® Traction Control Explained

Traction control, once the domain of cars and commercial vehicles, and found only in niche powersports brands such as Ducati, has recently hit the big time. This confidence-promoting, computer-controlled feature, with its appearance on at least a smattering of the Big Four's offerings of the past few years, is now available to the masses.

What is It?
In a nutshell, powersports traction control, or as it is referred to in automotive, stability control, simply monitors front wheel speed against rear and if the difference exceeds a programmed-in allowance, alters the engine's ignition timing and fuel injection to momentarily reduce its torque output, and thus regain traction.

There are actually two kinds of traction control, generally one that makes no allowance whatever for wheel slip -- we could call this a touring/street version -- and a second that is programmed to allow wheel slip under certain conditions -- more a sport/racing type which accomodates the necessity to drift the tires in aggressive roadrace cornering. How the two differ is interesting, and can be summed up in terms of their inputs and outputs. The street version has for input only the wheel's sensors. For output however it can seek to alter many things, among them the engine's ignition timing, its fuel delivery, and adjustment of its secondary throttle positions. The sport version by contrast has many inputs, not just the wheels, including throttle position, engine rpm, and vehicle speed, but outputs only to the ignition timing, for the sake of working much faster, in some cases 100 times faster, than does the street version. The higher end traction control aystems on the Euro bikes have available settings that more or leas allow aelection somewhere between these two goals.

The Japanese I am convinced could have brought out their traction control systems a lot earlier than they did, but in their typical style, waited to see what would happen on the powersports legal landscape before doing so. The Big Four are the largest liability targets in the industry. Even the smaller of the four, Suzuki and Kawasaki, have more U.S. legal liability exposure than do the Euros, and as such they have long learned to step carefully. Note Honda's recent capitulation on its bike's odometers, and Kawasaki's very recent successful defense agsinst the same. ABS has already been a considerable legal burden as well to the Japanese.

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