With electronic rider aids such as traction control, ABS and selectable power delivery quickly becoming standard on modern motorcycles, the next step in the digital revolution appears to be smart suspension systems. Imagine ECU-controlled suspension that makes damping adjustments on the fly to cope with changes in road surface conditions.
BMW's new HP4 S1000RR already has it. In fact, the BMW HP4 is the first production motorcycle to be equipped with what fully active suspension, Dynamic Damping Control. The Ducati Multistrada's new Sachs Skyhook system functions in much the same way as BMW's DDC, although the Italian company refers to it as semi-active. For contrast, BMW's ESA II simply allows the rider to select settings electronically, but it isn't reactive.
Swedish suspension manufacturer Öhlins is bringing semi-active suspension to the aftermarket with its new hypersport Mechatronic shock. The first application is exclusive to the 2011 ~ 2013 Kawasaki ZX-10R, with fitments for additional models to come. Unlike BMW's DDC, which senses suspension motion, among other factors, the Öhlins Mechatronic shock is semi-active in that it continuously changes damping settings dependent upon the aggressiveness of riding. Preload is still adjusted manually. Hardware is straightforward, utilizing Öhlins EC actuators that retrofit to a standard TTX36 MkII shock, but the real magic is in an Öhlins ECU with proprietary programming. It analyzes signals provided by the Kawasaki ZX-10R's ECU, such as throttle position, RPM and wheel speed, then automatically selects Comfort- or Sport-focused damping. Within either mode, changes to compression and rebound damping can continuously vary to an equivalent of about plus/minus six clicks.
Giving the Öhlins Mechatronic's added flexibility, the Kawasaki ZX-10R's trio of rider-selectable power modes (Full, Normal and Low) changes the threshold at which Mechatronic transitions from Comfort to Sport. In Full mode, it takes notably less-aggressive behavior before damping firms up, and the shock then remains in Sport mode for a longer period even after the rider returns to a more relaxed pace. Similarly, selecting the Kawasaki's Low mode tells the shock to favor Comfort damping, although if you wick it up, the system will transition to Sport to maintain a safe degree of chassis stability.