Video: KTM's 790 Duke promises faster launches and less chance of crashes

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It wasn't so long ago that electronic rider aids were reserved for the world of racing and the most expensive and exotic road bikes.

However, in a few short years, mind-blowing technologies like cornering ABS have begun to appear on cheaper bikes like KTM's 790 Duke, which also boasts launch control.


Cornering ABS

Cornering ABS is a confusing technology to get your head around. The system allows you to brake as hard as possible while leant over without instantly tucking the front. Here’s how this remarkable development in motorcycle safety works.

"To understand cornering ABS you need to understand the dependency between grip and brake pressure, which is called the circle of traction," explains Gerald Matschl, KTM VP for R&D.

"The horizontal axis is the front wheel’s grip with the vertical acceleration and deceleration. Around these axes is a circle and as long as you remain within it, you are safe.

"However stray out- side the circle and you will lose front wheel traction and crash. Cornering ABS ensures the relationship between grip and braking remains within the circle."

So how does cornering ABS keep you within these parameters? The IMU (inertial Measurement Unit) knows the bike’s lean angle and, when you brake, the system measures brake pressure and lean angle and applies a pre-set algorithm.

If it computes that the brake pressure at that lean angle is outside the ‘circle of traction’ it reduces the braking force to prevent losing traction. If the ABS is activated by the tyre slipping then the system will also react almost instantly.

But there’s more, too. When you brake while lent over, a bike’s natural reaction is to stand up. When this happens the system senses lean has reduced and applies more brake pressure. So, if you hold onto the brake you’ll stop as fast as physically possible.

"Cornering ABS is very complicated to build an algorithm for," says Matschl. "However we can use the same basic algorithm on various models to reduce development costs and expand its use to more price-sensitive bikes in the future, something we have started with the 790 Duke."

So... does it work?

Grabbing the front brake as hard as possible at over 40mph while your knee is on the ground takes a lot of trust in a system but that’s exactly what I did at KTM’s test track – and I didn’t crash. Cornering ABS is, quite simply, mind-blowing.

Most front-end crashes happen at that initial panic input of brake. You see the danger, grab the lever too hard and the front instantly washes out. Replicate this action with cornering ABS and you feel a pulse from the brake lever, the bike stands up and if you keep hold of the brake lever you stop in an incredibly short distance.

The sooner it is made available on a wider range of bikes, which will happen when costs inevitably reduce as they have with standard ABS, the better.

Launch control

The 790 Duke is the first middleweight naked with launch control – an automated system that, in theory, enables you to make a perfect getaway from the lights every time. GP bikes have been using it for years and we first saw it on road bikes with Aprilia’s RSV4 in 2011. But how exactly does it work?

"When you activate launch control mode, an algorithm uses the ride-by-wire throttle to hold the bike’s engine at maximum torque to provide the best drive," explains Gerald Matschl, KTM’s Vice President for R&D.

"When you perform a launch manually, you open the throttle just a little bit and then attempt to increase the power as you start moving and get the clutch engaged.

"Launch control keeps it at the best torque level for drive, and automatically opens the throttle according to what the bike’s sensors are telling it, therefore allowing the rider to focus purely on the clutch."

With modern bikes containing a dazzling array of sensors, it comes as no surprise that launch control uses many of them – although not in the way you might assume.

"The bike uses the wheel speed sensors to calculate whether the front wheel is in the air, rather than use the IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit – or lean angle sensor) to calculate this.

"It looks for a variation in wheel speed, which, in a wheelie, is the front wheel slowing when the rear is accelerating, and then uses the IMU’s data to identify which way the wheel is going – up or down," said Matschl.

"If the wheel is going up, the launch control algorithm alters the throttle’s position to reduce torque. If it is heading downwards, it increases drive. It is very sensitive and allows a small power wheelie but not a big one that would compromise acceleration."

While you might assume the IMU would control the angle of the wheelie, there are so many factors influencing the angle of the bike (suspension compression, angle of the road, etc).

Matschl says it is better to use the ‘basic data’ supplied by the wheel speed sensors rather than rely upon anything more complicated than that.

Obviously, a good launch also relies very much upon grip, so the bike’s traction control is activated during the launch at a pre-set level, and the launch control is automatically deactivated if the throttle is closed, a certain lean angle is achieved (meaning you’ve reached the first corner on a track/road) or you change up from third gear as the bike will no longer wheelie. Clever stuff.

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Jon Urry

By Jon Urry

MCN contributor, original 916 & R1-owner, human labrador