a purist stance, I recognize that. So how could I possibly embrace anti-lock braking or traction control but not this gyro luggage? I see it this way: this gyroscope is a tool that can prop up a bad or lazy rider, whereas traction control and ABS elevate a good rider beyond their typical capabilities. All three are something of a safety net, but one removes all skill from a task while the other two operate to keep a rider safe should something unexpected happen in the road ahead.
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