On March 7, 2016, the BMW Group celebrated its 100th anniversary by unveiling the first of four visionary vehicles from its BMW, Rolls-Royce and Mini automobile and BMW Motorrad brands, each of which represents a distinct interpretation of mobility well in the future. While it’s not uncommon for vehicle manufacturers to look 8-10 years into the future for design inspiration, the Vision Next 100 vehicles combine the probable with the possible to imagine what we’ll be driving or riding several decades from now.
All of the cars give the passengers the option of fully autonomous driving based on the near-certainty that a majority of “drivers” and our transportation infrastructure will eventually require autonomous vehicles to meet traffic and safety needs. All are emissions-free, of course, and take connectivity and mobility services to the nth degree.
After it revealed the sporty BMW Vision car in Munich, the company continued its centenary celebration in June with a reveal of the luxurious Rolls-Royce and affable Mini Next 100 vehicles in London. The party was capped off with a special “Iconic Impulses” event in Los Angeles in October, when the Vision Next 100 motorcycle was finally unveiled and all four vehicles were shown together for the first time. Called “The Great Escape,” BMW Motorrad’s vision of motorcycling’s future is easily the most radical of the four Vision vehicles, because it requires us to imagine a world 30-40 years hence, when all of the dangers associated with riding while exposed to traffic and the elements have been eliminated. Every vehicle on the road, and perhaps the road itself, would share information in the cloud in real time and avoid hazards and one another autonomously, and the roadways would be protected from sudden animal incursions, suicidal pedestrians, etc. This digitalization would result not in a dumbing-down of the analog experience of riding, but rather a liberating enhancement of it.
If you can make that giant leap of imagination, then it only takes a baby step to believe that the rider would no longer need a helmet or other protective gear, because there would never be any accidents—just the occasional sudden stop, perhaps. Although the Vision motorcycle stops short of being fully autonomous (because what would be the point of a fully automated motorcycle?), the gyros that make it self-balancing at stops and assist handling could also take over steering the bike to avoid an accident, and it would have the semi-autonomous ability to stop, slow or accelerate as needed. Most importantly, the rider is linked to the motorcycle and road conditions with special head-up display glasses and even a riding suit that communicate everything going on in a virtual sphere around the machine, so that the interaction with the bike, road and the environment is complete. “Driving design is that vehicles will become intelligent,” said Adrian Van Hooydonk, BMW Sr. VP of Design. “But we don’t wish to take anything away from the experience.”
BMW drove, or better, rode the point of its Vision home with a grand entrance for the press and an impressive group of BMW executives, including BMW Motorrad Director of Design Edgar Heinrich. As the room fell silent, a blond-haired Teutonic beauty glided silently on the black and silvery bike into the center of the rotunda and stopped, demonstrably leaving her feet on the footpegs as the two-wheeler held itself upright, one of the technologies that BMW was able to actually incorporate into the bike and not just in drawings or its collective imagination. The sidestand would only be necessary when the bike is shut down.
Heinrich, the man who brought us the iconic R 1150 GS and R 1200 GS, joined the motorcycle and rider on stage and thoroughly explained how “the centenary gave us designers the unique opportunity to envision the future.” Intentionally shaped to pay homage to the first BMW, the R32 of 1923 with its black triangle and white lines, the Vision Next 100 even has a boxer-type power “solution” at its core, with cylinders that expand at speed and contract at a stop (Why? Because “it’s cool, isn’t it?” said BMW Motorrad CEO Stephan Shaller). Clearly electric at the moment, the powerplant could be some other emissions-free solution in the future. Its composite “flex” frame is devoid of suspension or a rotating steering head (at least one that we could see), as the handlebar turns the frame itself to steer the bike, and the special 3D tires provide the suspension and adapt to changing road conditions.
Does BMW’s Vision bike represent the future of motorcycling? It’s so futuristic that it doesn’t even qualify as a concept bike, and a lot would have to change in the mobile world for it to become a reality. But as Van Hooydonk said, “It’s not necessarily what will be, but what could be.”