Riding With Traction Control
Throttle control: as important as ever
The electronics suites available on today’s sportbikes are truly incredible, offering improved safety and performance for only a marginal increase in cost. Many of the systems involved, such as quickshifters, electronic suspension, or ABS, provide those benefits with little input from the rider other than the push of a button to activate that particular riding aid or select a level of operation. Traction control systems are not that simple, however. Yes, the safety benefits are there, provided that the system is turned on and an appropriate setting is chosen. But to fully take advantage of the performance benefits of a TC system requires more than pushing a few buttons.
When riding with traction control, the temptation for many riders is to whack the throttle wide open at the apex of the turn and let the electronics take over from there. The system will happily cut power as needed to prevent wheelspin, and the rider—hearing or feeling that power is being pulled back—assumes everything is functioning properly and the TC is doing its job. But unless you’ve got a MotoGP-level system and a dedicated engineer to tailor the setup to you, the track, and the conditions, simply using full throttle and letting the electronics do all the work is not correct for a couple of reasons. First, the all-wide-open technique requires a lot of TC intervention and is most likely slowing you down rather than helping you go faster; second, by using only wide-open throttle, you are not taking advantage of the full capability of the system.
The premise for a performance TC system is that a certain amount of wheelspin is desirable as it increases the traction properties of the tire. And we want the electronics to look after that wheelspin, as the system can do a better job of it than the typical rider. Various patents and manufacturer-supplied details indicate that in TC setups that must be versatile enough to work with different riders, tracks, and conditions, throttle position is used as an input and part of the algorithm the system employs. For example, a Piaggio (Aprilia’s parent company) patent details a TC system that looks to throttle position to determine exactly how much spin to allow once a traction event is detected. As an aftermarket example, the Bazzaz Z-Fi TC system works from an array of throttle position and rpm; if you are only using full throttle, you are ignoring more than 90 percent of the input parameters and giving up a large part of the potential performance.
The end goal is that, to take advantage of a system’s use of throttle position, you want to be able to “lead” the throttle just to the point there is some wheelspin and the system is intervening to control that wheelspin. So, for example, if 40 percent throttle causes the system to intervene at a certain point, you want to use 45 or 50 percent throttle but at the same time have some amount of wheelspin. This should be the case at every point on the exit of each corner, with the throttle rolled on at a rate to keep it just ahead of the system. In this manner, you can be sure the system is doing the work of managing wheelspin and traction, yet it is getting feedback via the throttle position to work at its optimum capability.
This approach will also help you adjust or set a particular system to work at its best. If you find in some areas that the system is limiting power delivery but there is no wheelspin, you can use that information to adjust the level or parameters for less intrusion. Conversely, wheelspin before the TC intervenes at a certain point indicates that some more intervention is needed there. Of course, you should start with safe settings and lots of intervention and work down from there in steps. Data acquisition with slip and TC channels can go a long way to guide dialing in a system for a particular track and conditions and can help you find places where more or less throttle is required. By using the throttle more appropriately, your TC system will be able to account for a wider variety of traction situations and react accordingly. A traction control system can provide significant benefits in terms of performance, but it pays to be smart about how you use it to ensure that you are making full use of the system’s potential.