Code Break - Electronic Rider Aids

How A Chip Can Save Your Bacon

By Keith Code, Photography by BMW

As a roadracing purist, my view on sophisticated electronic rider aids is: Get rid of them! On the other hand, they've cut down on high-side crashes and injuries, which is a real blessing. But my area of specialty is rider training, so let's talk about how computer chips and an obscene amount of horsepower can help you become a better rider.

Several months ago, I announced that the California Superbike School would start putting students on the new BMW S1000RR-the most powerful liter-bike ever produced for public consumption. It puts close to 180 horsepower to the ground and will rocket through space at well over 180 mph. That announcement didn't generate actual hate mail, but there were some strong opinions concerning my sanity.

My current unequivocal statement: This ultra-fast bike (which also handles with the best of them), tempered and tamed by its state-of-the-art electronics, is the most fantastic track-based, high-performance rider-training aid ever developed. Period!

Allow me to put rider-training aids in perspective. The door was opened in 1984, when I built the Panic Braking Trainer. Its purpose was to coach riders on recovering from a locked-up front wheel. Two years later in '86, I built the first On-Board Camera Bike, which gave riders a real look at how they were riding.

Researching body positioning in the early '90s, I found it took too long to correct. So in '97 I conceived the Lean & Slide Bike, which provides rapid correction of body-position problems and trains riders on how to save rear-end slides caused by misapplication of throttle.

In '99 it became obvious to me that riders distracted themselves with sloppy braking and downshifting. That year I began work on the electronic Control Trainer: a stationary bike, connected to a computer, that walks the rider through all the combinations of braking, downshifting and upshifting, with and without the clutch. I'm still working the bugs out of that one.

During that same time period I put together the No B.S. Bike, which has two sets of handlebars: the normal set and another mounted directly to the frame. This gives riders a definite feel for how their unconscious bar inputs affect the bike, and how positive and accurate the steering is when using only the bars to change direction.

And finally, one of our students designed another stationary training bike we affectionately call the Fukka. This flicks side-to-side on air rams to simulate steering, lean and a variety of body-positioning techniques we've developed.

Add to these six the BMW S1000RR and you've got all seven proven training aids that exist. And the last is, by far, the best.

Regular readers may recall my declaration that based on the past 50 years, horsepower wasn't the cause before, and was unlikely to be the cause now, of crashing motorcycles. Rather it is rider errors in applying core technical skills that cause them to go down. That was my story, and now I have proof, so I'm sticking to it.

As I write this in April, more than 400 students have run close to 50,000 miles at four racetracks in 13 days of riding. This training was conducted in all sorts of weather, including rain, on our 2010 BMW S1000RRs fitted with Dynamic Traction Control and Race ABS. Yes, we run the first session in Rain mode, which limits power output to "only" 150 bhp. But after their first ride, students are allowed to go to full-power. The bike provides an electronic cushion that forgives the rider some of the more common errors. But at the same time, the bike cannot and will not forgive truly stupid riding.

Here are the results: Compared to the 600s we used previously-for the past 30 years; 12 million miles; more than 125,000 students; at 106 racetracks around the world-our crash ratio has reduced by 400 percent. In real-world numbers, it looks like this: Last year we had 1.2 crashes per day on average. So far this year with our new 1000s, it's down to a very convincing 0.3 per day.

Let me point out once again that bone-stock, these superbikes put out 193 crankshaft horsepower. Add the accessory Akrapovic exhaust and that number jumps to 205 bhp. Horsepower is not the cause of crashing, and the BMW S1000RR is the best high-performance rider-training aid ever invented.

I rest my case.

By Keith Code
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