SO – Are Friends Electric?

In the third part of our series looking at combined ABS/TC, we meet the contenders. Essential reading for anyone thinking about a new motorcycle…

As we’ve seen previously, there are compelling reasons for opting into electronics for road riding: the ability to combat poor road surface conditions and brake hard on them in relative safety being at the top of the list. The increasing sophistication and decreasing weight penalty of components means more and more riders are considering incorporating ABS and TC: stats show that where a bike is available with or without a package, the overwhelming majority opt for the former. (Sources: BMW, Aprilia and Ducati.)

The fact that these options are no longer confined to top of the range machines is particularly interesting: we’re approaching a scenario where complete ranges will be equipped with control systems of one kind or another. You can already buy a scooter with combined ABS and TC (Piaggio have taken the plunge – see below). As several people pointed out to me while researching this feature, if the manufacturers don’t get on with developing the systems, there is a very real danger that legislators will force their hand – with attendant negative implications for all concerned.

In part two we gave a basic run down of ABS / TC functionality, noting that the same manufacturer may employ different versions of electronic control systems: where this is the case, we’ve highlighted it.

The thorny question of switchability has become increasingly academic: all the TC systems we’ve referred to below are switchable, offering different levels of intervention or none at all. Most recent ABS systems have an off switch; some allow the rider to pre-define the proportion of front brake used  when only the rear is activated – thus addressing a major weakness of earlier ABS and linked systems.  More detailed technical specifics can be found on the manufacturer or importer’s website.

Our prime concern here is simply to identify those new machines which offer combined ABS and TC, irrespective of whether or not it’s optional. For the sake of clarification  – and believe, it’s an area where clarification is often badly needed – we’ve also included some machines which offer either ABS or TC only.

In this instalment, we start with the manufacturers BG regard as being at the forefront of electronic development:  BMW, Aprilia, Ducati and Kawasaki.


BMW offer an ABS option throughout the range: they have a long history of system development culminating in the S1000, which also offers DTC. This is a more sophisticated development of BMW’s ASC, which is the standard form of TC used on other BMWs. To date, BMW’s policy has been to offer electronic packs as an optional extra.

  • S1000RR  ABS TC (DTC).


The corner stone of the BMW range is the famous boxer twin, whose DNA stretches back to the early 1920s. But  BMW are unquestionably one of the leaders in terms of boundary pushing when it comes to new technology; and among many other developments we can look forward to automatic, reactive suspension damping and a vehicle to vehicle auto communication system. We reckon DTC variations will filter through the range in one form or another as an ASC update, and that BMW may be the first to offer their complete range with an electronics pack as standard. As things stand, the latest version of DTC incoroporates technology similar to that employed by Aprilia on their RSV4 (see below), including TC friendly fly by wire, meaning that it is one of the most sophisticated systems on the market.


Phil Read from Aprilia UK summed it all up neatly. His take is that safety electronics are essential tools for enticing potential riders out of their cars and into the saddle – witness the presence of two scooters combining ABS/TC in the Piaggio range (the Beverly 300 and X10, the latter due in April 2012). He added:

“It’s not acceptable for an industry to rely on a rider’s skill or to assume their attention is being applied at the critical moment.”

That sentence, in a nutshell, summarises an industry wide change in attitude. You’d be very hard pressed to find anyone in the business who’d disagree, which most emphatically would not have been the case even five years ago.  The evolution of electronic control systems has made everyone think again about what is possible, and Aprilia have been at the forefront of the change.

  • Aprilia Dorsoduro 1200  ABS/TC
  • Moto Guzzi Stelvio and NTX   ABS/TC
  • Aprilia V4 APRC Tuono, RSV4   TC ONLY (ATC)


Unlike most other manufacturers, Aprilia develop their own electronics in house, the fruit of experience gained on the track and with the backing of Piaggio – it’s system development rather than installation which eats up costs. The APRC traction control available on the RSV4 and Tuono V4 is widely regarded as being very near state of the art: gyros and accelerometers mean that lean angle is factored in to TC calculations, resulting in high precision intervention. But while we can understand the absence of ABS on the sportsbike, we can’t help feeling that it’s omission from the Tuono is questionable – it’s a road bike first and foremost – and wouldn’t be surprised if this situation was eventually remedied.  If Piaggio scoots are getting the treatment,  it is hard to imagine that their flagship roadster will not get an ABS option. Either way, Piaggio group machines will increasingly feature electronic control systems.

APRC promo:



Europe leads the field in motorcycle design and electronics, and Ducati have helped cement this pre-eminence, an extraordinary accomplishment for a relatively small company. In terms of electronics available for road bikes, they are right up there, and the product continues to evolve.  When a company like Ducati, with their sporting ethos and adherence to clean, traditional lines embrace electronics to the extent they have, it signifies a major development in design philosophy. Such things don’t happen by chance. They happen because people keep having accidents.

As well as DTC and ABS, Ducati provide their DDA data download option for post ride analysis on the sportsbike range and Monster 1100 EVO.

  • Panigale Tri Colore, ABS/TC (DTC) standard.  ABS optional: S & Panigale
  • Monster 1100 EVO  ABS/TC (DTC )  ABS only on 796 & 696.
  • Multistrada ABS/TC (DTC) – all models
  • Diavel  ABS/TC (DTC) – all models
  • 848 SE & Streetfighter models – DTC only  


You have to be impressed by the way Ducati have integrated electronics across the range – to date, only BMW match that commitment. Having made it, we expect to see DTC evolving throughout the range: some found earlier incarnations of DTC intrusive, but such is the pace of innovation that systems are inevitably superceded rapidly (which is why we have avoided looking at electronic options on anything until now).


For many observers, Kawasaki have forged to the forefront of commercial Japanese motorcycle design.  The re-incarnation of the Z1000 in 2003 marked the emergence of the Green Giant from a protracted somnambulistic sojourn which had lasted the best part of a decade. There have been hits and misses since then, but gradually and undeniably Kawasaki have consolidated their new found pre-eminence. It is no co-incidence that in terms of electronic rider aids they are the only Japanese company offering a range that compares with their European counterparts.

Becasue Kawasaki offer a range of ABS & TC options with different specs., we’ve gone into a little more detail.

  • 1400 GTR  TC (KTRC) & ABS (K-ACT)

3 selectable levels of KTRC, using K-ACT wheel speed sensors to detect front/rear divergence.   K-ACT is an electronically combined system integrating with KTRC allowing the rider to select the ratio of front brake force employed when only the rear brake is applied. It is extensively available on Kawasaki’s cruiser range. 

  • ZX-10R  TC (S-KTRC) & optional ABS (KIBS)

Moves the game on from KTRC. S-KTRC is a sophisticated system which is claimed to be proactive, hence the need for only three levels of rider control against the eight offered by the RSV4 (APRC) and Panigale (DTC). What this means is that SKTRC monitors parameters involved – wheel speed, throttle position, revs etc. –  constantly, and recognises specific combinations of input allowing precise tailoring of control. The KIBS system on the ten is the most sophisticated ABS system employed Kawasaki.

  • ZZR 1400 TC (KTRC) & ABS

Like  the VERSYS 1000 (below) , the ZZR’s TC is a half way house between standard KTRC and S-KTRC.

  • VERSYS 1000  TC (KTRC) & ABS

The new Versys offers a ‘tweaked’ form of KTRC .


Having made it to the top of the Japanese tree in terms of electronic control, Kawasaki are totally committed to expanding its use throughout their range, tailoring the systems to individual model requirements.  It isn’t just PR speak: Team Green are intensely aware of the fact that this time around they simply can’t afford to slip back into the chasing pack. They’ve been there, done that, and in the current financial climate a return to the doldrums is not an option. Their factory absence from Moto GP has thrown a welcome focus onto the production line.


One of the many problems in trying to make sense out of this information: it is becoming increasingly difficult to say that one system is definitively superior to another, when applied to road use.  It’s hard enough to nail down TC superiority on track between S-KTRC, DTC (BMW) and APRC ATC, but on the road TC has a different job: minimising the effect of poor road surfaces without being intrusive at the wrong moment. What is apparent is that fly by wire systems (more here ) as seen on various Hondas, Yamahas, Aprillias etc allows a greater degree of precision in TC systems since all input is digitised.

The trend has been for factories to offer near state of the art on their flagship model, while the rest get less sophisticated electronic controls. But for the vast majority of road riders, the simpler versions of TC – detecting anomalous wheel speed difference and correcting it via engine management – will do a very capable job and fulfil their raison d’etre without drama, any shortcomings only becoming occasionally apparent under hard riding. ABS is slightly different in so far as the same system can feel better suited to one particular type of bike than another: as a general rule, it is more intrusive in machines with long suspension travel, like big trailies. (Arguably the Ensuro / Supermoto class would benefit more from top notch ABS systems like KIBS than their sportsbike cousins, since  they are more vulnerable to the side effects of hard ABS usage.  Then again, most people would sooner get the machine stopped in one piece, however lairy the experience, than crash…)

Our advice to someone buying new who has decided to opt in to electronics is simple. Decide on the class of machine you are after, note which ones combine TC/ABS, and make your decision on the feel of the bike on the highway. The presence of this array of  processing hardware has made test riding before purchase even more important that it had been previously. All of the systems we’ve referred to will make your chances of staying on the bike in extremis greater, and all of them will perform credibly on the road. The downside is the extras don’t come free. But we’re talking about safety here: no one is immune from the possibility of diesel on the road or a last second SMIDSY. Get familiar with the ABS in practice, how it feels when applied in earnest. The next time you have to get serious with the brake lever, ABS may be the difference between an adrenalin flood and hospital food.

If you’ve read this far, you have an interest – so get out there and check out  your personal contenders. It really is the only way to make the call.

In the fourth and final part of this series, we’ll look at the other manufacturers and see what’s on offer. 


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