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.