You just bought your first bike with a “smart key.” Now what? Welcome to the twenty-first century! You’ve had a motorcycle with an electronic ignition, and fuel injection, and possibly even dynamic electronic suspension adjustment, but now? Now you have one with a keyless ignition. Yipes.
These keyless systems use RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification, and that is the same technology that’s used in toll readers and is the same basic premise. Your keyless motorcycle has an antenna that picks up the unique signal sent to it by your key fob. When that antenna reads the correct identification signal, the electronic system grants you access to the bike’s ignition and you can then start the bike and ride it away.
You may have some questions about this, like, can I bump-start my motorcycle if it has a dead battery? And that answer, if the battery is absolutely dead dead, is a resounding no. The electronic ignition does not need a whole lot of power to run, but that is probably not going to be your blocking issue when trying to bump-start your dead-battery bike. The electronic fuel injection and fuel pump system will most likely be the larger problem. The real answer is, it depends on how dead your battery is, and it depends on your bike. Try not to kill your battery.
What about hackers? Yes, it’s possible (but not super probable) that someone in close proximity to you could “sniff” the radio signal given off by your key fob, replicate it, and use that to make off with your motorcycle. If your bike is very fancy, uninsured, and you park in dodgy places in high-crime areas, you might want to think about a secondary and less technologically complicated system, like a disc lock.
Can you ride off without the key on you? Picture this: you’re packing for a trip in your garage, securing all manner of travel gear to your pillion seat, and in the piles of stuff, riding gear, and spare gloves, your key fob falls to your work-bench surface. It is near enough that you can start the bike, but the key is not on your person and you ride away without it. Yes, this is a thing that can happen. It also goes for that fob falling out of your pocket on the road. Good news! Your bike will detect the moment it loses the fob signal and will alert you with some kind of flashing dashboard warning. If you ignore it and ride on, you will not be able to restart the bike when you stop for gas 200 miles away. Do not ignore flashing warnings on your bike. If you don't know where you lost your fob, try backtracking until the flashing warning goes away.
Before you purchase a motorcycle with a keyless ignition, make sure you fully understand how your specific system works, whether it is also keyed to your factory luggage (yes, some motorcycles have keyless locking luggage that works like your car trunk) and exactly how it all works together. Also, carry a spare battery for your fob somewhere unlocked like your tank bag or jacket pocket so that you’re never grounded by your fancy-pants technology.