When computers take over - and do a better job
On a modern motorcycle, the connection between a action by the rider and its effect is increasingly made by embedded electronics, whether we're talking about throttle, intake and exhaust geometry, or continuously variable transmissions, much like an airplane's autopilot and autolanding systems or a car's electric power steering. These days, you place your order with a computer that then decides for you how and when to react.
No one had offered an electronically controlled braking system on a motorcycle until Honda launched the 2009 CBR600RR and 1000RR featuring the optional Combined-ABS (C-ABS) technology. We got to try out both machines (the reviews will be published online in the coming days) with and without E-ABS, in the name of "real-life" comparison, on the Roebling Roads track as well as on a clean, then slippery test surface. And by the way, the normal braking system takes over in case of C-ABS failure as well as when the ignition is switched off. How does it work?
When you squeeze the front brake lever, a sensor measures the applied pressure and sends the digitalised information to the computer, which in turn sends instructions to an electric engine that then generates the hydraulic pressure delivered to the front calipers. The same process happens when you step on the rear brake pedal.
The computer also handles two additional functions: ABS and dynamic front/back distribution of braking force. The ABS function orders the computer to slightly lower hydraulic pressure to the brake in question when it detects wheel lock - nothing new there. Dynamic distribution is an completely new and extremely useful feature, allowing the computer to apply pressure to the other wheel when it senses impending lockup at the other end - it uses both brakes for you if you lack the skill or knowledge to use both of them for maximum retardation.
In other words, the computer optimizes braking for you. If, for any reason, you don't use the front brake, it will safely do so for you. All you need to do is apply the brakes, one or both of them, as hard as you like: the computer takes care of things and the C-ABS reduces braking distance to its absolute minimum, especially if you're braking at both ends at the same time.So, good or bad?
Every ABS system has a dual purpose: minimize braking distances during emergency situations for instance (i.e., a bus in front of you), and keep the bike upright during hard braking manoeuvres on normal and slippery surfaces.
And since 99.999% of all riding occurs in normal conditions, neither conventional nor electronic ABS systems need intervene in day-to-day riding. Nonetheless, if E-ABS helps prevent just one accident, or even soften an inevitable impact, then you can't go wrong.
On the track, E-ABS adds very little to the braking limits of professional riders, except on a surface made slippery by water or debris. For the less experienced, such as enthusiasts treating themselves to a track day or even amateur racers, E-ABS will increase their safety immeasurably, on top of enabling newbies to approach their limits without fear of a major blunder that will send them flying.
In the end, I believe C-ABS represents a major step forward in terms of two-wheel safety, a type of insurance policy for both road and track that will certainly reduce the number and the severity of accidents. Too bad the Quebec licensing authority, the God-forsaken SAAQ, has chosen to put the screws to sport bikes, with two 2009 Honda models that feature the technology.Photo Credit : Honda