Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Traction control in superbike racing

Brits have got it. Americans haven't. The World does and so does MotoGP.

I've been reading a lot lately about the use of traction control systems in superbike racing, and I'm just going to come straight out and say that such systems have no place in production-based racing classes - YET....

Superbike classes are for road bikes, with a certain amount of room for modifications that will improve performance. For example, although a Honda CBR1000rr doesn't come with top-of-the-line expensive Ohlins front forks, they are legal in most, if not all, superbike series. The key point however, is that if Joe Racer had the cash, he could buy the very same parts for his club-racer 1000rr.

Traction control is primarily a very expensive ECU box and a few extra sensors. How expensive? Well, when Max Biaggi was looking to hop into World Superbike, the Suzuki team said they couldn't afford the additional $350,000 for the Mitsubishi traction control for his bike. Not exactly Joe Racer territory! Ducati uses a Magneti Marelli system that is bespoke and not available for purchase by anyone else. Many top Superbike teams can't afford these systems because they're so expensive. Alex Barros, for example, doesn't have it. According to Honda Europe's Carlo Fiorani, the cost of the MotoGP traction control system would be more than the team's annual operational budget, which stands at $500,000.

It's clear that these systems are well outside the spirit of "go-faster" parts that are typically legal in superbike, like the Ohlins example I quoted above. Traction control belongs in MotoGP for now.

The day that a stock bike purchased off a showroom floor comes with such a system is the day that it should be legal in any superbike series. And that day may not be very far off. I can confidently predict that one of the big four Japanese manufacturers will offer some form of traction control on their bikes on or before the 2009 model year. That's less than 2 1/2 years from now, since '09 bikes will see the light of day around September '08.

Of course there will always be people moaning about how these systems will encourage riders to go at ever-faster speeds on the street, but I for one disagree. If such a system had been on my Honda CBR954rr in November 2004, it would have saved me a lot of time, money and pain. A simple mistake such as forgetting that a new back tyre had been installed the previous day would not have resulted in an ugly highside at low speed. Knowing I had traction control would not have made me go any faster in that scenario. More than likely I would have gotten a bit of a fright and ridden slower the rest of the day. Most street riders don't have the skills to utilize a traction control system to go faster. Instead, it will more than likely save their hides in a potential accident where the only cause is a talent shortfall.

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