The BMW Motorrad VISION NEXT 100 stands for the ultimate riding experience of the future. In an increasingly digitised world, it holds the promise of that primal feeling of freedom so unique to motorcycling. Interview with Edgar Heinrich, Head of Design BMW Motorrad.
- Michael Seitz
You looked about two decades into the future for the BMW Motorrad VISION Next 100. What does that involve for a designer?
Edgar Heinrich: Normally we only look ahead around five to ten years. Even that seems pretty daring, given the speed at which things are changing right now. Looking far into the future is extremely unusual for us, which made the experience all the more interesting and exciting.
What kind of world will be home to your motorcycle of the future?
Heinrich: Tomorrow’s world will be fully networked and digital presence will be all-encompassing. Our lives will be organised seamlessly by digital services. More and more of the world’s population will be living in urban areas, which will make the contrast between inner-city and cross-country travel all the more pronounced.
What will this mobility be like in concrete terms?
Heinrich: In the city, daily travel will be all about comfortable, stress-free journeys from A to B. I’ll be able to work, relax or communicate when I’m on the move. Most of the vehicles used for this purpose will not need me as a driver as they will be completely autonomous.
That sounds very practical – but not very exciting. So what role will the motorcycle play in all of this?
Heinrich: Comparatively speaking, future mobility will be less strenuous – but also less emotional. And this is precisely where we see the greatest potential and a huge opportunity for the motorcycle. Even today, people in the Western world often use motorcycling, with all the positive emotions it inspires, to get away from the everyday.
“In a world full of digital devices, analogue experiences and mechanical objects will be a luxury."
Edgar Heinrich, Head of Design BMW Motorrad
That’s why the BMW motorcycle of the future bears the sobriquet "The Great Escape" – but what will its riders be escaping from and where will they be heading to?
Heinrich: It’s all about experiencing total freedom – "The Great Escape" from a ubiquitous digital presence on the one hand and interchangeable, fully automated mobility on the other. Our motorcycle of the future will speak to our emotions and our age-old intuitions. Mobility is one of our basic human needs. By that I’m thinking not so much of the self-driving box with its digital user interface, but more of the full sensory experience of centrifugal force and the world around you. That’s one thing that’ll be cool in the future, too.
Will something as archaic as this fit into our completely digitised and autonomously mobile world of tomorrow?
Heinrich: There will actually be a deep yearning for it – particularly in the fully connected future world. I think another of the things that people will feel nostalgic about is mechanically driven objects. It’s in our nature to want to see and understand how things work. In a world full of digital devices, mechanical objects will be a luxury. Even today, this trend can be seen in the boom being enjoyed by vintage cars and mechanical watches. A motorcycle is a visibly mechanical object: you can see the wheels, the moving parts and the joints. For the rider, it is more of a tool than a machine – the more they use it, the better they can master it. And above all, it’s more than just a superficial digital device that I can’t see inside – and even if I could, wouldn’t understand. For me, these digital devices are primarily for the mind – motorcycling is for the soul.
Yet there is more digital technology in your vision motorcycle than meets the eye.
Heinrich: That’s exactly the point: of course we use digital technology, intelligent connectivity and active drive systems, but we do so unobtrusively. That way, the rider can concentrate on what really matters in motorcycling: the sensuous riding experience created by the synthesis of rider and machine. This is why we’ve radically reduced the number of switches, instruments and menus involved.
So how does the rider communicate with the bike?
Heinrich: The menus are integrated into a visor – data glasses that also serve to provide wind protection for the rider. The fully connected data glasses recognise which direction the rider is looking in and display the relevant information. But just to be clear: as long as the rider is relaxed, has things under control and there’s no danger ahead, all that matters is the riding experience. Displays only appear if the rider wants them to or if they’re absolutely necessary. There’s no need for a permanent speed indicator as long as the rider doesn’t break any speed limits.
You need certain skills and plenty of practice to ride a motorcycle these days. Will that also be the case in the future?
Heinrich: Here, too, we’ve taken a giant step forward on the road to greater freedom and riding pleasure – by combining artificial intelligence with mechanical systems to create unprecedented safety levels. These active assistance systems use a powerful “self-balancing function” to enhance the stability of the motorcycle while stationary and during the ride. There’s no way the bike can topple over any more, and this means the rider is safe in every conceivable situation. This way we can protect novice riders on the one hand, while at the same time pushing the capabilities of good riders to the limits of what is physically possible. For the latter, the motorcycle responds more agilely, extending its own limits and increasing the pleasure of the riding experience. Of course, safety remains our top priority in all of this.
That sounds very futuristic and hard to believe – could you summarise the most important technologies and outline the precise functions this safety concept has to offer?
Heinrich: In addition to the stabilising system I’ve just described, there are other active assistance systems to ensure all-round safety. In future these systems will be linked more closely to data from networks, which means the patch of oil or the leaves round the next bend have been reported in plenty of time to the rider’s data visor. The ideal line displayed takes both this information and the grip limit of the road surface into account.
How do the motorcycle and its intelligent systems recognise the differences between novices and experienced riders?
Heinrich: Before their first trip, riders provide the BMW Motorrad VISION NEXT 100 with a self-assessment. It goes without saying that the motorcycle constantly monitors the rider’s actual ability when using the vehicle and it adapts the speed and permitted lean angle accordingly. Only when a rider gains more experience and confidence does the system increase the permissible speeds and lean angles. In the process, the rider gradually becomes a more proficient motorcyclist. Even seasoned bikers can profit from the system as it constantly pushes their limits and allows them to experience those white-knuckle thrills again and again. Our system recommends lean angles that riders could never conceive of on their own.
In spite of its futuristic appearance, it’s obvious at first glance that the BMW Motorrad VISION NEXT 100 is a “genuine BMW”. Why is that?
Heinrich: The design is consciously minimalist. With its black frame triangle, the white lines and the flat twin boxer engine, we’re using iconic BMW Motorrad design elements from its heritage. Its outward appearance is a deliberate homage to the very first BMW motorcycle, the R32 made in 1923. The design symbolises the timeless emotionality of motorcycling – from the past to the future.
The profile of the vision motorcycle shows the silhouette of the traditional boxer engine. What’s the thinking behind this and what kind of drive unit do you envisage for the future?
Heinrich: The iconic BMW boxer engine is home to an environmentally-friendly drive unit with zero emissions. Its shape is more of a design cue and reminiscent of past models. By the way, its outward appearance changes depending on the situation. When stationary, it’s compact, but when it starts moving, it extends outwards, and during the ride it takes on an aerodynamic form.
The frame looks as if it is a single integrated whole that extends from the front to the rear wheel without all the usual joints and bearings.
Heinrich: We call it a flexframe, and it can be steered using its flexibility. At the same time we’ve varied the amount of strength required for this depending on the situation – for instance, to allow particularly easy manoeuvring in a stationary position and to minimise this flexibility at high speeds.
How do you envisage your own daily life with the BMW Motorrad VISION NEXT 100?
Heinrich: If I’m travelling to the office regularly, then this will definitely be in a driverless vehicle. That will make the journey stress-free, quick and efficient. I most definitely won’t remember these uneventful trips in the evening. When I’m home I’ll consciously switch off the digital world and get on my motorbike. The connectivity will obviously still be there guaranteeing my safety and improving the riding experience. However, I’ll have been using my brain more or less all day at work, and now it’ll be time for a more emotional experience. We humans need these analogue sanctuaries and our motorcycles are absolutely perfect for this.