Professor helps connect bikers on the Internet
Dr. Mike Hilgers knows that riding a motorcycle is an emotional experience. That’s why he’s helping Honda engineers generate virtual feedback about motorcycle design from real bikers.
"I proposed to Honda that you can quantitatively measure the desired geometry of a motorcycle," says Hilgers, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Missouri-Rolla. "People can become very attached to the way their motorcycle looks in addition to the way it rides."
Thanks to a grant from Honda, Hilgers has created his "Blueprint a Bike" Web site that features an interactive blueprint of a Honda Shadow. Motorcycle enthusiasts can access the blueprint and make changes to various angles by clicking on the handle bars, for instance. Feedback is monitored, calculated and averaged in order to derive quantitative information about the most appealing features of a motorcycle’s design. Honda will eventually be able to use the information to make decisions about future designs.
"Architects have long known that rectangles are appealing in buildings," Hilgers says. "In motorcycles, I suspect the triangle is most appealing aesthetically."
The "triangle" is represented by connecting imaginary points from the front fork, to the handle bars, to the rear fork. On the Internet site, these are the areas of the blueprint most often manipulated by would-be designers. Hilgers, who owns a Harley-Davidson, says many motorcycle enthusiasts favor elongated handle bars, an extended front wheel, and a longer, lower frame — the chopper look.
"I can stand out in the garage and just look at my bike for hours," says Hilgers, who emphasizes that image and other non-performance related factors play an important role in a person’s decision to buy a motorcycle. "A motorcycle represents freedom to many riders. I’ve said that, when I’m through with academia, I’m going to be a Harley mechanic out in Colorado."
When he was in the fifth grade, Hilgers’ father put him on his first dirt bike. "The ultimate way to become a safe rider is to grow up in the dirt with a bike while your bones are still fairly elastic," he says.
Hilgers also maintains that the ultimate way to build a good motorcycle is to bring customers into the artistic phase of its design.