Street Savvy

Are elec­tronic rider aids a wel­come en­hance­ment or a crutch?

Motorcyclist - - Contents - BY KEN CON­DON

MO­TOR­CY­CLISTS FLIRT WITH LIM­ITS, both per­sonal and me­chan­i­cal. How much can the hu­man body en­dure? How much power can we pack into a trel­lis frame? Re­cent years have added a third, elec­tronic bound­ary. Trac­tion con­trol, ride modes, and an­tilock brakes make mo­tor­cy­cling safer and have given us an­other fron­tier to press. But do they numb the rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence? What do they teach us? Are we bet­ter, more ca­pa­ble rid­ers with them in place? Is rider skill on its way to be­ing obsolete?

Do elec­tron­ics in­trude?

Mod­ern ABS and TC sys­tems fea­ture cus­tom­iz­a­ble lev­els of in­ter­ven­tion and qui­etly lurk in the back­ground un­til called upon. But while trac­tion con­trol and ABS al­low rid­ers to get away with myr­iad “sins,” whack­ing the throt­tle open and slam­ming the brakes can still get you into big trou­ble. The best rid­ers re­main in con­trol without re­ly­ing on tech­nol­ogy to save their ass.

What, if any­thing, do they teach us?

Mo­togp rid­ers rely on trac­tion con­trol. It al­lows them to safely har­ness ever more power and max­i­mize the ma­chine’s ac­cel­er­a­tion, just as it does for the rest of us. But rid­ers must still have strong con­trol skills and ef­fec­tive sur­vival strate­gies to pre­vent run­ning wide in a curve or ca­reen­ing into a mini­van. Pro­gres­sively ex­plor­ing the lim­its of ad­he­sion with elec­tronic sys­tems as a safety net can help de­velop those skills.

Can elec­tronic aids lead to false con­fi­dence?

The lat­est TC sys­tems do al­low for a de­gree of ham-fist­ed­ness, but un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions will de­velop if you think a bike is not crash­able. These sys­tems man­age avail­able trac­tion un­der brak­ing and ac­cel­er­a­tion; they do not cre­ate more trac­tion. Un­til our ma­chines be­come en­tirely au­tonomous, hu­man abil­ity will con­tinue to be the big­gest vari­able on the bike.

Is skills prac­tice no longer nec­es­sary?

While you can re­lin­quish con­trol to elec­tronic nan­nies, isn’t it bet­ter to re­tain self-re­liance? The best rid­ers are com­fort­able with ABS and TC en­gaged, but they still prac­tice thresh­old brak­ing and pre­cise throt­tle in­puts without the need for tech­nol­ogy to come to the res­cue. As with our per­sonal and me­chan­i­cal boundaries, know­ing the lim­its of trac­tion-con­trol sys­tems and how to use them as a tool for self-improvement rather than as a crutch is es­sen­tial to be­com­ing a bet­ter rider.

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