Riding Damon’s Shape-Shifting Halo Motorcycle

The firm’s new concept is an adaptable bike that can change its ergonomics.

Halo motorcycle
Damon’s proof-of-concept Halo motorcycle looks to combine a 360-degree warning system, 5G connectivity, electronically adjustable ergonomics, and an electric powertrain for a safer, rider-friendly experience.Damon Motors

Ever have this experience? You're comfortably cruising along at about 60 mph in the number 3 lane on the freeway when you realize your exit is approaching—fast. A quick check of the right-side mirror confirms the lane to your right is clear but as you prepare to merge into it, a yellow LED on your Yamaha MT-07's dash begins blinking furiously. Seconds later, a lowered VW GTI speeds past in the right lane—he'd been tucked out of sight in your blind spot. The flashing LED had done its job and alerted you to a dangerous situation.

This bike has AWSM which is a proprietary warning system
Damon’s first product is the AWSM, a proprietary warning system specifically designed for motorcycles and connected to the cloud. Hopefully the OEMs are listening.Andrew Cherney

Okay, so this was my first time too. No, it wasn’t my first dance with Yamaha’s excellent hyper-naked middleweight, but it was my first meeting with Damon’s proprietary 360 Advanced Warning System for Motorcycles (AWSM), which this working mule of an MT-07 had been outfitted with. And just who is Damon? In a nutshell, Damon is a technology company based in Vancouver, Canada, that's knee-deep into a number of innovative motorcycle projects, the first of which is the AWSM set up on the Yamaha.

The system uses a combination of radar, cameras, and other sensors to track the speed, direction, and velocity of dozens of objects at a time, analyzing their trajectories and behaviors to anticipate possible hazards. When a hazard is detected, the onboard AWSM system warns the rider by way of LEDs positioned at eye level over the cockpit. The LEDs light up on either side of that bar, using different colors to alert you to things like an imminent collision (blinking red), a possible hazardous moving object (flashing yellow), and a tailgating alert (solid blue when following another vehicle too closely). An accompanying vibration buzzes through each grip to emphasize that message, and the final piece of the puzzle is an iPad-sized screen mounted in the dash—essentially a rear-view camera display that lets you check out what’s behind you.

The system is also networked with an onboard 5G link to Damon's main computers, and whenever an action of interest is picked up by the AWSM, the data’s logged and sent back to the cloud to be analyzed and fed to the rest of the Damon-enabled fleet, thus allowing the system to learn behaviors and refine alerts over time. Unlike the traditional driver-assistance systems (ADAS) found on cars, Damon says its system is specifically tailored for the unique vehicle dynamics of motorcycles, using forward, side, and rear detection algorithms to form a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of what’s around the motorcycle. Damon CEO Jay Giraud is passionate about making motorcycling safer, and he knows it won’t be easy getting the notoriously conservative OEMs to integrate his new tech into their bikes. But changing rider demographics might eventually win that battle for him.

Chief Technology Officer Dom Kwong
Chief Technology Officer Dom Kwong walks us through the ins and outs of the AWSM on the Yamaha MT-07 test mule, which packs sensors, cameras, and radar at the front and rear as well as each side of the bike.Andrew Cherney

As Dom Kwong, chief technology officer, walked me through a quick pre-ride explanation of the LED indicators, he joked that Damon is really a data company disguised as a motorcycle firm, but Kwong and Giraud happen to be true enthusiasts who really want to shake up the stale industry mindset. So maybe these guys are on to something.

This was Damon’s first test ride event staged to give us media types a more in-depth look at how the bike works in real-world situations to increase rider safety and perspective. Naturally there are bugs to be worked out; it’s early days after all. Some of the systems are overly sensitive to perceived dangers, especially when the bike is leaned over, but Giraud says they’re constantly refining and improving the algorithms (often false alerts happen when lean angle increases and the radar points at the ground, thereby sensing a collision). After 30 minutes of zipping around Portland, Oregon’s surface streets and freeways I could really see the benefits of AWSM.

In fact, the company says it's just sold the AWSM system to the West Vancouver Police Department where it will be installed on a fleet of BMW R 1250 RT-Ps. Damon is hoping that trend continues with major OEMs, who can offer it as an option or as a built-in feature on their bikes.

The Halo bike
The Halo bike, as it’s called, uses a Yamaha R1 as the base platform and tacks on an electric motor along with various robotics to change peg, bar, and seat positions. Note the hinged mounts under the rider’s foot.Andrew Cherney

Believe it or not, the AWSM-outfitted MT-07 wasn’t even the main event. Nope, Damon had staged this whole media ride mainly to showcase its newest baby, the Halo motorcycle, which turned out to be a working, running “proof of concept” machine using a Yamaha R1 as the platform, but fitted with an electric powertrain. The idea here was to create a motorcycle that was safer (it would integrate the AWSM), easier to ride and maintain (electric), and smarter, via its 5G connectivity as well as a unique Variable Ride Technology that lets you adjust ergonomics on the fly with the press of a button. That’s right, the Halo bike allows for adjustability of the three key motorcycle contact points so pilots can completely change the bike's geometry and riding feel, from upright commuter position to more tucked-in sport style. The seat, footpegs, and bars have electronically movable points so they can slide up or down and rotate back as well. If you’re in highway mode, the bars are up higher and the pegs dropped lower, while in sport mode, the pegs slide up and back and the bars drop to give you a more tucked-in riding position.

Robotics and AI are at work underneath the Halo’s 3-D-printed skin (“We literally printed it in our office a couple of weeks ago, so you’ll have to forgive us if it looks a little rough,” Giraud says), and the fairly stock R1 uses a sourced electric motor which is “not all that inspiring” say the Damon guys. Team Damon wanted to underscore the variability between different riding positions, and the aggressive R1 looked to be the perfect choice. In fact, it was bizarre to climb aboard the bike in “commuter position”; this felt like no R1 I’d ever sat on.

But off I went, doing a couple of laps around the block to get acclimated to this “touring R1,” and getting the hang of the electric power output. The third time around, I pressed the mode button like the Damon guys demonstrated earlier and the bar dropped, slowly, with the bike in motion, while the pegs retreated rearward and up, kind of like a small dwarf was gently moving my arms and legs into a different position. The change was super unsettling at first because it’s so unfamiliarly expected, but once you let yourself relax into the new riding position, everything suddenly made sense. And felt like another possible game-changing moment.

The Halo bike has various wiring, motors, and cameras tucked in behind the bodywork
You can see a hinge where the cowling splits, allowing the bars to move up in commuter mode. Notice the various wiring, motors, and cameras tucked in behind the bodywork; AWSM is integrated.Damon Motors

Giraud really lights up when discussing the possibilities for the Halo bike. He believes the option to order a completely bespoke bike (besides the chassis) that looks and feels exactly how a consumer wants and that will fit that rider perfectly can be a truly welcome shift for consumers and a kick in the pants for the industry as a whole.

Halo prototype
The Halo is a proof-of-concept build, but will we see a production model anytime soon? Damon is banking on it.Damon Motors

The hope initially, Giraud says, is to design and manufacture the Halo bike in-house as a limited edition and eventually build out from there, offering more and more options, though we’d guess there’d be some outsourcing or shared resources too. The idea of ordering a bike that actually fits you seems almost too good to be true, but maybe that’s just because we’ve been told too many times by the old guard that it’s just not possible. But after riding the Halo, I have to believe that it actually might be.

5G-enabled touchscreen
5G-enabled touchscreen allows the Halo to stay connected to the cloud and constantly send and receive situational data, refining the feedback over time. Damon says this system also allows the bike to be speed limited for new riders as well as other applications for fleet operations. Bonus: It’s also a rear-view camera display.Andrew Cherney

Check out the Halo bike in action here.