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University of Waterloo researchers aim to make motorcycles more comfortable

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Researchers at the University of Waterloo are using software to predict how motorcycle riders will sit based on their height and body shape, in an effort to make the ride more comfortable.

The hope is that manufacturers can benefit from seeing how humans interact with designs before a bike is even built.

PhD candidate Justin Davidson has found motorcycles are generally designed to accommodate the average-sized rider, meaning taller and shorter riders are more likely to experience discomfort.

Taller riders are required to flex their ankles, knees, hips and elbows more to interact with the motorcycle properly, while shorter riders have fewer options in possible joint angle configurations, allowing them to reach the seat, handlebars and foot pegs simultaneously.

But with the help of a digital human model (DHM), researchers at UW’s Occupational Biomechanics Ergonomics Lab can create an avatar with certain height, weight or sex specifications that interacts with a motorcycle design and anticipates comfort levels.

Justin Davidson at the University of Waterloo's Occupational Biomechanics Ergonomics Lab on May 16, 2024. (Spencer Turcotte/CTV Kitchener)

“This is the different postures and the way that you configure your joints to sit on them,” said Davidson. “We use that to drive some of the simulations that we did in the computer using digital human modelling software.”

With more than 40 years in the motorcycle industry, comfort is something that’s always top of mind for Tri-City Cycle & Sport president Randy Kuchma.

He has to be mindful of a customer's height when helping them decide which style of bike to buy.

“The problem is that every height is different. And how do you build a bike for every height?” Kuchma said.

Randy Kuchma of Tri-City Cycle & Sport on May 16, 2024. (Spencer Turcotte/CTV Kitchener)

Years ago, comfort was an afterthought for manufacturers. Now, they’re often designed on a computer and adapted many times with more comfort in mind.

But Davidson and his team at UW want to add an extra step before anything is built.

The hope is this will allow for a thorough trial-and-error phase prior to anything being manufactured, leading to potential benefits for the companies creating the motorcycles.

“What that does is it saves money for the companies because they can do everything before building any physical prototypes. And it creates better designs long-term because they’ll have a better budget,” Davidson explained.

The idea isn’t to reinvent the wheel, but to use DHM tools to enhance the design process early on, making people safer and more comfortable in the long run.

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