The age of universal traction control is upon us

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First used on a production car in 1971 (Buick full-sizes) and on a production motorcycle in 1992 (Honda ST1100), Traction Control has long since evolved from a dorky safety aid to a sophisticated, desirable performance enhancer. TC makes it possible for bikes and cars to be more powerful than ever before, while remaining exploitable to mere mortals. Long standard on virtually every automobile sold, it’s inevitable that the same thing will soon happen to motorcycles. With this Piaggio Beverly Sport Touring 350, TC is now being fitted to scooters. Welcome to the age of universal traction control.

Luddites who haven’t yet experienced a motorcycle with traction control often dismiss it as reducing man/machine interaction or providing an unwelcome, fun-reducing electronic nannie. And that is what early evolutions of TC did. Employing ABS sensors, they monitored wheel speeds and cut power when that of the rear exceeded the front. The process took about as long as it took you to read that sentence and power was cut fully and abruptly. The result contributed even less to performance than it did to safety, which wasn’t saying much. TC didn’t win many fans in the early days.

Since that time, thanks to developments on race tracks and in computer processing speeds, TC has become able to respond instantaneously and subtley, drawing the data it uses to make decisions from a variety of sources including lean angle sensors, gyroscopes and accelerometers. Initiate a slide on this Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC SE and you can actually dial in the degree of rear wheel drift by closing or opening the throttle, all without having to worry about crossing the point of no return.

The sophistication of TC and related systems has become so crucial, that when Aprilia contracted us to show off the benefits of the new RSV4, the only logical competition was the Nissan GT-R, a car that also changes the scope of performance in its world through electronic aids including TC. A mere mortal can ride a 180bhp superbike — a level of power that would have won GPs less than two decades ago — and ride it very quickly thanks to traction control and a heavy Japanese car with four seats, but just six cylinders, can set a production car lap record of the Nurburgring, again thanks to traction control and similar electronic systems.

But until now, in the bike world at least, traction control has remained the exclusive preserver of big, heavy motorcycles. No 600-class motorcycle, for instance, employs it yet. No longer.

That the new Beverly is equipped with TC isn’t just indicative of its new found affordability, but that is an important factor. If a bargain basement, big-wheel scooter can be equipped with such a system without a drastic price increase, then any other motorcycle can now logically include TC too. The presence of TC on this scoot is also indicative of TC’s newfound marketability. The scoot has all sorts of neat performance and fuel economy benefits, but that’s not what we’ve chosen to write about or what you’ve chosen to read. You’re reading about TC because it’s sexy. TC has been selling superbikes, will now sell scooters and, in the near future, will likely put whatever class of motorcycle you buy into your garage.

With such benefits to safety, manufacturer liability and marketing and available at very little cost, TC will soon find its way onto virtually every motorcycle. The age of universal traction control is upon us.

  • Charlie

    I will ask Siri if I need TC

    • http://twitter.com/metabomber Jesse

      Better than asking Siri if she needs TC. I swear she’d rather I try to read her mind.

  • 80-wattHamster

    Leaving aside any safety or performance benefits, I still can’t help but be frustrated with the escalating complexity of, well, everything. It’s already becoming increasingly difficult to do much more than basic maintenance yourself on a new car. The same progression in bikes, while inevitable, still makes me a little sad.

    • Charlie

      Mixed blessing. Owning many older bikes sometimes I think fuel injection is a beautiful thing. But the TC benefits might be more pronounced on bikes, given the hp wars. 370lbs and 195hp – who among us, really, can safely handle that brew? Turning off the TC in a 1 Series M Coupe produces more predictable, intuitive results. I think we call this progress

    • Gene

      Me too, especially since I do all my own work.

      Since I *SUCK* at bleeding brakes, I was worried about ABS maintenance. However, since it’s saved my ass twice in the rain, I’m willing to put up with the extra hassle.

      My big bitch are the expensive and/or unobtainium special tools that become a required item.

      I’ll still be saying “no” to TC, VTEC, CVT, dual clutches, switchable power bands and the rest of the useless gew-gaw crap though.

    • nick2ny

      +1.

    • ike6116

      Yeah, since I still heat my house via a fireplace because I can’t do furnace maintenance. People call me crazy but Ill be damned if Im going to pay a professional to do a job.

      Settle a bet…. KLR rider?

      • 80-wattHamster

        Startlingly close. Versys.

      • Gene

        If you can find a competent car or motorcycle mechanic around here, within an hour’s drive, I wouldn’t mind paying him big bucks if he did his job right, and could (for example) put a tire on right-way-round.

    • Гена

      I disagree. If the bike is already equipped with ABS, TC doesn’t need any additional hardware, just some internal components and software in ECU. Nothing to maintain. A ride by wire throttle is likely to be more reliable than a cables and springs driven one.

  • Coreyvwc

    I like the idea of TC, but why put it on a 350cc scooter. Just sounds like a marketing ploy to claim “sportiness”. Could that little nerd-mobile even break traction (in the dry)?

    • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

      Well if you had the scooter down on the edge of the tyre and gassed it around a dusty corner I’m sure you could have some problems. We need to be protected from ourselves, you know.

  • 2ndderivative

    Once you have sensors for ABS, soon to be mandatory, adding TC is a small cost for OEMs. Even for smaller bikes this has clear marketing benefits.

  • Robert

    That will help run over bad actor protesters in the rain. Awesome. Appropriate use of technology.

    • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1100]

      LOL.