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Honda’s self-balancing motorcycle defies gravity

Riding a motorcycle is a scary proposition for some people. It’s not just the sheer velocity of a motorcycle that can be terrifying but the fear of toppling over at low speeds is enough to dissuade would-be riders from taking their first spin.

If you’re one of these easy rider wannabees who has yet to go full throttle, maybe these emerging self-balancing technologies can help.

A few months ago, BMW unveiled a sleek self-balancing motorcycle called the Motorrad Vision Next 100. BMW has yet to reveal how its self-balancing technology works but the motorcycle certainly looks like it’s something pulled out of a Tron sequel.

Honda Riding Assist

At this year’s CES, Honda likewise revealed its own self-balancing technology called Riding Assist and unlike BMW’s take, it’s not as outlandish as it sounds.

Without the use of the typical gyroscopes seen in other self-balancing technologies, Honda managed to develop a self-balancing method that uses handlebar positioning and weight shifting instead.

As 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.

If you’re reading this via Komando app, click here to watch the video.

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.

Mainstream uses of Rider Assist

Motorcycle purists may scoff at this idea but this technology will certainly help people who have difficulty handling heavy motorcycles. This is especially true for bigger bikes at very low speeds or when stopped at a stoplight.

Similar to how some bicyclists can do a trick called “track standing,” motorcyclists could just stop their motorcycles without engaging the kickstand nor would there be a need to put their feet on the road. How cool is that?

Self-balancing technologies may not be for everyone but it will certainly open up a world of possibilities in motorcycle riding.

Are you interested in trying out Honda’s self-balancing technology when it finally goes into mainstream production? Leave us a comment!

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