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Monday, March 17, 2008

Motorcycles are looking more human

Misty Harris , Canwest News ServicePublished: Wednesday, March 12, 2008
If you think the motorcycle approaching in the oncoming lane is glaring at you, you're not paranoid - you're seeing cutting-edge safety research in motion.
Honda Motor scientists studying the way the brain reacts to different imagery found that motorcycles that resemble a human face - especially an angry one evoked with diagonal headlights - are "significantly" more visible to other drivers. Measurements taken with functional magnetic resonance imaging confirm that a more lifelike front-end design "elicits a response similar to that when a human face is seen," suggesting that other drivers will more quickly recognize the motorcycle's presence and react accordingly.
Elements of this method of "conspicuity enhancement," as researchers call it, can be seen in Honda's ASV-3 motorcycle as well as newer sportbike models such as the 2008 CBR 1000RR, which features twin slanted headlights and an abbreviated nose.
Researchers say motorcycles that resemble a human face - especially an angry one evoked with diagonal headlights - are more visible to other drivers.

"People in four-wheeled vehicles will see not just motorcycles coming at them but motorcycles with human characteristics and faces," says Charles Kenny, president of Right Brain People, a consumer psychology firm specializing in motor vehicles.
"It connects to something very basic in the psyche that goes back to when they were little children."
By way of example, Kenny points to the Disney movie Cars, and to kids' toys such as Thomas & Friends trains, both of which cause youngsters to emotionally identify with inanimate objects.
Katherine Sutherland, an expert on motorcycle culture, says the humanizing of motorcycle design reflects a cultural shift in which people see technology as an extension of themselves.
"The distinction between machine and body is becoming less clear," says Sutherland, associate dean of arts at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia. "You're not a passenger in a motorcycle. You're actually manipulating it with your body."
Honda's study findings wed perfectly to a prevailing design Zeitgeist in which motorcycles appear livelier than ever, with front-end styling so expressive you'd be forgiven for suspecting the growling machines were sentient.
Major manufacturers such as Suzuki, Kawasaki, Honda, Yamaha, Buell, Triumph and Ducati all feature 2008 sportbikes fitted with menacing cat's eye headlights redolent of James Cagney on a bad day. Dozens more models radiate aggression through other design cues. The wide tank and narrow seat of the muscular Monster 696, for instance, gives the two-wheeled beast the appearance of a boxer.
Yamaha's FZ1 is being called the "ultimate street brawler" thanks partly to its lean silhouette and slanted twin headlights. Triumph's Street Triple was recently described by the Los Angeles Times as "a Marlon Brando of a bike that comes off the line with its fists swinging." And Ducati's much-anticipated 1098R is a bike so ferocious you can almost see its fangs.
"The sportbike community really wants an aggressive, hard-edged design," says John Paolo Canton, spokesman for Ducati North America. "Nobody wants to buy a 300-km/h motorcycle that looks cute."
Motorcycle use in Canada is at a two-decade high, with 485,000 registrations in 2006 (the latest year for which data is available), up from just 274,000 in 1999. Riders, however, represent a disproportionately large number of the country's serious motor vehicle injuries (8.7 per cent) and fatalities (7.6 per cent), emphasizing the need for safety and awareness among all road users.
"Perhaps most importantly, aggressively styled motorcycles look intimidating to the rider - like something you have to learn to operate," says Thompson Rivers' Sutherland. "Whereas a scooter is so friendly and cute that people think they can just hop on them and drive."

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