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Bike Technology Vs Riding Technology

Keith Code

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Sport motorcycle design and the technology upon which they are built has improved with impressive consistency. Starting back in the early 1980s factories embarked on the path of creating bikes ever closer to track-compliant specifications.

Compare 2012 600cc Supersport laptimes to a factory 750cc Superbike of 1998 at Phillip Island; one of the great combination horsepower and technical skills tracks. The 600s this year were a full second faster than the quickest Superbike then and equal to the first year of the 1000's in 2003—less than 10 years ago.


It seems logical that riding techniques would change as much as the bike technology has. It's an interesting concept until you begin to break it down. Look at what hasn't changed in rider skills whether riding the '98 or the '12 bike around any track:


The evolutions in tire technology have been huge. Is traction so good now that riders can ignore its limits? Has the increased limits of traction for braking, corner speed or acceleration eliminated the limits, such as lean angle, that govern them? Are lines substantially different over the past 15 or even thirty years? Does having higher corner entry, middle and exit speed make it easier to find the right lines? Were riders able to run precision lines on the old bike/tire combinations?


Can today's rider ignore the bike's lean-angle limits? Do rear wheels stay on the ground longer during hard braking than they did then? Is the rider's knee on the ground giving different information now? Are track surface conditions alone making lap times quicker? Have today's bikes excused riders from finding their own quick-flick steering limits? Have electronics eliminated the need for good riding techniques? Machine tech has not substantially changed or eliminated any of them.


You can change the speed and the direction of a motorcycle. The modern motorcycle will do both better than ever before. However, good riding is what gets them done at the right place and the right amount. The simple conclusion is that rider awareness and control hasn't changed one iota. The technology of riding them remains solidly in place.


What modern machine technology has accomplished is more integrated transitions between those changes. The beginning, adjustment and completion of each control input can now be done with improved sensitivity. Things don't happen so abruptly now due to substantial increases in usable control range for chassis, suspension, brakes and engine components.


Actions flow better now: Quicker, cleaner gear changes; more progressive power with both the engine and the brakes; suspensions now provide precision control of wheel movement through more of the stroke; frame and swing arm rigidity are more complimentary to one another. In addition, being better able to integrate our control inputs, now there is a more connected feel while riding the bikes. We do have better traction and line holding potential but that potential doesn't eliminate the skills necessary to use it.


In the not so old days, aggressive riding was difficult to do smoothly. It took real finesse; our control timing and transitions had to be better planned and very careful. The rider was more responsible for integrating all control transitions. Consequently, new bike tech allows more latitude when pushing it. The point is, the essentials of what we are pushing; lines, traction, lean and speed, remain the same.


In less experienced riders, the forgiving nature of new equipment covers up quite a few errors. For the already good rider, it broadens what used to be a much finer line between control and out-of-shape.


Going quick and in-control is still a precarious balancing act. But the one thing that stands above all other benefits we derive from new technology is the huge savings in attention all those advancements have provided us. Before, it required extraordinary focus and timing to ride the bikes. Today's bike allows us to re-focus our attention; applying more of it to take advantage of the new tech bike's potentials.


© 2012, Keith Code, all rights reserved.

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In less experienced riders, the forgiving nature of new equipment covers up quite a few errors.


I've often wondered if this element of improved motorcycle technology has had the unintended result of increasing the incidence of inexperienced riders pushing the limits too far. Does it in essence cause the inexperienced rider to feel like a better rider than they are, and therefore be more inclined to push even further? Or does it actually reduce the larger number of incidence by protecting the inexperienced rider?


Or if we were able to graph that out would we see that it only moves where the boundary is and the rest is human nature ?


Either way, as with so many things, replacing the inexperience with education is the key.

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There are a few riders in my area, one very outspoken one who ran out and bought an S1000RR to "save them".

That is exactly the choice of wording used, "save them".


They ride super aggressively and in my opinion are extremely reckless and careless and have little skills. They have youtube videos up and you can hear the traction control taking over on most every turn exit and the ABS kicking in on most every turn entry on their rides. This is on street rides! Actual corner speed is so slow that lean angles are hardly ever more than say 25* and line selection, well it waivers back and forth throughout the entire turn with choppy throttle , brake and steering inputs so there is no line selection. One went from a not even being able to see the group on group rides to now leading the way deep into triple digits on every straight away rides. Thus diluting his perception even further that he is safe and fast. Afterall he has a bike that will "save him" and go faster than anything anyone he rides with has.


I see some of the same deal with tire selection to some extent to. Everytime a rider has a problem with turning or grip manyy blame the tires as not being good enough and buy something stickier or are seeking validation from others about tire pressures, tire selection, suspension, road conditions etc...without even once considering their riding abilities, or in many cases inabilities.


So yes I believe traction aids can be useful, and most everyone would benefit from ABS in true emergency situations but I also feel for some, perhaps many it gives this false sense of the bike will save them from themselves using the technology as a crutch, and perhaps too often it does save them so they fail to learn how to ride properly before relying on the bike. I am not an advocate of the government mandating new laws, but since you already have to go take a written and riding test to drive/ride. Why on earth can't the curriculum be something more extensive and useful? Tiered licensing may well be a good idea. Getting off topic, sorry about that.

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I never did ride anything older than a 1985 or so bike - but I have low tech bikes and high tech bikes, and the high tech bikes make me WANT to ride fast! There is a real invitation to eat up corners and twist the throttle harder. Like riding a thoroughbred instead of a plow horse - you can feel that it wants to RUN, not just haul groceries. :)


I think the newer bikes invite us to ride harder, push the limits more, head to the racetrack!

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Perhaps I am disqualified from this conversation because I gave up bikes . . . but while I was avidly riding, I went from modern bikes (including a CSS school bike that I bought from Will!) to a '96 Aprilia RS250 and a 1987 Yammie TZR250 with a way oversized 340cc motor. What I can say is that while the TZR was clearly faster than the Aprilia (and both slower than the 600cc Kawi), it was a lot harder to ride because it took so much attention to keep it settled. I had to be much more precise with both steering inputs (because of older suspension) and with throttle (because the motor was so finicky about gear selection). When I hopped off the TZR and onto the Aprilia, I rode the Aprilia much better because I had improved my controls and also because I was just more relaxed. I would agree with Keith that technology makes it possible to refocus because your attention away from some things and on to others. But making it easy to go faster just means that your mistakes will now show up at higher speeds!

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Hi AG (nice to see you up here :))


When technology helps (bike or rider), then it could be beneficial in more than one area. One example we had was some different tank grips. A medium speed coach (not the fastest, not slow) got an improved tank pad to test, he went 1-2 seconds faster with greater control (safer) as he was able to hold on the to bike much easier.


Another point you might already know, but I'll re-state just in case: when we switched from the 600's to the 1000's, crash numbers went down over 1/3! The new bike had many upgrades, but it is the fastest production bike made...think it still is.


Food for thought.



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While my experience at CSS/ VIR North has always been about technique, there is no doubt to me that having bikes with enhanced capabilities can not be the save all. Good technique to me is always my focus while on the track. Thats why I am constantly "grooving" my technique at CSS!

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When I attended CSS for the first time, I had the bad habit of adding lean angle AFTER I'd made my steering input and had gotten back on the throttle. Fortunately, I hadn't reached the level where I'd surpassed the sophisticated tires' abilities. It's good they could compensate for my lack of knowledge up to that point. The problem is that if I hadn't attended the school, I would have probably ended up wrecking a number of times without being able to pinpoint why, as is the problem a few people I know are having. Not everyone prioritizes education the same way some of us do.


Another thought is the speeds at which riders are being tossed from the bike once we've exceeded the new tolerances this advanced technology is able to compensate for. I'd wager they're much higher. I'm not sure safety equipment has advanced quite as fast as motorcycle technology has.

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The greats such as Rainey and Doohan say today, even average riders can win races because the bikes cover up for their mistakes.In those days if you made a mistake, the mad two stroke GP bikes would flip you into a highside real fast.These days, it is a lot easier to make mistakes and get away with them.


Bottom line - In those days if you won, you won because you had the skill to push a very finicky bike harder than the rest.Now that's a champion.


These days, if an average rider makes a mistake, no body notices, because he isn't in the air.A guy can make errors lap after lap and still win.


Nothing taught you throttle control like a two stroke GP.I'm sure the old timers will agree.

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The bikes may save rider errors, but IMO they make it even harder to excel. Finding an extra edge when the machines are "easy" to use and "everybody" can use them well means you must ride at the very ragged edge - always. Back in Doohan's time, you simply could not ride that close to disaster all the time because the bikes didn't react predictably enough for riders to get away with it. And if you made a mistake 20-30-40 years ago, you could grab a handful, pray the tyres would stick and make the time up again. Now, making up time is more difficult - MotoGP has become closer to to 125s in the regard. The old 500s were perhaps a bit more like Isle of Man racing; you needed big balls to ride and win. Today, you need more finesse. However, as Rossi have proved, the best will always be the best, no matter what. He has won 125, 250, 500, 990 and 800 titles.

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Ah, but if you watch the videos from that time, you see the bikes always slithering about at the exit when they gas it, the rear wheel in the air when they brake, the bike bucking suddenly.Those bikes were ALWAYS on edge.A far cry from the composed racing we see today.


In the olden days, Porsche's were difficult to drive, they were terrifying.Rich people who bought them ended up sailing over cliffs because they didn't know how to properly drive them.Any one who could drive a 911 fast those days was a real driver.There was no other way that thing could go fast.Same with the GP bikes.


Porsche's today are much faster,softer and more drivable - the electronics make it that much easier to go fast without crashing despite errors.Any one with bad throttle control can go about banking on the TC.Even if he wins, you will agree he is a fundamentally flawed rider.

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The replies to this thread have pushed in a number of directions. Discussing whether Cal Rayborne or Valentino Rossi was the greater rider because of the difference in the capabilities of their equipment probably requires more beer than sense to pursue at great length, so I'll let that thread go.


I'm in the camp that agrees with the thesis that the sophisticated tires, suspension systems and traction management systems on today's bikes allow bad riding habits and bad track strategies to go unpunished. Darwin teaches us that that's bad for the species (homo motorcyclus), allowing survival of the unfit.


But I am, on balance, deeply appreciative of these bike technology capabilities as a student. Furthermore, I think they increase, rather than decrease, the value of structured (coached) training. The technologies give the serious student the ability to experience the edge of traction, and learn what that feels like on the track, and learn what kinds of control and body inputs are useful (and what are not) with much less exposure to physical and financial pain.


I first got on a track in 1977, with a TZ-250B-- wire wheels, 4-leading shoe brakes, "trigonal" Dunlop tires, suspicious shocks, flexible (stock) swingarm and forks, and barely enough electronics to fire the spark plugs. By the time the neophyte rider experienced loss of traction, there was next to zero chance that he'd have enough time to make a saving control input. Learning was a painful process, in the literal sense of the phrase. I was last on a track in 2012, on one of CSS' R1000RS bikes. I could explore traction at many places around VIR with high confidence that there wouldn't be a terrible consequence. On the (relatively few) instances that the bike's traction control technology interceded, I could think back to what I was feeling and the control inputs I made-- and learn a bit more about how to be in control while using the tire and suspension technology more fully.


So, to me, the very great value of current technology is not that it lets me go faster or lets me "get away with more". It's that I can learn safer, and therefore faster and cheaper. That's very darn good value, when I compare the cost of a day at CSS in 2012 on the R1000RS vs a day at CSS in 2009 with the Kaw 600's.


So why do I also think the current technology increases the value of structured training and coaching? I offer two reasons. The first is that discussing what you felt "at the edge" with somebody who has spent a lot of time there and has been trained to think about it critically and effectively, and what the "feel" means, is just amazingly helpful to "gel" the experience in your mind. If you feel it and record it accurately in your mind (which doesn't happen so well when you are terrified), you can describe it well enough that a good coach can understand what happened and focus your thinking on the important bits of it. The new technology lets you "record" more accurately (by subjecting you to less terror); the coaches help you use the "recording" much more effectively.


The second reason is that as you begin to ride closer to the limits of traction, the more using it in the right places on the track becomes a competitive necessity. Track management and strategy, and traffic management and strategy, are where I have had the most fun and satisfaction from the coaching process at CSS. After the perfect traction control system and the 300hp, 30# engine with CVT has been implemented in every bike costing over $8000 (except Harleys), your ability to manage the track and traffic (and make precise control inputs) will be the differentiator. If you think this through to its logical conclusion, and you have an ounce of competitve drive, you'll sign up for MORE coaching, rather than less, as technology improves.

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On the same note - when did student times begin to plummet? It is my understanding that the times stayed fairly consistent since the school first started cirka 1980 and for many years, but that the students now are able to lap considerably faster than they did 30 years ago. So I wonder if it is possible to pinpoint a time and hence possibly the most important technological advancement that helped mere mortals speed up? This could be anything from the onset of wide radial tyres to traction control. Or maybe a combination of several factors were required - I do not have a clue. But I am curious :)

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Kind of on topic to Eiriks questions, but on a personal level, as in it only involves me personally.


When I raced in the late 80's on 70 rwhp 600cc bikes.

with biased ply tires 110 front and 140 rear

410# race ready bike weight

skinny 37mm fork tubes and non existant damping

not so rigid of frame etc... Well then I could run right about 1:52 with occassional low 1;51 high 1:50's (depending on draft)


The most recent time being on a 600cc race bike on the same track was 2002 or 2003

on a 00 ZX6R that had RWHP of 95

Radial tires with 120 front and 180 rear

385# race ready weight

better stiffer 43mm forks with damping

rigid frame etc... Well I still only ran 1:50 regularly with an occasssional 1:48/1:49 (when in the draft)


So even with nearly 30% more power, better brakes and suspension, better tires and less weight with a bike 12 years newer, I personally didn't drop much in lap times, atleast not as much as I would have thought the better bike would have gained. It isn't really the comparison you asked for, but...


I can add that a 250 ninja that I raced from 89-2003 This was the exact same bike, set up the same all those years.

My lap times barely changed for all those years and then after a 8 year break of not riding it all I went out cold and rode it on a familar track and turned lap times 8 seconds off of what I did when I was 45# lighter and actually raced regularly. I can jokinglyblame the low hp and my extra weight for the slower lap times, but I no doubt lost some of my skills in that 8 year absence from racing so only part of the slower times were due to the weight increase.


I am interested to know and perhaps someday I will, if and how much difference in lap times it would make for an average or otherwise rider to go from a non TC/ABS bike to the same model with TC/ABS on the same track. I can see how these aids would help CSS students have fewer crashes and get closer to the edge of traction limits etc with lessor consequence. So from a teaching aspect these aids can be great, but what about from a skilled racer going with and without? That intrigues me.

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Very interesting input, Pepsi - informative and well presented! Hoping even more will chime in so that we can get a fuller picture and probably confirm your findings.


BTW, them old bikes may not have had such bendy frames as you may think. The old Kawasaki Z1 was infamous for being a flexi-flyer, yet its swingarm was stiffer than that of the 1998 Yamaha R1 and the frame only insignificantly more flexible. The culprit for the lack of stability primarily came from a weak fork and also from wire wheels and narrow, stiff tyres.

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Technology is almost always a double edged sword, every world shattering step forward in technology is usually accompanied by a down side, the "price of progress" if you will. Bike techno wizardry is no different, for those few who are interested in learning how to pilot a motorcycle correctly and safely, the technology frees up lots of attention and allows you to learn the limits of the machine, your tires and yourself in a much safer environment then the bikes of yesteryear. However to the much more common "Squid" who has no interest in learning anything the same technology allows him a false sense of ability and skill, covering up what used to be obvious signals that he was exceeding his ability. Lulling him in well over his head, and then giving him a obvious scapegoat when he does exceed the limit, it was the TC that failed and landed him on his head, not his lack of riding ability.


...but what about from a skilled racer going with and without? That intrigues me.


you can easily see this comparison by looking at Josh Hayes lap times from the 11 and 12 seasons, in 2011 he was riding without TC, in 12 he was using TC. The data is somewhat skewed by his having to actually battle with riders in 2011 and being well in front of the pack in 2012, but the lap times are not significantly different which just proves that really skilled riders can find and ride on the limit with or without electronics.




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