Mo­tor­cy­cling safety in the dig­i­tal age

Motorcyclist - - Contents - —Zack Courts

HOW MANY TIMES have you had a hand held up to your face and heard the words, “I’ve got all of the trac­tion con­trol I need right here.” Usu­ally it’s com­bined with a smirk and an im­pugnable sense of pride. That’s be­cause gen­er­a­tions of mo­tor­cy­clists sur­vived without the help of elec­tronic rider aids, and we, as a group, love to hate the idea of any­one but us be­ing in con­trol.

Dur­ing the In­ter­na­tional GS Tro­phy, a wily and ex­pe­ri­enced en­duro rider said he wouldn’t even think about us­ing ABS as we de­scended a long, down­hill sec­tion of Thai jun­gle cov­ered in greasy mud. I con­vinced him to turn on the R1200GS’S linked En­duro-pro sys­tem, and when we stopped at the bot­tom he was wide-eyed at how well the sys­tem worked. “I haven’t trusted ABS since my 2006 GS,” he ad­mit­ted.

And that, dear reader, is the para­dox of elec­tron­ics—they are con­stantly chang­ing. In GS Joe’s case, he had con­demned an­tilock brak­ing sys­tems whole­sale based on his ex­pe­ri­ence a decade ago. How ab­surd do peo­ple make you feel if your cell phone or com­puter is more than a few years old? That’s how fast the sys­tems in our mo­tor­cy­cles ad­vance too. Ex­cept it’s traf­fic safety, not mes­sag­ing apps.

To com­pli­cate it even more, the world of ABS and trac­tion con­trol has splin­tered into lay­ers of com­plex­ity and ad­justa­bil­ity. Some an­tilock brake sys­tems link the front and rear wheels (like the R1200GS), mon­i­tor lever pres­sure, and know how far you’re lean­ing over. Other sys­tems just know not to let the wheel lock. The same goes for trac­tion con­trol. Some are amaz­ing; out­dated ones can be so rudi­men­tary that they’re scary.

Sim­ply put, there are sys­tems for safety and sys­tems for per­for­mance. Think of it like in­sur­ance: Many of us sur­vive on high-de­ductible plans that are de­signed to keep you from go­ing bank­rupt if you need emer­gency surgery, but day to day they don’t help us. A pro­fes­sional ath­lete, on the other hand, has their health in­sured on a daily ba­sis. Even if they don’t get hurt, they re­ceive care to make sure their bod­ies are in win­ning con­di­tion.

Ba­sic ABS or trac­tion con­trol is that high-de­ductible plan—if the sys­tem senses a huge mis­take it will ac­ti­vate and try to save your hide. Say you’re peel­ing through an in­ter­sec­tion and as you get on the gas you hit a pud­dle of coolant or a wet man­hole cover. Trac­tion con­trol cuts power, you crunch your groin into the tank, and you curse through wa­tery eyes at the bike. But you didn’t crash.

What that ba­sic TC can’t do is mon­i­tor umpteen dif­fer­ent an­gles and ac­cel­er­a­tions hun­dreds of times per sec­ond, make your in­puts smoother and more ef­fi­cient, and help you be a bet­ter rider. But th­ese sys­tems ex­ist. Take the afore­men­tioned R1200GS’S fancy ABS or the Yamaha YZF-R1’S wheelie con­trol that will au­to­mat­i­cally carry an inch-high Mo­togp-style power wheelie through three gears with the throt­tle wide open. That’s that Nfl-ath­lete in­sur­ance, and, boy, is it good. But even the rudi­men­tary stuff is worth its weight in sil­i­con, es­pe­cially if you’re tired, dis­tracted, or pan­icked.

I’m not telling you to give up or that the ma­chines have won. I hate the feel­ing of a com­puter in­su­lat­ing me from the pas­time I love. Switch them off if you want—en­joy raw and pure mo­tor­cy­cling. I some­times do the same. Just re­mem­ber that when an in­stant can mean every­thing, good elec­tron­ics are bet­ter than you are and they’ll be there to help.

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