Mechatronics In Motion
Is Öhlins’ New Shock Really Magic?
Words: Aaron Frank
Photo: Peter Jones
Öhlins’ Mechatronic technology is rooted in racing, and was used by Yamaha’s World Superbike team in 2008 (before being banned), but the aftermarket shock isn’t for racers. It’s intended for street riders and trackday enthusiasts who don’t know how to—or don’t want to—adjust their suspension, but still want their bikes to work well across a wide range of riding conditions. The Mechatronic press intro reflected what might be normal usage for a sportbike owner: A street ride combining Interstate and canyon routes followed by a track session at Streets of Willow Springs.
There’s no outward indication of what mode—Comfort or Sport—the Mechatronic shock is in, and changes are so transparent it’s impossible to tell what the shock is doing at any given moment. The only time you feel Mechatronics working is when starting the bike. There’s no damping until you turn the key when, if you bounce the bike, you can actually see the shock stiffen mid-stroke.
Heading north from Valencia on Interstate 5, at a constant speed and small throttle opening, the shock is almost certainly in Comfort mode, and absorbs expansion joints and the occasional Botts’ dots with the plush compliance of a Gold Wing. Exiting at Castaic on Lake Hughes Road, we’re able to exercise the throttle more enthusiastically, presumably crossing the “active riding threshold” that shifts the shock into Sport mode with its more aggressive damping strategy.
Braking hard for an unexpectedly tight corner, the lightly loaded rear wheel keeps good contact with the road and stays right in line, the shock presumably dialing damping back enough to let the wheel follow the irregular surface. We arrive at Streets of Willow Springs and venture on track without adjusting anything beyond tire pressure. Mechatronic’s logic defines a rear shock setting that seems exactly right for racetrack pace. Streets’ fast-and-bumpy bowl sometimes ties big bikes in knots. A too-soft shock packs down and causes a bike to run wide on the exit, but the self-stiffening Mechatronic is stone stable, rocketing the 158-bhp ZX-10R out of that corner perfectly on line.
Better grip and stability at high speeds paired with unprecedented plushness at a casual pace highlight the Mechatronic’s versatility—not even Öhlins’ excellent TTX36 offers this without stopping to make adjustments. The biggest shortcoming of the Mechatronic shock is that it only works on the rear of the bike. Here’s hoping the engineers in Sweden are hard at work on a bolt-on Mechatronic solution for the front end.