Ohlins is pushing suspension technology into the digital future with the advent of its Mechatronic shock absorber ($1625). Designed in collaboration with Kawasaki, the e-shock offers fully automated, semi-active damping adjustment based on riding conditions and engine power mode selection (Full, Medium, and Low). It’s engineered for those that would rather spend time riding then fiddling with suspension clickers. The shock is compatible with all 2011-2013 Ninja ZX-10R sportbikes.
“We’ve created a new product that’s in a category of its own,” explains Ohlins Motorcycle Project Manager, Peter Andersson. “Just a few years after our racing success in World Superbike with Mechatronics technology, and with the successful launches of the EC systems for the Ducati Multistrada and the Mechatronics aftermarket system for the BMW R1200GS, this is another significant step forward for our technology.”
Based off the Swedish company’s top-shelf TTX36 MK II damper used by many AMA and World Superbike race teams, the body features a twin-tube design in which the compression and rebound circuits are controlled independent of each other allowing for more efficient damping characteristics. The tension of the shock spring can be modified via a tool-less remote adjuster for added simplicity. However the real magic lies in its electronics with it reacting in real-time to road conditions and modifying damping settings during the ride.
The Mechatronic shock is only a few hundred dollars more than the manually adjusted TTX36 MK II used by many AMA and World Superbike race teams.
It does this by gathering data via a dedicated ECU (about the size of a flip-phone) that plugs into the Ninja’s wiring harness beneath the tail section through a diagnostic connector. Two wires from the shock body are plugged into the Ohlins ECU thereby allowing it to communicate with the motorcycle and activating the system.
The exact functionality is a closely guarded secret, but the gist is through programming the Mechatronics unit samples data from a variety of different sensors and inputs from the Ninja’s computer. It can measure variables like gear and throttle position, engine rpm, wheel speed and other parameters inside the motorcycle’s brain. Two riding modes are offered (Comfort and Sport), but they can’t be manually selected or modified. Instead the electronics select the modes, applying the optimum setting based on engine power mode selection, input received from the motorcycle and rider behavior.
When the engine is started the shock defaults to the Comfort setting. During fast paced rides, in which a predetermined mathematical threshold is reached, it automatically switches to Sport. Each of the three engine power modes carry specific parameters allowing the shock to alter modes at different intervals. Full power mode takes the longest to revert back from Sport to Comfort, and vice-versa, in Low, the switch from Sport to Comfort is shortest.
The Ohlins Mechatronic shock is a direct bolt-on replacement for stock. It communicates with the motorcycle’s electronics via its own ECU that plus into the OE-wiring harness through a diagnostic connection.
The folks at Ohlins invited us for an all-day mixed road and track ride to test the new system, which took us across a range of different road surface conditions en route to Southern California’s Streets course at Willow Springs International Raceway. Ohlins also supplied a stock ZX-10R so we could compare both shocks back-to-back. The motorcycles were shod with Dunlop’s latest Sportmax GP-A AMA road race tires.
As soon as you sit on the Ohins-equipped ZX-10R the difference in terms of balance and chassis geometry was readily apparent. The back of the bike sits higher which made the bike steer sharper without compromising stability at high-speeds or over big bumps.
Cruising around at a mellow street pace didn’t net a big difference over stock in terms of comfort, but as the pace increased through some of the faster sections the Ohlins unit delivered a firmer and more accurate ride. Overall action was on the firm side yet it performed well in chop and over rough road surfaces, much to our surprise.
It was difficult to ascertain a difference in terms of feel when and if the shock was switching between modes. We also could never feel a difference in terms of damping adjustment – even on track. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just shows how well Ohlins developed its Mechatronic technology, which allows the rider to better focus on what they like to do best: ride.
Carrying a price tag of $1625 the Mechatronic’s shock is only a few hundred dollars more than its standard mechanical counterpart and each shock ships with the correct spring rate based on the rider’s weight. Ohlins plans to offer additional fitment for other brands/models in the future but for now is limited to only 2011-2013 ZX-10Rs. It’s a worthwhile upgrade for rider’s looking for an edge on the racetrack and a livelier, yet not overly firm ride on the street.
The Ohlins Mechatronic Shock is coming soon to Motorcycle-Superstore.com