Gauge cluster design is a dying art. Speedometers and tachometers used to sit at the front of motorcycles like single-handed mechanical watches, projecting only the most pertinent information to the rider: vehicle speed, engine speed and the odometer. Then, like most analog things, digital became the preference and, for the most part, still is the preferred way to display even more information to riders like time, temperature, ride modes, traction control and any other minute pieces data the manufacturer deems necessary.
No one is saying having access to all that data is unnecessary or overbearing — quite the opposite. The more you can know about what’s going on with your bike the better, but, on a modern bike, all that information is more than an analog gauge can handle. So digital displays are a necessary evil, but their principal downside is they lack style, character and they all seem to look the same. However, it seems like the motorcycle industry is at a crossroads and the opportunity for unique, yet modern design is on its way back.
Thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal — or full-color TFT displays — are gaining popularity in the motorcycle industry. TFT is merely a more refined version of the well-known liquid crystal display (LCD), whose potential is already on display in the Lexus LFA and Audi’s Virtual Cockpit. And now, motorcycle manufacturers like Ducati are bringing that technology to the two-wheeled universe to exploit the benefits of a TFT display even further.
Ducati Monster Line Product Manager Stephano Trabusi explained, “TFT is more visible during the day, even in direct sunlight, the resolution is much higher than normal LCD so that you can have much more information on a display.” Given that the cockpit of a motorcycle doesn’t have the benefit of shade from a roof, more common digital and LCDs fall victim to severe glare. The Bosch system Ducati runs even goes one step further with a night mode that can tell if it’s night time, if you’re in a tunnel or a low light environment and flips the display background to black and the font white, so it’s easier to read.
Night vision is just the tip of the TFT iceberg, though. The complex levels of traction control and ride modes that come along with the Bosch system mean the screen has to be able to cycle through numerous menus and pages and display the traction control, engine modes and ABS settings once programmed. “Given that the bikes are so much more complex nowadays, they have more and more functions and more electronics; we need that higher resolution to display all that information.” And not only that but Trabusi justifies Ducati’s use of the display in the most modern way possible, “you always see the display when you’re riding, and it has to have a premium feel for a premium ride. Today, we are so used to our smartphones with color displays — it has become just so familiar. And to have this level of resolution and color on our bikes — it was common sense.”
Therein lies the problem with the Bosch system. Because it’s from a third party electronics and software company, and because it’s so close to a complete plug-and-play package, a handful of other manufacturers — BMW, KTM, Aprilia — use similar if not identical systems. So we wind up with cookie cutter displays no better than the uninspired digital systems they replaced. But thumbing through, pages, levels, toggling ride modes and taking calls via Bluetooth, it’s undoubtedly intuitive, but there’s an overwhelming sense that no one is exploiting the display for all it can do. It’s the same as getting an iPhone X and only using it for dim-lit selfies and tri-color wallpaper.
There’s no reason Ducati couldn’t create its own version of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit — between the maps, different gauge cluster layouts and creative displays, it would be like nothing else on two wheels. The creative potential is there, but until someone unlocks it, we’re stuck in this dull purgatory of right angles and primary colors.
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