Maintaining a sense of stability

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Electronic Stability Control for motorcycles
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Recent innovations in sensor technology have reduced the risks of motorcycling and could mark the end of the wheelie, says Jonathan Newell.

Electronic stability control is the latest safety system which is becoming more widespread as a standard feature on new motorcycles, after Bosch introduced the technology onto models produced by Austrian manufacturer KTM in 2014.

With BMW, Ducati and other major manufacturers now offering the technology, this life-saving aid that is already commonplace on four-wheeled transport is now becoming more widespread in the motorcycling community.

Sensors for safety

Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) is not the first sensor-based safety system to feature on motorcycles, with Side View Assist and ABS also available.

Side View Assist is particularly useful in urban traffic and is already saving lives in South-East Asian countries, where small motorcycles are the most common mode of transport, creating chaotic conditions in rush-hour traffic where lane changes can be perilous.

The technology uses four ultrasonic sensors that cover a distance of up to 5m in areas that are difficult or impossible to see using just the mirrors. Whenever there is a vehicle in the rider’s blind spot, the technology warns them by way of an optical signal close to the mirror.

ABS a forerunner to MSC

Also of huge important to the Asian small motorcycle market is the use of dual-circuit ABS, which enables riders to apply the brakes without having to judge road conditions or lean angle in order to carry out a safe braking manoeuvre. The latest ABS10 system from Bosch, which is lighter and smaller than previous iterations and therefore more suitable to smaller motorcycles, will prevent the wheels from locking and skidding, enabling the rider to stay upright.

More than 20,000 people die in motorcycle collisions every year in Thailand and Indonesia and if ABS were fitted to all motorcycles, it has been estimated that this figure would reduce by a third. In some cases, falls and collisions would be avoided and in others, the impact force would be reduced by cutting the speed.

For heavier motorcycles, ABS provides the basis for a new feature which is programmed into the ABS control unit, called Vehicle Hold Control. This prevents the bike from rolling away when it comes to a stop on an incline and saves the rider from having to continuously engage the hand or foot brake.  This electronic combined braking system is also the basis for MSC.

Motorcycle Stability Control

The two variants of MSC, whether based on standard ABS or the combined braking system, are both designed to maintain the delicate balance of forces needed in the complex handling of powered two-wheeled transport. Whether braking, accelerating or leaning into a bend, MSC provides riders with a safety-net if they misjudge their combination of speed, angle, road surface condition and braking force. MSC will not allow the forces that operate on the motorcycle to become unbalanced.

The control unit delivers the right balance of braking force between front and rear wheels and detects loss of traction if acceleration forces are too high or if the rider brakes too sharply whilst leaning into a slippery corner. Lean angle sensors measure the amount of lean which is fed to the MSC controller to apply the most appropriate throttle level or braking pressure regardless of rider input.

Whilst such interventions are undoubtedly welcome safety features, they have been criticised by some motorcyclists who say that they remove the feel of the ride and the associated excitement. After all, MSC makes the controversial wheelie an impossible retro performance.

However, Bosch’s Dr Dirk Hoheisel disagrees. “We want to make motorcycling safer without sacrificing riding enjoyment,” he said.

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