Motorcycling On An Open Road

Motorcycle Traction Control vs ABS (Differences That Save Lives!)

“I remember the good old days when motorcycles were simple. No fancy computers or complex tech. You hop on, turn it on and ride into the sunset”  – Some old motorcycle rider, probably. 

But times change. And technologies we put into our bikes change as well. All for the greater, safer good of the rider. 

So what’s this new, strange Traction Control feature really about? Is it better than the ABS? Or simply a riding aid build only for performance bikes? 

Welcome to Motorbike Secure
Welcome to Motorbike Secure

I’ll try to explain these things to every last detail. So next time you visit your motorcycle dealer, you’ll precisely know what Traction Control means on that new bike. 

What Is Traction Control on a Motorcycle?

Traction Control (TC) is just like ABS but on an opposite day! It uses the same fancy, wheel sensory tech, but a little bit differently.

Here is the trick. Instead of detecting the brake pressure as ABS does, it’s detecting how much power and throttle is going into your rear wheel.

Why, though? 

You can throttle your way out of any corner pretty easily without any accidents, right? 

WRONG!

When you squeeze the throttle, you’re sending an enormous amount of power into your rear wheel. It starts spinning faster than the front one and loses traction. That’s the notorious tire slippage or wheel-spinning!

And a slipping tire equals high-side (a crash that, in most cases, kills a rider).

Traction Control prevents you from ending like that! When it detects your rear-slipping wheel, it cuts the power of the ECU (engine control unit, a thingy that controls your ignition). No ignition means no power going to your wheel. In a fraction of a second, the rear wheel is slowing down and matching the speed of your front wheel.

Not convinced it’s possible?

Here’s is a real-life example.

Traction Control vs ABS – Two Systems So Different Yet So Similar

ABS prevents locking your wheels, and Traction Control prevents your rear wheel from going crazy. 

They look pretty different, right?

Except they’re not!

No bike has Traction Control without ABS as it has the same ABS wheel sensors. One can look at Traction Control as an ABS added-value feature.

“Wait, what about EBR 1190RX, Ducati Streetfighter 848, or ’08~’10 Kawasaki ZX10R? They all have Traction Control without ABS!” – An average track-riding enthusiast.  

“Shhh, nobody has to know that about those track-ready bikes! Let it be our little secret!” – Me.

Both systems detect speed, but Traction Control is lighter and easier to work with. It doesn’t need extra brake tubing or hydraulic actuators to control the wheel. It directly affects the motorcycle’s ECU (Engine Control Unit) or EFI ( Electronic Fuel Injection) with a bit of additional wire.

What if I tell you that there is a Hybrid Traction Control ABS system? 

A system that’s leveraging ABS’s sensors to detect wheel speed and directly altering the ECU, without needing a dedicated Traction Control’s nitty-gritty stuff.

It’s a system first introduced by Honda – Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC).

(Of course they needed to put Honda into everything! It’s Honda, right?!)

Honda Selectable Torque Control
Image credits: Honda

With HSTC, you can choose different rear-wheel spin levels. From low (great for off-road stuff) to high (awesome for slippery corners) while having that constant assistance of ABS.

Traction Control vs ABS on a Motorcycle – Which One Should You Get?

A Motorcyclist In Black Riding Fast

Now, when buying a new bike and having an option between Traction Control and ABS, which one should you choose? 

The answer is BOTH!

Well, if you can and have a big enough pocket to afford both of them, go for it. 

But:

  • If you’re buying an ADV bike, choose ABS. That is, if you can’t afford a model that also has Traction Control (like Honda NC750X or KTM 1219 SuperAdventure R). You can learn to lose your rear wheel, but learning to lose your front one, well, that’s a bit tough.
  • If you’re a commuter and street riding is your main thing, go for ABS. You’ll have so many “life-depending-close-encounters” that Traction Control is just an extra expense.
  • If you’re into cruising down the road, go with ABS. Most cruisers don’t even need Traction Control.
  •  If you’re getting your track racing or super-sport bike, go with Traction Control if you have an option besides ABS. The race track is Traction Control’s playground, and you won’t regret having it.
  • If you love to get muddy as hell with your future dual-sport, choose none!

Why? 

ABS and dirt don’t like one another that much. And adding Traction Control into that mix is a “dirty” mess. (Pun intended!)

To corner your bike off-road pretty quickly, you need that wheel-slip with applied pressure on the pegs. 

Like when doing an off-road motorcycle pro-trick called Tim Horton. Stuff I learned from FortNine.

However, it’s not the end of the world if you get a dual-sport or ADV bike with ABS and Traction Control. Both of those features you can turn off when you’re going into the woods and hitting that gravel.

Using Traction Control in MotoGP – Track Rider’s Best Friend

MotoGP forbids the use of ABS but is completely okay with using Traction Control. 

Why?

The rider’s team can precisely tweak down the motorcycle’s Traction Control according to every curve on the track. So, the rider doesn’t lose time regaining traction with his rear wheel and doesn’t oversteer with high-siding his motorcycle. 

Plus, a rider can use one of the “Strategies Buttons” and set how much Traction Control he or she needs in a corner or not. 

Have you’re Traction Control wrongly calibrated, and you’re destined to end like this:

Traction Control on a Motorcycle – Stuff They Don’t Tell You

Traction Control is a state-of-the-art rider’s aid. Something that ’70s and ’80s would have dreamed of. But it comes with a certain flaw!

You see, like ABS, Traction Control’s shortcoming is the motorcycle’s lean angle. TC only measures and limits the power delivery going to the rear wheel without knowing how much you lean in a corner. 

When you’re leaning, the tire’s contact patch becomes narrower and narrower. Lean too much, and there won’t be any rear wheel to traction control. 

Low siding is imminent!

Having a taste of Traction Control on a brand new bike and riding full throttle, knowing TC would kick in, can be addicting. No corner slippage, no loss of back control. Trust me, it’s pure mid-corner bliss.

Eventually, you’ll become more and more reliant on that rider’s aid to save your guts. And that’s perfectly fine. 

But there’s an exception!

It won’t help you when you downgrade and hop onto an older motorcycle that doesn’t have Traction Control or ABS. That’s the moment you’re almost a dead -man walking (riding, in this case).

Going into that slippery corner, thinking you’re good enough without TC or ABS is a big lie many riders tell themselves. 

Just because you’re a great rider with those aids turned on, doesn’t mean you have the necessary skills to replace them. Nobody does. That’s why they invented them in the first place!

So ride an older bike like your life depends on it. Sudden throttle twists or panic braking is forbidden.

Traction Control vs Motorcycle Stability Control – What’s the Difference?

Traction Control turns a blind eye to the lean angle of your bike. It doesn’t even bother detecting it. But that’s not the case with MSC (Motorcycle Stability Control). 

Imagine combining ABS, even the Cornering one, IMU, and Traction Control into a fist-sized box that’s able to measure your lean angle, engine acceleration, torque request, and a bunch of other “science” stuff and calculate a safe leaning algorithm. 

With all that precise data, MSC can know how much throttle input or braking power can be safely applied onto your wheels. All that in a fraction of a second, during your leaning!

Traction Control, Wheelies & Burnouts – One Good and Two Evils

Anybody who’s ever done a wheelie hates Traction Control. Period!

It’s every street “stunt-enthusiastic” rider’s worst nightmare. 

Have you ever had this feeling: propping your Hayabusa or Z H2 sky high onto its rear wheel only to get a sudden loss of power due to Traction Control? I know, it’s no fun feeling at all.

But thank the gods, the manufacturers have listened to numerous prayers of young squids, (street “stunt-enthusiastic” riders) and allowed you to turn off the TC

The same goes for burnouts.

Some systems automatically detect if you’re doing a wheelie or a burnout and turn a blind eye to that death-defying stunt. But most of them could be turned off with a press of a button. 

And you know what that means, right? 

Wheelies and burnouts all day long, baby!

⚠️ Wheelies are seriously dangerous and only do them if you’ve gone through a proper, professional training. So you don’t end up high siding like this.

Let’s Recap

Traction Control is just one of the cool rider’s aids that will save you from high siding or losing your wheel in a leaned corner. 

Sure, it comes at a higher price. Every aid does. But if you’re a track or ADV rider, can you really put a price on your life if that brown stuff hits the fan? 

I don’t think so!

But even super-smart tech like that tends to fail. So like my grandpa used to say:

“You kids need to learn that the smartest rider’s aid is the one between your ears!”

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