The Yamaha Motor Italia Superbike World Championship team will debut a new Öhlins active suspension system at Donnington Park this weekend. It will be the first team to ever race with active suspension. Much simpler than it sounds, the system essentially uses computer-controlled servos to adjust the external rebound and compression screws on Öhlins’ top of the range TTX shock and forks on the fly. If that sounds a bit jerry-rigged, you’re not alone, but it could give the team a crucial advantage.
>Racing at Donnington carries with it a notorious compromise in suspension set up.
Half of the circuit is composed of wide, sweeping curves requiring high
speed stability at maximum lean angles, while the other half is made up
of tight hairpins that require heavy braking, then massive
acceleration, both carried out while the bike is completely upright.
Active suspension could make a bike more stable at speed, allow squat
under acceleration for better traction, while helping to keep both
wheels planted under heavy braking, all independently optimized for each corner.
The Öhlins system will take advantage of existing onboard computers
that measure suspension travel, three-axis acceleration (acceleration,
deceleration and cornering) and track position, then use that data to
determine which damping settings are appropriate at specific moments.
Stepper motors capable of adjusting the suspension one click at a time
will then make instantaneous alterations to the rebound and compression
The electronically controlled system is far less complex than true
active suspension, which is capable of constantly moving the shock’s
piston, as well as adjusting the damping, in response to bumps and
performance needs in real time. Because Öhlins’ TTX suspension moves
damping control to external adjusters mounted on the top of the shock
and bottom of the forks, the company was able to create a system that
retrofits to existing suspension.
Despite earlier trialing a similar system on the M1 MotoGP bike, Öhlins
and Yamaha decided to debut it on the R1 SBK racer due to its
similarity with the machines Öhlins does its own development on. If it
proves successful this weekend and through the rest of the season,
expect to see active suspension adopted in more race series and by more
teams. Eventually, we could even see similar technology made available
for road bikes.