First cars, now bikes: Analogue dials ditched for digital

By DPA | 5 December 2020

BERLIN: A motorcycle’s faded dials might become a thing of the past as shiny chrome frames that replace round, analogue instruments are becoming more popular.

Motorbike enthusiast Joerg Lohse, who writes for a specialist magazine in Germany, says digital displays on motorcycles have been on the rise for several years.

"In the higher price segment, digital instruments are part of the expected standard equipment, i.e. for machines over 1,000 cubic metres," says Lohse. But even for machines with 800 to 1,000 cubic metres, customers expect digital displays.

Lohse sees several advantages to the small screens. "Modern sports motorcycles usually offer a wide range of adjustment options that owners would not be able to select without menus and sub-items on the displays," says Lohse. These include control options for the chassis and ABS or traction control.

Some manufacturers present the information in a clearly structured and concise manner, while others are small and not very intuitive.

"In the end, it's all about the rider's benefit. Does the presentation bring added value without overburdening the rider? If it's too much of a gimmick, the display only distracts and helps no one," says Lohse.

During a test ride, it is important to pay attention not only to the engine, chassis and seating position, but also to operation, display and adjustment options.

"It makes no sense to have an infinite number of possibilities if the dials are too small to be of any use. It’s better to have a few pieces of information that are displayed in large format,” says Lohse.


Most riders were satisfied with the rpm, gear display, speed, temperature display and trip metre. Lohse estimates that about half of all motorcyclists tend to see their machine as a mechanical device, want as much analogue technology as possible, and do not demand digital output.

"With the trend towards connectivity, and machines interacting with smartphones, more TFT displays will be used in the future, even in smaller classes," he predicts. Perhaps the plug-in displays would come at some point. They could take bikers with them to work on the next route or analyse the distances they have covered.

Yamaha integrates digital instruments into almost all of its motorcycles. Only the R6 and FJR1300 have an analogue speed display in addition to the digital speed display. Good visibility in all conditions, optimal legibility of important information, numerous display options and many functions in a small space are the advantages that Yamaha claims to see in digital displays.

Among other things, the instruments display Speed, rpm, odometer, gear, fuel level and remaining range. "On models like the R1 super sports car, riders can call up additional information such as front brake pressure, force distribution during acceleration and braking," explains Marvin Eckert of Yamaha.

BMW has been offering TFT displays for its motorcycles since 2017, initially as an option for the R 1200 GS. Today, the bright and glare-free displays are installed in many machines from 400 to 1250 cubic meters.

"With the digital instruments, motorcyclists receive a simplified and clearly arranged instrument cluster. It is important to us that the rider has as few distractions as possible, so the display starts in pure ride mode, providing only the most important information in large and easy-to-read letters," says Roman Vilimek, Product Manager Connected Ride at BMW Motorrad. Only when you get deeper into the system are additional functions offered via the various menus.

In addition, on-board computers and travel computers provide information about relevant statistics, with configurable driving modes, and the possibility to change the response behaviour of assistance systems, and connect Bluetooth-capable devices.

More complex functions will not be available during the journey so as to limit the risk of distraction.

For classic models such as the R Nine T or R 18, however, BMW continues to rely on classic instruments. According to Vilimek, while these machines also stand to gain from having digital displays, in this segment, appearance and presentation outweighs the need to be able to process as much information as possible.