Units 1&2 Baruch Park

Viro Crescent, Stikland

021 910 0535


Mon - Fri: 9:00 - 17:30

Sat - 9:00 - 13:00

Motorcycle Instrumentation

Today I am going to rant a bit about one of my pet hates, the digital instrumentation on most modern motorcycles.

First though, let’s have a bit of history, once upon a time, back in the good old days, motorcycles didn’t come with any instrumentation, just lots of levers, I’m talking 1920s here. However, if you wanted bragging rights in the pub, for around an extra 30 shilling, about R30, remember bikes cost around 70 pounds then, you could specify a speedometer as any option. This was a wonderful brass mechanical device that fitted to the top of the fuel tank and was connected by a thick Bowden cable to exposed gear cogs bolted to the front wheel, it would show your speed and record distance. All very stream punk today, height of technology in the 20s.

As speed limits caught on, the speedo became standard equipment, often along with an amp meter, both normally mounted in the headlight. The amp meter was needed because, until the Japanese came on the scene, motorcycle electrical systems where, shall we say somewhat unreliable, and the amp meter would give you a clue to if it was, or more likely wasn’t, working. Then around the 1960s tachometers started to appear on the sporter motorcycles, mounted side by side with the speedo on the handlebars, and this arrangement became the motorcycle instrument norm for the next 30 odd years. That is apart from Harley Davidson who, for some reason, stuck with the speedo in the tank.

Late 90s the digital displays started to appear, a first just a clock, then speed and mileage, usually placed next to an analogue tacho. As an aside, I believe the first full digital motorcycle instrumentation was done by Honda on their 10-year Anniversary Gold Wing Aspencade in 1985. All digital, it also had, what Honda called, a travel computer but was really a glorified calculator, computers were still large in those days and required a lot of power, even a Gold Wing could not accommodate one of those. Interestingly Honda reverted to analogue for all the later Gold Wings, including the most recent model.

My first road bike was a Garelli Tiger 50cc, all it had was a bicycle like speedo, no warning lights, nothing, and the speedo was kind of vague, wavering between 40mph and 60mph. Actually, this was kind of handy, gave me bragging rights down the pub, ‘saw 60 on the speedo today’. Next a massive improvement, a Honda Dream with the classic arrangement of speedo, tacho, and a row of warning lights in between. After that a Honda CB750KZ, same classic instrument arrangement, to the top of this, I fitted an analogue clock and an amp meter, both in nice motorcycle specific pods and made by VDO. Brilliant, what more could you want, told me all I needed to know in an instant. I had also fitted twin Cibie spotlights, and the amp meter was to monitor the power when these were switched on.

Right, now the rant. Since those early day I’ve ridden many bikes and up to about the mid-2000s enjoyed their instrument displays, the speedos had big numbers and were easy to read, even without my reading glasses, the tachos, still being analogue, read and react in an instant, great. Then someone had the bright idea to make everything digital and show how clever they are by cramming lots of useless information into a space so small you need a magnifying glass, let alone reading glasses, to read it.

Once one manufacturer had gone that way, it seemed all the rest were compelled to follow, fitting more and more complicated displays, each one trying to out do the next in now much information they could cram in. Some of the worst offenders, in my eyes, are Triumph, Yamaha, Suzuki, BWM and a few of the Italian brands, in fact, thinking about it all brands have at least one bad instrument model. The new Triumph 900 Tiger has a small tablet type screen, with selectable layouts, none I can read quickly and easily. The new Suzuki DL1050 has a display like old school graph paper with scribbles and lines. The Yamaha MT09 has a tiny screen with the rev indicator running around the top edge, try looking at that in bright sunlight. My Benelli 900RS has a small screen with large speedo numbers, next to the analogue tacho, and analogue temp gauge. So far so good, but then bright spark thought, as this is a sports bike, it would be a good idea to include a lap timer function. To get this function up, with the bike running, you hold the started button for 5 secs, to start timing hold for another 2 secs, to freeze hold for 1 sec and to stop 2 secs, fantastic just what I need, hurtling as fast as I can around a racetrack, I will have no problem using this while peering at the tiny screen.

Most of this additional information either cannot be accessed or read unless you stop, which kind of defeats the objective, totally useless and probably never used other than an initial let’s see if it works look.

Another problem, older eyes take longer to change from bright to dark situations, a quick glance at a dark screen from a sun lit road revels, nothing. Expensive motorcycles are now mainly bought by middle to older people, and these people generally don’t have quick acting eyes, something the manufacturers seem to have overlooked. Apart from Harley Davidson that is, who still mount their analogue speedos in the tank.

However, there is some light, the new Suzuki Hayabusa has, in my opinion, a genuinely superb instrument display. Thankfully the Suzuki designers made the inspired decision not to go digital but to leave the main instruments analogue, just adding a graphic hyperspace display between the speedo and tacho. So, when the horizon has become a tunnel and you want a quick glance at the instruments to ensure all is well before shifting to hyper drive, no problem, all is instantly revealed. This puts the Hayabusa at the top of my ‘really want it but can’t justify yet’ list.