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Smart Ride 2011 – Safer Sport Bikes Have Arrived!

This article courtesy of the Naval Safety Center Smart Ride 2011 Magazine. Please also check out their website, the Naval Safety Center.

BY DYLAN CODE California Superbike School

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO CUT YOUR CHANCES OF CRASHING A MOTORCYCLE IN HALF?
WHO WOULDN’T?
HOW COULD THAT BE DONE?
EASY: RIDE A SAFER MOTORCYCLE!

Believe it or not, a safer motorcycle has arrived. Plus, it’s fun to ride and plenty powerful; actually, right now it’s the most powerful sport bike in the world. The bike is the BMW S1000RR. While the Navy and Marine Corps aren’t endorsing any brand, I did want to tell you about these advances, and let you know that other manufacturers are following suit. The more you learn about the safer technology, the smarter you’ll be when you’re choosing the must-have features for your next bike.

At the California Superbike School, we travel to tracks around the USA to train riders in a true racetrack environment. This year we switched from a Japanese 600cc sport bike to the new BMW 1000cc sport bike. When news of our switch to the 1000’s got out, many speculated that far more of our students would be crashing on track due to all that power.

Guess what actually happened? We compared last year’s safety statistics to the same period for this year with the new bikes and found we have less than half the crashes with the same number of riders. Why so few crashes on a more powerful bike? Simple: it’s safer. Why? Because it’s smart.

Bear with me for a quick history lesson. These major leaps in performance came from a more innocent time in the 1970’s. Back then you had street bikes and then you had race bikes. Race bikes were made in small quantities at the factory for one purpose – going fast on a closed circuit. They did not have lights, mirrors or even a speedometer – and they were expensive. In the mid-70s a small class was introduced at the national races that fielded modified street bikes. They called it “Superbike.” The Superbike class was more or less a sideshow at the national races, but it gained popularity quickly, partly because spectators liked the idea that they could buy and ride the same models they saw raced at the track. This boosted sales and soon the motorcycle manufacturers were building street bikes that resembled and performed like race bikes. They wanted their bike to win, so spectators would buy it. Soon the saying became “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

FAST FORWARD TO PRESENT DAY and anyone can walk into a dealer and buy, in essence, a race bike. Because they are street legal, they are called sport bikes. The competition between manufacturers to build the ultimate street legal race bike has been hot and heavy for years. The losers in this competition have been the untrained riders and others who have been treating the public roads like a racetrack.

Manufacturers have shown what remorse they can, but what are they supposed to do, make a slower bike and sell none? The solution was to make a safer motorcycle, and this has been accomplished by BMW at the beginning of 2010 when they released the S1000RR. Admittedly, with 183 horsepower at the rear wheel it doesn’t sound safe.

Actually the safe part is in its electronics.
The available electronics package on this bike is comprised of two key elements:
1) Dynamic Traction Control.
2) Race-spec Antilock Braking System.

Dynamic Traction Control set for “rain.” Photo courtesy of California Superbike School.

The Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) is basically every rider’s dream come true. There are many different aspects to DTC, but in a nutshell it keeps the rear wheel from losing traction from over-acceleration or slippery conditions. The system has front and rear wheel speed sensors. If it detects the rear wheel rotating faster than the front, the ignition system will soften the power output to restore traction. Should the slide persist it will then alter the fuel delivery to further soften power output. Information is sampled from the sensors thousands of times per second. Additionally, you can adjust from the hand controls how sensitive the traction control is. For example, there is a setting called “Rain” which will soften the power delivery if the slightest hint of a slip is detected by the sensors. I put this to the test and rode the S1000RR across a grass-covered area in first gear and suddenly twisted the throttle wide open. I was amazed to find that the rear wheel did not lose grip or spin at all. I then went to a paved area and the bike accelerated promptly, but only when it sensed there was traction available.

Another key part of the DTC is a pair of electronic gyros that monitor lean angle within two degrees of accuracy. Power delivery is coordinated with lean angle. This means the further the bike is leaned, the gentler the power output. As the bike is brought from leaned to straight up and down, power becomes more and more available. A rider grabbing a handful of throttle at a steep lean will not receive full power until the sensors find the traction available.
It also has adjustable “wheelie control” that will set the front end down if it gets too high to keep the bike from accidentally flipping over backwards.

There are five different modes of sensitivity:
“Rain” for wet or low traction conditions.
“Sport” for dry street conditions.
“Race” for racetrack with supersport-type tires.
“Slick” for racetrack with non-grooved “slick” race tires.
“DTC off” disables traction control completely.

Photo courtesy of California Superbike School.

The rider can choose the relevant setting for the current riding conditions and environment. The other key aspect to the safety package is the Race ABS. The “Race” part of the name comes from the fact that most racers do not prefer to use ABS due to the lack of feel and control during hard braking. BMW’s racing research and development created a very refined version of antilock braking that allows for excellent feel and maximum stopping power in critical conditions.

Aside from this ABS feature, the gyros on the BMW can detect a front end flip from heavy use of the front brake. Most people call this an “endo” which is short for end-over-end. If the bike detects the rear wheel coming off the ground, it will modulate brake pressure just enough to set it back down while braking is continued. What’s more is the front and rear brakes are linked: when only the front brake is applied, a small amount of rear braking is automatically applied for you. The sensitivity of the ABS is adjusted depending on which mode the traction control is set at. Additionally, if desired, the ABS can even be switched off just like the Dynamic Traction Control.

Advances in braking systems can help avoid “endos.” Photo courtesy of California Superbike School.

What does this all add up to? As I stated earlier, it adds up to a safer motorcycle. Decades ago, aviation experts employed electronic systems to override pilot inputs that are detected as unsafe. This type of technology being integrated into motorcycles has been long overdue, but now that it is here, it’s already saving riders. Regular ABS is not new to street bikes, but Dynamic Traction Control that coordinates braking, power delivery, roll and pitch all in one package – that’s the best risk management news for motorcyclists in a long time.

What about limits and confidence? Many people have voiced concern that riders would become lazy and rely on the electronics to save them and get soft with their skills. I feel that to be the opposite and I’ll tell you why. So many riders wonder where the limits of traction are. How much can you lean it? How hard can you brake? How much throttle can the bike handle? This bike tells you. When the traction control has to intervene, it notifies the rider by means of a white LED on the dash. That’s the bike telling you: “Hey buddy, that was too much throttle – I had to step in and save you.” Right there the rider feels the limit without overstepping it. The same is true with the Race ABS. When it intervenes, you feel a very light pulse in the lever. Again, in this instance the rider feels when maximum braking is taking place. These are excellent learning tools.

Of course the bike is not crash proof. Too much lean or too fast for a corner and the tires simply can’t cope. Nothing will ever take the place of solid training, sharp skills, and smart riders. But technological advances like these are good tools. We’ve now had dozens of days at the track where not one rider went down on this bike, even when the riders were challenging the limits. That’s good news for everyone – except those who make a living repairing crashed bikes, selling replacement parts and trying to put the riders back together. This is a giant leap forward in motorcycle technology and already other manufacturers are following suit.

Thruxton Racer – #205

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A beautiful, blue Thruxton racer sponsored by Foothills BMW/Triumph

Triumph Demo Ride @ Foothills BMW/Triumph

Had a nice time over at Foothills BMW/Triumph demoing a few Triumph motorbikes. Brought all my gear, jacket, helmet, and gloves, signed in, and got on the schedule for a Tiger 800. I was a little nervous, as I hadn’t been on a bike for a while. I’m looking to buy in the next year. After receiving a safety brief from Mike, the demo ride leader, off we went. It was a group ride out 6th ave and back, about 12 miles round trip. A little later, I got a ride on the Speed Triple, but I think I enjoyed the Tiger a lot more. The Tiger is much more my style, upright seating, comfortable, but still extremely enjoyable, and it won’t mind going off-road occasionally.  The last ride of the day on the Street Triple R was scheduled at 3:30pm.

Since I had a few hours to kill, and was hungry, I headed next door to Carnations Restaurant. Ordered an iced tea, and promptly got a Coke, haha. They fixed that and brought a roast beef dinner. I wrapped that up with a slice of banana creme pie. The lunch was so quiet alone, I usually eat out with my family, wife and 3 munchkins, so the quiet was strange.

Headed back to Foothills and waited for my Street ride. Off we went, the guy in front of me on the Tiger 800 I was on earlier kept stalling, at nearly every stop. I wondered what problems he was having, but it sounded like rider error when I got back. We ran into a few raindrops on 6th ave, but it felt good on that warm day. After returning, I thanked Mike the demo coordinator, or Road Show Lead, and headed home.

Nice article at Motorcycle Colorado that talked about the demo ride at Foothills too.

Full set of photos on Flickr

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2011 Naked Middleweights Shootout

Motorcycle.com lets it rip on 4 streetfighters, the BMW F800R, Aprilia Shiver, Triumph Street Triple R, and the Yamaha FZ8. The Ducati Monster 796 was late to the party, and was prevented from joining. I like how they call them unfaired funsters, check out the comparison.

BMW HP2 Sport “Speedcruiser”

Wunderlich, BMW tuners, and Procar BMW motorcycles with designer Nicolas Petit, have taken a whack at BMW’s HP2 Sport. Thanks to Pipeburn

Designer, Nicolas Petit’s, blog.