Whether you’re bench racing over the results from last weekend’s MotoGP
race or analyzing the spec sheet of the latest sportbike at the dealership you won’t hear two words that conjure more intrigue, mystery, and debate than traction control. But how does traction control work? And more importantly, can these electronics translate to faster lap times at the racetrack? To find out we’ve supplemented our 2012 Superbike Smackdown IX Track
with a Motorcycle Traction Control Shootout pitting the six production, traction control-equipped liter-bikes against one another in a controlled racetrack environment to see how the systems compare.
WHAT IS TRACTION CONTROL?
Traction control systems are designed to curtail excessive rear wheel spin by modulating engine torque allowing the back tire to hook-up and drive forward in a more constant method (optimize torque delivery). A more appropriate description of the technology would be wheel spin control. The interface is designed to compensate for a variety of factors including less than optimum suspension set-up, tire degradation, road surface, and of course the action of the rider’s wrist. However, it isn’t a cure-all fix and is intended to be another tool in a rider’s arsenal. When properly set-up, traction control should help record faster, more consistent laps. As the technology evolves the TC systems are starting to include wheelie and launch control as well.
Racing is the nucleus of Ducati. So it was no surprise that the Italian brand was the first to introduce a race-derived traction control system, four years ago, on its then top shelf sportbike, the 1098R (read about it in the 2008 Ducati 1098R First Ride
). Since then, Ducati Traction Control has seen refinements and is now packaged as a standard feature on many of its more-performance driven motorcycles including the 1199 Panigale.
Without question BMW has the most experience in the electronic realm on the automotive side of its business. And it used this know-how to develop its Dynamic Traction Control available as a $495 option on its S1000RR. The system first came to market on the original S1000RR released for the ’09 model year. Three years later the electronics are mostly the same aside from some updated programming for enhanced functionality.
Upscale Italian marque, MV Agusta began offering its own unique form of traction control to its F4 sportbike in ’10. The technology MV employs is more basic than some of its competition and comes standard on both the F4R and F4RR models for 2012.
Similar to Ducati, the Italians over at Aprilia have transferred the success it experienced in World Superbike to all motorcyclists with its APRC (Aprilia Performance Ride Control). The system integrates independently-tuned traction control, wheelie control and launch control functionality allowing for the highest-level of tune-ability, at least on paper. The package comes standard on every ’12 Aprilia RSV4 sportbike as well as its up-spec Tuono.
Kawasaki has the distinction of being the first Japanese manufacturer to the traction control game with its Ninja ZX-10R. Released for the 2011 model year the Ninja incorporates some of the engineering know-how it acquired during its MotoGP campaign from 2003-2008. The system is a carry-over for ’12 and is available exclusively on the big ZX.
Yamaha has a long history of trickling down cutting-edge technology born from racing to the street. But it wasn’t until this year that it unveiled a traction control system on its YZF-R1 sportbike. The technology is said to come from its championship-winning involvement in the MotoGP series and is currently exclusive to the ’12 R1.
The rules for this contest were identical to the track portion of this year’s Superbike Smackdown: Each motorcycle could be fitted with a race-style exhaust system and fuel-injection tuning module to compensate for added flow. An electronic quickshifter could also be fitted if not already equipped. Lastly, the OE rubber was replaced with Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa race tires in the SC2 compound front and rear.
For the test we utilized our trusty World Superbike-inspired Superpole protocol. Both test riders, Adam Waheed and California’s reigning AFM club racing champ, Chris Siglin, put in two flying laps on each of the six bikes at northern California’s Thunderhill Raceway with running order selected at random, out of a hat. Since Waheed isn’t as speedy as Siglin, we opted to have him lap with TC in the least restrictive mode. Conversely, Siglin rode with a middle of the road TC setting (Race mode for BMW).
The traction control Superpole was run immediately after the first session used to establish the Superpole Fastest Lap scoring category (see scorecard at the bottom of the page 2012 Superbike Smackdown IX Track Conclusion
) so each of the motorcycles had four-lap old tires and fuel loads.