Honda's Downhill Racer
You could look at Honda's RN01 mountain bike as a bit of a throwback. After all, the company started off making motorcycles before progressing on to cars, and now it's making experimental aircraft and robots. So a mountain bike seems decidedly low-tech for Honda R&D's technical gurus. But the RN01 is not just any weekend stump jumper. Built specifically for the high-adrenaline sport of downhill (DH to those in the know), mountain bike racing, in which riders hurtle down snowless black diamond-level ski slopes at ridiculous speeds, the bike features an honest-to-goodness transmission in place of the usual gears and derailleur setup. The guts of the transmission are a closely held secret. It's conjectured that it could be an extremely lightweight version of a continuously variable transmission (CVT). What is known for sure is that the transmission allows Honda's Team G Cross racers to switch gears in mid-air during jumps without the need to pedal, allowing them to maintain better balance. What Honda really hopes to gain from participating in DH is unclear. Learning about balance and lightweighting at its most basic level could yield some improvements in motorcycle design. Besides, what's Honda got to lose? After all, the total bill for the RN01 effort probably doesn't even approach the annual dry cleaning bill for an F1 driver.