Truths About Electronic Stability Control

Bosch-CornerABS-rain
Grab the brakes or whack the throttle while leaned, Bosch has your back. Rain or shine.

The newest Ducati Multistrada has super sophisticated Bosch Traction Control and ABS electronics. These rider aids will make it a whole lot harder to crash! But, are they all they are cracked up to be?

The Bosch electronics I tested at the Bosch proving ground near Detroit included updated ABS with Combined Braking Systems (eCBS), Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC), Lift (Stoppie) Control, Ducati Traction Control (DTC) and Cornering ABS, aka Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC).

The straight-line ABS is nothing particularly new, but the introduction of corner sensitive traction control and Corner ABS certainly is. The brain behind this technology is the Inertia Measuring Unit (IMU) that can detect angles of roll, yaw, and pitch. With this data, the ABS and Traction Control systems can intervene to prevent many crashes caused by over-exuberant braking or throttle inputs. Without the IMU, TC and ABS cannot detect and then intervene to arrest traction loss that includes a lateral slide. With the lean-angle sensitive IMU, it can bleed engine torque or brake power if it detects abrupt changes in pitch, lean or direction. Cool, huh?

Wet tile with ABS OFF.
Wet tile with ABS OFF.

Disclaimer: The system I am reviewing here is the latest technology found on only a few 2014-2015 machines. Older and less sophisticated electronic aid packages without the benefit of a lean-angle sensitive IMU will not perform the miracles I am about to describe.

Testing, Testing: ABS

To test the traditional straight-line ABS I made several high and low speed runs on gravel and wet and dry pavement. The ABS never let me down. Riding on a wet tile runway with ABS switch off caused the bike to slam onto the sturdy outriggers with just the touch of the brakes. It was possible to apply the brakes without skidding, but it took all the brake feel and control I could muster. With ABS switched on, I was able to grab the brakes and the bike remained balanced on two wheels.

Wet tile with ABS ON.
Wet tile with ABS ON.

Riding on the gravel course further confirmed the effectiveness of the ABS as the bike to remained upright even when applying copious amounts of front brake pressure. Set to Enduro mode, rear brake ABS is disabled to allow direction changes using a locked rear wheel …fun, but not something I recommend on a 511-pound motorcycle with street-biased tires.

Testing, Testing: Cornering ABS

Testing the Cornering ABS (what Ducati calls Motorcycle Stability Control or “MSC”) required me to grab the brakes as hard as possible while fully leaned in a corner. Really?

It was nearly impossible to toss aside decades of instinctive emergency corner braking technique and common sense to do this test. Normally I would reduce lean angle before (or while) applying the brakes. Instead we were told to jam on the brakes and hold lean angle as long as possible.

Demo of Cornering ABS.
Demo of Cornering ABS. Bosch photo.

I held my breath and headed for the curve before I leaned hard and went for it. It worked! Not only did the MSC manage the available traction, it also allowed me to slow rapidly while maintaining the path through the curve; no more crossing into the oncoming lane or hitting a guardrail in an emergency corner braking situation.

Trying this on dry pavement was unnerving as hell, but a passing shower meant that I got the chance to test this mind-bending system in the rain. This maneuver went against all of my instincts but once I trusted the system I was sold!

Testing, Testing: Traction Control

After the MSC test, I set out to further tax my nerves by testing the Ducati Traction Control (DTC), which consisted of whacking the throttle open in second gear at 37+ degrees of lean. Instead of a nasty crash, the rear drifted controllably with the rear tire slipping and gripping predictably. Look at me, I’m Valentino Rossi.

But, the TC isn’t foolproof. During one run, I made a particularly abrupt throttle input while dragging the footpegs (crazy, right?) that caused the rear tire to swing a bit farther than comfortable, prompting me to instinctively reduce throttle enough to regain grip. The next time, I was determined to stay on the gas to see if the system would sort things out. I can’t be 100% sure whether I was a bit more cautious or the electronics reacted quicker, but this time the bike remained in control as I blasted out of the corner.

Smitten

At the end of the test, I was compelled to express my sense of awe with my friends on Facebook: “OMG. Bosch has defied physics with the corner ABS and Traction Control. I just grabbed a handful of front brake at 37 degrees and whacked the throttle WFO while dragging my foot peg IN THE RAIN!”

Debate

Somewhere in there are a bunch of electronic doo-dads that I hope can stand the test of time.
Somewhere in there are a bunch of electronic doo-dads that I hope can stand the test of time.

These electronics are awesome, but there are some valid concerns circulating about how traction and stability control is going to influence traditional methods and attitudes. Here are the major concerns and my responses:

  1. Reliability: Motorcycle electronics seem to be the Achilles Heel of reliability, so skepticism about reliability is understandable. But, consider that solid state technology has no switches, relays or moving parts to fail compared to mechanical devices, and connections are designed and tested to prevent dust and water infiltration. Also, other electronic units, like ride-by-wire throttles, have no cables to break. In the event that a fault does occur, “limp-home” mode will allow you to get home. Will it fail? At some point, probably. But will it render the bike useless, probably not.
  2. Electronic intervention will interfere when I don’t want it to: Older, less sophisticated systems have fewer options and have been known to get in the way. But, with the wide range of intervention levels to choose from with the latest systems, it’s hard to think there isn’t a setting that suits almost any rider. It’ll take time to really learn what these systems are capable of and to find your perfect setup.
  3. Electronics will interfere with the essence of riding a motorcycle: Contrary to what a lot of Luddites and Skeptics think, these systems can be set to lurk in the background, never impeding with normal riding situations. I believe these systems enhance riding and can be set to your liking to never (or rarely ever) get in the way of riding enjoyment.
  4. Advanced traction control make advanced rider skills obsolete: I don’t see rider technique becoming obsolete any time soon. To avoid close calls and crashes, riders must have strong control skills and effective survival strategies. You can still careen into a Buick or off a cliff, just like before. While TC will manage traction loss from clumsy braking and throttling, riders will soon learn that getting the most out of their motorcycle comes from smooth, well-timed rider inputs and not electronics.
  5. Electronic aids will encourage bad riding: It is possible that these electronics can encourage risky behavior as people discover just how competent these systems are. What’s to stop someone from relying completely on the TC to manage grip while powering out of a turn, or letting the ABS manage grip as he trailbrakes hard into a turn? TC and ABS may help prevent a crash, but will not to lead to better riding skill or faster lap times. Good technique still trumps electronic aids. Just ask the Moto GP guys. And remember, electronics cannot fix stupid.
  6. Electronic aids can lead to false confidence: Yes. I can personally attest that a false sense of confidence is possible. After fully testing the MSC, ABS and advanced traction control I was somehow fooled for one moment into thinking that the bike was not crashable. Of course, I was wrong! It’s important to remember that these systems manage available traction under braking and acceleration; they do not create more traction! You cannot expect to magically lean onto the edge of your tire over sand or dip into a corner over gravel and come out unscathed.
Despite looking like a Star Wars console, the Ducati interface is quite easy to use.
Despite looking like a Star Wars console, the Ducati interface is quite easy to use.

Safety

One of the most important selling points of the Bosch rider aids is safety. But, these systems cannot influence all crash factors, nor are they able to correct for bad decisions like excessive speed or bad lane position.

Riders must still rely on good technique and judgment to prevent most crashes from occurring. The smartest riders will never need these systems as they continue to use traction management techniques like smooth, progressive brake and throttle application.

Practice

Whether you have new-fangled IMU-based electronics or basic ABS, you should take time to practice maximum braking to the point where ABS kicks in. Without finding that limit, you will never trust that you can brake as hard as the system allows and not likely use the total amount of stopping power available when you need it most. Braking that hard is unnerving at first, but trust me the system will intervene.


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9 Replies to “Truths About Electronic Stability Control”

  1. Dear Ken , thank you very much for this review – i bought an Aprilia Tuono 1100 v4 2019, equipped with the full APRC package and cannot find real answers where the limits of its electronic aids really are. I was looking for articles and videos re: testing the limits of these systems and for some reasons – it is next to impossible to find satysfying resources – they all are closer to commercial than the test in my opinion. Your article goes the furthest of what i found so far in terms of looking for answer where the limits are. (but we’re not there yet 😉 , i’ll explain further on 🙂

    I have exprience of 15 years of constant riding on the bikes without aids like Honda Hornet, Yummie r6, Yummie wr250 and occasional rides on many many other bikes. I have crashed 2 times hard on the street (big tankslapper at corner exit, lost of front grip mid corner no braking) – been too close to becoming handiccaped person – these were close calls leaving me for some time in hospitals. So i decided to push it on the racetracks. Here i crashed safely many times for various reasons – to hard trail braking, both wheels loss of grip etc.

    Finally i felt i grown up and bought a bike Tuono 1100 v4 RR APRC that can serve both day to day rides and trackdays as well. So i went to the racetrack – rode it hard and experienced some of electronics intervention, but it got me all confused – where are the limits. Of course i dont want to crash it – but i want to understand. Understand how these systems react on the limit, how to test these limits. Certainly – experience from “analog bikes” prevents from making a step further, it’s simlpy against instincts to rely on electronics. Some racers say – “yeah with abs (non cornering! Bmw s1000rr 2011) i’m keeping full brake untill hitting the apex in full lean”, or “just gradually open the throttle to the full and keep it open TC will sort it out”. What is your experience on that, mental limits do not allow me to just give it a try – first i want to understand more.

    Have you been riding Aprilia post 2017 with APRC? how do the systems react? i hear these are working smooth like silk – but when being on the racetract i had some moments i.e on the curve with apex speed 100+mph , smooth throttle buildup and 2 very long (0,3 seconds each) slides or rear suspension “squats” occured one by one. I had to cover approx 30 feet during that happening. Natural question in my mind was – was it a close call, or just a normal TC intervention (is it how it should look like or i pushed it too far?). I had couple of such happenings is varying scale but this one was mos spectalular. I experienced many times exiting on main straight (exit approx 90+mph) the rear of the bike “pumping” quite violently couple of times each occurence. Natural question – i pushed it too far, or that’s simply how it works and i can safely push it to this state every time and just keep the throttle rolling? Of course you cannot anwer that but i’d like to ask yo to share your experience on how the bike talks to you, how do you read it’s dynamics when these systems intervene? Do you have any experience riding Aprilia similar to mine?

    Going further cornering ABS. My bike just blew my mind in terms of braking power and stability. Trying to to such late braking on r6 must have lead to a very serious crashes. But the Aprilia… amazing – really hard to force yourself to brake as late as it is possible – so strong and stable, that i didn’t have 1 situation when braking from long straight, that i was not thinking “this time i couldnt start braking a bit later” – each and every time pressing the lever appeared too late, but after a second or so it was clear i have to release brake sooner than i could because the entry speed was too small. Of course the mental limitation is “i cannot brake hard when leaning into the corner”, so we’re talking the limits of possible trail braking. I dont think i have once felt intervention of cornering ABS or maybe it works so smoothly? What is you experience on that? How from your experience the system communictaes (physically) to the rider when on the limits? How far you can push it to understand it? Natural question is – if i will brake hard and lean further and further will it gradually lower the pressure so i will only loose the front end in the lean angle i would loose it either way without no brakes (at given speed) at all? (the lean angle limit of the bike tire combo?) In other ways – can i theoretically start leaning on full brakes and as far as i will not pass the safe lean angle, the worst case scenario is i’ll go wide?

    I perfectly understand you cannot answer, guarantee how far a rider can push his bike safely or being held responsible for results of such attempts. I just feel the industry didn’t explore the subject sufficiently and these days more and more people want to understand what they are using and how it works (Aprilia did not answered any of technical questions re differences between subsequent settings of ABS nor TC that i asked them…).

    What i’m asking is if you could please share your eperience on Cornering ABS and TC limits, focusing on what you feel, how the bike nad tires communicate, what are your observations, especially riding it hard on track day situation. It would be fantastic to watch some videos showing when and how the systems intervene, knowing what was rider input at the moment of intervention (many bikes these day log such things as lean angle, % of brake and throttle application, TC ABS intervention), seeing how the suspension/tire reacts in the moment of intervention, hearing rider feedback on bike’s feedback as it happends.

    I thing these days when more and more bikes are equipped with such systems and it vastly improves the safety of pushing them hard on the racetracks, there is no enough of reliable, in depth knowledge on how these systems work in terms of real life.

    It would be great if you could share your experience, feedback, and resources you see valuable.

    Many thanks in advance and stay safe, best regards, Rafal

    1. My track bike is a 2013 Tuono V4 APRC. It doesn’t have ABS, but I’m fine with that. Racers disable ABS to eliminate that variable.

      Regarding Traction Control, the Aprilia has one of the more crude electronic packages compared with Honda or BMW. As I say in the article, the S1000RR TC is brilliant. I could only tell that the TC was activated (because of a worn tire) was the orange light flickering. In contrast, the Aprilia TC feels like the chain was jumping a sprocket tooth.

      Here is a video of my on the Aprilia while following my daughter. You can hear me wondering whether I jumped a chain. Yurns out I accidentally hit the TC setting, which is too easy to do on my Tuono. https://youtu.be/RemAcMaQQfA

      As far as the limits is concerned, you can increase the level of intervention and get a feel of when it triggers. But, remember that you have to account for variables as the tire wears and the conditions change. Note when the TC light comes on (and if the bike kind jumps) then you know when it activates.

  2. Thank you for this article! Question: Do you know how the 2015 BMW S1000R electronic system compares with the Multi? Have been considering a purchase, but have been waffling and thinking of waiting until the next generation of S1000R’s comes out….. Your thoughts?

    1. The 2015 S1000RR has the most advanced and seamless system I have experienced so far. It is better than the first gen S1000RR by a large margin. The 2015 Multi has comparable electronics, but has the added benefit of cornering ABS, due to the inclusion of an IMU. I tested it at the Bosch proving grounds in early 2015 and it is brilliant. The traction control is on par with the BMW, as it the ABS.

      But the S1000R is a very different machine than the Multi. The V-Twin Ducati is much nice with the new Variable Valve Timing Control, but is still not refined like the in-line 4 of the S1000R. I loved both bikes, so it becomes a matter of preference for the engine type and the seat height.

      Waiting with surely allow you to get the best, most advanced electronic technology. But, you could wait and wait and still not get technology that will last much more than a few years before it is improved again. It’s the nature of technological development that motorcycles are going through right now. I think the development will change almost yearly, because electronics are easier to upgrade than mechanical bits.

      1. Hi Ken, Thank you for the reply. It sounds like the S1000RR electronics are cutting edge, but does the S1000R have the same system? It’s the “R” I am curious about. Thanks again!

  3. A very well written review of the Electronic Stability Control System launched by Ducati. The ESC is definitely going to increase the rider safety by leaps and bounds but ultimately safety lies in the hands of the rider himself and on his common sense. Riding a motorbike without proper training and gear will spell doom no matter how advanced the technology is. It is important to ride safe and ride smart.

  4. Nice common sense testing in real conditions, sold me…. now when is the retrofit kit coming out? What? There isn’t one! Well it looks like I need to upgrade to a new bike.

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