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Key Creep

It's bigger, yet easier to lose. Is it time to reconsider the keyless key?


Technology is not to be feared. The outhouse is technology. The flyswatter is technology. Electric starters, disc brakes—brakes of any sort—and the use of global positioning satellites, that pinpoint a café with strong coffee in backwoods Vermont, is technology. And that rock you lashed to a stick with leather torn from a loincloth? That you threatened your neighbour with after he installed Neighbor Hater pipes on his Fat Bob? Yes, more technology.


Technology solves problems. Electric starters prevent injury from vicious compression kickback. Good brakes prevent the ramming of minivans. And, as fall settles down on the Northern Hemisphere, men are no longer subject to the pre-loincloth-era snickering of women sizing-up our shortcomings. (Underwear is epic technology.) Despite my determination to remain open to what’s next, I struggle with the keyless ignition.


The terminology itself is misleading. As the photograph illustrates, the key fob from the Triumph Scrambler’s keyless ignition has a key. On the Triumph, it locks the steering head and grants below seat access. The key fob is also large, which means it jostles with earplugs and sunglasses and reading glasses and my wallet and phone and the house keys in my two smallish jacket pockets. And the key fob requires a battery, the type of which is difficult to find in the backwoods of Vermont.


What problem has the keyless ignition solved? When you’ve cinched sleeves tight over gloves and straddled your steed it’s frustrating to discover that the (traditional) key remains in your pocket. Aside from imploring a passerby to reach into your pocket to retrieve it, a time-consuming de-gloving to reach the key is necessary. But from here on in the advantages to keyless riding are foggy.


The primary advantage of a keyed ignition is this: if the motorcycle is running, the key’s whereabouts is confirmed. Never has the rider of a motorcycle with a traditional key veered off the highway onto the gravel shoulder in panic, unsure of where he’s stored the key. But this happens to riders with keyless ignitions. It’s happened to me.


Early key fob technology allowed an engine to start with the fob nestled next to the salt and pepper shakers on the restaurant table. Riding away without the fob triggered one of two misfortunes. The motorcycle would lurch to a stop as it distanced itself from the fob—which at a highway stop coincided with a smart upshift to rejoin traffic. Or the bike wouldn’t show any sign of an issue until it was shut off. Then it wouldn’t restart—300 kilometres away from the key fob back at the restaurant. But even with the key fob on your person, problems persist.


A friend rode 250 kilometres with his key fob upside down beneath the tail of his Multistrada because he forgot to retrieve it after unlocking the seat. Mercifully, the fob didn’t fall. I’ve forgotten a key fob tucked in a storage compartment on a fully-faired bike. Forgotten, that is, until the hazy pre-dawn hours the next morning, when the fob’s absence from the hotel’s nightstand threw me headlong into ransacking the hotel room to find it, as if I was a member of the Rolling Stones touring ensemble circa 1970.


Technology is troublesome when we adopt its usage without first determining its worth. Texting has made traditional talking on the phone nearly obsolete. But what if texting had come first? And then technology developed that dispensed with typing onto miniature keys in lieu of the ability to talk directly to another person? Wouldn’t texting become, overnight, as dated as the telegram?


What’s needed is a designated key fob holder. It could be called a fob nest, though that sounds too mousey. Maybe fob pod? Fob spot? The problem is that the pocket, the current resting place for many a fob, is as dated a technology as the eight-track tape. Suddenly ignition switch, previously relegated to the dustbin of history, begins to sound modern, and not a relic from the distant, outdated past.    

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