Electronic Rider Aids, Safety and Performance

Electronic Aids, Not Band-Aids

BMW S1000RR sportbike
Looks simple from the outside, but it takes serious electronics to make the BMW S1000RR faster and safer.©Motorcyclist

Last month I was invited to the BMW training academy in Munich, Germany, for a two-day seminar on the electronic control packages available on the company’s flagship sportbike, the S1000RR. My classmate for the seminars was Steve Weir, who has been appointed BMW Race Support Engineer, North America, to assist anyone in setting up their calibration kit’s functions and further underlining BMWs commitment to make these systems available to trackday, club, and pro-race riders.

That the RR has such a thorough collection of electronic rider aids is one thing, but that BMW is willing to open the door to customization through the Race Calibration Kit, or RCK, is something else. I don’t hide my admiration for the bike. We have been using the S1000RR at the school since 2010, and the result has been a 40-percent reduction in student crashes for six years straight. Rider aids, in this case, are working, and riders know it. That spurs demand, forcing any company intending to be competitive in this class to have equally good electronics packages.

BMW’s strategy of transparency is intended to pass along all of its systems’ performance capabilities to consumers with the RCK. As I discovered at the seminar, it seems there is no limit to the degree of control programmers can achieve once they’re let loose in the world of bits and bytes, provided only that the bike’s hardware is sophisticated enough to perform the tasks burned into the memory chip and the selections within it.

"It’s clear to me now that trickle-down racing technology carries tremendous benefits in terms of rider safety and rideability."

The calibration kit contains a variety of functions to accommodate how the rider wants the bike to perform. Each function, such as traction control, ABS, wheelie control, launch control, engine braking, and shift timing, has a vast array of well-defined grades of performance to select from. For example, how quickly the power ramps down and back up once the Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) is activated is fully adjustable. Furthermore, riders may select more or less tire-spin intervention via a handlebar toggle switch—a great learning tool that allows riders to compensate as they improve and to adjust for tire wear or changing weather conditions. More impressive is the fact that the program allows techs to build their own custom traction-control map, based not only on wheelspin speed comparisons but also on lean angle and overall bike speeds. All parameters are adjustable for a particular bike’s power specs and for track-specific conditions.

Likewise, the quickshift system’s power ramp-up is adjustable for snappy or lazy power reintroduction. In combination with the bike’s clutchless gear-change system, this is an important feature for corners requiring lots of lean while accelerating. No scary, bike-unsettling spikes in power are needed or wanted in these situations where upshifts are required.

All tracks have a variety of cornering and pavement situations, each with different demands on suspension compliance for optimum grip and handling. The S1000RR’s electronically controlled shock and fork damping can be set according to those demands. The calibration kit’s unique twist is that, rather than coming up with the traditional overall suspension settings where some sectors are sacrificed in favor of optimum handling for key track sectors, compression and rebound damping can now be programmed for preselected sector-by-sector or turn-by-turn optimization. These sophisticated functions have been available in Superbike paddocks—and were for MotoGP until being outlawed—for some time now but not to trackday riders and club racers. Until now, the cost for such systems was $30,000 and up.

The S1000RR’s datalogger unit is way ahead of the curve. Dozens of bike functions can be recorded, downloaded, and graphed in several ways to provide easy viewing for both rider and support personnel. The above only scratches the surface of available functions and adjustability. My take-away from the training? It’s clear to me now that trickle-down racing technology carries tremendous benefits in terms of rider safety and rideability.