Instrumented bikes

Bikes kitted with video and GPS technology give us a "bike's eye view" of the road, so we can identify and fix hazards

Safer roads and roadsides

Footage from the instrumented bike
Footage from the instrumented bike

Background

Hazards like loose gravel or potholes may be nothing more than a minor irritation for a four-wheeled vehicle, but for motorcyclists they’re a serious problem. Bikes are far more sensitive to the camber of the road and changes in shape, texture and skid resistance. To make matters worse, roadside hazards can be unforgiving and result in serious injuries or death in a crash.

That’s why we have been looking closely at some of our more popular scenic routes, particularly those with a crash history like the Southern Coromandel, Rimutakas, and Canterbury, using the latest GPS technology on “instrumented” bikes. The instrumented bike project is a joint venture with NZTA, which started with the Southern Coromandel loop project. The data collected from the instrumented bike allowed local and international experts to scrutinise the route and identify safety issues unique to motorcyclists. The result was a series of safety improvements being trialed in Safer Rides - Southern Coromandel, a multi-agency pilot project aimed at reducing the number and severity of motorcycle crashes on the route. MSAC is a key partner, contributing funding for the instrumented bike.

This work is ongoing on both popular motorcycle touring routes, and on urban roads used by motorcycle and scooter commuters. MSAC is recommending that ACC continue with funding for these bikes. They have a vital role to play in helping roading engineers and road safety experts understand a rider’s point of view, and factor that in when planning ongoing maintenance and new safety improvements.

What’s an instrumented bike?

An instrumented motorcycle is essentially a bike fitted out with smart cameras that can read the road from the perspective of a motorcyclist. The camera software measures factors such as time, speed and route altitude as well as latitudinal and longitudinal forces.

The instrumented bike pairs up with another trained rider and follows behind to measure the effect the road ahead has on the rider’s behaviour. The data collected is downloaded along with rider commentary and video playback to provide accurate information on both the road and the rider, enabling a better understanding of the unique risks a particular route presents to motorcyclists.

The placement of the video camera is as important as the software. The cameras aren’t fixed to the rider’s helmet but to the bike itself, at the rider’s point of view. They’re usually fitted slightly to the left to capture the section of the road the bike is using. The camera is ‘miked’ so that the commentary of a professional motorcyclist adds human insight to the raw data.

The original helmet cam was too distracting as the rider’s head is usually looking all over the place. Fixing the camera to the bike was by far the better option.

Jim Furneaux, Principal Advisor for Driver Training & Testing Standards with NZTA

For the recent rideover of an urban route in Auckland, an additional camera was mounted to the left on one bike but to the right on a second bike where the interaction with other road users becomes more important. The decision to kit out a general purpose bike rather than purchase a customised one was pragmatic. A dedicated bike is extremely expensive. It needs secure storage and has to be transported from A to B. By using kitted out bikes, together with a set of guidelines, more bikes can be used by local training organisations and councils. All that’s needed is the right bike and a professional rider or trainer. A bit of trusty duct tape doesn’t go amiss either.

Did you notice the speedo going over the speed limit?

When riding down the hill to Governor's Bay (around 35 seconds) the large speedo reads higher than the posted speed limit. This is because the speed on the big dial comes from GPS satellites, and in many places where there are hills, the signals get lost momentarily. Depending on the situation, when this shows on the gauges the readings stop, display an average, or go into catch-up mode. At this particular point, it is playing catch-up...you can see on the rider’s speedo we are not going as fast as the display reading.

We were doing no more than the allowable speed. The effects of GPS signal loss on the gauges can be clearly seen in other parts of the video.