The Polaris Ride Command system on an Indian motorcycle. (Photo via Polaris Industries)

It’s 26 times more dangerous than driving a car, and now it’s getting a touch screen.

Almost every new motorcycle on the road can now be loaded with a touch screen after Polaris, the maker of Victory and Indian motorcycles, announced it would put the displays on its new motorbikes and off-road vehicles. It joins Harley-Davidson and BMW, which added touch screens to their top models in recent years. 

“Ride Command” will allow riders to map out routes, stay connected with buddies, sync their phones to the bike’s infotainment system, and even check social media apps through the display screen. To do all that, of course, riders will have to take one of their hands off the handle.

The safety of the screens doesn’t seem to alarm riders or regulators. They’re something consumers asked for, the company said. Many cars come equipped with touch screens now, after all. Riders are more concerned with whether the touch screens will make their nature-y ride too high-tech, executives say.

But fear not, lovers of the open road. If you don’t want a technological assist, tap the screen for three seconds to shut the system off.

Manufacturers of vehicles meant for more outdoorsy customers walk a thin line between providing creature-comfort type features, and allowing drivers and riders to rough it on their own. And that line keeps moving, industry insiders say. Does having bluetooth calling on your ATV make it more fun to use or does it separate you from the boundless joy of going off-road and off-the-grid?

“We as a manufacturer need to ensure the technology is not intruding on the people who don’t want it,” said Steve Menneto, Polaris’s president of motorcycles. The company makes both street and off-road bikes and vehicles.

But computer gadgets and software are now everywhere in any kind of moving, electronic thing. You’re not actually moving your car or motorbike when you turn the steering wheel, for example, you’re asking a computer to turn it the same direction you’re steering. Even if we want a simplified vehicle, there’s really no opting-out of computer-enabled transportation.

A modern car runs 100 million lines of software code. A motorcycle runs almost as many. By comparison, an F-35 fighter jet, a military aircraft that drops bombs and flies 1,200 mph, runs just 24 million lines code.

Although software powers all aspects of our lives, including our automobiles, it’s an open question whether there are times where it hinders the experience rather than enhancing it.

“There is definitely a bifurcation of where a bike is transportation and where it’s a toy,” said Richard Barrett, senior product marketing engineer at Cypress Semiconductor, which makes software for vehicles.

A bluetooth music system is probably more of a toy. A beaconing system that allows cars to more easily detect approaching bikes, something technology and vehicle companies are working on, is probably more transportation essential.

But what about things in the middle ground, such as a navigation system? Then, technologists have to consider a different question, Menneto says: What do consumers expect?

Polaris wants you to be able to do on your bike or off-road vehicle almost anything you can do in a car — and to some extent, some things you can do simply standing up — as long as that activity is safe, he said. Turn-by-turn navigation or text messaging, for example, are both technologies Polaris includes in bikes simply because the company can. The customer will decide how to use them.

“Consumers are used to and expect it in all the different vehicles and areas of their life,” Menneto said. “They want the safety, the convenience and the fun factor.”

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