The final part of our survey of electronic rider aids: everything you need to know about ABS/TC options on new bikes.
In part three, we looked at what Ducati, Aprilia, Kawasaki and BMW had to offer – the manufacturers we identified as leading the field in terms of availability of combined electronics packs. In this installment we look at their competitors: Honda, Triumph, Yamaha and Suzuki.
While Honda are strongly associated with direct link and ABS braking systems, up until very recently TC was not on the menu – despite the fact that the Pan European featured TC as long ago as 1992. But times are changing, and we strongly suspect that TC will be seen with increasing frequency on Hondas, as their statement below suggests:-
Honda has developed electronically operated aids such as Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT), Traction Control System (TCS) and Anti-lock Braking system (ABS) not as performance enhancing tools, but more to enhance the overall riding experience appropriate for different machines as well as improve rider safety elements. Rider safety is a key factor in Honda’s design philosophy and the development of electronic aids such as ABS are particularly relevant in this area. Under the Road Safety Charter, Honda committed that by 2010 all bikes over 250cc would be available with ABS as an option, and this commitment was met.
You will have noticed the reference to DCT. Though we’ve been dealing by and large with ABS and TC, we have included references to alternative electronic control systems when offered alongside the more familiar acronyms – as is the case with Honda’s V4 1200 machines (see below). DCT also merits attention because Honda have seen fit to develop it despite well documented problems in previous, non Honda incarnations. Which suggests that it’s being taken very seriously indeed. The best way to think of DCT is as an automatic gearbox with a tiptronic option: the rider decides which method to employ. We haven’t yet experienced Honda DCT, but our friend Kevin Ash has. From his report , and the evidence of others, it is clear that the current version of DCT is a massive step forward compared with Yamaha’s FJR AS version of 2006 – to the point where it can be considered as a serious option, especially by customers doing the kind of high mileage to which auto is naturally well suited . But despite the improvements, bike auto is still at an early stage of evolution, and the shrewd punter might well decide it is worth waiting for further development and a concomitant loss of weight (the current system adds around 10 kilos to the bike).
All Honda ABS is referred to as C-ABS (ie linked ABS), but this disguises the reality. Which is that the CBR600RR and Fireblade utilise a more sophisticated package, monitoring rider brake input with greater precision, and intervening less often than its predecessor – a sportsbike rider is more likely to brake later and harder – courtesy of ‘a modulated’control unit. As yet, Honda have not offered TC on their sportsbikes: in direct contrast to Aprilia, whose RSV4 features exceptional TC but no ABS. It is surely only a matter of time before all sportsbikes host a combined package. Currently confined to the V4 1200 range, Honda’s TCS monitors rear wheel speed – If the system detects imminent wheel spin, engine power is momentarily reduced, maintaining traction. The system can be switched off in accordance with rider preference. Reports suggest that this relatively straightforward system works particularly well, courtesy of the fly by wire throttle on the bikes concerned: the ECU receives digital input from the wheel speed sensors and throttle position, allowing for precise levels of intervention. Fly by wire has had its critics, but has undeniably facilitated the development of effective TC.
- VFR 1200 FD C-ABS TCS, DTC option
- VFR 1200 C-ABS TCS
- CROSSTOURER C-ABS TCS, DTC option
- CBR 1000 RR C-ABS (supersport)
- CBR 600RR C-ABS (supersport)
Looking ahead, we predict a wider application of TCS across the range and the continuing refinement of DTC. Don’t be fooled by the lack of Fireblade TCS – Honda are clearly committed to developing the system.
Suzuki offer ABS systems on the V-Strom 650, GSR 750 and Bandit 1250; TC is notable for its absence from their motorcycle range. There are all sorts of theories about Suzuki’s apparent reluctance to get involved with electronic systems on production bikes. During the early noughties, Suzuki had an almost legendary presence at the top of the sportsbike tree, and the Hayabusa was unchallenged as hyperbike king. Could it be that this dominance meant that they were slow to develop next generation contenders? Suzuki issued this statement when asked about their plans.
“Through our racing activities, we have been building experience and knowledge of the electronic traction control devices, and we feel that the technology has potential in the future. However, we are still not clear if the majority of our customers will really directly benefit from adopting this device on mass-production motorcycles. As a manufacturer, we believe the introduction of new technologies must provide substantial benefits to customer in normal road use. As such, we continually evaluate all available technologies.”
Which hardly looks like a ringing endorsement of electronics. (Compare that statement with other manufacturers on the same issues.) Put it this way: Suzuki’s beliefs may or may not be totally justified, but in an environment where the competition claims better sales figures for bikes which have an electronics pack compared with the same machines in standard trim, there could be a purely economic argument for introducing TC. It will be interesting to see if the current stance is maintained.
Triumph watchers have had limited grounds for criticism in recent years – Hinckley keep getting important decisions right, most importantly by refining the quality of ride experience: Triumphs in general tend to handle well, and the decision to make triples the cornerstone of the operation was inspired. However, the company has been slow off the mark two areas. One was the development of small capacity, cheaper machines aimed at – and assembled in – emerging markets, a project finally underway. The other has been electronics. ABS has filtered through the range, although the lack of a top notch, high tec version to compare with the best offered by the competition has yet to be seen – in part due to Triumph’s understandable absence from the litre sportsbike class, which demands the best on offer. And until the recent unveiling of the Explorer – (c/w switchable ABS, essential on any bike with off road pretensions) – TC hadn’t had a look in. Now that it is on the agenda, expect to see it migrating across the range.
- TIGER EXPLORER ABS TC CRUISE CONTROL
Yamaha have had a particularly difficult time in the last couple of years. But exchange rate woes needn’t spell disaster: Kawasaki have shown what can be done with shrewd marketing and innovative design. In the absence of a statement from the Sign of the Crossed Tuning Forks, we chatted with Yam UK’s Simon Belton about the way forward. His take on the relatively slow introduction of electronics to the range differs from Suzuki’s insofar as he had no doubts of the potential benefits, citing instead the price premium as being the real obstacle in the current economic context. Electronics brings the cost of Japanese bikes neck and neck with their European competitors, which is unfamiliar and unwelcome territory for the former. Then again, Kawasaki have shown that where there is a will, there’s a way.
If there was one inline four sportsbike that didn’t need TC, that bike was the cross plane R1 with its big bang firing order – the main benefit of which is, of course, increased traction. We see the introduction of TC on the R1 as being symbolic of a willingness to change direction as much as anything. In that respect, Yamaha have stolen a march on Suzuki – but still have some way to go in terms of making electronics more widely available through the range (current incarnations of the XJ6, FZ8 and FZ1 Fazers feature ABS). Since the R1 and Super Tenere utilise fly by wire throttles, we would expect Yamaha TC to offer similar benefits to the Honda VFR 1200s, as described above, and early reports of the R1’s TC system are encouraging.
- SUPER TENERE LINKED ABS TC
- R1 TC
It’s foolish to draw definite conclusions regarding future developments from our series, but given what manufacturers have told us, a subtext emerges.
The industry can not take the risk of leaving the field of safety provision to the crazed projections of bureauocrats and legislators. By addressing safety via electronics, the politicians are kept at arms length and the systems evolve. As they become more widespread, prices will drop: electronics are here to stay.
There are an awful lot more road miles done out there by cars and trucks than was the case when the VFR 1200’s lauded 750 predecessor took to the road, but surface conditions don’t seem to have improved, at least in the UK. Diesel still gets spilled and we haven’t noticed a decline in poor weather conditions. Whether we like to think about it or not, as bikers we remain especially vulnerable in the event of an accident. The best safety systems are already so good that they can actually enhance rider enjoyment. Be honest with yourself – what’s not to like about their availability?
We started the series by observing that if we were buying new, we would almost certainly opt for a combined ABS/TC package. Nothing we have discovered since has changed our minds. So where do you stand?