Skidbike System Test |
Exploring Traction on a KTM
The majority of our readers I assume would be on the advanced side of motorcycling. Not really the sort of riders that would need training on a bike rigged up to a Skidbike steel frame that makes it virtually impossible to fall off. Most of us learned the hard way that when you let the clutch out too fast, the bike will stall, leaving you trying to catch your footing before the weight of the uncontrolled machine comes crashing down beneath us.
We are from the school of hard knocks that taught us when we grab too much front brake on a slippery surface the front tire is going to relieve itself of grip duty without warning. So why then would someone like you or I ever need training on the Skidbike system?
Well, the answer is quite simple. Motorcycle technology has evolved at an incredible rate over the last few years, with adaptations like ABS brakes and traction control. However, clearly a lot of newer riders haven’t experienced riding without these aids—leaving them less savvy about traction and how to keep themselves safe without relying one hundred per cent on the electronics.
So what better way to explore the limits of traction, and understand these new innovations and their limitations, than by testing them in a safe environment where it’s almost impossible to crash and hit the ground? I did that with KTM and Skidbike in a large parking lot in Fontana, Calif.
The Skidbike was rigged up to a KTM 1190 Adventure; it’s the perfect candidate for such a test. The KTM has easy to use traction control with varying mode levels, and ABS, and they can both also be switched off entirely.
The dolly-like Skidbike rig uses wide outriggers that are bolted to the bike, and they eliminate the possibility of the bike falling over—even while moving—and the rider injuring himself. Traction can be reduced in precise increments from full weight on the tires, to zero weight on the tires, by means of hydraulic lifters fitted at either end of the Skidbike dolly.
Furthermore, the front and rear tires can be adjusted individually, and it’s all done one level at a time by wireless remote control in the instructor’s hand. He also has the ability to shut the bike off completely if an emergency arises, and furthermore, the rider wears a vest and lanyard in case they somehow fall off the whole machine—fortunately that’s very unlikely indeed. The whole system really is quite brilliant.
To give me confidence in the machine before starting off, I was told to put my feet on the pegs and simply let the bike fall over without putting my foot out to catch it. It’s difficult to resist the temptation to dab the ground as you’re falling, but it took me all of three tries before I trusted the device enough to lean far, but no further, and prevent me falling off.
Once I had built up my faith in their engineering, it quickly became a challenge to see if I could get the bike to topple over by leaning and pulling on it like number 93 on a qualifying lap. It is impossible to do. In fact, the only way to fall off the device is by highsiding yourself out of the seat, and even that is borderline impossible.
Once I was set up on the Skidbike the first electronic aid I wanted to evaluate was the ABS. Starting with full weight traction at 30 mph, and grabbing the front brake as hard as possible with the ABS on, it is impossible to lock the front wheel, even while leaned over. You actually have to make a conscious effort to crash the bike and tuck the front to even get close.
The opposite is true with the ABS turned off. You lean in to the turn at 30 mph, grab the brake, and it’s all over. The bike flops down safely on the Skidbike side wings. To simulate wet road conditions, we reduced the traction by lifting the KTM higher in the dolly with the remote controlled hydraulic lifters and again, the KTM’s amazing ABS kept everything completely under control. Trying the same maneuver with the traction control turned off and the front washes out from under you almost immediately and without the Skidbike, I would have crashed—hard.
The same thing happened with the traction control. Lean the KTM over with full weight traction on the Skidbike and the KTM TC set on RAIN mode, and it doesn’t matter how much throttle you apply or how ham-fisted you are with applying it.
The bike simply will not break traction. Even after they reduced the grip simulating the wet conditions, the KTM’s computer does an amazing job of restricting power delivery to the wheel in the quest to preserve that precious contact with the asphalt.
However, as soon as we turned the TC off, the bike spun up the rear easily in a huge power slide that left long black lines of rubber across the asphalt. This is great fun while it’s sliding, but when the tire hooks up again, I could feel the highside try to buck me out the seat. If the KTM had not been bolted to the Skidbike device, I would have put quite a few dents in the Adventure, and several in myself.
These are the real world situations that are replicated in complete safety, allowing even seasoned riders to explore and learn how much these advanced rider aids can keep us safe in most real-world situations. More importantly, the Skidbike also allows us to find the limitations of not having, or not using these aids—without risking injury.
The Skidbike device has only just become available in the US, and the company is hoping to sell them to the various motorcycle training courses around the country. So far, only one in Pennsylvania has been delivered, however there is a lot of interest in the technology and hopefully one will become available locally to you to try soon.
Later in the day I got my second run in, and after all the testing it was time to have some fun. We reduced the traction on the Skidbike, turned off all the electronics and proceeded to power slide the big 1190 around the entire test course. The smell of burnt rubber engulfing the inside of my helmet had the same effect as laughing gas. I can’t remember the last time I had that much fun on a motorcycle.