by Steve Bauer
As is often the case in the powersports industry, breakthroughs in technology born on the race track frequently find their way to the consumer level, providing riders with added performance and safety.
This is particularly true in the sport bike segment, where race teams spend countless hours researching and developing new ways for their bikes to perform better and be more resilient to the pounding they have to endure in race conditions.
Although not all racing technology is suitable for adaptation to the consumer motorcycle level, a few recent breakthroughs have found their way onto street bikes.
One of the most often adapted technology advancements from the racing circuit to the consumer level are safety features. One example is Honda’s Combined ABS brake system, which helps prevent riders from losing control of a bike’s front end while braking. This system helps to control the motorcycle once the wheel starts to lock up.
Another company, TCB Brake Systems, has recently become involved with several motorcycle racing circuits in testing air-over-hydraulics technology — similar to the units that help stop cargo planes on short runways — in a product that says to prevent brake lock-ups before they even begin.
“Basically it’s a replacement banjo bolt that slots straight into the brake systems of bikes,” said Mark Lipski, founder of TCB. “Under high-pressure braking, such as in an emergency stop, brake pads tend to start to lock a wheel up when they grab onto tiny surface irregularities on the disc, sending pressure spikes through the hydraulic system.”
According to Lipski, the TCB bolt’s hollow head contains about a cubic centimeter of air, and the membrane has a little give in it at the outside edge of brake pressure, so that when those disc irregularities start sending pressure waves up through the brake system, there’s something flexible in the system that’s able to even them out.
“We’ve tested this on several sport bikes in a racing environment, and the results have been very good,” he said. “It’s a product that is easily adaptable to any motorcycle, not just sport bikes, and is simple enough to use that even an at-home mechanic can install it onto his or her bike.”
Another breakthrough — designed to help increase performance and decrease maintenance — that is slowly finding its way to the consumer market is a new generation of batteries. For years, motorcycles have been dependant on lead acid batteries. Although this type of battery has been the gold standard for generations, the recent introduction of a lithium ion polymer motorcycle battery has many in the industry talking about its benefits for both the racing and consumer markets.
Motorcycle racing enthusiast Matt Hoch, with help from battery maker TekBattery, took a page from cell phone battery technology advancements and applied it to super high performance motorcycles.
Cell phone batteries are known for their excellent energy-to-weight ratios, no memory effects and a very slow loss of charge when not in use. Hoch worked closely with TekBattery to adapt that technology to motorcycle batteries, and the results thus far have been excellent.
“Instead of using a liquid chemical, the battery is filled with a polymer version of the same chemicals,” he said. “This leads to even more beneficial traits for the motorcycle industry, as these batteries can be built in a variety of configurations with the contacts positioned wherever they are needed.”
Hoch says the battery is much more environmentally friendly and weighs about one-quarter of a conventional battery, but even though it has been a hit in racing circuits, he believes the high costs associated with producing the batteries will slow the technology making its way to consumers.
“Unfortunately these batteries aren’t cheap and a lithium ion polymer battery for even the smallest motorcycle will cost hundreds of dollars,” he said. “But there’s no question this is the smallest, safest, most powerful and most technologically advanced power source available for motorcycles, and as people look for ways to improve the performance on their bikes, the demand will increase.”
Another concern for many consumers is the need to improve fuel economy and reduce air pollution on their bikes. ElectroJet Inc. has introduced a new fuel injection system designed to do both. The company has been testing the system on racing bikes in Asia, and says testing has shown that its fuel injection system has reduced harmful emissions by 65 percent and increase fuel economy by 12 percent.
“The fuel injection system is bolt-compatible with OEM carburetor systems and exceeds U.S. and EURO III emissions standards,” said Kyle Schwulst, CEO of ElectroJet. “The system generates 65 percent less carbon monoxide, 35 percent less hydrocarbon and 35 percent less nitrogen oxide compared to a carburetor system. Engines equipped with the fuel injection system not only reap environmental benefits, but also garner a five percent increase in horsepower.”
Schwulst says the technology is currently being implemented in several brands of motorcycles across India, China and Taiwan, and that the company plans to introduce it to the U.S. and European market in 2009.
“Our product is a great example of the benefits that can come from working closely with performance-driven companies, particularly in the racing segment, to improve performance,” he said. “But what we were able to accomplish through testing with these companies was to reduce emissions as well, which is going to be such a key issue in the near future for many countries across the globe.”