Modern motorcycle tech. Is it worth it?

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Modern Motorcycle Tech

Whether you’re buying a sportsbike, an adventure bike or anything in between, these days it doesn’t matter which of the manufactures have got their name slapped on the side of it. Chances are if you’ve gone for the top spec model, it’ll have space-age gadgetry and state of the art motorcycle tech crammed into every nook and cranny. Will it catch on? Well it seems as though it already has, in quite a big way. Especially when you consider the fact that in recent years we’ve seen cruise control on superbikes, launch control on naked bikes and traction control on bikes with sub-60bhp. You may, rightly or wrongly, be of the opinion that those particular systems have no such place on those particular bikes, and there’d be plenty of folk that agree with you. However, having sampled all of the delights of the electronic age (motorcycle-wise, anyway) I believe I can say with some authority that most of them will, without a scrap of doubt, make your life better. But not all of them. So, join us in an exploration of motorcycle electronics as we ask ‘Modern motorcycle tech; Is it really worth it?’

Cruise Control

This piece of motorcycle tech was one of the ones that I turned my nose up at when I first heard of it entering the bike world. Surely the idea of having a bike is to ride it yourself, not put it in auto-pilot. It wasn’t until I had a go with it that I realised just how good it is. Don’t get me wrong, its not the kind of thing you’ll be faffing about with on a Sunday morning blast with the lads, but every now and then when you have to do some motorway riding it’s ideal. It’s particularly handy if you’ve got average speed cameras bearing down on you, like the eyes of Satan himself; on anything with a bit of power, it’s all too easy to creep over the speed limit and before you know it, there’s a summons on the doormat. Set the cruise control to whatever the speed limit is and you’ll be safe. You might even be able to roll yourself a cig, if you’ve got a big enough windscreen.

Electronic Suspension

‘Leccy suspension still isn’t where it needs to be to seriously improve the performance of a bike on a racetrack, I don’t think. That said, the advantages some systems do have (as far as track riding is concerned) are that their adjustment parameters are a bit more intuitive than conventional, manually adjusted forks. The Öhlins EC2.0 system, for example, lets you ‘increase front end support’ and ‘mid corner stability’ and things such as that, rather than ‘preload’ or ‘rebound damping’. Because most people haven’t got the faintest idea what any of that stuff really does. On the road, this motorcycle technology does make a whole lotta sense, because at the touch of a button (or a few touches of buttons) you can turn your bike from being a stiff, sporty superbike, to a comfortable, compliant cruising machine.

Power Modes

Most modern bikes have got a handful of these now, you don’t even have to go for the top spec versions. If you ask me, there should be a rule that states a bike needs to come out of the factory with more than 150bhp before they even consider giving it anything other than one ‘full-power’ mode. I’ll admit I have ridden bikes that have so much power, with such a brutal delivery, that a slightly softer power map has helped the job, especially when it’s cold and damp. But I’m talking about 200bhp+ bikes, here. If you’ve only got half that amount of power to start with, there’s no way you should ever need to calm things down. If you want a slower bike, buy yourself a slower bike, don’t buy a fast one and then castrate the motor with its own built-in power scalpel.

Kawasaki H2R

Keyless Ignition

This one sounds great doesn’t it, but in reality it is a massive pain in the cock. It’s motorcycle tech for the sake of it. As far as I can tell, there is nothing wrong with the age-old, tried and tested, method of using an ignition key to start your bike. Slide the key in, turn it, and Bob’s your uncle. And the best thing about that is that when you need to stop for fuel, the key to your tank is there, staring you right in the face. Perfect. Why change something that isn’t broken? Fucked if I know. You still need a ‘key fob’ anyway. With keyless ignition comes the very real risk of getting half way to work before you realise the fob is sat on top of your green wheelie bin (yep, I’ve done that). You’ve also got to remember which pocket you’ve put it in which, if you are in a leather or textile jacket, could very likely be one of about a hundred. If you’re in a one piece race suit, you mightn’t have a pocket, so what do you do? Do you pop it in your leathers, zip ‘em up and hope it doesn’t slide too far down one of the legs, or stab too far into any of your vital organs. Or do you make a stand and say “enough is enough, give us back out keys”. It’s got to be the latter.

Traction Control

Traction control is good, and it’s come on in leaps and bounds over the last decade. When we first started seeing it on bikes like S 1000 RRs and ZX-10Rs, it might have been sold to us as a performance enhancing thing, but it wasn’t really. It would occasionally save you from having a whopper of a high-side but that was about it, and most decent riders would lap faster with the traction control turned completely off. Now we’ve got systems that can predict wheelspin before it even happens, and fly-by-wire systems that quell the throttle input before it even gets to the throttle bodies. With systems like that you can barely feel the TC working, and you certainly can’t hear it. We are at a point now where the top TC systems can, and do, make you a safer and faster rider. But I’ve got to say, some of the manufactures are kicking the arse out of it a bit now. Aprilia recently launched their 2021 RS 660, which is a 100hp bike with eight levels of traction control; come on Aprilia, don’t be so fucking stupid.

Traction Control

Antilocking Brake Systems (ABS)

I wasn’t a massive fan of this one when we first started seeing ABS versions of bikes appearing, and I’m sorry to say, I’m still not a massive fan of it now. The very best, most modern systems are a lot better than they were, but I still don’t feel like this particular tech has matured sufficiently enough to really keep us all as safe as it promises to. I’ve been caught out by unexpected and unwanted ABS intrusion on the track and on the road and although it’s never resulted in a crash, it’s put me in some pretty sticky situations. ABS is supposed to stop you locking your wheels up in an emergency, I think we can all agree on that. What all too often happens though, is when you need to pull the brakes really fucking hard because some twat has cut you up or a dick head car driver decided to pull out on you, you yank the lever and the ABS decides you can’t decelerate that quickly without locking the wheels up. In an effort to save the day, it pumps the pads out a bit to give the tyres some time to recover. All the time you’re getting closer to someone’s back wheel or bonnet. I’ve never been saved by ABS, but I definitely feel like it puts me in danger from time to time. It’s a no from me.

Heated Grips/Seats

We are seeing this more and more on showroom spec road bikes and I, for one, am all for it. Not all of us want to take our pride and joy out through the bleak mid-winter, getting it caked in road grime and salt. Others though, are happy to spend the time cleaning all that crap off for the sake of a bit of saddle time, and a break from her indoors screaming and shouting about hair straighteners and tampons and stuff. If that’s you, heated grips (and if you are really lucky, a heated seat) could revolutionise your life. And it’s not just winter sorties that would benefit from a bit of electrical warmth, early starts and late nights in spring and autumn can be fairly nippy too, and your hands are usually the poor buggers that pay the price. I know heated grips aren’t the sexiest things in the world, but if you’ve got them when you need them, you’ll be eternally grateful for this particular piece of motorcycle tech.

Launch Control

This kind of motorcycle tech makes a lot of sense on a MotoGP bike, and indeed any race bike, on which the clutches will be pulled out and checked as a matter of routine maintenance. I’ve used launch control quite a few times on race bikes and, although it’s not always a golden ticket to holeshot city, it can definitely help you get off the line quickly and cleanly. But why you need to do that on the road, I don’t know. And anyway, I think most road bikes’ LC systems have ‘pre-launch sequences’ modelled on Apollo 11, with buttons to press and hold, switches to flick and all sorts, all which needs to be done in a certain order and within a certain timeframe. It’s good if you’re going racing (albeit a bit of a pain in the arse). But as far as kitting road bikes out with it goes, well that just seems like a waste of time to me.

Shifters ‘n’ Blippers

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard people tell me they don’t want motorcycle tech like this on a bike. It’s usually grey haired luddites that shun anything that’s been designed to make their life easier; “riding bikes is about riding bikes, why would you want everything done for you?” they’ll scoff at me, as they shovel coal into their back boiler. Well, like flicking a switch on the central heating panel, it just makes everything that bit easier. Less work, less fatigue, more miles, more smiles. And not only that, the proper systems on sportsbikes mean much better performance; faster acceleration and bags more control under deceleration. What’s not to like?

Bluetooth Connectivity

This is another new one that I can’t really get into. Loads of the manufacturers are offering systems like this now, where you can control your phone and your headset (and even your GoPro, on Triumphs) via the buttons on your handlebars. You can see who’s calling, who’s texting, what song you’re listening to or which direction to go all on the bikes dashboard. I can see why the sat nav thing might be helpful, but satnav or phone mounts are ten a penny these days, so you could always just stick one of them, on. And as far as the phone call and music things go, well, that’s not really me. When I’m riding my bike I don’t want to talk to anyone, and if I want to listen to music, I’ll just sing to myself. That said, most of the systems I’ve tried work reasonably well, so if you are into wearing headsets and all that faff when you ride your bike, this kinda’ motorcycle tech might be right up your street.

21 Responses

  1. Personally, as a new rider, I liked the idea of having the rider aids to start with.. But in the last year, my first full year of riding, I’ve managed to lock the front up in the dry on corner entry (stayed up) & get huge wheel spin in the wet with TCS on fully.

    When I learnt to drive 10 years ago, I had a car with no electronics and it made me a much better driver. I think of the ABS & TC on a bike as a safety net, and I’m wrongly relying on them when I shouldn’t.

    I’d take power modes, because then you can dial back the initial throttle response in the wet and just do it all yourself. Quick shifters are awesome, mainly for the noise.

    Each to their own.

    Please can you do an article on being a massive noob and how to increase your confidence? Still 3/4 inch of unused tyre on my 600, (the lock up shit me up a lot if I’m honest) – and I’m embarrassed when turning up anywhere with other bikes. Perhaps it comes with time. Perhaps I need not care.

    1. I think you don’t have anything to be embarrassed about frankly, starting on a sporty 600 is not the easiest thing and stuff happens. I probably don’t know many people who ride and never fell. If you are serious about riding just keep at it and ride as much as you can and the experience will come. I don’t have much experience with rider schools or such things so if anyone has a better advice feel free to ‘butt’ in

    2. You ride how you want to ride man. Don’t bother with how much tyre you’ve got left to scrub in. To scrum all your tyre in on the road the bike needs to really far over…. which normally means incorrect body position. If you watch motogp etc the rider hang off the bike, to try and keep the bike upright, that gives them a bigger contact patch more grip = more speed. Any one who gives you shit on how much tyre you’ve got unscrubbed is one of those bellends who’s probably got a tiny penis and trying to make himself feel good. People we can do without in the biking community. Confidence is all about experience, different experiences and seat time. You’ll get there. Bikes are to be enjoyed! 🙂 if you did want some training to get some more Confidence id recommend an off road day.

    3. Hi Elliot
      Good advice there from Miro. Biking is a very individual thing – you do what is comfortable for you, not what what ‘mates’ think you should be doing. Give it some time, poodle around on some ‘friendly’ roads and your confidence will build.You aren’t on track, so forget the racing Zen about corner entry, trail braking etc. Concentrate on sightlines and looking ahead. Once you crack this, the bike will seem to follow the road itself. Build your technique on this.

      I passed my bike test in 1971. I have been riding, almost continually, ever since. I am still slow ( to some ) and occaisionally frighten myself. If I take a corner and it feels good, I don’t care how much tyre I didn’t use. At nearly 250 quid a pair, I’ll be laughing over the rubber I’ve saved.

      Three years ago I did some training with Essex Fire Brigade (Fire Bike). I can absolutely endorse this ( and the similar Police schemes ). An evening of pusuit riding, followed by a day training on a disused airfield. Top instructors and all egos left at the door. It is fun, you will meet new people with a common goal, and you will learn a lot about your bike, how to control it, and yourself. I still ride with some of the group on the course.

      Good luck, ride safe


  2. All of these features are going to be a pain in the arse once bikes are getting on a bit and you are trying to work on them in your shed. What are the chances the bluetooth apps for these bikes will still be supported ten years from now?

      1. fuel injection is a fair bit simpler and built to last in comparison to all these fancy multi sensor /micro switch aids.

  3. This has been on my mind for some time now, and after I saw the new Hayabusa reveal I am still puzzled. I’ve never ridden a bike with all the electronic gizmos, I am riding a GSX-R 1000 K6 so I am hesitant to forsake stuff I haven’t tried myself but I can’t see the benefit of some things. I pretty much agree with the article, Cruise control – so be it, heated grips – those I even installed on my K6 because I tend to ride it even in winter months if there is no ice on the roads, blipper – ok although i like to blip my self but things like TC, wheelie control, dive control, whatever control, ABS, powermodes, BT, keyless… for the road they seem like pointless accessories which can break and jack the prices of new bikes up and the future reliability of used bikes down. I personally enjoy when the K6 wheelies, gets a little slip or gets a little shimmy over bumpy roads, in my opinion it adds to the experience – the bike gives you what you tell it to with your inputs at all times. If I screw up my braking or something and end up in a hedge I would like for it to be my fault and not a glitch in TC, ABS or some other doodlydoo.. Now for track it is somewhat of a different story with the TC and well developed electronics on the likes of and S1000RR and from what I heard I believe that they can help you get faster around a track and lessen the fatigue but for the road I am still not seeing the point.. Maybe if I sample a bike with the latest stuff I will understand .. who knows

  4. Personally, I love all the tech. Been riding bikes for 35 years and I’m still shit at it so I need all the help I can get!!

  5. I’ve had a few s1000rr’s over the last 4 or 5 years, all of which had a full range of electronics and I have to say that they re-ignited my love of bikes. I’ve had old (widow maker) r1’s, black birds etc – all of which were great at the time, but trying to do any kind of mileage (as I’d only ever had 1 bike at a time) was a no-no, blackbird excepted. The revelation of cruise control, abs and traction control on the RR made it an all rounder for me. I’ve toured to Italy on it, and clocked up more miles in the last 5 years than I’ve done in the previous 20 of riding bikes. The comfort and confidence means the whole experience is more ‘complete’ for me at least. I dont see the need for keyless ignition though ..

  6. They need to start making 600’s with none of these. Analogue clocks too. Knock £2k off the price, solve the 600 conundrum

  7. I am usually one of them there grey haired luddites to which you refer….
    Ridden all sorts from the eighties on, with a garage full of various antiquated devices from a katana to benelli tornados….(which even has a lap timer!)
    Had a GSXR1000R a couple of yrs ago, and now an 1199s. Got to say in general i agree with your synopsis…..yes to shifters and blippers, electronic suspension is awesome…. for saving your knuckles if nothing else…
    Pointless launch control, never use rain mode, and keyless sounds stupid.
    Suppose it good to know abs is there on the road, as long as it can be turned off easy. Traction control gets fiddled with initially then never looked as again…..Heated grips should be compulsary in the UK!…..

  8. I love the keyless fob on my Diavel, coupled with a keyless fuel cap it never leaves my chest pocket. You just get on and push the button.

    Also the fuel maps are awesome restricts it to 100hp and is very smooth at low speeds for putting around town or with a terrified pillion.

    The cruise control is mint for straight freeways you can put your arms over your head and have a stretch and rest your throttle hand.

    All of these nice tech features make it a nicer road bike than my ol plank of wood fireblade, which I also improved with heated grips.

  9. The only ones I like are heated grips, which i retro fitted to my older bike and the auto blipper.

    heated grips are a must in the uk.

    auto blipper is great when pushing hard.

    that being said, I still don’t really like quick shifters for road use.

    owning an older bike with no aids, but getting to swap bikes with mates who own the latest bikes ; I really appreciate how much more simple and fun to ride my old bike is to be honest.

    1. Agree with heated grips. Dropped mine off at the garage to have a centre stand fitted, had a loaner ped for the day. No handguards and no heated grips. It was 2 degrees and windy. My god.. my hands were frozen.

      Auto blipper yes love it when you’re ticking on a bit, super smooth going down the box and you can just concentrate on nailing the braking. On the way up though I see what you mean, not needed as much although if it’s smooth and doesn’t break traction its good and feels faster.

  10. Got new stuff in the garage with all the toys which is fun but you just cant beat a bike with no elec shite on it just you and the bike love my rs250 for that

  11. Agree with a lot of this – the only thing I would add is that as someone who has a bike with a bundle of riding modes: the customisable ones are where it’s really at: that way my one bikes switches between weapon and on road puppy easily!

  12. Car manufacturers are advertising cars with connectivity as a main feature, further increasing the distraction and numbing of the driving experience. It strikes me that total focus for a driver should be the road and driving, not on scrolling through images of friends having ‘the greatest time’ at a Covid-busting pub lock-in.(rant)

    SatNav and navigation, fine. ABS, TCS, heating and other bike specific systems EXCEPT radar cruise control, fine. They can improve safety and make the experience better.
    But why would I want email notifications coming up on my dash as I ride through my favourite corners?

    Maybe this is the plan behind MOTOBOT. Soon, you will be able to buy any Yamaha in the range with one fitted as an option. You could go out on the pillion, therefore not having to bother with the tiresome controls, or you could send it out on your favourite road on its own and then post the on-board video up to be liked on Facepage or something.
    I am joking about this. I realise I am starting to sound very old and grey.

    I bet it was all a bit tense the first time they set the robot off on it’s own with the R1. It would have been a laugh if it had stolen it.

    Ride safe

  13. Win, lose or draw, the only computer on a bike should be me. As for the cluster – all these techno nonsense screens add is another distraction to get you killed. I get that it sells more bikes to the spaz crowd but for those of us who don’t want all that flashy garbage an ‘I don’t need to tweet while I’m riding’ option would be nice. ABS so drastically extends stopping distance it almost got me killed once. The autoblippers might as well be an automatic transmission – ffs learn to blip shift yourself, it’s half the fun of riding! If you need/want a bike with bluetooth you shouldn’t be anywhere near a motorcycle.

    Fuel injection is great. Keep that. Lose all the rest of the garbage.

  14. If it’s a distraction (lean angle recording – that’s OK. We’ve all looked at chicken strips. Lean angle ON THE DISPLAY????? How the hell am I supposed to ignore that when cornering) – I don’t want it.

    If it’s a help – I want it. “This bike is literally uncrashable” (Mind you we know how that ended …)

  15. keyless, No, Bluetooth for Satnav, handy, calls and text on the go, no thanks, main bloody reason i got a bike in the first place, so i could be left the fuck alone for a few hours.

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