One big bad bike.
Photo: Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson has just announced significant technological updates for its Touring machines and Cruisers; the cushiest bikes in its barn. The new “Boom! Box” GTS Infotainment System looks slick, but I’m actually a lot more impressed by the infrastructure Harley’s putting behind it.

Fancy Harleys will now get a 6.5-inch Gorilla Glass’d infotainment screen that is supposed to work just like a smartphone, responding to pinches and swipes and stuff. It’s apparently tangibly better than the outgoing system: start-up time drops from 21 seconds to 10 seconds, route calculation time is reduced from 10 seconds to 2.5 seconds versus the outgoing 6.5GT system. Solid improvement.

I’m not going to wade into the debate as to whether or not a motorcycle map screen is sacrilege, because frankly I don’t really care, but I do like the idea of more people getting motivated to ride. And some of Harley-Davidson’s map functions, along with a road trip supporting app that the motorcycle company has tied in with its website, seem to do just that.

Straight from H-D’s press release:

A new navigation engine features a voice recognition enabled “one box search” function (similar to a search engine) for added rider convenience. Using the Alternate Routes function, the rider can choose a route based on Fastest, Shortest, Twisty and Scenic features. The Boom! Box GTS navigation system features a new integration with the Harley-Davidson App for iOS or Android.

Leveraging this integration a rider can easily find a destination in the App and send that point of interest or addresses to the navigation system. In addition, the integration with the App eliminates the need to use a USB jump drive to import ride routes. Riders can import routes from the App into the navigation over a Bluetooth or USB smartphone connection. Ride routes can be created in the App or on the redesigned Harley-Davidson Ride Planner website at www.h-d.com/rideplanner.

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There’s also an element of gamification to the App, with leaderboards and challenges to “ride further” in a certain amount of time and whatnot. It sounds like every other phone game but with the big benefit of involving riding your motorcycle.

But most importantly: absolutely all GPS systems should be able to toggle between “Fastest, Shortest, Twisty and Scenic” routes. That is one of the coolest vehicular features I’ve ever heard of, and is exactly the kind of fun innovation I was talking about when I was moaning about Harley-Davidson needing to sell stuff nobody else offers and nobody knows they want yet.

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Harley’s Ride Planner site has been around for some time, but this is the first I’ve heard of it and the smooth integration between it and your phone and your bike seems like... freaking sweet.

The Ride Planner has basic packing lists, forum-like functionality, and maps that automatically populate with interesting rides near you. So I mean, hey, I guess you don’t have to be on a Harley to take advantage of those.

I’ve noticed that enormous touring motorcycles don’t tend to be popular with internet commenters, and I’m not wild about that look myself, but I’m earnestly excited about the fact that Harley is working to encourage people to take bike road trips.