Harley-Davidson has two distinct problems that it needs to face head-on. The first of which is that it wants to appeal to new buyers. The second is that its traditional buyer is aging out of the motorcycle market altogether. It would seem that the Motor Company has found a single solution to help salve both ailments. Making its big profitable motorcycles easier to ride for newbies and oldies alike with a recent patent filing for a standalone self-balancing gyroscope that fits in the top case.
Near-1000 pound bikes are understandably intimidating for new riders. There is always a fear of low-speed maneuvering and coming to a stop. Especially at a walking pace or stopped at a stop light, these big touring bikes can be unweildy and feel particularly tippy. Dropping one of these heavy bikes even at low speed can be a difficult ship to right again. Even with the correct form, you’ve got to have a strong core and powerful legs to get a capsized Road Glide back on its two wheels.
Old folks are like squids in that they may not have the balance or musculature required to keep a bike upright, or to get one back up once it falls. If Harley wants to keep courting boomers, it’s got to do something to make life a little easier for them. Hell, I’m only in my 30s and even my knees occasionally buckle under the weight of a big bruiser like Harley’s tourers.
According to a report from Cycle World, the new patent application depicts an add-on gyroscope to fit into Harley’s standard Tour-Pak top case. The gyroscope includes a heavy flywheel mounted to an electric motor spinning between 10,000 and 20,000 rpm, all of which is mounted inside a gimbal that moves with the roll and pitch of the bike. Aside from a bit of extra weight up high, the bike’s mannerisms at speed will remain as normal. According to the filing, the gyro disengages as soon as the motorcycle reaches 3 miles per hour.
In a bit of brilliance from Harley, the entire unit is self-contained inside the top case. Which allows a new rider to use the balance device until they are confident enough in their riding ability to remove it, akin to training wheels on a bicycle. Similarly, the case and gyro can potentially be retrofitted to any Harley (or presumably any other motorcycle) with a 12v power feed and some form of speed reading, either from the ABS ring or through a built-in GPS.
If the patent does become a production offering, or aftermarket retrofit, Harley could add dozens of years to its potential customer base, perhaps in both directions. Would you be more comfortable with a bike in old age or squid-ability if it was self-balancing at low speed?