It cannot be stressed enough how important safety is when it comes to riding a two-wheeler. Sure, riding training, skills and good judgement are essential for safety, but with advancements in technology, motorcycle makers have incorporated features in their motorcycles which cover up for human error to some extent. Riders now have assistance from their machines in the form of electronics safety features. This new technology on modern motorcycles goes a long way in making a motorcycle a lot safer. While some safety equipment like ABS, front disc brakes etc. have been standardised in many countries, some manufacturers have gone the extra mile to equip their motorcycles with additional electronics and riding modes to offer even more safety and convenience to their users. Let’s take a look at these riding modes, their underlying features and how they work towards making your ride safer.
Riding modes, how they work
Two-wheelers in general, and motorcycles are increasingly governed by advanced electronics, comprising complex sensors and powerful processors. The sensors take up the important task of measuring and feeding critical data to the processor, or the ECU. The ECU, on its part, then runs it through an array of algorithms to ascertain whether the prevailing state of the vehicle is safe or not. The sensors on a modern motorcycle constantly keep a tab on parameters such as wheel speed at both ends, engine power, gear position, throttle position, engine temperature and several other variables. All of this happens really fast, with the entire process taking less than a 100th of a second, and often, even less, so that critical safety related decisions could be made instantly, in real time.
In the more expensive motorcycles, you may witness advanced devices such as 6-axis IMUs or inertial measurement units which are capable of measuring parameters such as a bike’s lean angle, speed, direction, acceleration, angular rate and several other variables which help ascertain the exact behaviour of a vehicle in a 3-dimensional space. To achieve this, an IMU makes use of several equipment such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, and even magnetometers. While IMUs are not available on less expensive, or even some premium motorcycles, the ones that come equipped with the device present a lot of valuable data for the ECU to process and action upon, especially when the vehicle is in a leaned over state.
Now based on the years of test data that various two-wheeler manufacturers, or safety component manufacturers have with them, some very clear algorithmic red flags can be created for the ECU to act upon. For example, the two-wheels of a motorcycle are generally meant to be spinning at the same rate, unless there is a lock-up happening at one of the wheels, or a lack of traction is present at either end. The extent of these differences in wheel speeds, or other pre-defined anomalies point at various hazards. Based on the data provided, the ECU can ascertain with great accuracy if the vehicle is safe or is presented with an unfavourable situation such as loss of traction, a locked wheel, directional instability or any such undesirable state.
Even with not-so-advanced electronics and sensors, an ECU can take preventive safety measures, such as cutting engine power or determining the extent of ABS intrusion. Using these features, a two-wheeler manufacturer can make their motorcycles more suitable for a set of driving conditions. This set of predefined electronic settings for a specific use case is often known as riding modes.
Let’s try and understand this with an example. To start with, a motorcycle equipped with suitable sensors, an apt ECU, dual-channel ABS, electronic ride-by-wire throttle and other requisite hardware should be able to offer a Rain, or Wet mode. Now, since wet weather or rains present low traction as a problem, Rain mode is typically designed to cut down engine power, limit the motorcycle’s rev range and reduce throttle response, therefore delivering power to the rear wheel in a more progressive, relatively docile manner to prevent a loss of traction. Also, for Rain mode, the braking system could be tuned such that the ABS kicks in real early and there is no chance for the wheel to lock-up and induce a slide. On the other hand, Sport, or Track modes, meant for conditions where traction is presumably available in abundance could facilitate the sharpest possible throttle response for instant acceleration as soon as the rider whacks open the throttle. The ABS too should wait for a moment before cutting in so that the rider has the freedom to brake more aggressively. The power output and rev range could be maxed out for the best lap times. For City or Normal modes, an optimal balance of these two extremes could be employed, where the rider gets the best of both worlds.
Another example of making use of riding modes, exclusively in the context of brakes would be the Supermoto mode, or the ability to switch off the rear ABS of a motorcycle. In many cases, motorcyclists while riding on gravelly conditions wish to deliberately lock-up and slide the rear wheel of their machines for sudden directional changes, or sometimes just for fun. The Supermoto mode comes handy during such requirements. In addition to the features discussed above, the motorcycles which come equipped with traction control can cut power to the rear wheel dynamically, preventing a slide or sudden loss of traction without the rider having to actively choose a riding mode.
A few other features, which are often a part of an electronic safety suite and can be employed by various riding modes, include the following:
Rear Wheel Lift-off Protection
Rear Wheel Lift-Off Protection prevents the rear wheel from inadvertently lifting off under hard braking, especially when the front brake is applied aggressively. There is a gyro sensor involved here, which, along with the wheel speed sensor checks if the bike is level with the ground, and upon detecting a deviation releases the force on the front brake just a little to bring the rear end of the bike back on the road.
Wheelie Control is used to sense a power wheelie before it actually happens. The system relies on wheel speed sensors. If the front wheel speed is detected to reduce gradually, while the rear wheel continues to accelerate, the system identifies the event as the advent of a power wheelie, and intervenes by cutting down on power a wee bit to bring the front end of the vehicle down.
Often a function of traction control, launch control allows the rider to get the fastest possible acceleration from a standstill. Simply put, it minimises traction loss by limiting the revs, and increases the power optimally to attain the fastest possible progress forward.
Advanced IMU driven features
An IMU, as discussed before, further enhances the electronic safety net of a motorcycle and provides it with the capability to deal with even more complex situations. Among other things, an IMU considers the lean angle of a motorcycle and makes decisions accordingly to ensure stability for the machine. Some mentionable safety features motorcycles equipped with an Inertial Measurement Unit come equipped with include:
Cornering ABS, also referred to as lean-angle sensitive ABS is an advancement over the standard ABS system. This feature controls the amount of braking while considering the angle of lean and several other factors. While standard ABS tends to make the motorcycle ‘sit up’ which affects its directional stability, cornering ABS allows the rider to brake mid-corner without affecting the direction of the motorcycle by much.
Cornering Traction Control
While traction control keeps a keen eye on the power delivery to ensure rider safety, cornering traction control introduces lean-sensitivity to the equation. It optimises torque delivery while taking into account the lean angle of the motorcycle, enhancing safety around bends and offering stability even when traction is not available in abundance.
Types Of Riding Modes
Technically speaking, a motorcycle can have any number of pre-set riding modes. Obviously, having too many ride modes is neither very useful, nor desirable. Most motorcycles come equipped with two to seven pre-set riding modes, to cover the most prevalent riding conditions. Some of the commonly available riding modes on motorcycles include, but are not limited to Rain, Road, City (Normal) and Sport modes. Of these, Rain mode is often also termed as Wet mode, and Sport mode is also sometimes termed as Track mode. Some advanced motorcycles which are race focussed come equipped with both Sport and Track modes, where the Track mode is the full-attack, all-out mode, placed even higher above Sport mode for aggressive riding. Some adventure motorcycles also come with Enduro and Off-road modes. Basically, the modes are purpose-built as per the characteristics of the motorcycle. Depending on the motorcycle you choose, the number of modes on the motorcycle, and their respective names will be different.
In the end, there is no hard-set definition of what a riding mode should be. It’s simply a set of directions for the motorcycle ECU to carry out. The algorithms for these modes are hard wired into the ECU of the motorcycle and are often controlled using a button in the motorcycle’s switchgear. While the sophistication and the extent of safety offered by these riding modes might vary from model to model, what’s consistent is that motorcycles with riding modes almost always offer more safety and convenience over similar motorcycles which don’t come equipped with the feature.